Updated for 2013. Enlist your supporters to fundraise for you! A number of online tools make it easy for staff or anyone eager to help your organization to set up individual donation pages to engage friends and family in a fundraiser. We asked a number of nonprofit technology experts for advice on the tools and best practices they recommend to make this fundraising technique work.
Peer-to-peer fundraising isn’t new. For years, many organizations have engaged supporters to raise funds on their behalf—everyone from staff and volunteers to program participants and current donors. Traditionally these individual campaigns took the form of walk-a-thons and similar events at which supporters enlist sponsors from their own networks of colleagues, friends, and family. Informally, this kind of distributed fundraising is sometimes called “team,” “a-thon,” or “friend-to-friend” fundraising.
But the types of events used for peer-to-peer fundraising have grown to include the use of online tools that let supporters participate in broader campaigns. Some facilitate the creation of individual online donation pages, while others provide “widgets” to place on personal web pages that allow them to speak directly to their own friends and family.
Is this kind of fundraising right for your organization? We asked a number of nonprofit technology experts for advice on how to decide and recommendations about tools that have worked well for their nonprofit colleagues. Pulling from their experience, we combined their advice below to provide information about a few tools that may work well for your nonprofit.
How Does it Work?
Most basic tools in this area let people create their own personalized fundraising pages related to your campaign. These individual pages provide opportunities for supporters to use pictures and text to talk about their involvement in the cause—they contact people in their network, direct them to the page, and ask them to donate.
Many tools also offer fundraising “widgets,” or “badges,” which usually take the form of a small box—often with a logo, text, and donate button—that can be added to existing websites, blogs, or social network profiles. While supporters may need to know a little HTML (the language of websites) to add widgets to a page, they can be useful to reach out to existing communities—like a blog’s audience or Facebook friends.
Some of the more sophisticated tools also let organizational staff members oversee a campaign’s progress. A centralized web page may show the overall status of the campaign with tools to compare individual fundraisers’ results or easily download information about donors. Some even allow fundraisers to organize themselves into teams and let you track the progress of each.
Peer-to-peer fundraising takes more than just the right tool. It takes planning, experience, and staff time to create and run a successful fundraising campaign. A good peer-to-peer campaign starts with a strong community of supporters motivated and excited about helping your organization raise money. It’s not enough to just pick a tool and turn them loose with it—you’ll need to train them to use the tool and to be effective fundraisers, and support them throughout the process with helpful tips, success stories, or inspirational quotes. And once your campaign has ended, you need to recognize them for all the work they’ve put in to make it a success.
Do you have the time?
Successful campaigns integrate basic tools with social networking and conventional communications, making them complex to manage. For most campaigns, expect to spend as many as 20 hours per month to run and support your campaign. It’s essential to make campaigns fun and easy to participate in, which means putting in more than just the minimum time and effort to create incentives and provide technical support and written templates to help your fundraisers gain traction and feel supported at all points in the process. Blog posts, progress updates, and incentives all can help keep energy up. If you ask staff to fundraise, make sure you provide them time to set up individual pages and get involved.
Who will be running the campaign?
Without leadership and support, a campaign will never build the momentum needed to be successful. Determine beforehand who from your organization will be the point-person for your campaign. That person can’t do all the work alone; you’ll want to form a campaign committee of from three-to-seven people or so from within your organization and your larger community. For example, who from your community of supporters could be a cheerleader, drumming up excitement for the campaign? What board member(s) or other executive leadership will advocate for your campaign? And who from your organization will be in charge of fundraising for the campaign?
Do you have the network?
How many fundraisers do you need to make the campaign work, and how big are their networks? As messengers for your cause, effective and connected fundraisers are the most important component of distributed campaigns—you’ll need to rely on their efforts and personal networks in order to succeed. You should have a number of “seed” fundraisers committed before launching the online campaign.
How will you support your fundraisers?
As stated earlier, you can’t expect to just turn your fundraisers loose and expect the donations to come pouring in. Before your campaign even starts, train them to set realistic goals and solicit donations from their personal networks, and continue supporting them throughout the campaign by sending weekly emails with fundraising tips, inspirational quotes, or by highlighting their work with a “fundraiser of the week.” Not only will you be helping them be better fundraisers, you’ll be keeping them excited and motivated to continue fundraising.
Tools You Already Have
When thinking about tools to implement a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign at your organization, the best place to start looking for them is in-house. Your own constituent management or donor management system may work just fine. Many systems—including DonorPerfect Online
, Artez Interactive
, and Blackbaud’s
suite of tools—offer suitable functionality, though you may need to pay an additional fee.
