How to future-proof your peer-to-peer fundraising

Marc Rubner

Marc Rubner


In my daily conversations with nonprofit leaders, I hear a lot of concern about underperforming events, difficulty of attracting and keeping supporters, and lagging revenue. Many are worried about the changes happening in fundraising. On the other hand, at DonorDrive, we’re seeing many nonprofits excel with their peer-to-peer fundraising programs. Organizations that are agile and responding to current market trends are able to raise more in today’s environment.

Here’s are the big issues I see happening currently:

11 nonprofit fundraising trends impacting why people give or don’t give to organizations

1. A site visit is no longer a sign-up

It used to be if you got a potential participant to your site, you’d already won the battle: They were there to participate in your event. But many nonprofits are finding a higher bounce rate on their sites than ever before. This is especially true with younger participants. Potential supporters may arrive at a nonprofit’s event site through Facebook, an ad, or through a connection at their company. They may go check out the site or the event, but if they don’t like what they see, they're gone.

Getting participants to your website is now just the start of the process of selling them on your mission. Once they get there, you need to sell them on the good you’re doing. Even if they sign up for an event or campaign, it’s never been more important to engage them further with tangible proof of your mission success. They want to know what good every dollar they raise is buying. Today, you have to sell them to get them to join up.

2. It’s not about you, it’s about them

Organization names don’t mean what they once did. Nonprofit Marketing Guru John Haydon said you have to stop bragging about your nonprofit. Today, supporters look at your organization more as a channel they can use to do good. Organization names may still be important for older supporters, but younger supporters don't care who you are. They just want to know how you’re going to enable them to have an impact on a cause they care about.

Giving supporters choices in how they can have that impact is also beneficial. It shows people what they can support and educates them on the good you're doing. As an example: DonorDrive client World Vision gives supporters choices where the money goes in their My Cause DIY program, including building wells and providing child protection.

3. Successful events challenge participants

People love taking on challenges—especially when there is purpose behind it. Adding an bucket-list or trial element to an existing event makes it remarkable, and motivates participants to tell the story of their experience online.

For example, World Vision's 6K for Water participants can opt to carry a 40lb jerry can full of water on their walk. A 6K equates to the average distance a child in a third-world country walks to fetch water each day. Covenant House hosts a sleep out, where participants experience a night of homelessness and spend the night outdoors. The focus needs to stay on the activity of the fundraiser and why they are enduring something for their cause. If the stories are shown well, your organization can reap the benefits. It will attract new participants, encourage existing participants to do more, and ultimately raise more money. Most importantly, the experience connects your participant to your mission and becomes deeply meaningful to them which means the are more likely to return the following year.

What shouldn’t be challenging is the fundraising, donating and communication to the participant’s network. Your peer-to-peer software needs to make these experiences easy—or you lose supporters.

4. Events are splintering into special interests

Creating an event today that appeals to everyone is next to impossible. Events should be aimed at specific interests. DonorDrive client, Children's Miracle Network Hospitals holds Extra Life: a wildly-successful, 24-hour gaming marathon aimed specifically at the gaming community. It raised $13.5 million last year putting it into the Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Top 30. If you’re planning a new event, finding a viable niche audience to participate in it is key.

Another advantage of the niche event is easier sponsorship. With a niche event, you can attract niche sponsors. When your target supporter is their target customer, you can bet these event sponsors will renew year after year. This is a prime opportunity for sponsors to show off their corporate responsibility and better engage their customers.

5. DIY fundraising can drive the success of a signature event

If your nonprofit has resisted starting a DIY program for fear it would rob your events of participants, we have the proof that DIY doesn't cannibalize your events. With the national event retention rate estimated at 23%, we discovered 46% of DIY campaigners came back to do an event again. 

The most successful DIY programs don't just throw up a DIY page and turn supporters loose. Sleep Out America for Covenant House allows smaller groups and individuals, anywhere in the country, to create their own Sleep Out. To maintain the experience, Covenant House guides participants through setting up the page, planning the event, and even provides materials to help with recruiting for new participants. By creating this DIY event, Covenant House has enabled thousands of new supporters to participate in their Sleep Out Program.

6. Streaming creates more engagement and a deeper connection to the event

Forming deeper connections through a screen may seem unexpected, but technology is making it possible. Peer-to-peer fundraising has always been about giving your event participant and DIY campaigner the best tools to make the ask. New technology is making that ask more personal, intimate and immediate and, at the same time, expanding that ask to a social community. A big leap in peer-to-peer fundraising right now is charity streaming. These are personal broadcasts that work like old-school telethons where your supporters asking their live audiences for donations.

