DIY peer-to-peer fundraising

This is a three-part series to help you raise more money from current donors. In Part 1 we covered monthly giving programs. Today we’ll cover DIY (do-it-yourself) P2P (peer-to-peer) programs. Finally, we’ll look at some additional upgrading strategies in Part 3.

First, let’s define our terms.  

What is DIY peer-to-peer fundraising?

It’s pretty much what it sounds like. Money is raised by one peer asking another to support your cause (P2P); they create the fundraising appeal more or less by themselves (DIY), without need for your direction, management and intervention. How does this work? You set up a user-friendly system beforehand. One that is so easy to use they can simply push a button, more or less, whenever they want to fundraise on your behalf.

Folks commonly engage in DIY P2P when they’re celebrating a life cycle event (e.g., birthday, anniversary, graduation) and they don’t want gifts for themselves. It’s a way they can declare their values, and feel really good about helping to further a good cause on their special day. Plus it makes it easy for their friends, who now don’t need to think about what to buy them. Win for the donor fundraiser/win for the charity/win for the new peer donor!

Who doesn’t like a Win/Win/Win?

Here’s what’s so great about having donors fundraise on your behalf: People respond better to people than they do to organizations. Especially when it’s people they know and trust. In fact, response to peer-to-peer fundraising is generally 25%, up to as much as 50% per Nonprofit Source data, compared with direct-to-donor campaigns where response is 0.5 – 2%.

Why? When you hear about a cause from me, your beloved friend or respected colleague, this creates an emotional connection that predisposes you to pay attention. And even look upon my request with favor. Humans are hardwired to support their besties.

Will your donors be willing to engage?

Yes! Studies show donors of every demographic say they’re willing to fundraise for nonprofits via P2P, with over 90% of Gen Xers and Millennials reporting a willingness, and almost 80% of Baby Boomers saying the same. 

We’re living in the digitally revolutionized 21st Century, and online social fundraising is an opportunity. One that should not be ignored.

Will your donors really bring in that much new money?

Yes! One source found, on average, 8 people will donate to an individual fundraising campaign. Charity: Water reports an average of 13 new donors from each online P2P campaign. Of course, some will do more. Some will do less. But… imagine your $100 donor gets 8 – 13 friends to match their gift. They’ve now become an $800 – $1,300 donor in terms of their value to your cause. Plus you have 8 – 13 new donors you can hopefully build similarly loyal and lasting relationships. What’s not to like?

While our average donation size online is similar to most charities I have benchmarked, our average fundraising campaign is worth many times more. But even more importantly, every fundraising campaign brings in, on average, 13 new donors.

Paul Young, former Director of Digital at Charity: Water

Charity: water says the average amount donated to their birthday campaigns is $770. As of this writing, they’ve had more than 96,000 people pledge their birthdays to clean water and have raised over $9 million this way. Peer to peer. One mini-campaign at a time. Check out their website. It’s a ‘master class’ on how to promote DIY P2P effectively. [You can find other examples of birthday campaigns here and here].

Will P2P be big enough to be worth the investment?

Yes! The top 30 P2P campaigns alone raised nearly $1.45 billion in 2017. That should be a BIG deal for your nonprofit’s consideration. And you don’t need to invest near as much as you might think.  

What really powers P2P is leveraging the power of your current supporters’ networks – friends, family and colleagues. Limited resources? Not to worry. You don’t have to do everything yourself. Turn your entire donor community into an army of advocates, thereby augmenting ongoing fundraising by simply empowering your supporters to become your fundraising ambassadors.

Will this be a cost-effective strategy?

Again, the short answer is “Yes!” You’ll need to invest up front in online pages, email and social media tools, but after that peer-to-peer fundraising puts your organization in touch with new donors at little to no cost. And it really is true you have to spend money to make money. Try to avoid the trap of pennywise, pound-foolish.

Here’s the skinny on P2P fundraising cost/benefit:

  • It raises more money than direct-to-donor fundraising.
  • It helps you reach a broader base of potential supporters by leveraging the power of your advocates and supporters’ online networks (email and social media) – whose combined mailing lists will be much larger than your organizational mailing list.
  • It facilitates deeper donor engagement by offering a means to involve your supporters in addition to their monetary donation.
  • It’s relatively easy to accomplish with off-the-shelf software.
  • You can set it up to operate year-round.

How do you get started?

Begin by creating an online fundraising platform to serve as a hub for your P2P fundraising activity. There are numerous companies who will build online, customizable fundraising pages for you (e.g., find a Top 15 Online Donation tools hereMashable reviews 12 here). They’ll even integrate these pages with your social media accounts so folks can instantly spread the word about your campaign.

