By Kelly Velasquez-Hague, VP of Content Marketing & Engagement at OneCause

The power of peer influence and social media has greatly impacted the landscape of nonprofit fundraising. From endurance events to virtual challenges, crowdfunding, and do-it-yourself campaigns, peer-to-peer fundraising redefines giving experiences and the ways donors engage with the causes they support. Yet many nonprofits have relied on traditional special events, and in-person fundraising models to power the development strategies. Until now that is.

Enter in COVID-19, and nonprofits have been forced to find new strategies to reach and attract donors virtually, in order to keep fundraising. Even as the country reemerges from the pandemic, local restrictions on in-person gatherings and a generally cautious mindset about large crowds, makes it critical to engage online.

There’s a lot that organizations can learn from peer-to-peer fundraising and how to turn online campaigns into virtual fundraising event success. First and foremost, engaging supporters online starts with ensuring a seamless, social and fun experience for your participants. In peer-to-peer, your participants are the ones directly raising funds for your cause. They engage their networks to solicit donors, expand reach and recruit new participants. With that in mind, what do today’s participants need to succeed?

Many research studies have looked at performance data of peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns, but there’s been little insight from the participants’ point of view, until now. Our company, OneCause, recently released new research to provide insight into what peer-to-peer participants need. We surveyed 1,106 Social Fundraisers in the U.S., those who participated in at least one peer-to-peer fundraising campaign in the last 12 months, to understand their motivators, challenges, and future intentions.

The findings provide unique insights into the mindset of today’s peer-to-peer. Nonprofits executing peer-to-peer fundraising, or even those contemplating virtual fundraising as a pivot from traditional charity auctions, need to focus on the participant experience to fully harness the power and engagement of today’s social fundraisers.

There are four areas of the participant experience your nonprofit can optimize to better attract, motivate, and retain fundraising participants.

1. Recruitment

Peer influence and social sharing is core to peer-to-peer fundraising, especially during the recruitment stage. Participants are more than two times as likely to have been recruited by friend, family member, or colleague than directly by the nonprofits. Unfortunately, many nonprofits miss opportunities to attract new social fundraisers by not encouraging and rewarding peer-to-peer recruitment. Play to the nature of social competition by providing participants with tools that make it easy for them to invite their social networks to join your virtual campaign, track recruitment activity, and that include incentives, activity-based rewards, social reach and performance leaderboards.
When building recruitment messaging it’s important to keep in mind why participants fundraise. Based on our study, we found the top three reasons they fundraise is because:

  1. They care about the mission.
  2. They believe money raised will make a difference.
  3. They enjoy the experience.

Include clear, concise, and compelling messaging and imagery that connects them beyond the individual campaign to the cause, your mission, and how the funds raised make a difference. Make them feel a part of your purpose. Impact is key to connecting participants, who may never see or participate in-person with your cause. Find ways to inspire and virtually motivate them to keep fundraising through the experience and messaging you create. This will sustain engagement throughout your peer-to-peer fundraise and beyond.

2. Registration & Set-Up

We found that ease matters to today’s Social Fundraisers. As consumers in their everyday life, today’s participants have come to expect simplified digital experiences just as they expect easy giving and online shopping experiences.

This means that the registration or sign-up process must be as easy as possible, especially for returning participants. However, our study found only 62% of peer-to-peer participants say it is “very easy” to register, and less than half find it “very easy” to join or start a team. If your participants are challenged out of the gate, and it’s not easy for them to get started fundraising, then how can we expect them to meet or exceed goals?

To simplify the sign-up process, leverage integrated social network logins. Participants will have one less password to remember and they will be set up from the start for social sharing. When possible, also provide pre-populated registration for returning participants that include suggested fundraising goals and past donor lists.

Goal setting is also a crucial part of setting up today’s Social Fundraisers for success, especially in today’s virtual world, where you need to keep your participants motivated online. Lay the foundation for continued engagement throughout the campaign. 90% of those with an established fundraising goal met or exceed that goal. You can easily provide recommended fundraising goals based on average participant stats from past campaigns. It’s also important to give participants the ability to set or adjust their own personal goal throughout the campaign, creating ownership and shared responsibility for fundraising success.

3. Fundraising Experience

Tracking group progress and donation notifications are powerful motivators for Social Fundraisers. Those who checked their fundraising progress multiple times per day were most likely to exceed goals and raise more money on average. To help foster motivation and continued participant engagement, use technology that allows participants to continually check their progress, and has built-in functionality such as text or email notifications to communicate to participants when they receive a donation or reach a fundraising milestone.

Think about it. If you want to engage your participants remotely, and keep them fundraising, you need to make it easy for them to access real-time fundraising data. Supply them with stats they can grab on the go, from their phones, and make it seamless to stay connected to your campaign, wherever they are and whenever they want to engage.

With the majority of participants accessing their participants pages via a mobile device, it’s important to evaluate their mobile experience and opportunities to leverage native mobile features to drive daily engagement. With much of life’s communication and social networking happening daily on our smartphones, nonprofits have to think about how their campaigns optimize (or not) mobile fundraising. Make sure it’s easy for participants to solicit donations from a mobile device with integrated social media image sharing and text solicitation.

4. Retention & Future Engagement

68% of social fundraisers say they are very likely to fundraise for an organization again. However, it’s important they receive information on the impact of their raise and continued communication from the nonprofit. Continued engagement in for peer-to-peer virtual campaigns is different than planning your silent auction post-event outreach. 80% of participants say it’s important to receive information on the impact of the money raised, but only 19% ever received any impact information from the nonprofit they fundraised for. Start with a thank-you to each participant that includes high-level impact information and then continue to follow-up with detailed impact stories throughout the year.

Remember, recruiting for next year begins right away at the end of a campaign or event. You’ll want to create a multi-touch engagement plan including information about upcoming events, volunteer opportunities, or other fundraising opportunities.

In this virtual fundraising world, focusing on the participant experience, making it social, mobile, and fun ensures you have a framework to engage and motivate your fundraisers online. Examining your processes, tools, and technology through the eyes of today’s Social Fundraisers, cuts down the barriers to fundraising that can stall online campaigns. Put your participants at the center of your next campaign, use the findings and insights from the Social Fundraiser study to improve engagement and optimize the participant experience.

Kelly Velasquez-Hague brings over 20 years of fundraising, nonprofit management, and marketing experience to her role as the VP of Content Marketing & Engagement for OneCause. Prior to starting her career in nonprofit fundraising technology, Kelly worked in the nonprofit sector as a Development Director and Event Coordinator. She’s an active speaker and thought leader, sharing insights on donor trends and fundraising best practices at nonprofit industry conferences and webinars. Kelly is passionate about empowering great missions and helping nonprofits reach new donors and raise more funds for their causes.