Organizations in practically every sector of the economy made unprecedented shifts over the past several months as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, virtual events quickly rose in prominence as the most effective (and necessary) way to keep constituents, members, and customers engaged with their missions or brands. 

But amid all of the disruptions and quickly-adapted strategies of 2020, has anything fallen through the cracks for your fundraising? 

All kinds of organizations have been able to effectively pivot their strategies towards boosting virtual engagement, but generating more donations and non-dues revenue virtually has been challenging for many fundraisers. During this period of economic uncertainty, that’s a critical hurdle for many nonprofits, associations, and universities to overcome.

To marry your engagement and fundraising goals, take a note from the nonprofit sector. Virtual peer-to-peer fundraising is an extremely effective way to raise needed funds, engage supporters at a more personal level, and expand your organization’s online audience.

At OneCause, we specialize in virtual fundraising software for nonprofit organizations, particularly for online auctions and virtual peer-to-peer campaigns. We’ve seen firsthand how stronger strategies have helped nonprofits of all sizes stabilize and even grow their bases of financial support over the course of 2020. 

If peer-to-peer fundraising is a new undertaking for your own organization, you’ve likely got a few questions. This crash course will walk you through the essentials to orient your team and pro tips to help you start planning your next campaign. To start, let’s cover a few frequently asked questions.

Virtual Peer-to-Peer Fundraising FAQ

What is peer-to-peer fundraising?

Peer-to-peer fundraising is a method of online fundraising in which an organization empowers supporters to raise donations on its behalf. These volunteer fundraisers set up their own individual donation pages to promote your campaign to their friends and family on social media, email, and other online networking platforms.

How does peer-to-peer fundraising work?

The process typically follows these steps:

  1. The organization plans the campaign and sets fundraising goals.
  2. The organization sets up the peer-to-peer fundraising software, creates a primary campaign page, and ensures everything is ready on the technical side of the campaign.
  3. The organization either recruits volunteer fundraisers to participate or encourages anyone to join in to promote the campaign.
  4. Recruited fundraising participants are provided an individual donation page and some general training on the campaign and its goals.
  5. If anyone can join in, participants set up and customize their own basic donation pages.
  6. The fundraising participants start promoting the campaign online and soliciting donations.
  7. The organization checks in periodically to support the volunteers and review fundraising progress.
  8. When the campaign ends, the organization follows up with volunteers to share and celebrate the results.

This process will vary depending on the specifics of your campaign and goals. This general process is highly flexible to suit any type of fundraising project or audience.

How has peer-to-peer fundraising adapted to virtual engagement?

The peer-to-peer fundraising model adapts very easily to the new realities of virtual and remote engagement since most of the fundraising and interactions already occur online. 

However, many organizations are choosing to take a much more strategic approach to peer-to-peer fundraising than ever before in order to maximize ROI. Combining your peer-to-peer campaign with one or more virtual events is an effective way to grow engagement with the campaign from start to finish, although it does take significantly more planning.

Some nonprofits have long relied on a similar tactic of concluding an online peer-to-peer fundraising campaign with a grand finale event, like charity 5Ks, walkathons, annual galas, and large-scale charity auctions. 

While some types of events aren’t feasible amid social distancing guidelines, others like auctions and galas are still do-able in the virtual sphere. There are also many creative nonprofits that are moving their traditional peer-to-peer on the ground events and/or endurance activities virtual. Structuring your virtual peer-to-peer fundraising campaign with a launch event, one or more virtual check-ins, and a grand finale gala or online auction is a great way to make the most of your campaign and deepen your relationships with participants.

Virtual Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Tips

Next, let’s walk through some specific tips you can use to begin structuring and planning a virtual peer-to-peer fundraising campaign. 

1. Clearly outline your campaign in advance.

Thorough planning is essential for success with a complex and somewhat decentralized fundraising style like a peer-to-peer campaign. There are a few fundamentals that are helpful to determine early in the campaign process:

  • Your campaign’s goals, both in terms of revenue and engagement
  • The campaign timeframe, including its launch date, end date, and any virtual check-in events you’ll host in between.
  • The technology you’ll need, including peer-to-peer fundraising software, livestreaming tools, and event-specific platforms like mobile bidding software.

Getting started early and clearly outlining the specifics of your campaign will be invaluable as your team begins the process of recruiting fundraisers, promoting the campaign, and planning your virtual events.

