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Guaranteed Nonprofit Recipe for Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Results

Guaranteed Nonprofit Recipe for Peer-to-Peer Fundraising ResultsYou’re likely hearing a lot these days about peer-to-peer (P2P) fundraising.

It’s not new, having been around quite some time. Katrina VanHuss and Otis Fulton talk about the origins of P2P in their new book, Dollar Dash. They note:

Any time a person uses his or her personal leverage—a relationship—to gain a donation of something of value, P2P is at work."

It works because of one of the most fundamental psychological principles of persuasion (aka “social proof”). We trust our peers more than strangers. Not only do we trust our peers, we also want to fit in with them. To be accepted as someone who does the right thing.

We long to belong.

When I began in fundraising over 30 years ago, we used this principle often. We asked board members and current donors to add personal, handwritten notes to their friends on our fundraising appeals. This required an intensive process of building lists of acquaintances, pulling envelopes out from the general mailing, bringing note-writers into our offices to add notes, and, of course, reporting back to our note-writers on the outcomes of their efforts. Lots of coordination and attention to detail.

It was worth it. We found this boosted our return by as much as 34 percent.

Still ... we didn’t do it with every appeal, because it was so labor intensive.

Fast forward to the digital revolution.

Suddenly it’s become much easier to harness the power of social proof. We don’t have to gather everyone together physically in one room. We don’t have to painstakingly hand-write notes. We’ve got the entire internet at our disposal, 24/7, on a powerful computer housed in our own phone or desktop. We can reach anyone we wish, instantly, in any zip code on earth!

And because this is so powerful, it’s nutty not to avail yourself of this resource.

According to Network for Good, 23 percent of all online giving is from peer-to-peer fundraising. The folks at Classy compiled data from several studies, and found that as much as 33 percent of online donations came from P2P.

The Recipe for P2P

People give more to people who are their peers than they do to organizations.

There are three key ingredients:

  1. Volunteer fundraisers ask ...
  2. Potential donors to give money to ...
  3. Your cause

The key is that the fundraisers are volunteers (no one pays them), which gives their advocacy more credibility. Peer-to-peer fundraising is direct, personal word of mouth—but delivered online. There is no substitute for this ingredient!

The psychological principle at work here is one that underlies much of human decision making. As the Dollar Dash authors write:

People don’t make decisions in isolation from their friends, family, and acquaintances.

The endorsement of your cause by a volunteer fundraiser serves as a decision-making shortcut for your prospective donors. They don’t have to go out and ask their network if you’re a good bet, because the volunteer fundraiser has already done this work for them!

There are many forms of P2P fundraising, ranging from:

  • Special events (e.g., walkathons) to ...
  • Crowdfunding (e.g., charity-led efforts that are “carried” by volunteer fundraisers, but the appeal’s organization and impetus still comes from the charity—“Giving Days” is one example; often incentives are offered as rewards), and ...
  • DIY P2P (e.g., “Do-It-Yourself” volunteer-directed initiatives, often in honor of the organizer’s birthday or other special occasion).

Why DIY P2P Takes the Cake

Today I will focus on DIY P2P because I believe (1) the psychological principle of social proof is most at play here, and (2) once you’ve set this up it can become an evergreen, core component of your ongoing strategic fundraising plan.

What’s powerful about DIY is that it comes from the fundraiser’s deep-seated values.

The act of fundraising for a cherished cause becomes, in itself, the fundraiser’s reward. Unlike crowdfunding campaigns (similar to Kickstarter-type initiatives for business), which offer tangible rewards at various levels of giving, DIY P2P works on the basis of the traditional fundraising “value-for-value” exchange model. The fundraiser gives something of value (in this case it’s time spent fundraising) and receives something of value in return (an intangible “feel good”).

When the “currency” of the relationship at work is social good, it comes from the heart.

This is important, because new research reveals that giving tangible incentives undermines fundraising.

When folks feel they acted in order to get something for themselves, they simply don’t feel as good. They’re acting from their heads, not their hearts. Accordingly, they don’t feel as connected. And they are less likely to remain loyal (see Offer Nonprofit Donors Gratitude Experiences, Not Tote Bags and A Career Lesson: Incentives Are Bad for Nonprofits).

When the currency of the transaction is based on an economic relationship, it comes from the head.

The heart trumps the head—every time.

When folks do something from the heart, it gives them a sense of meaning and purpose. This is something all humans yearn for. It’s still your job to reward them with intangibles—like gratitude and recognition.

DIY P2P fundraising also puts your organization in touch with new donors at little to no cost.

