How to keep peer fundraisers coming back for more

publication date: Apr 4, 2012
author/source: Janet Gadeski

Peer-to-peer event fundraising (rides, walks, runs) is a high-turnover game – and charities need to look in the mirror and ask why. That’s the conclusion Blackbaud principal strategy consultant Amy Braiterman reached after reviewing the results of two studies the company conducted on ride/walk/run fundraisers.Janet Gadeski photo

“Organizations take participants for granted,” she told Hilborn eNEWS. “We’re so focused on emails that we forget why people are participating.” And that blinkered approach, she suggests, is largely responsible for the surprisingly low retention rate (25%) of participants from one year to the next.

Major donor treatment ideal

If Braiterman had her way, charities would treat ride/walk/run participants, especially the top peer fundraisers, like major gift donors. They’d know why they participate: what diagnosis, bereavement or family circumstance motivated that first signup. They’d steward participants between events, not just before them. And they’d think about how to maintain engagement once the impact of that first diagnosis or bereavement began to fade.

The good news: potential for more

Blackbaud’s Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Benchmarking Insights reports the experience of six major US nonprofits over three years of event data. Each runs hundreds of locally based, nationally branded events. When even these large, experienced nonprofits report a retention rate of just 25%, it’s likely a sign that most charities could do better.

The company’s 2012 Peer-to-Peer Event Fundraising Consumer Survey highlights another opportunity for improvement. The online survey asked 1,300 participants why they did or did not fundraise. Though charities may think they hold such events to raise money, that message doesn’t reach participants. Only 24% of Blackbaud’s respondents said the organization made it clear that they were supposed to fundraise.

Ask participants to ask!

Braiterman points to the fuzzy language of many charities’ initial messages. “Organizations are scared that it’s harder to get people to raise funds than just participate,” she says. “The initial message is ‘join, sign up, be a part of.’ If you lead with awareness, then you have to accept the fact that not everyone will raise money.”

Though other forms of fundraising may succeed because people value the cause and feel personally connected, that’s not enough for peer-to-peer events. Those two drivers motivate participation, not the next step of fundraising among friends and family. Forty-four percent of those who had raised funds did so because they were asked to fundraise when they were recruited.

Then retain them

After encouraging participants to fundraise, there’s good reason to work at retaining them from one year to the next. “The greatest opportunity to increase revenue lies in retaining more participants from one year to the next, as multi-year participants are more effective fundraisers than new participants,” the study notes.

One of the herd or one of a kind?

Braiterman urges charities to apply the principles of donor-centered fundraising to event participants. With most communication flowing through mass channels – emails and social media messages to groups rather than individuals – it’s easy for a participant to feel lost in the crowd.

“Right now,” she reflects, “we just want people to raise $100 and come to the event. But participants are on a journey of six to eight months. Charities need to look at supporting the whole journey and remember that the event is just one part of it.”

Download the Blackbaud studies at

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