2. Choose the right peer-to-peer style for your campaign.

Depending on the specifics of your organization and its goals, you might choose one of two general styles of virtual peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns:

  1. DIY-style campaigns. In this type of peer-to-peer fundraising, you encourage anyone to set up their own individual fundraising pages and start raising funds on your behalf. This type of campaign is useful for nonprofits as a year-round option and in the lead-up to major public events, or large virtual fundraisers.
  2. Ambassador campaigns. This type of peer-to-peer fundraising is more strategic and is often better suited for organizations that have very specific fundraising and engagement goals. You’ll actively recruit ambassadors from among your most dedicated supporters and empower them to promote your campaign. Ambassador fundraising is especially helpful for nonprofits that host annual galas and charity auctions since ambassadors can secure donations and event registrations from their own networks.

Either fundraising style offers its own benefits. For peer-to-peer fundraising and promoting virtual events in today’s environment, we recommend ambassador fundraising for organizations that want to take a more strategic approach to a time-bound campaign and event.

3. Strategically recruit your fundraising ambassadors.

If you’ve chosen to structure your virtual peer-to-peer campaign with ambassador fundraising, carefully consider who you recruit to promote your campaign and event.

While any of your supporters or partners could do a good job of spreading the word, a more focused group of supercharged ambassadors will help you better manage the entire process and reach your goals. Look for individuals who:

  • Have a strong history with your organization, like generous repeat donations, longtime membership, or extensive volunteer engagement.
  • Are well-connected in your community. Growing your social network is a core benefit of peer-to-peer fundraising, so your ambassadors should help you reach a wider audience.
  • Have the time to devote to promoting your campaign. For example, an extremely busy professional navigating the pandemic economy might not be able to commit to securing the number of donations and event sign-ups you need.

To learn more about this style of fundraising and what to look for in an ideal volunteer, check out the OneCause guide to ambassador fundraising

4. Actively engage with and empower your fundraisers.

Planners rank making a virtual campaign or event engaging as one of their biggest challenges. Whether your peer-to-peer campaign culminates in a virtual gala, auction, or run, walk, or ride, boosting engagement during the event will fall to your own team. However, don’t leave your volunteer fundraisers and ambassadors to do all of the work during the peer-to-peer campaign leading up to the event!

Your organization should actively engage with and empower your volunteers throughout the length of the peer-to-peer fundraising campaign. While you take the time to fine-tune your virtual event plans, empower your peer-to-peer fundraisers with resources like:

  • Training sessions to review your campaign’s goals, fundraising best practices, and any event-specific information that registrants should know, like how your auction software and other tools function.
  • Pre-written templates for social media posts and emails.
  • A variety of content to share about your campaign and event, like one-pager documents and videos highlighting your mission.
  • A well-designed campaign page and intuitive registration form give volunteers a clear place to direct their contacts to.

If you’ve recruited ambassadors, schedule periodic virtual check-ins to make sure they’re equipped with the resources and information they need for success. Additionally, setting specific fundraising goals and prizes is never a bad idea for boosting results!

5. Promote your campaign to as broad an audience as possible.

In addition to providing your volunteers with the resources they’ll need to spread the word about your campaign and virtual events, your own organization should invest time in actively marketing your peer-to-peer campaign, as well. 

Promote the campaign and event on your organization’s own social media channels. Create a unique hashtag for supporters to share their stories and photos, and shout out your top fundraisers or ambassadors throughout the length of the campaign.

In addition to virtual promotion, use traditional outbound marketing strategies to raise awareness about your campaign. A well-planned, segmented email campaign is always a smart move to get the word out and reach different audiences in specific ways.

6. Recognize and follow up with fundraisers to retain their support.

No matter the level of success you’ve had with your virtual peer-to-peer campaign, it’s a good idea to reach out to the volunteers who made it all possible. This is a best practice for any type of virtual event, but it’s especially important when you’ve asked supporters to do work on your behalf. Try these tactics to show your appreciation:

  • Recognize your fundraisers or ambassadors throughout the duration of the campaign. If you’re hosting a virtual event to conclude the campaign, take time during the event to shout out your volunteers and award prizes to your top ambassadors.
  • Personally reach out after the campaign to express your gratitude. The personal touch can go a long way to boost retention and bring supporters back for your next peer-to-peer initiative.
  • Point supporters towards new ways to engage with your organization, like other upcoming events or virtual volunteer opportunities. Or, if your fundraising organization is eligible, promote corporate giving programs to your supporters to see if their donations might be matched by their employers. 

Effective follow-up lays a strong foundation for your organization’s continued growth. It reinforces relationships with supporters and partners and encourages continued engagement as you explore new strategies in this virtual environment.

Peer-to-peer fundraising has become a major trend over the past decade in the nonprofit sector because it combines fundraising and engagement tactics in one strategy. The social proof of hearing about your campaign from a friend boosts the chances that someone will show their support by donating or registering. Meanwhile, the personal engagement of helping your cause strengthens ties with your volunteers.

If your own organization raises funds to support your projects or general operations, virtual peer-to-peer fundraising is a natural choice for 2020 and beyond.

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