Peer-to-Peer Fundraising: A Crash Course for Nonprofits

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If you have ever wished you could super-size your nonprofit's fundraising, peer-to-peer may be the answer.

Unlike crowdfunding (which is also great), peer-to-peer fundraising requires an army of volunteers who fundraise on your nonprofit’s behalf.

While crowdfunding entails individual donors giving at your campaign website and social media pages, peer-to-peer fundraising counts on individual supporters setting up their own mini-campaign pages to solicit their friends and family. Those pages can then feed to your campaign’s page. 

All of this, of course, happens under your organization’s orchestration.

Peer-to-peer fundraising is most often associated with events like a walkathon, marathon, or other fun group activities. But it can also be used as part of an auction, or a special campaign such as a birthday fundraiser.

Peer-to-peer campaigns can supplement a larger campaign or serve as a stand-alone fundraiser. Really, nonprofits have only begun to explore all the creative ways peer-to-peer fundraising can be used.

However, peer-to-peer fundraising, while not rocket science, demands considerable research and planning well before actually starting.

Although peer-to-peer fundraising is an excellent way for your organization to engage your supporters by letting them take the reins for the duration of the campaign, too many nonprofits think this means that their campaign responsibilities have been simplified or eliminated, and that’s just not true.

A successful peer-to-peer fundraising campaign requires planning, direction, and strategy like any other campaign you might conduct.

The benefits of a well-directed peer-to-peer fundraising campaign include not only donations but also a boost to your supporter engagement rates, stronger bonds with your volunteers, and a wealth of new donor data to guide your future decisions. It’s in your best interest to put as much thought and effort into a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign as possible.

This crash course includes the essential steps to remember before, during, and after your peer-to-peer fundraising campaign:

  1. Do some pre-planning and set your goals.
  2. Choose a peer-to-peer fundraising platform.
  3. Recruit and choose volunteer page hosts.
  4. Train your volunteer peer-to-peer fundraisers.
  5. Provide donation incentives during the campaign.
  6. Link events to your peer-to-peer fundraising campaign.
  7. Track your peer-to-peer fundraising data.
  8. Thank everyone according to their involvement.
  9. Wrap up and analyze your final campaign data.

Although not wholly exhaustive, these steps and ideas will give you inspiration for the best way to align your campaign with your specific goals.

By following these guidelines at each step, you can ensure a massive payoff from your peer-to-peer fundraising campaign.

1.  Do some pre-planning and set your goals.

As with any campaign, there are peer-to-peer fundraising best practices that your organization should follow to ensure success. Among these is setting the campaign’s very definition of fundraising success.

Before planning any events, challenges, or specific engagement strategies, it’s crucial that you first determine a handful of concrete goals and guidelines.

These will structure the rest of your planning and influence any future campaign decisions you make. These goals and guidelines can (and should) include:

  • A concrete fundraising goal.
  • The specific purpose and mission of your campaign.
  • Target online engagement rates for new and existing donors.
  • The number of fundraising events you can afford to host.
  • A hard end-date for your campaign.

Having unclear goals or guidelines is an extremely common reason for fundraising campaigns to go off-track. This is particularly true for campaigns like peer-to-peer fundraisers that have more moving parts to be considered and coordinated.

2. Choose a peer-to-peer fundraising platform.

Once you establish concrete goals, research the peer-to-peer fundraising platforms available to your organization.

The cost will likely be a significant determining factor, so be aware that peer-to-peer fundraising platforms are typically available either as a part of larger software packages or for free. Free-to-use platforms will often charge a flat rate plus processing fees.

There are also some essential features that must be included in whichever platform you choose:

  • Customization options for media and branding.
  • Full social media sharing tools.
  • CRM or other database integration.
  • Messaging capabilities.
  • Options for both individual and team campaign pages

Be sure to check if your current software providers offer any peer-to-peer options. Plus, this is the stage of the campaign when you should consider any additional donation methods you would like to provide your donors, such as text-to-give tools.

3. Recruit and choose volunteer page hosts.

At the heart of any peer-to-peer fundraising campaign are your volunteers. As the campaign page hosts, they’ll work hard to promote your fundraiser to their online networks. Gauge initial interest among your top volunteers and then start to identify some key players.

Try to find volunteers who display both the necessary passion for your mission and the ability to spread the word to large numbers of donors.

As you begin to narrow down a list of prospective campaign page hosts, be sure to start by identifying the volunteers who have regularly supported your work for a year or more. Peer-to-peer fundraising requires dedication from volunteers.

Another effective strategy is to search your donor and volunteer databases for individuals who have relatively central positions in your community. They might include:

  • Local business owners.
  • Community leaders.
  • Your own board members.
  • School leaders.

Individuals like these are likely to have more extensive networks of personal connections both off and online.

4. Train your volunteer peer-to-peer fundraisers.

Once you’ve identified and confirmed your volunteer peer-to-peer fundraising page hosts, immediately provide them with a full info packet of campaign onboarding material.

They’ll need to know exactly how the campaign will work in addition to its exact goals, mission, and any other plans you’ve made.

Host both in-person and online training sessions to acquaint your peer-to-peer fundraisers with the platform you’ve chosen. Streaming video is a great way to increase the availability of these sessions for all your volunteers.

During these sessions be sure to provide your volunteers with the essential resources they’ll need to promote your campaign effectively:

  • Promotional printed and digital materials.
  • Links to relevant media or content.
  • Email templates.
  • Example social media posts.

