The following is a guest post by Joshua Meyer, Director of Marketing for OneCause, our partner in delivering powerful digital fundraising solutions.
The shift to virtual engagement has been a major change for the nonprofit sector over the past several months. With in-person events, meetings, and outreach activities no longer feasible for many organizations, nonprofits have pivoted rapidly to online-only campaigns and virtual events. Crisis fundraising has been essential for strengthening nonprofits’ bases of support and raising much-needed funds to continue operations and pursue relief work in their communities.
However, it’s important to remember that the broader move towards online engagement has been going on for quite some time now.
Your organization likely already conducted online campaigns before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Hopefully, your team already had dedicated online fundraising protocols in place and could rely on that existing infrastructure to ease the transition to virtual-only engagement. Now’s the perfect time to revisit and rely on the online fundraising and engagement strategies that have worked for your nonprofit in the past!
Peer-to-peer fundraising is a perfect example of a popular nonprofit fundraising tactic that translates very well to today’s virtual environment. Adjusting a more typical campaign is fairly simple and only requires some additional strategy and technology.
To start planning a virtual peer-to-peer fundraising campaign, follow these six steps:
- Determine your campaign’s goals and structure.
- Start the planning process early.
- Invest in the right additional tools.
- Recruit your volunteer fundraisers.
- Offer incentives and gamification.
- Promote your campaign and events.
At OneCause, we’ve seen firsthand how the right strategies and resources can help nonprofits of all sizes stay in touch with and even grow their bases of support. Virtual peer-to-peer fundraising is a great way to tie together your donor engagement strategies, online fundraising tactics, and virtual events in one supercharged campaign. Let’s get started.
As with any event or campaign your nonprofit plans, setting initial guidelines at the start will keep your plans focused around the campaign's core goals while preserving time and resources.
For a virtual peer-to-peer fundraising campaign, begin by determining your goals. These should include both revenue, recruitment, and donor engagement goals. Whenever possible, tie your goals to a concrete KPI like these:
- A specific revenue target
- Cost-per-dollar raised or overall ROI
- New donor acquisition
- New active fundraisers/participants
- Past donor retention
- Event attendee acquisition or retention
- Online engagement, like traffic volume or social shares, with your marketing content
Additionally, think about the structure of your virtual peer-to-peer campaign. This type of campaign involves empowering your supporters to fundraise on your behalf online, but there’s a lot of flexibility within that tactic. Consider these questions as you begin outlining your campaign:
- Will you allow any and all supporters to launch their own individual giving pages?
- Will you recruit and train a smaller group of volunteers or ambassadors instead?
- Will you incorporate virtual events into your campaign?
- If so, what will the events be? When will they occur?
Many nonprofits have turned to virtual peer-to-peer fundraising as an effective way to generate support leading up to a major online event, like a virtual auction or gala. Pairing virtual events with peer-to-peer tactics can be a great way to maximize their impact, so it’s important to determine the campaign’s schedule of events at the start of the planning process.
Any type of complex campaign requires plenty of planning to succeed, and this is especially true of peer-to-peer fundraising that might incorporate virtual events and new platforms. Get started planning early, at least several months in advance of your launch.
We recommend forming dedicated teams to handle specific tasks rather than having an individual or small committee handle everything on their own. At a minimum, you’ll need to form a campaign team (to plan and oversee the longer peer-to-peer fundraising campaign) and an event team (to plan and direct the virtual events that are part of the broader campaign).
Depending on the scale of your campaign and events, splitting up the work even further will likely be a smart move. Additional teams or chairs can be assigned to specific tasks like:
- Marketing the campaign and events
- Recruiting, training, and managing volunteer fundraisers
- Overseeing and configuring new technology needed for the campaign or events
- Securing sponsorships and matching gifts
- Handling specific elements of your event, like procuring the right range of auction items for a virtual auction and gala
If you’ve ever planned a complex event like an annual gala, you know that they have a lot of moving parts that can easily become overwhelming. Converting that gala into a virtual event is an even bigger new challenge for your team. Sharing the workload and getting started as early as possible can make a big difference once your campaign begins.
