Through an arrangement with TechSoup, PND is pleased to offer a series of articles about the effective use of technology by nonprofits.
Peer-to-peer fundraising isn't new. For years, many organizations have engaged their supporters — from staff and volunteers to program participants and current donors — to raise funds on their behalf. Traditionally, these campaigns take the form of a walk-a-thon or similar kind of event 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.
Today, online tools let supporters participate in broad campaigns and reach out to diverse networks. Some facilitate the creation of individual online donation pages, while others provide "widgets" that can be placed on a personal Web page, enabling fundraisers to connect directly to their friends and family.
Is this kind of fundraising right for your organization? We asked our nonprofit technology experts for recommendations about tools that have worked well for them and their peers, as well as advice on how to decide which option can help nonprofits get the most out of their peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns.
How Does It Work?
Most basic tools in this space let people create personalized fundraising pages related to a specific campaign, providing potential supporters with the opportunity to use pictures and text to communicate about their support for a cause and direct their friends to a donation page.
Many tools also offer "widgets" or "badges" — usually in the form of a small box, and often with a logo, text, and donate button — that can be added to an existing website, blog, or social network profile. While your supporters may need to know a little HTML to add a widget to a profile or page, they can be useful for reaching communities that already exist. Widgets also allow people to send donation requests out multiple times to individuals in their networks without seeming pushy — the information is always at the bottom of a blog post or email, but it doesn't require having to make a direct ask each time.
Some of the more sophisticated tools in this space also make it easy for staff member(s) to monitor a campaign's progress. For example, a centralized Web page might show the overall status of the campaign and have tools enabling the organization to compare fundraising results or download information about donors. Some even allow development staff to organize themselves into teams and track each other's progress.
Peer-to-Peer vs. Crowdfunding
The line between peer-to-peer fundraising and crowdfunding is becoming ever-more blurred. Crowdsourced 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, crowdsourced tools offer access to new networks of people potentially interested in supporting your project.
Individuals join the "crowd" using a specific tool, search the charities and other projects posted there, and, if inclined, can make a donation — in many cases to organizations with which they have had no previous relationship. Often these tools are geared to a specific area, such as arts, education, or a progressive cause. Most rely on innovative funding models to encourage their community of donors to participate and rally around a cause. Kickstarter is probably the crowdfunding platform with which you're most familiar. However, Kickstarter no longer allows nonprofits and charities to use its platform, opting instead to focus on art, music, film, and other creative projects. For similar functionality, try Indiegogo or GoFundMe, two crowdfunding sites that have embraced nonprofits and their supporters, and each with its own unique cost structure.
Peer-to-peer fundraising, to be effective, requires more than just the right tool. A successful peer-to-peer campaign almost invariably requires planning, experience, and staff to create and run the campaign. Often, the right tool depends on different questions of scope, including how much time your organization can devote to organizing and supporting a campaign, how large and reliable your network of supporters is, and how much money you can reasonably expect to raise.
Do you have the time? Successful campaigns integrate basic tools with social networking and conventional communications, making them complex to manage. Most organizations should expect to spend as many as twenty hours a month to run and support a crowdsourced campaign. It's also essential to make campaigns fun and easy to participate in, which means you should plan on investing more than the minimum amount of time and effort. To keep your fundraisers active over the course of the campaign, you'll need to create unique incentives, provide responsive technical support, and develop engaging templates that help your efforts gain traction and make your fundraisers feel supported at every point in the process. Blog posts, progress updates, and cool prizes all can help keep energy up. If you ask staff to fundraise, make sure you provide them with the time to get involved and set up their own individual pages.
Who will be running the campaign? Without effective leadership and support, a campaign is unlikely to build any kind of momentum. Determine beforehand who from your organization will be the point person for the campaign. Don't expect that person to do all the work alone — you'll want to form a campaign committee of three to seven people from within your organization and the larger community. Who from your community of supporters could be a cheerleader, drumming up excitement for the campaign? Who likes to take charge of the details? Who has an instinct for fundraising? These people should form the core of your committee.
Do you have the network? How many fundraisers do you need to make the campaign work and how big should their networks be? As messengers for your cause, effective and connected fundraisers are key to your success, so at a minimum you should have a number of "seed" fundraisers committed to the campaign before it's launched.