Remember, while you should allow them some flexibility, it’s important to guide the way that your volunteers represent your organization and solicit donations. You’ve worked hard to perfect your appeal technique, so make sure your volunteers benefit from your guidance.

5. Provide donation incentives during the campaign.

One of the best characteristics of peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns is their ability to encompass and include all kinds of exciting engagement elements.

That is, it’s easy to incorporate plenty of donation incentives into your campaign.

One very reliable incentive for peer-to-peer fundraising is a system of tiered giving levels with corresponding rewards. Some rewards might include:

  • Campaign t-shirts. Everyone loves a free t-shirt, but consider offering them for sale, too!. Bonfire, a t-shirt designer and producer, has some terrific advice about on how to design and order custom shirts.
  • Other branded merchandise. Tote bags and water bottles are standard fundraiser rewards. Offer unique products for different giving levels to catch donor attention.
  • Special offers or free tickets. This is an excellent strategy for incentivizing donations and encouraging attendance at your next campaign event.

Other incentives unique to peer-to-peer fundraising are “gamified” fundraising challenges with deadlines. For instance, see who of your volunteers can raise the most in a single day, or in a week. Create an online leaderboard or fundraising thermometer to track everyone’s progress.

6. Link events to your peer-to-peer fundraising campaign.

Peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns are a great reason to host some special engagement events. They can serve to both reward your participants and maintain the campaign’s energy at critical moments.

There are some mistakes you should always avoid when planning a fundraising event, but for peer-to-peer fundraising campaign events another major mistake is promoting or planning an event without explicitly connecting it to the broader campaign.

Use the incentive and engagement strategies you’ve worked into the campaign to structure your event planning, too. For instance:

  • Offer special invitations to an exclusive online auction event. Using full-featured mobile bidding software for some inspiration can help with this.
  • Host a large finale event like a festival or marathon to wrap up your campaign. This can make a substantial promotional point for your volunteers during the campaign, too.
  • Invite volunteers and repeat donors to special events. These could be lunch meetings to share updates, or you can host a thank-you dinner after the campaign.

Gamified fundraising challenges and offering special invitations or tickets as rewards make it easy to brainstorm events that will boost the entire campaign’s momentum and strengthen your relationships with your volunteers.

7. Track your peer-to-peer fundraising data.

If your peer-to-peer fundraising platform integrates with your CRM or donor database, make sure that data is importing correctly before your campaign begins.

If your platform doesn’t integrate with your donor management software or CRM, or if your organization uses its own system for recording data, identify the data you both need and want to report during your peer-to-peer fundraising campaign.

Some core metrics to record for each donation might be:

  • Donor Status: Are they a new or past donor?
  • Engagement History: Have they volunteered or attended events in the past?
  • Donation Outlet: Which peer-to-peer campaign page did they use to donate?
  • Any Other Information that you choose to request in the donation process.

Staying organized and establishing reporting protocols will go a long way to simplify the process.

Remember, even if you’ll need to report and record some of this information manually, the extra work is always worth it. Half the value of a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign is in the wealth of new donor data it can provide your organization.

8. Thank everyone according to their involvement.

Thanking your donors is a fundamental best practice for all fundraising but especially so for peer-to-peer fundraising. That’s because peer-to-peer fundraising almost entirely relies on the dedication of your supporters and the generosity of their online networks for success.

Brainstorm thoughtful ways to thank all your campaign’s participants, but be sure to thank them according to the level of their involvement. Your volunteer peer-to-peer fundraisers and larger donors require more personal thanks than smaller donors, for instance.

Some great ways to thank your peer-to-peer fundraising participants might be:

  • Personalized emails or thank-you letters to your donors.
  • Personal phone calls, meetings, or special rewards for volunteer hosts.
  • Special wrap-up events like lunches for volunteers.
  • Acknowledgments or awards at a later major annual event.

Don’t underestimate the power of a simple thank-you letter. Making a genuine and thoughtful expression of thanks will go a long way to make participants feel valued, bolstering your relationships with key donors and volunteers who made your campaign a success.

9. Wrap up and analyze your final campaign data.

Once your peer-to-peer fundraising campaign is complete, it is still essential that you take the time to wrap up with data analysis.

Using the concrete goals you identified in pre-planning, begin by determining whether or not your campaign was a success. Even if you didn’t reach your primary fundraising goal, you should still take the time to report your campaign’s accomplishments to your supporters and ensure that your data is organized for future use.

Look at all the campaign data you collected, then any impressive or interesting campaign statistics with your team of volunteers. Next, identify the individuals or parties that made significant impacts on your campaign, like:

  • Key volunteer fundraisers that raised the most
  • The campaign’s largest individual donors
  • Any companies that made donations
  • Any individuals whose network links were extremely valuable

Remember, peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns can be an excellent way to identify future major supporters.

These campaigns can even be thought of as a kind of prospect development, which is just another reason why it’s essential that your participants and donors be adequately thanked.

Peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns are a perfect way to engage large segments of your base of support. If your organization is considering conducting one, be sure to research all the steps and aspects that you’ll need to focus on.

Follow these essential tips to keep your peer-to-peer fundraising on track and good luck.

About the author: With more than 14 years of experience, Joshua Meyer brings a wealth of know-how to his role as Director of Marketing for OneCause. His passion has been to help nonprofits find new donors and engage them for better fundraising results.