Amid the broader shift to virtual fundraising and engagement over recent months, your organization has likely already invested in new tools, whether they’re large-scale software solutions or free online platforms. For a large-scale virtual peer-to-peer fundraising campaign, you’ll need to make sure your team has the right tools for the job. These could include:
- Peer-to-peer fundraising software that makes it easy to create individual giving pages and track progress towards your goals
- A centralized database or CRM integrated with your fundraising software to receive the engagement and donation data generated by the campaign
- Marketing software, like social media management tools and an email platform
- Event-specific software as needed for your campaign events, like online auction software to help you create an item catalog, price your items, and process bids
- Live-streaming software to host your virtual events and check-ins with fundraisers
Technology will naturally be a big part of successfully engaging and growing your audience amid today’s challenges. When possible, investing in your ability to grow and adapt is a smart move, as nonprofits that had already relied heavily on online engagement found earlier this year.
A well-planned peer-to-peer fundraising campaign leading up to a virtual event can be extremely effective at raising support and strengthening your ties with donors, so it pays to expand your toolkit when necessary.
There are two general approaches you might take to recruiting volunteer fundraisers for your campaign:
- DIY-style. This approach allows any supporter to create their own personalized donation page, set their goal, and begin promoting it on social media. This approach is effective for more general online fundraising campaigns.
- Ambassador style. This method takes a much more strategic approach and is a smart choice for campaigns leading up to a major event that you’ve invested time and resources in planning. Recruit a smaller team of ambassadors from well-connected and dedicated supporters in your community, and empower them to tap into their networks to help reach fundraising goals.
With either tactic, you’ll need to provide your volunteers with guidance and resources to help them reach their goals. Videos explaining your campaign and templates for emails or social media posts are easy examples. For a DIY-style campaign, create a dedicated library of resources that fundraisers can access. For ambassadors, take a more one-on-one approach and regularly check-in to support them.
To maximize engagement with your peer-to-peer fundraising campaign, you’ll need to actively incentivize it!
Although it’s unclear to what extent nonprofit best practices will return to normal following the pandemic, encouraging engagement with incentives and friendly competition has been a reliable tactic for these types of campaigns for years. Consider these strategies:
- Set specific fundraising or event registration goals for your fundraisers or ambassadors.
- Offer prizes and recognition to your top volunteers during your campaign’s finale event with an awards ceremony.
- Create a viral challenge or unique hashtag for supporters to post their own stories or photos, then choose a handful of winners to shout out or receive a prize.
- Set a challenge period of 24 hours for your fundraisers to compete to collect the most donations.
- Use leader boards and fundraising thermometers on your campaign pages to track progress and drive energy towards your goal.
To boost the energy and results of your campaign, incorporate engagement and gamification tactics like these into your planning process from the start. Combined with plenty of support and communication with your volunteer fundraisers, these tactics can make a big difference for your campaign results. More energy means more donations and registrations for your event!
Finally, make sure to think about how your organization will promote your virtual peer-to-peer campaign and events. Although your volunteer fundraisers or ambassadors will be spreading the word on your behalf, don’t leave it completely to them. Taking an active approach to marketing your campaign will only generate more interest among supporters.
Use a multichannel strategy to promote your peer-to-peer campaign and related virtual events. This means using each of your marketing channels to direct readers further towards taking a specific target action, in this case making a donation or registering for your event. Use marketing channels like:
- Email blasts and invitations to segments of your contact list
- Your organization’s social media profiles
- Direct mail invitations or your email newsletter
- Your campaign page on your website, or your event’s dedicated microsite
- Any event-specific digital materials, like your online auction item catalog
Leverage these resources to get the word out about your campaign and motivate readers to get involved. Direct your audience towards making a donation or registering by encouraging deeper engagement, like clicking through from your social media posts to your campaign’s web page. Then, make sure it’s very clear what you want readers to do and that the donation or registration process is simple and fast.
Nonprofits of all sizes have learned the value of flexibility in recent months. The broad pivot towards virtual engagement has been rapid, but thankfully many organizations have been able to use new virtual tactics to effectively engage and grow their bases of support.
Going forward, your plans for any new campaigns or events should definitely be adaptable. For instance, hybrid events combining virtual and in-person tactics may become a more prominent trend over the next year.
This means that having a solid infrastructure of virtual tools and strategies combining fundraising, engagement, and event elements will be invaluable no matter what comes next. Virtual peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns are the perfect way to hone these skills, so start exploring your options today if a new campaign sounds like a smart move for your organization.