How will you support your fundraisers? A strong community of supporters motivated and excited about helping your organization raise money should be the backbone of your campaign. It's not enough to just pick a tool and turn your fundraisers loose with it. You need to train them on how to use the tool and support them throughout the process with helpful tips, goal-setting guidance, success stories, and even inspirational quotes. Once the campaign has ended, make sure to recognize them for all the work they've put in to make it a success and take the time to reflect on what worked and what you can improve on next time.
How much do you expect to raise (and pay)? Because many successful peer-to-peer campaigns are centered around events that your organization has run in the past, you should use those fundraising totals as a baseline. As you begin to compare tools, however, you'll notice that each has a unique cost structure with different monthly, transaction, and processing fees. In other words, the more you raise, the more those fees are likely to cost you, so it's worth taking the time to calculate how much of your anticipated fundraising totals you'll end up paying to the vendor. Depending on the system you choose and the amount you raise, you could end up saving thousands dollars by choosing one tool over another.
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, make sure your supporters are using it. On the other hand, if your supporters use email more than, say, Facebook, 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 will require different levels of customization and staff involvement. If you're just starting out, choose a solution that's easy for potential supporters and your support team to use and manage. If you're expecting a lot of people to support the campaign, choose a tool that integrates campaign data into your existing systems — but remember, more features often means more complexity.
Has the tool or application achieved "critical mass"? Because you are essentially co-branding the tool with the tool's provider, the reach and reputation of your chosen tool is important. In addition, better-established vendors typically provide a better level of technical support, which can be a significant factor in keeping a campaign running smoothly.
Do you have to commit to a tool? If you're just starting to plan your first peer-to-peer campaign and the above questions are turning out to be difficult to answer, you might just want to choose a simple, low-cost solution that meets most of your requirements and make peace with the fact that you'll need to work within the constraints imposed by the tool itself. For your next campaign, you'll have the opportunity to reflect on what worked and what didn't the first time out and perhaps scale up to a more robust tool.
Many standalone tools let you experiment with distributed fundraising without requiring a significant investment of time or money. Many are also relatively easy to set up, have low upfront costs, and are better for smaller campaigns or if your organization is new to peer-to-peer fundraising.
There is no such thing as a truly free P2P tool, however — even those that don't charge an upfront licensing fee take a percentage of each donation made through the tool. (NB: The payment processor that handles credit card transactions for your organization also will charge a fee, typically a percentage, for each transaction.) Nearly every tool we reviewed offers upgrades to a more robust feature set, such as the ability to create campaign blogs and connections to social networking sites. With all of these tools, your campaign is generally hosted on the vendor's website, although some tools let you customize the look and feel to more closely match that of your own site. Some also offer helpful features like "thermometers" that visually display the progress of your campaign, lists of people who have donated — and, often, their comments and words of support — and the ability to upload contacts from other sources.
And when evaluating these systems, be sure to look into how easy it is to move your data into your donor or constituent management system after the campaign is over.
CrowdRise. Of the tools mentioned here, CrowdRise supports the most general audience, allowing nonprofits to set up unlimited fundraising pages and to 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: a basic level (no annual cost and a 5 percent fee per donation), a mid-level plan ($49 a month and 4 percent fee per donation), and a higher-end plan ($199 a month and 3 percent per donation). Under the paid plans, profiles are promoted to the CrowdRise community and offer such additional benefits as premium support, lower per-donation fees, and, with the highest-end plan, the ability to "brand" your fundraising pages. By default, charity donations are managed through Network for Good, but organizations can also choose WePay, both of which impose a transaction fee of 2.9 percent, plus $0.30 per donation.
CauseVox. A high degree of customization, visually attractive real-time updates and dashboards, and numerous other features set CauseVox apart from its rivals. At the lower end of the cost spectrum, CauseVox certainly allows for the greatest amount of visual customization. You can embed multiple types of content, use widgets and APIs to embed content into other sites, host your page at your own domain, and even edit the HTML and CSS of your page directly. CauseVox also does not charge monthly fees until you have raised your first $5,000, an added bonus for nonprofits who are interested in dipping their toes into the peer-to-peer space. Causevox's Starter Plan has no monthly fees and a 5 percent fee per transaction (albeit with limited functionality when compared to the paid plans). The Impact Plan is $49 per month with a 4.25 percent transaction fee, while the Pro Plan is $129 per month with a 4 percent transaction fee. CauseVox's credit card transaction fees vary from 2.2 percent to 2.9 percent, depending on the processor you choose and your nonprofit status, with an additional $0.30 per transaction.
