Fundraising flexibility that fuels regional and national growth.

Peer-to-Peer Event Planning January 4, 2017 By Kevin Wolfe

For the past few years we’ve seen a trend of organizations expanding their peer-to-peer fundraising solely from hosting signature events to now offering DIY fundraising, third-party fundraising, community fundraising, virtual programs and other options to retain current supporters and to attract new ones. Many are discovering a big hidden benefit in offering fundraising options: They’re encouraging new growth both regionally and nationally.

Example: How they’re growing regionally.

Many nonprofits having much local success have found it difficult to grow beyond the city limits. Even when there’s obvious interest in the nearby geography, the huge outlay of resources required means it’s not feasible to open a chapter there. Organizations have found that people might not drive 100 miles to participate in a walk, but will participate as a virtual walker or by organizing their own community walk that occurs at the same time. As an organization’s presence grows in various cities in their region, they can measure interest and success in order to determine when the place and time is right to expand.

Example: How they’re growing nationally.

Many organizations with unique or lesser-known missions often discover they’ve become the de facto national office for their cause. While they can have great pockets of support across the country, they find themselves needing to engage from a distance. Fundraising options that don’t require geographic support, like DIY or virtual events, can help these organizations harness this enthusiasm.

Real-world example: The Epilepsy Foundation.

We recently did a Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum webinar with Mo Lyons, the Special Events Manager for the Epilepsy Foundation, where she’s in charge of digital fundraising events. The Epilepsy Foundation is a national nonprofit that’s connected with 47 affiliate organizations and currently growing their model of regional chapters. The wide range of readily-available fundraising options they make available to their supporters in DonorDrive have helped them activate individual supporters, community groups, affilliates and chapters to raise more.

National options.

The National Walk for Epilepsy in Washington DC has been the Epilepsy Foundation’s cornerstone event for fundraising, awareness and advocacy. This event is framed as an annual family reunion and continues to grow, with the 10th annual Walk raising over a million dollars in 2016. Other options offered by the Epilepsy Foundation’s national office are designed to accommodate the fundraising of chapters, affliilate, community groups and individuals.

Chapter options.

The Dare to Walk series was created for chapters. The chapter walks keep the brand consistent from city to city and, as the number of chapters grow, the walk series will increase brand recognition. Another option is the gala. Though national doesn’t host galas, they make them available for chapters through DonorDrive, since they still generate money and can be very effective for recognizing key local supporters. Mo sees the flexibility of DonorDrive is important for growing chapter fundraising: “Our chapters are now using our DonorDrive to optimize their events. Our small chapters, that don’t have websites for each of their events, use DonorDrive not just for fundraising, but as an all-encompassing event website. This helps us create continuity and standardization among our events so that our brand has the same impact across the country.”

Affiliate options.

A key to helping affiliates succeed is to give them events that are easy to promote. These include Lemonade for Livy (a Summer fundraiser and digital take on the traditional lemonade stand) and the Purple Pumpkin Project (a Halloween fundraiser.) These events are hosted by the national office and given to affiliates to promote as local programs. Mo notes that these are ready-made and branded: “National takes care of creating the event in DonorDrive, as well as participant maintenance and care, while the local affiliate promotes it and gives their constituents more options to raise funds. We then share the revenue with them. Affiliates are uniting with us to help us promote our events in their market as additional ways to get involved and make an impact.”

Community group options.

The athletic community has been a strong supporter of the Epilepsy Foundation. Athletes vs Epilepsy is a wide-ranging program with many fundraising options. The Foundation currently partners with major commercial marathons, in addition to making fundraising available for those who already have bibs in any athletic event. The program offers fundraising for everything from golf tournaments to high school football games. Their Move Mountains program is a fitness event at participating gyms.

Individual options.

As more and more supporters want to fundraise on their own terms, the Epilepsy Foundation accommodates them with a variety of options from structured programs to DIY. Virtual walks expand the reach of national or chapter walks, while Athletes vs Epilepsy DIY allows fundraising around any personal physical activity, like climbing a mountain or riding a bike across the state. The Summer Fitness Challenge offers fundraising in the Summer, traditionally a down season for events. There are also commemorative events: The Power of 1 (fundraising around being seizure free for one or more years) and SUDEP (Sudden Unexpected Death from Epilepsy) Memorials. As the Epilepsy Foundation grows, they've already figured out how to address the desire of supporters anywhere in the country, whether they have a local organization or not.

Taking local and individual creativity national.

Another benefit of individual and local fundraising freedom is that it’s a great incubator and proving ground for events. Move Mountains and Lemonade for Livy both started as events created by individuals. After seeing viability of these events, Epilepsy Foundation took both to a national scale. Mo is a firm believer that this system works: “Many great ideas are built in the real world, not in the board room. Organizations often talk about how they wish they’d have thought up the Ice Bucket Challenge. But that was created by supporters, not by the organization. If someone at any nonprofit had proposed the Ice Bucket Challenge as a fundraiser, it would have quickly been turned down. But it became such a huge success because it was supporter driven.”

For more on this topic, check out our report below.