Understanding peer-to-peer fundraising participants and donors

Team DonorDrive

Team DonorDrive

This week's article is from Craig Van Korlaar, CEO at TopNonprofits. It takes a thorough look at peer-to-peer fundraising personas. 

When planning a P2P fundraising event, it is important to understand who your audience is as well as the audiences they will be reaching out to (potential donors and fundraising recruits).

Although looking at demographics can be useful, we will be focusing on three primary categories that span age, sex, and socio-economic statuses.

  • Their relationship to the cause
  • Their knowledge of the organization and its work
  • Their current phase in their P2P event journey (from prospective to seasoned team leader)

Your goal isn’t to pigeon-hole someone into a specific group or to necessarily come up with entirely different communication plans for each. Instead, the goal is to increase your empathy for each group’s needs, motivations, and challenges so you can help them engage in a meaningful way.

Cause Relation Personas

In this section, we will explore these different types or prospective and existing supporters based on their relation to the cause.

Since the nonprofit sector spans a number of cause and service categories, we chose to use a broader approach in our naming. Feel free to adjust the naming to create a better fit for your organization. For example, a cancer research organization might change “Direct Related” to be “Fighters & Survivors,” or an animal shelter might change “Directly Related” to be “Adopted & Engaged” to reflect families who have not only adopted but have engaged with the organization recently.

Directly Impacted and Close To the Cause

1. The Directly Related (e.g. Cancer Survivor)

Cause/Org Knowledge: Very High

  • Living with a condition or are in remission
  • Direct client/beneficiary of the org’s services
  • Some impact will live on after them as people continue to support the cause in their memory.

These are your rock stars and often will have large networks of people willing to support them.

Fundraiser Participants
Some won’t be afraid to take the lead directly, others may want or need someone to take up the banner on their behalf. For those that are willing, telling their story online is an incredibly powerful tool for not only getting donors to give, but also in recruiting other fundraisers. Either way, shower them with all the love, honor, and support you can.

Team Captain
When someone in this group has the traits of a good leader, and is willing and able to lead a team of fundraisers, they are often some of the most effective. Their closeness to the cause makes them a great rallying point for teams. Sometimes it will be a single survivor with a core fundraising team made of family and friends, other times it may be a team of fellow survivors.

Some in this group are likely to donate, which is awesome, but that shouldn’t be your focus. You want to empower them (and/or those close to them) to take up the banner on the fundraising side.

2. The Close Friend or Relative (Indirectly impacts them, but in a big way)

These people have an invested interest in this cause and have a powerful story to tell, they just may not know how or struggle to make the time.

Cause/Org Knowledge: Medium to Very High

  • Spouse/significant other
  • Parent/child/sibling
  • Close friend
  • Close colleague/teammate
  • Org staff and regular volunteers

Fundraiser Participants
Make it easy on them by providing a lot of talking points, templates and examples they can use as a launching point. Although people supporting the same survivor are likely to have some network overlap, their collective reach is still much greater, and the overlap serves to reinforce and amplify the message. Depending on your organization or cause, you may need to be sensitive to the status of their loved one and take extra care to foster an environment of honor and support while keeping things light, fun, and celebratory. Encourage them to form teams and find a symbol of their tribe (t-shirts, headbands, etc.).

Team Captain
A close family member or friend can often be the one who is the most effective at leading the team. This is especially true for causes where the survivor may have limited energy or physical ability. The team may still be rallied around a particular survivor, but the bulk of the responsibilities for organizing efforts in this scenario do not fall on them.

Those that are not able to participate as fundraisers will often prove to be the most likely to give. Fundraisers should focus on telling their personal story (ideally related to the same loved one), and encourage them to contribute to the cause by donating. It is also worth asking this group to share your story or invitation with others in their network. In this way, they aren’t formal participants with their own profile but can extend the reach of someone else who is.

3. Second-Hand Experience, But Support Cause (they Know Someone Who…)

This group signifies the power of loose ties. By definition, there are many, many more people in this category than the two above combined. This is the beauty of peer-to-peer. It empowers those impacted by your work to invite their friends, neighbors, colleagues, and extended family to support your cause. Many of these people may not otherwise have contact with your organization. The individual bond of any randomly selected individual in this group may not be particularly strong, but the number of people in this category makes up for it.

Cause/Org Knowledge: Low to Medium-High Range

  • Distant relative
  • Acquaintance
  • Friend of a friend
  • Work acquaintance

Fundraiser Participants
When it comes to participating in fundraising, this group benefits extra from the incentive of doing it with their friend or in the context of a team. You may also find that people who fall in this category also have a passion for the related event theme (e.g., speaker topic, dancing, running, biking, hiking, animals, etc.) may also be great candidates to help raise funds.