Razoo. Low costs and substantial functionality make Razoo a compelling option. Its user-friendly format allows organizations to create a homepage and develop multiple fundraising projects that all link back to a central page. Supporters can fundraise on behalf of an organization through one of its pages or create their own personal project page. Razoo profiles are not as customizable as some of other options, but they 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, and gives donors the option of picking up these fees in addition to making a donation. The minimum donation amount is $10.
Classy. Formerly known as StayClassy, this tool offers fundraising pages for both organizations and individuals with a modern interface that allows for a high degree of branding and customization, including APIs that allow you to integrate your fundraising pages directly into your website. Additional features include automatic mobile support and simple integration with Salesforce. Classy has three pricing levels, albeit with a steep step-up from basic to premium. The Classy Starter plan is free, with a 5 percent transaction fee, but is limited to one campaign and one administrator. Classy Pro starts at $499 per month, with a 2 percent transaction fee, and includes unlimited campaigns and a much wider feature set geared toward organizations using it for all their fundraising needs. In addition, Salesforce can be integrated with Classy Pro for an additional $250 per month. The most expensive option, Enterprise, is $1,499 per month, with transaction fees under 1 percent and Salesforce integration included at no extra cost.
FirstGiving. Owned by FrontStream Payments, FirstGiving provides easy-to-use tools that let supporters set up their own fundraising pages and allows campaign administrators to track their progress. There is only one option for nonprofits — the premium package — which, at $500 per year (plus 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. The fess for transactions is 7.5 percent (5 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.
Tools You Already Have
When thinking about tools to implement a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign, one of the best places to start is in-house. Indeed, your own constituent management or donor management system may work just fine. Many systems — including DonorPerfect Online, DonorPro, Artez Interactive from Frontstream, and Blackbaud's suite of tools — offer fundraising features and provide suitable peer-to-peer functionality, although you may need to pay an additional fee.
Using an in-house system offers the benefit of direct integration with your existing database, which in turn can provide valuable insights about your supporters and save you considerable time after the campaign has ended. These integrated options offer varying levels of functionality and features.
Tools for a More Robust and Integrated Strategy
Advanced tools such as Blackbaud's Friends Asking Friends or TeamRaiser (formerly Convio), FrontStream, and Kimbia provide more features for organizations already using online fundraising software from these providers — or who are interested in using an online fundraising platform with peer-to-peer integration. This class of tools also typically allows for more centralized organizational control over a campaign, such as the ability to make changes to your individual fundraisers' personal pages. Other advanced features include integration with your donor or constituent management database, and the ability to display a public summary of the entire campaign, track the progress of your fundraisers or teams, and/or set auto response emails for supporting your fundraisers. However, pricing information is more difficult to determine with these options and is likely to depend on implementation costs and whether or not you are already using a fundraising solution from the company whose solution you choose. Still, if you're running a complicated and continuous online fundraising campaign and are looking to integrate peer-to-peer, one of these broader tools might just be the ticket.
Whatever your budget, you should be able to find a tool that enables 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.
More important than the tool, however, is your strategy. Identify who you are going to ask to participate and how you are going to ask them, and then be sure to do whatever is needed to keep them on track and engaged in the campaign. Distributed fundraising can be a useful technique for many different kinds of organizations, so long as you have a nucleus of devoted followers willing to help you spread the word about your cause or organization — and so long as you are willing and able to invest the time to manage and support their efforts.
Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Made Easy: A Step-By-Step Workbook. This workbook, created by Idealware and Cathexis Partners, walks nonprofits through a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign from planning through recruitment and support to preparing for the next one.
"Crowdfunding Tools to Fundraise the Project of Your Dreams." This blog post from SocialFish provides a quick summary of seven popular and emerging crowdfunding platforms.