How successful are charity streams? More than $85 million has been raised for nonprofits through the Twitch channel alone. Last year DonorDrive integrated Live Fundraising™ that makes integrating livestreams to fundraising pages easy. Here’s the impact that livestreams can have in peer-to-peer fundraising: those who set up Live Fundraising in DonorDrive are rising 243% more those who don’t. Charity streaming is rapidly becoming a big player in peer-to-peer fundraising by boosting the power of the ask.

7. Existing signature events can survive if they’re agile

Community events with a long history will continue and if handled correctly, there’s room for growth. Consider events like turkey trots or the Jingle Bell Run for the Arthritis Foundation. Many of these events held at unconventional times of the year have become traditions for whole families when they gather for the holidays.

However, the margin for error continues to shrink with long-standing events. You have to do everything right if you’re going to keep that event successful. That means being data-driven, having a well-trained staff that knows success metrics, and to constantly monitor progress, so you can course-corrected every step of the way. In DonorDrive we've created Event Insights, a graphic dashboard that easily compares this year's event to last year's to see exactly where things stand.

It used to be you could throw a dart out there and your signature event would succeed. Now you’ve got to hit a bullseye every time for it to work.

8. Market to your event participants all year

The challenge with signature events that happen one day a year is keeping your participants engaged so they come back next year. The other 11 months, the communication needs to continue to flow: Thank them, let them know what the money they raised did, educate them about your mission, let them know how important their contribution is. If your event is a bucket-list event, it’s even more important to market to them, since they might not be planning to come for the event next year, unless you encourage it.

You can also sell these participant on other fundraising options, like another event or campaign. The challenge is: How can you use your house file to create segments and engage those groups of supporters to continue?

9. Campaigns must capitalize on the moment

Like those pop-up shops, nonprofits are going to have to do pop-up fundraisers. When there’s a specific need, there’s an opportunity for the nonprofit to address it. It’s additional money over their general campaigns, but they’re going to have to address people’s want to give at a very specific time to a very specific need.

Many organizations have already had experience at short-term fundraisers, like capital campaigns and emergency campaigns. Now it’s time to take those short-term campaigns to the next level. Technology exists today to make a website totally immersive for the supporter. Use it to put the supporter square in the middle of your mission. If you’re trying to fundraise for an area hit by a natural disaster, use interviews, immersive video, augmented reality and live streams to bring that disaster directly into the experience of your supporter. They’re much more likely to give and share their experience when they get so close to the mission.

I really think what we can expect on the horizon will be micro-campaigns to give to a specific village in a third-world country. These fundraisers get the buzz going and connect supporters to a mission like never before. It’ll be really tough for bigger nonprofits to adjust to this thinking, but they’re the organizations best equipped to make them happen.

10. Data is telling a better and better story 

Everyday there’s a new source of data coming at you: fundraising, social, etc—all telling you more about each of your supporters. It's only when you centralize this data that you can get an understanding of the true value of a supporter. For example, if your CRM only shows someone made a one-time $100 donation, but they’ve also been fundraising in your peer-to-peer events as a participant for three years, you’re missing the whole story of the impact that supporter actually has if the two are not connected. Funneling all the data sources with your CRM can show you the total dollars each supporter has donated and raised, as well as how big an influencer they really are for your organization. Knowing who your true advocates are will only get more important in the future.

11. The proven channels for revenue are no longer proving themselves

The number of donors who write checks in response to direct mail is continuing to decline, and payroll deductions now account for a small portion of total giving. Younger donors have less interest in payroll deductions. Peer-to-peer fundraising is familiar to them and a powerful way for them to get more involved with a company’s preferred charities. Companies also aren’t doing the arm twisting they used to with payroll deduction. Talk to these corporate partners about the opportunities you can offer their employees through your peer-to-peer fundraising software.

As online giving gets more sophisticated and instant, it has the potential to be substantially more effective than direct mail ever was. Make sure you offer all the digital payment methods your supporters prefer: Credit cards, eChecks, PayPal, Apple Pay, etc.

In the midst of all this rapid change, it’s not business as usual in the nonprofit world. Organizations must respond to market trends, get more data-savvy and enable their supporters to express their passion for the mission through their peer-to-peer software.

Ready to explore how DonorDrive can help you?