Using a system you already have offers the benefit of direct integration with your existing database, which can provide insight into your success and save you considerable time once the campaign is complete. These integrated options offer varying levels of functionality and features. Since not every system will offer exactly what you need to support your program, it is worth a little investigation to find the right one.
If your current system doesn’t offer the functionality you want, there are many standalone tools available. Many let you experiment with distributed fundraising without making a significant investment—they’re relatively easy to set up with no big upfront costs, and are better for smaller campaigns or if you are new to peer-to-peer fundraising.
In this area, there’s no such thing as a truly free tool—even those that don’t charge upfront licensing fees take a percentage of each donation. (In addition, the payment processor that handles the credit card payments will charge its own fee for each transaction.) For a small cost, some offer upgrades to more-sophisticated features, such as the ability to create campaign blogs and connections to social networking sites. With these tools, your campaign is generally hosted on the vendors’ websites—though it’s clear to donors that they’re on a site other than yours, some tools let you customize the look and feel to more closely match your own site.
Some also offer such helpful features as “thermometers” to visually display the campaign progress, lists showing people who have already donated—and, often their comments—and the ability to upload contacts from other sources.
When evaluating these systems, remember to look into how easy it will be to move your data into your donor or constituent management system after your campaign ends.
. Of the tools mentioned here, CrowdRise supports the most general audience, allowing nonprofits to set up fundraising pages and invite supporters to create personal pages and collect donations on their behalf. It also offers access to the large community of donors using the site. Nonprofits have three price levels to choose from: the basic level, with no annual cost and a five percent fee per donation; a mid-level plan for $49 a year and four percent per donation; and a higher-end plan, at $199 a year and three percent per donation. Under the paid plans, profiles are promoted to the CrowdRise community and offer such additional benefits as premium support, lower fees, and the ability to brand your fundraising pages to your organization. By default, donations are managed through Network for Good, but organizations can also choose between WePay or Amazon Payments, with transaction fees of 2.9 percent and $0.30 per donation. CrowdRise also charges an additional processing fee, which defaults to 10 percent of the donation—to donors rather than to the organization. However, this fee is optional; donors can choose to not pay it.
. Razoo’s low costs and substantial functionality make it a compelling option. Its friendly format allows organizations to create a homepage and develop multiple, separate fundraising projects that all link back to the central page. Supporters can fundraise on behalf of the organization through one of its pages or create their own personal project pages. Razoo profiles and fundraising projects are not as customizable as other tools, but do allow both the organization and fundraisers to add images, videos, and text. Interesting features include the ability to present an annotated donation amount menu and support for recurring gifts. Razoo also supports team fundraising projects as well as individual or personal projects. For organizations, Razoo takes 4.9 percent of each donation, which includes credit card processing. For personal causes, the fee is 7.9 percent of each donation. There’s a minimum donation amount of $10.
. FirstGiving, recently acquired by FrontStream Payments, provides easy-to-use tools that let supporters set up their own fundraising pages and lets campaign administrators track campaign progress across individual fundraisers. With the basic program (which is free except for transaction fees), neither the organization or individual pages are very customizable and won’t necessarily mesh with your organization’s graphic style. The premium package, at $500 per year (plus the same transaction fees), offers more customization, the ability to link back to your organization’s homepage, and support for teams of fundraisers. FirstGiving also has some Facebook integration options, but unlike some of the other tools, does not have a built-in audience—you’ll need to rely solely on your own supporters to spread the word. Transactions cost 7.5 percent (five percent for the FirstGiving service fee and 2.5 percent for credit card processing), with an event registration fee of 4.25 percent. Like Crowdrise, FirstGiving includes an option to have your donors pay the service fee.
. A relative newcomer, StayClassy offers fundraising pages for both organizations and individuals with a relatively clean and straightforward interface. Pricing for StayClassy starts at $99 per month with a three percent transaction fee plus credit card fees of 2.2 percent and $0.30 per transaction; the Pro level costs $199 a month with a two percent transaction fee plus credit card fees.
Tools for a More Robust and Integrated Strategy
Organizations that plan to run many campaigns may find the lower-cost tools lacking. More advanced tools—like Blackbaud’s Friends Asking Friends
(formerly Convio), or those offered by Artez Interactive
—provide more features for organizations looking to run multiple campaigns year after year. This class of tool typically allows for more centralized organizational control over a campaign, like the ability to make changes to your individual fundraisers’ personal pages. Other advanced features could include integration with your donor or constituent management database, the ability to display a public summary of the entire campaign, track the progress of your fundraisers or teams, or set auto response emails for supporting your fundraisers.
Crowd-Sourced fundraising tools often contain many of the same features as standard peer-to-peer tools, with one important difference—in addition to allowing nonprofits to reach out to current supporters and invite them to fundraise on the organization’s behalf, crowd-sourced tools offer access to a home-grown network of people interested in supporting compelling projects.
