5 min Read
July 6, 2016

Your Donors as Fundraisers: Dream or nightmare?

Getting your donors to raise money for you is often hailed as the crown jewel of some fundraising efforts. What could be better than attracting the friends of those who already know and love you?

Hailed as a great engagement strategy by some (including me!), others fret over issues of low retention rates and recall. So while your board may celebrate the rising numbers of your donors setting up fundraising pages on your behalf, doing walks/runs/rides, or tweeting about your peer-to-peer fundraising campaign, you may be racked with worry over what comes next.

What’s so great about social fundraising?

The cost to acquire a new donor can get expensive or take several years to turn profitable depending on how you are bringing them in. But the price of donors asking their friends may be free to you or just entail a minor administrative charge once you set up the program. I’m a big fan of social fundraising—getting donors or advocates to set up fundraising pages on your behalf and asking their friends to give, often with an ease of sharing across social media. Initially set up as the online version of events where participants were encouraged to get donations for every mile or kilometer that ran, walked, swam, rode, etc., many social fundraising take these classic peer-to-peer fundraising models and offer them virtually.

One benefit here is that social fundraising campaigns are available year-round and can be tied to a donor’s personal milestone or moment (birthdays, tributes or memorials for loved ones, responses to emergencies, etc.). It can be quite motivating to that supporter to raise money for you and be your champion, providing a source of pride in their own accomplishment and association with your great cause.

Often the people who give to the pages your donors set up are inspired to support their friend or give because their friend asked. Think about your own inbox or Facebook newsfeed for a minute—are you more likely to read messages from friends and family or from organizations? Having a donor send or post a personal request can get the clicks you can’t—often from new supporters. And these new supporters bring new funds to your programs and new records to your database.

So how do you retain and grow champions?

One of the biggest challenges with social or peer-to-peer fundraising is retention. Most of the people who support these campaigns do so because a friend asked or in response to a particularly timely moment. It’s a bonus when that person gives because they’ve heard of you or care passionately about your mission, but that’s not always the case. While there is no benchmark data related to retention rates for peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns that I know of, the Association of Fundraising Professionals did find that the average donor retention rate for all nonprofit fundraising was 46% in 2015, and only 29% for first-time donors. These numbers are likely lower for peer-to-peer campaigns for most nonprofits.

Sadly, once these donors hit your database and start getting follow-up appeals from your organization they may never give again, in part because they may have never realized they were giving to your organization in the first place! They remember giving to their friend, but may not have connected with the nonprofit behind it.

Beyond retention of donors who gave to these campaigns, there is the retention of the champions themselves. It can be exciting to get a donor to set up a page or participate in your event in the first place—but how many of them are returning to do it again? It can be tempting to want to let social fundraising campaigns take care of themselves, but setting them on auto-pilot may leave champions feeling ignored and unappreciated.

Another issue I’ve seen are when well-intentioned donors unintentionally misrepresent the charity they are trying to help. This can range from using the wrong logo to misstating the mission to false claims about how the funds will be used. Clearly this could cause more harm than good, especially when it goes unnoticed for days or weeks or months at a time.

Where should I start?

First thing you can do is get a handle on what you already have in place. Audit the fundraising pages on your own website and on those of popular tools like Crowdrise, FirstGiving, Classy, Razoo, and CauseVox. Make test donations, set up pages using a personal account, take screenshots of every step in the process on screen and in your inbox, etc. Now do the same with one or two other nonprofits who swim in the same donor pool as your organization. Then take a step back and ask what you might improve. And for even more ideas, read this in-depth guide.

Then create a plan for how to communicate better with champions and donors. Include ways you can encourage champions to participate and represent you well. Map out the ways you can talk to the donors to those campaigns so they better understand and remember donating to your organization, not just their friend, colleague, or family member.

Need more help? We are here!

Of course, Big Duck can also help you by clarifying your brand strategy through our brandraising process and analyze or propose new ways for how your social fundraising programs connect back to your brand.

We can also evaluate all the different ways you are appealing to and cultivating individual donors, study your donor motivations (both as fundraising champions and supporters), and develop a roadmap that you can implement with changes you should make based on immediate and long-term priorities. This roadmap factors in our research and knowledge of best practices, and is scaled to your team so that is realistic and practical. Contact us if you’d like to explore how we might help.

So what do you think?

Are having donors raise money for you via social fundraising or peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns a dream or nightmare? Let us know what you think.