Enable your fundraisers to draw content from this central platform so they can tell your organization’s story and talk about how their story connects with yours. Your platform provides donors with everything they need to raise money themselves. They can then pass on the same tools and knowledge to members of their personal networks, creating an endless cycle that exponentially increases your pool of supporters.

Spend some time choosing the fundraising platform that works best for you. Look at their customizable options, support services (including training, coaching and promotion) and reports. They vary in fees and costs. Some are free, some have plans with monthly charges and some get their fees from your donations (much like a credit card company). Fees range between 3% and 8% of the funds you raise; some include credit card transaction fees, while others tack them on. Each site offers a different blend of services.

What’s holding you back?

I believe DIY P2P is one of two mid-level fundraising strategies (the other being monthly giving, discussed in Part 1 of this three-part “Donor Upgrade Roadmap” series) nonprofits are not doing enough of.  So I’ve thought long and hard about why this might be the case.

Here’s what I think.

Most of the courses you’ve taken or conferences you’ve attended focus on direct- to-donor fundraising. In business marketing terminology, this is B to C (business to consumer). It’s what your E.D. and board are used to. Your staff too. Face it, before the digital revolution, the traditional way of raising funds from individuals was direct mail. A letter written by one person (usually the Executive Director or Board Chair) sent to everyone on the mailing list. Most of whom were strangers.

Consumer to consumer (aka peer to peer) has not, until quite recently, been a go-to fundraising strategy or a considered “best practice.” So you’re likely just not used to considering P2P as a core annual giving strategy. If you do P2P at all it’s been little deal, rather than a big one. A side project. Maybe something you’ve engaged in for #GivingTuesday. And you didn’t really take advantage of new technologies, so it was kind of a pain in the butt (and you’re not thinking very fondly of it).

I get it. When I began in development, there were no computers, let alone the internet and social media.  The only way to ask for non-major gifts (without going the face-to-face or phone route), was to write or type personal letters. We could get those mass produced at the printers, but we couldn’t tailor them individually or easily send them from different volunteers. So sometimes we’d print letters and leave the salutation and signature areas blank so volunteers could write their friends’ names in and send them out with personal notes and signatures. This was a cumbersome and time-consuming process. So… we didn’t ask our broad base of members, donors and advocates to participate in peer-to-peer letter writing campaigns. It was too difficult, and it didn’t make sense.

Time to change your mindset!

If you’re still fundraising like it’s the year 2000, it’s time for a change. And I’ll bet you your leaders are stymying good development practices. Because folks become invested in the status quo. It seems easier. But, really it isn’t in the long run. It only leads to treadmill fundraising that doesn’t bring in near the dollars you could be raising.

As technology continues to advance, it’s time to stop rejecting innovative ideas just because:

  • It’s not been your previous practice.
  • You tried once, but it didn’t work out.
  • No one at your organization knows how to do it.
  • You didn’t learn how to do it in a course or fundraising book.

Rather, it’s time to reframe P2P for yourself and your leaders as simply direct, personal word of mouth – but delivered online. If there’s one thing people understand, it’s the power of word of mouth (WOM). And the digital revolution put WOM on steroids. Tap into this power!

The number one way people find out about a new brand today (yes, your nonprofit is a brand) is through word of mouth. People talk to their friends to get recommendations. For restaurants… movies… plumbers… car mechanics… and even charities! When your peeps engage in P2P fundraising they are engaging in word-of-mouth recommending – telling their peeps your nonprofit is the hottest cause out there.

DIY peer-to-peer fundraising delivers!

Take a good look at P2P for your nonprofit. Sure, it’s an investment. Sure you have to provide folks with a user-friendly tool, some support and a good reason for them to fundraise on your behalf. But it’s so much easier than it once was. And once you’ve got the infrastructure in place, you can sit back and let it take off.

IMPORTANT NOTE: There is more than one type of P2P fundraising. [See the infographic below from npEngage]. When people talked about P2P five years ago, they meant mostly organization-driven campaigns like special events (runs; walks; biking events), virtual events and giving days. Even when folks talked about individual-driven campaigns, they meant mostly crowdfunding offering incentives for different tiers of donations to get a project up and running (this grew out of the likes of Kickstarter campaigns to seek venture capital for new businesses or raise money to pay medical expenses for a family member or friend). This article talks about another form of individually-driven campaign (rather than staff-driven), and one I believe is most beneficial to a broad range of today’s nonprofits because it can become an evergreen source of ongoing revenue.  

DIY peer-to-peer fundraising

donor love and loyalty

Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad

Fundraising Coach at Bloomerang
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE is a fundraising visionary with 30+ years frontline development work helping organizations raise millions in support. Her award-winning blog showcases her practical approach, which earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award. Claire runs “Clairification School” online, teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, and is a regular contributor to Guidestar, NonProfit PRO and Maximize Social Business.