The best investment nonprofits can make in 2021

Kay Todd

Kay Todd

Product Marketing Manager

How did innovative fundraising programs grow in a year when fundraising dropped by over $400 million?  

During a year without in-person fundraising, nonprofits were hit hard. Fundraising programs which depended on in-person event revenue faced the challenge of providing new ways for participants to engage or were otherwise forced to cancel these important revenue generating events.  The result was a fundraising collapse for many organizations. Peer-to-peer fundraising programs lost 31% of revenue on average, with some down more than 50%  Across the board, participation was down 61%.The Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Thirty, Peer-To-Peer Professional Forum

So how does our industry come back from this? While we are still navigating uncharted waters, we can look to innovative programs which thrived in this difficult year for direction on how to grow into the future.

Last year, out of all the programs that self-reported their fundraising data to the Peer-to-Peer Fundraising 30 Report, only five showed year-over-year growth.

It's worth looking at these events to understand what they did leading up to 2020 as this growth was not by accident. It took years of work and calculated investments to be well-positioned for the virtual world we embraced in 2020.

Extra Life by Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, is the largest gaming fundraiser in the industry. In 2020, Extra Life’s campaign grew +17% which was a major increase from 2019 growth rate of 5%. Surprisingly, this revenue growth was not from increased participants. Registrations decreased by over 13,000 due to cancellation or limitations for in-person and office-hosted events. 

So how did Extra Life achieve this unprecedented fundraising growth?

Extra Life has always been a virtual event. The program started in 2008 and became an official Children’s Miracle Network program using DonorDrive in 2010.

“Extra Life has thrived in the digital space since inception. It's no secret we had an existing framework to build upon to inspire fundraising in 2020. While we saw less people registering for Extra Life last year, the program grew in fundraising.

How? Community.”

-Ashley Farkas, Director, Programs - Extra Life at Children's Miracle Network Hospitals

Investing in an engaged fundraiser is the most valuable relationship a nonprofit can foster. Building into those relationships will strengthen your mission’s impact.

As an organization, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, and subsequently Extra Life, know this and they do everything they can to build experiences that are compelling and build inclusive communities who work together to give back. 

“A lot of folks ask about the "secret sauce" of this program, and my answer will always be this incredible community. The Extra Life community is kind, thoughtful, steps up to any challenge, and is dedicated to playing games to raise life-saving funds for their local children's hospital.”

- Ashley Farkas, Director, Programs - Extra Life at Children's Miracle Network Hospitals


Here are 3 ways Extra Life was well-positioned from the work they’ve done over the years:

In 2020, their virtual live streaming model allowed them to not miss a beat. 

The only thing they needed to convert into a virtual event was Extra Life United - their annual in-person gathering in Orlando. When Extra Life made it virtual they saw an increase in fundraising and participation because more people could join who normally couldn’t make the trip. The result was a 30% increase in fundraising on that day from the previous year.

They were ready to capitalize on a streaming boom

Another correlating factor that helped fewer fundraisers raise more was the conditions of 2020 brought on increased streaming views by a large margin. Over 10 Billion more hours were consumed on streaming platforms in 2020 than in 2019.

It's not required to stream to fundraise for Extra Life, but those who stream raise more. On Extra Life’s Game Day the average participant raised $331 (29% more than 2019) and the average streaming participant raised $1,000.

Even though Extra Life saw a decrease in participants, each participant likely had a larger audience tuning in. In turn, they had more donors to appeal to. 

The fundraiser and donor experience made a difference

Getting in front of donors is only one side of the coin, the other is making the donation process inviting. Extra Life has enabled Milestones and Incentives in their fundraising program so fundraisers had ways to entice donors along the way to their final fundraising goal. In-stream interactive features made it so the audience could see donations and the streamer's reaction to those donations live as well. 

Donors were also able to give with ease no matter where they discovered an Extra Life participant’s fundraiser. If they were watching a stream embedded on the participant's fundraising page they could donate without having to navigate away or load a new browser page. The experience was similar on Twitch as well through a Twitch Extension content creators could add to their profile. At DonorDive, we saw a 380% increase in usage of the Twitch Extension in 2020, which makes sense given the high increase in live streams and viewership.

Together these things created the perfect storm for Extra Life. Their vibrant virtual community could do more, so even with fewer participants, they were able to have a record-setting year.

“Take time to invest in community. Share the spaces they frequent, both in person and virtually. 2020 is a year that shined light on social platforms outside of email inboxes such as Discord, Twitch, YouTube, Facebook Gaming, in addition to social media.

If there's one thing to take away from 2020 - it's to meet community where THEY are." 

- Ashley Farkas, Director, Programs - Extra Life at Children's Miracle Network Hospitals

People have millions of options to spend their time or entertain themselves online, but for those who want to do some good with their time, it's our job to make it an inviting endeavor.

Here are 4 key ways you can start investing in your community:

1. Build community over building events.
Take time to listen and build meaningful relationships with fundraisers to increase loyalty to your nonprofit’s brand. Think about the subgroups within your communities and make sure to celebrate them and, most importantly, help them to connect with each other.

2. Let participants drive. 
Don’t over-prescribe how participants should fundraise. Give participants options and avenues to fundraise in ways that play to their strengths. For instance, if they like to perform, let them live stream. If the community is into fitness, let them track their progress to a fitness goal or other benchmark.

3. Invite donors into the fundraising journey.
Take donors to the front row seat to what your community is all about. Let them see milestones of participants or your organization that were reached, let them pledge to specific participants,  and show them the impact and importance of their donation.

Think long term.
Virtual fundraising communities aren’t built overnight. Organizations can get short-term wins, which are always great,  but the goal is not to go viral or have the hottest live stream fundraiser of the day. The goal is to build a fundraising campaign that enables you to diversify your fundraising revenue, reach new audiences and demographics, and have a dedicated group of fundraisers who will help showcase your organization and its mission.

Remember, when a fundraiser wants to invest themselves in your mission, invest back in them. Create an experience they can’t get anywhere else and give them the ability to drive their fundraising success.


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