Dia­betes UK: One Mil­lion Steps Chal­lenge dig­i­tal pivot 

Exhibited by
Gemma Reeve
June 10, 2021
Medium of Communication
Events, digital
Target Audience
Individual donors
Type of Charity
Country of Origin
Date of first appearance

SOFII’s view

This is how to react to a crisis! When the UK was forced to go into lockdown in March 2020, Diabetes UK were two weeks into one of their most important fundraising events, the One Million Steps Challenge. This challenge encourages donors to walk 10,000 steps a day, but how would lockdown have an impact?  

Instead of meekly cancelling the event, like many charities did, Diabetes UK sprung into the action with the help and expertise of their digital agency Manifesto. Donors were told how to do their steps indoors and within the limits allowed by lockdown. Crucially, this was communicated across several digital platforms. And the results were spectacular. The lesson here is that flexibility, and above all courage, can make all the difference when things take an unexpected turn.

Summary / objectives

The UK’s first lockdown hit just two weeks into Diabetes UK’s One Million Steps challenge and the accompanying three-month media plan. Outdoor activity was significantly limited, and there was a real worry that those living with diabetes could become more severely ill if they were to catch coronavirus. This meant that meeting the One Million Steps sign-up targets seemed impossible.

A new digital marketing strategy was needed, one which offered reassurance and pandemic-friendly tips that would help participants complete each set of their daily step challenges. This pivot would see Diabetes UK advertise the event again, but now with a new digital strategy, new creative, and a change to the event accessibility. All these adjustments reflected that the UK was in lockdown.

Creator / originator

Diabetes UK and digital agency, Manifesto


Fundraising events have been hit hard by the pandemic – with many being cancelled, rather than managing to adapt in time.

But with events making up a significant portion of charities’ annual revenues, the numerous lockdowns and tiered restrictions have posed a huge risk to income.

One charity which rose to this challenge in 2020 was Diabetes UK. The organisation raises money to fight diabetes. And its hugely successful flagship event, the One Million Steps challenge, sees individuals join a huge online community of steppers to raise money, walking at least 10,000 steps a day over three months.

Special characteristics

Once lockdown hit the charity acted quickly and ensured that the challenge’s fundraising messaging was adjusted to reflect that outdoor activities were restricted. Instead, Diabetes UK provided donors with tips on achieving their 10,000 steps per day indoors or within the parameters of what was allowed outdoors.

The One Million Steps challenge enjoyed a flurry of early sign-ups, due to the speed at which the charity reacted in pivoting the campaign to include coronavirus-proof messaging.

As the digital events space became more crowded, Manifesto’s channel-agnostic (i.e., tailored for all online platforms) and performance-driven media spend strategy helped to maintain the momentum. Using Facebook, Spotify, Bing, and Google Paid Search, Manifesto set in place a system of rules and automations. The team used cost per action (CPA) to steer the rate of spend. This meant the campaign could restart without succumbing to the risks of big media spends and poor results.

Manifesto’s ability to adapt the charity’s strategy at such short notice had a huge part to play in the campaign’s success. The team even trialled a new implementation of Facebook lookalikes in the final three weeks of the campaign, which led to a spike in sign-ups.


Instead of simply surviving, the charity’s campaign outperformed past iterations and set new records. It overcame its target for sign-ups through advert clicks by a whopping 136 per cent. And it smashed through pre-March revenue targets by an even larger 196 per cent. 

The event was a huge success. It marked one of the UK’s largest virtual walks in 2020, raising £1,956,581 for diabetes research. The campaign registered 22,038 people in total – a 108 per cent turnout on its pre-pandemic target.


The campaigns Manifesto run with Diabetes UK undergo a rigorous phase of testing before scaling, and the team had just exited this phase when lockdown was implemented. The speed at which Diabetes UK, their creative agency, and Manifesto were able to re-run new tests investigating messaging that would work in a lockdown was a definite contributing factor to the campaign’s ultimate success.

This would not have been possible without the unwavering trust and collaboration between the team at Diabetes UK and Manifesto. The results are outstanding, an achievement and testament to the long hours, agility, and hard work put in by all involved.

Pivoting digital marketing strategy and beating targets for Diabetes UK from Manifesto on Vimeo.

View original image
The One Million Step Challenge is one of Diabetes UK’s flagship events.
View original image
Manifesto and Diabetes UK adjusted the messaging to reflect life in lockdown.
The technology behind the campaign allowed for fundraising on a variety of platforms.
The One Million Step Challenge 2020 was one of the most successful virtual events of the year.