Team Captain
Captains from this group can also be very effective, but will need to rely more heavily on their natural leadership skills and example, especially when the rest of the team also have looser ties to the cause.

The closer someone is to someone impacted, the higher probability that they are willing to contribute funds, but this group’s unique value as donors is that they know someone impacted and will likely hear about it from someone else they know who is close to the cause. This group will respond best when fundraisers can connect the cause to the individual they already know or else tell their story in a way that is relatable.

4. The “Good/Related Cause” Supporter

This group doesn’t necessarily have first-hand experience with the work that you do but are still willing to support what they consider to be a “good cause,” especially if asked by someone closer to the cause.

Cause/Org Knowledge: Low to Medium

  • People willing to support any good cause when provided a compelling opportunity
  • Ties to a related cause (e.g., survivor of another form of cancer)
  • Doing it because of a friend asked. Like the cause, but no personal tie
  • Employees of a sponsor

Fundraiser Participants
This group is harder to move into the fundraiser category, but the opportunity should not be overlooked. For example, encouraging sponsors to also get their employees involved, and even create friendly departmental fundraising competitions can work well. The community’s perception of the brand, the employee’s morale, and the org all benefit.

Team Captain
Sometimes this person is assigned the role, such as in the case of a corporate team, other times they may be elected by their peers. They may also be natural leaders that are compelled by the combination of event time and cause where they jump at the opportunity to lead a team. Either way, they will have less of a personal story to tell, and will benefit from sample copy for use in different scenarios, as well FAQs and reference materials they can turn to if a question pops up.

A large number of potential donors in people’s social networks will fall into this category. When possible, having a compelling story, and being asked directly, plus a friendly follow up (or two) serve as a great starting point for approaching this group.

5. The Cause Consumer (Not necessarily bad…can overlap with others)

This group’s motivation centers around the event’s fun and cool activities, with a good cause secondary. They often get a bad rap in nonprofit event circles, but don’t make the mistake of writing them off. There is serious potential here, but extra care is needed to ensure that they don’t turn into zero-dollar fundraisers which hurt the bottom line.

Cause/Org Knowledge: Varies, but typically on the lower half of the spectrum

  • Cause hoppers – people who love combining fun and (any) cause
  • T-shirt/swag collector
  • Looking to impress someone else (social media followers, friends, date, etc.)
  • Adventure seeker
  • Event aligns with related interest/hobby/goal (e.g., couch to 5K)

Fundraiser Participants
Your most significant goal with this group is to make sure that people understand that participating means fundraising and that you equip and incentivize them to do so. Set low minimum thresholds for participation to ensure the costs associated with their participation are covered. Keep their credit card on file to charge them if they don’t make their fundraising minimum by the deadline. You may also consider including swag at a slighter higher threshold. While you are at it, make sure your event is fun and your swag is cool and desirable. Look for ways to balance expectations while also introducing variety (e.g., new pint glass designs each year). Lastly, allow for on-site payments so people that don’t meet this threshold coming in have the option to donate their own money to reach them.

Team Captain
Similar to the “Good” Cause Supporter, captains in this group can be very effective, but will tend to leave teams with less personal experience with the cause. Creating useful and easy to find examples and reference materials will go a long way to helping them lead effectively.

This one comes down to the event type and if the donor gets to participate or not. If the event lets donors pay a registration fee to participate, such as with a 5K run, everything above applies. If not, see “Good Cause” or “Reluctant Donor” as appropriate.

6. The Reluctant Participant

This group signifies those who (due to peer pressure or some other reason) signup, but do so reluctantly. Because there are many reasons someone might be reluctant, people in this group can sometimes also span another category (e.g. family member who is reluctant to ask people to donate). Your goal should be to help them connect to the cause and make it as easy as possible to follow through.

Cause/Org Knowledge: Typically Low

  • No tie to cause, only there because of peer pressure
  • Care about the cause, but not the event
  • Care about the cause, but anxious/reluctant to ask people to donate money

Fundraiser Participants
These sub-groups come from different sides of the motivation spectrum, but they will both need a little extra love to get them excited and engaged. If left on their own, this group is highly prone to becoming no-shows and zero-dollar fundraisers. Work hard to connect them with others and take extra care to remove barriers and friction so it easy for them to follow through.

Team Captain
Team captains need to be motivated and willing to lead by example. A team leader that doesn’t want to be there will be a tough sell. Some may be able to muscle through it, but this scenario is unlikely to contribute to the success of a team.

People don’t have to be on fire for your cause to give. You aren’t trying to extort or manipulate them, but you want people to still make the ask. In short, make sure the participants let them say no instead of doing it for them.

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