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Peer-to-Peer Fundraising

Peer-to-peer fundraising is when an organization recruits supporters to solicit donations from their friends and family on behalf of a their nonprofit. The most common forms of peer-to-peer fundraising include events like races or bike tours, but the sector has expanded to include other formats like crowdfunding and DIY fundraising to evolve alongside supporter expectations.

In-Person Events Types

Traditional in-person events include Cycling, Endurance, and Walks/5Ks:

Cycle: These are multi- and single-day events devoted solely to outdoor cycling. A registration fee is generally charged and there is usually a minimum fundraising requirement. Fees and fundraising minimums tend to increase as the distance of the ride increases in miles.

Endurance: Multi- or single-day long distance walks, half marathons, marathons, triathlons, climbs, and mud/obstacle events fall into this category. As fitness becomes more and more prominent in our lives, it’s expected that the variety of events that fall under the Endurance category will continue to expand. These events have high production costs and generally charge a registration fee, often with a required fundraising minimum. While Endurance events tend to recruit fewer participants, those who do participate are highly motivated to solicit donations from their personal networks due to the required fundraising minimum.

Walk/5K with a Registration Fee (Reg Fee): In many cases, these are short-distance competitive races with formalized timing options.

Walk/5K Without a Registration Fee (No Reg Fee): Participants are typically encouraged but not required to fundraise. These non-competitive events aim to include as many people as possible to raise money, spread awareness for their mission, and gain new supporters.


Whether you’ve participated as a donor, sponsor, or event organizer, here are a few core trends from the 2020 Blackbaud Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Study that you can keep in mind as you learn about all things peer-to-peer: 

• The pandemic created a shift in fundraising. As the pandemic shifted the worlds normalcy, traditional in-person peer-to-peer fundraising events were forced to adapt as well. Organizations “new normal” was to focus heavily on virtual fundraising. This change led nonprofits to be more creative with their peer-to-peer fundraising efforts. Some nonprofits started offering hybrid events, which allowed participants the option to participate virtually or opt for the new safely modified in-person events. It’s clear the pandemic forced a hand in organization’s accelerated innovation and learnings in their virtual offerings, and we are now seeing the new normal is a balancing act between online and in-person fundraising. 

• The online fundraising average in 2020 was up 35% year-over-year. This data isn’t surprising due to a worldwide movement online in 2020. It’s likely donors won’t be as inclined to donate at the same level of giving with another year of virtual-only events. The “coming together” experience in fundraising has been documented to result in higher levels of giving. This will require organizations to get creative in future peer-to-peer fundraising and make a compelling case to why it’s worth supporting.

• Personal connection is critical. 40% of surveyed donors stated donating due to having an emotional or personal connection to the mission.

• Email still works. Despite the slight decrease in use of native email tools and the increase of channels available for participants to use when asking for gifts, email remains to be a more profitable fundraising avenue. The average raised by email senders in 2020 was $829 compared to Facebook fundraising average of $480.

• Organizations should focus on the opportunity for retention. Retention rates of last year participants have declined, with 14.7% of 2019 participants returning in 2020. We see just how important returning participants are; for example, in no-fee events it takes nearly four new participants to raise the same amount as one returning participant. This represents a significant opportunity for organizations to win back past participants and increase their fundraising efforts.  


Virtual Events

Driven by digital disruption, mobile, social, and wearable tech, virtual events are an exciting new type of peer-to-peer event that brings fundraising, fitness and communities together to unite people virtually around your cause. Virtual Events take the ideas of traditional fundraising events like a marathon or fun run and use online channels for participation. virtual events remove physical barriers and create unparalleled engagement, turning your supporters into passionate advocates that will raise more money.

With virtual events, organizations can easily acquire new donors and fundraisers by offering an exciting new event type that uses the apps and social networks they love. Integrations with popular fitness apps allow supporters to participate in virtual events on their own time, in the location of their choice, on their own terms, while sharing their efforts and still feeling connected to the greater collective effort. Every mile they do, every hour they give, every calorie they burn is energy giving focus to your cause. When they connect their activity apps to their fundraising pages, their fitness activities automatically upload to their supporter page and to the collective effort. They can also add their fitness efforts manually. When they share these efforts, it inspires others to support them, which inspires them to keep going.

With virtual events, thousands of individuals can join in an effort to reach personal bests. And as an organization, you create unparalleled engagement by uniting supporters around your cause as part of a digital community working toward positive outcomes. By providing real-time feedback and acknowledgment through data visualizations and quantified communications, supporters raise more money. We see a 46% increase in funds raised for charity when athletes link their fitness with their fundraising pages. The organization is driving the branding and the activity, while the supporter is given the flexibility to determine the timeline and location for completing the activity. The financial commitment for the organization is focused on providing fundraising tools and coaching not on physical logistics. This helps keep the ROI high for these types of activities.


DIY Events

Do-it-yourself (DIY) fundraising is a new type of peer-to-peer fundraising that is growing in popularity as a result of supporters’ changing expectations. Today’s modern supporters expect their digital fundraising experience to be comparable to other digital experiences.

Supporters want fundraising experiences to be Amazon -fast, Google -easy, Netflix -tailored, and Instagram -engaging, and they want them to happen literally in the palm of their hand. DIY fundraising offers supporters flexibility and ownership over their fundraising experience. Typically, these campaigns are open year-round, allowing supporters to sign up to fundraise when it makes the most sense for them. While DIY fundraising implies that all elements of fundraising activity are dictated by the supporter, it is common for DIY fundraising campaigns to suggest fundraising themes, like “donate your birthday/anniversary/special date” or “fundraise for your favorite animal.”