It’s an awesome donor acquisition tool. Volunteer fundraisers expand your army of askers and broaden your circle of influence. You’re suddenly able to find donors you’d never otherwise have had access to.

How to Bake DIY P2P into Your Core Fundraising Strategies

You need to evolve your mindset.

The core of annual giving for many years has been direct-to-donor fundraising. I’m not suggesting you give this up. I’m simply saying that if you ignore donor-to-donor fundraising in our digital age you’re going to leave a lot of relatively easy money on the table. And your base of support won’t build anywhere near as fast as it could. So ...

Key Ingredients

  • Create a written DIY P2P strategic plan with goals, measurable objectives, and strategies.
  • Get approval for budget and infrastructure you will need to set up and run this program.
  • Set up DIY P2P fundraising pages directly on your website. Numerous companies will build online, customizable fundraising pages for you. Many will also advise you how to build and promote your program, and they’ll even integrate these pages with your social media accounts so folks can instantly spread the word about your campaign.
  • Customize P2P fundraising pages to your nonprofit brand. Develop a succinct, compelling message encouraging folks to host a DIY campaign whenever the spirit moves them (e.g., birthdays, graduations, weddings, anniversaries, memorials).
  • Integrate P2P fundraising pages with your social media accounts so folks can instantly spread the word about your campaign.
  • Incorporate reporting so fundraisers can easily keep track of their progress, message their networks, and even invite their peers to set up their own P2P campaigns.
  • Incorporate intangible rewards by building a DIY donor acknowledgment, recognition, and stewardship program with distinct strategies you spell out.
  • Determine metrics to measure your success (e.g., numbers of new donors; numbers of new fundraisers; dollars raised; average donation size; renewal rates of donors acquired via P2P).
  • Evaluate strengths and weaknesses of your P2P program at least annually, and incorporate lessons learned into next year’s plan.

The Icing on the DIY Cake

Cake without icing is a mistake, IMHO.

And it turns out the icing for P2P fundraising is recognition. Notice, this is not the same as tangible rewards. Recognition is more of a felt experience. A public pat on the back.

And, in an interesting twist to P2P fundraising, new research reveals that fundraisers who are recognized return to fundraise on your behalf again.

Entice your P2P fundraisers to accept recognition.

While tangible rewards work against loyalty, intangible rewards work in reverse. The Turnkey team conducted a study where they applied a recognition program to an entire P2P audience, offering recognition at different levels of fundraising achievement. One year later, they measured the performance of those who accepted the recognition and those who did not.

Findings show people who accept recognition come back to fundraise again and at even higher levels.

  • Of fundraisers who accepted recognition, 51 percent came back to fundraise again.
  • Of fundraisers who did not accept recognition, 41 percent came back to fundraise again.
  • When no recognition was offered, only 16 percent came back to fundraise again.

So even the act of offering the recognition has a significant impact. Why? Because the offer of a goody is perceived with pleasure. And when we’re gratified by our actions, we instinctively want to repeat them (it’s most likely why it’s built into our DNA for sex to be pleasurable—so we’ll do it again and ensure the future of the species).

Just Desserts

Many of us harbor an unconscious bias towards humility. We may have been taught that it’s hubris to seek external recognition. Have you ever had a donor say “Oh, no thanks is necessary?

While it may not be necessary, it’s certainly desirable (as borne out by the aforementioned research study).

So ... how do you get folks to order dessert?

I used to overcome the bias against recognition with my volunteers and donors by suggesting that allowing me to publish their names and/or tell their stories resulted in them doing a double good deed! Not only were they (1) honoring us with their gift of time/money, they were also (2) honoring us by inspiring others to follow their lead. Once the act of recognition was thus reframed, folks were more than willing to accept the credit—and they tended to become even more deeply engaged with our nonprofit.


This is not rocket science. You don’t have to be a master chef or Food Network star. You can absolutely do this, no matter your size or cause.

You’ve now got the DIY P2P recipe.

Go get your DIY P2P ingredients.

All that's left is for you to get out your cooking implements and vessels:

  • Write up a plan
  • Allocate budget and staff
  • Set up your campaign pages(s)
  • Provide your donors with the tools they need to raise money themselves
  • Follow through with well-deserved rewards of gratitude and recognition

Your P2P donor-advocates will then pass on the same tools and knowledge to members of their personal networks, creating an endless cycle that exponentially increases both your pool of supporters and well of donations.

Happy cooking!

Guaranteed Nonprofit Recipe for Peer-to-Peer Fundraising ResultsClaire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE, was named Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and brings 30 years of frontline development and marketing experience to her work as principal of her social benefit consulting firm, Clairification.

Topics: Peer-to-Peer Fundraising