Individuals join the “crowd” using a specific tool, search the charities and other projects posted there, and make donations—frequently to organizations with which they have no established relationship. Often these tools cater to a specific mission area, like arts, education or progressive causes, and most rely on innovative funding models to encourage their community of donors to participate and rally around a cause.
. Kickstarter is a crowd-sourcing tool used to find funding for arts, music, films, and other creative projects. Users post projects along with their goals and a timeframe, and the community pledges money. Typically the projects will offer something in the way of rewards or thank-you gifts to donors, depending on how much is pledged—for example, a pledge of $5 earns a thank you card, a pledge of $10 gets the card and a t-shirt, etc.—and they link quickly to Facebook and Twitter, making it easy to bring networks of friends and supporters to the existing and very active Kickstarter community. It’s important to note that Kickstarter works on an all-or-nothing basis. If your project doesn’t meet its goal by the deadline, you don’t get any money, and all of your donors are refunded in full, a policy designed to motivate nonprofits to fundraise and supporters to donate. While free to use, Kickstarter takes five percent of what you raise in fees, in addition to the credit card processing fees from Amazon Payments, if your project is successful.
. Indiegogo is similar to Kickstarter, but it lets you choose between an all-or-nothing funding model or one in which you keep all the money you raise, even if you don’t meet your fundraising goal. If you meet your fundraising goal, the fee charged by Indiegogo ends up at four percent of the total amount raised; if you don’t meet your goal but still wish to keep the money you raised, Indiegogo charges a nine percent fee. A credit card processing fee of three percent also applies. Registered 501(c)3 nonprofits, however, get a discount—Indiegogo takes just three percent for projects that meet their goal, and 6.75 percent of those that fall short. Projects created under this program display a badge indicating that the funds go to a “verified nonprofit”. Donations raised through this program are processed by FirstGiving instead of Indiegogo’s regular transaction provider, and are paid directly by FirstGiving rather than Indiegogo. The processing fee is four percent.
Which Is Right For You?
Determining which tool is right for your organization requires a little planning and self-assessment. Start by asking yourself the following questions:
Have you done this before?
Past experience with distributed fundraising is more important than the size of your organization or the resources (constituents and dollars) you can bring to the project. If you’re just starting out, choose a straightforward, easy-to-use tool—for example, fundraising pages with widgets. This is an iterative process, and every attempt yields new knowledge and skills and builds your network for the next round.
What are your fundraising goals?
How many fundraisers and donors do you expect? How much money do you hope to raise? This information will help decide how much you’re willing to spend on a tool. Fees differ in structure. If you want to raise a lot of money through many small donations, you might choose a different pricing structure (higher base fee, lower transaction costs) than if you wanted to raise a smaller amount through a small group of donors (higher transaction cost, lower base fee). Make sure your solution is scaled to the campaign so you don’t pay a lot if you don’t get a lot.
Are you reaching out to the people in your network where they are?
Make sure you’ve correctly identified the tools your network is likely to use. If you’re using a tool that only works for registered Facebook users, ensure that your supporters are using it. On the other hand, if your supporters use Facebook much more than email, you could be missing a whole group of potential donors by not including it in your strategy.
Do you have the technology know-how?
Different tools require different levels of complexity, customization and involvement. If you’re just starting out, choose a solution that’s easy for participants and administrators to manage. If you expect a lot of participants, choose one that can integrate campaign data into your existing systems, but remember, more features can often mean more complexity.
Does the application have “critical mass” or reach?
Since you’re often essentially co-branding with the tool’s provider, the reputation and professionalism of your chosen tool are important. In addition, better-established vendors can typically provide better technical support to keep a campaign running smoothly.
Whatever your budget, you can likely find a tool that will allow you to try out an online distributed campaign. Advanced features and customization can be helpful, but inexpensive tools can be used creatively to good effect. Customization and the ability to manage the overall campaign may be more of an issue for larger campaigns where it’s important for your staff to see the progress of the entire campaign.
Whatever tools you use, your strategy is critical. Identify who you’re going to ask to participate and how you’re going to ask them, and then help them keep their momentum. Distributed fundraising can be a useful technique for many different kinds of organizations, as long as you have a core nucleus of devoted followers who can help you spread the word about your organization—and you’re willing and able to invest the time to manage and support their fundraising efforts.
For More Information
This workbook, created by Idealware and Cathexis Partners, walks nonprofits through peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns from planning through recruitment and support to preparing for the next one.
Thanks to TechSoup for the financial support of the original version of this article, as well as to the following nonprofit technology professionals who provided recommendations, advice and other help on the update and past versions:
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