Despite tremendous growth, DIY fundraising represents a relatively small percentage of overall organizational fundraising, and it will likely remain a supplemental fundraising strategy rather than a replacement for more established, traditional peer-to-peer programs like walk, run, and cycling events. DIY fundraising programs represent less than 8% of all peer-to-peer programs. In other words, organizations already hosting peer-to-peer events and other fundraising initiatives are adding DIY programs into the mix.

We are also seeing organizations adopt DIY fundraising as their first foray into peer-to-peer fundraising. Because of this, DIY fundraising is the fastest-growing peer-to-peer fundraising program in both the volume of campaigns launched by organizations and the number of supporters participating in these campaigns. The number of DIY programs has grown 400% since last year, and participation has increased threefold.

DIY fundraising can also help you raise more money through programmatic diversification. In other words, by fundraising through multiple programs, you can raise more money and protect the financial security of your organization. DIY offers a supplemental, year-round source of fundraising revenue to help minimize any potential financial risks from traditional peer-to-peer events and other fundraising channels. DIY fundraising can be an alternative for supporters who are less interested in or unable to attend your peer-to-peer events.



The term crowdfunding refers to online fundraising independently initiated by a supporter on a crowdfunding website. This fundraising can be directed toward a cause or an individual. Some of these campaigns are associated with events, while others are standalone campaigns. Often, supporters have a lot of freedom to create unique and personal themes for their fundraising efforts.

When crowdfunding first came onto the scene years ago, the thought was that it would function like mini capital campaigns. But as things evolved, those who say they have given to crowdfunding have done so primarily to support friends, family, or colleagues. Large upticks in crowdfunding have also been noted in the wake of disasters.

Adopting crowdfunding into your fundraising strategy can be as simple as adding a “Fundraise” option next to the “Donate” button online. This strategy offers donors the possibility of expanding their relationship to become advocates or ambassadors by recruiting others to give as well.

Source: 2018, Blackbaud Institute, The Next Generation of American Giving


Supporter Communications

To make peer-to-peer fundraising successful, you have to use different segments with very different motivations. Many of your event participants, for example, may be motivated by the adventure of the sports challenge ahead. Participant sponsors, on the other hand, are more likely to be motivated to support the causes that matter to their friends.

A one-size-fits-all approach simply isn’t enough to communicate to such different groups with different motivations. Personas can allow fundraisers to segment their supporters and engage in more personal ways. Personas can help you identify who in your database would be capable of being a high-impact participant and give them the sort of high-touch, personal attention they need. On the flip side, you can place much less emphasis on those who likely do not have a propensity to fundraise. Personas allow fundraisers to target current and potential participants with communications targeted to their wants, needs, and preferences.

Instead of focusing fully on the type of event in which you engage participants, consider approaches you might take to ensure a positive experience that promotes loyalty among all your supporters. Some prefer volunteer tasks that emphasize group orientation, group facilitation, and reciprocal relationships. Others prefer volunteer tasks that foster friendly team competition.

Of the two genders studied in the metrics above, Otis Fulton, author of Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising, points out that women remain longer in volunteer roles in which they feel a sense of intimacy and belonging with others in the organization. Men remain longer in volunteer roles in which they feel personally empowered and derive a sense of efficacy from meeting clearly defined objectives While just as example, keep these nuances in mind as you craft personalized communications with your supporters.


Team Participation

Teams and team captains are critical to the success of most peer-to-peer fundraising programs. Your core fundraising events should be configured to accept and encourage teams, and your organization should focus on cultivating relationships with captains and team members above all else. Thank them profusely and celebrate their successes actively. Being part of a team correlates to stronger fundraising performance. Team captains are the cornerstone of our peer-to-peer fundraising efforts. They continue to outperform their team members who, in most cases, have more impressive fundraising performance than individuals not participating on a team.

Consider these team captains your lead volunteers and proactively plan and manage your relationships with them to ensure they are having a positive experience and are compelled to continue investing in your mission. Be clear on the responsibilities expected of them (like recruiting a certain number of team members) and the expected time commitment.

Across all event types, we see that the largest percentage of teams will have between two and five team members. Tracking the percentage of each team that is actively fundraising is an important way to assess the health of your fundraising team program. A small but mighty team with 100% fundraising may be more effective than a large team in which not all members participate in fundraising. Cycle events, however, break this mold. The larger the team is for a cycle event, the more successful every member on that team is.

Not all event participants will fundraise. By separating your event guests by “participant” and “fundraiser,” you can more effectively benchmark your performance and determine how many additional participants you need to steward and engage as fundraisers to meet your goals.


Event Registrations

In the world of peer-to-peer fundraising, organizations invest in technology and expect supporters to magically start fundraising for their organization. However, regular promotions are critical to engage supporters and bring them into the fold. Use prominent calls to action: the top two calls to action are “register” (for participants) and “donate” (for donors). Make sure those two options are clearly visible on the peer-to-peer event homepage and on any additional campaign landing pages.
Make registering and donating as easy as possible. In the registration flow and donation process, ask only the needed questions. Consider asking follow-up questions in future campaign emails or surveys. Just like all your fundraising pages, a responsive digital experience is critical.

Carefully assess whether you have to charge a registration fee. There are distinct fundraising behaviors between similar events with and without registration fees. Participants in events without registration fees are more likely to join a team and fundraise. They are also more inclined to make a self-donation and raise more money from more donors. If the ultimate objective for your event is to generate funds, then the potential for revenue may be greater if you do not charge a registration fee.

If your event is currently bringing in the highest percentage of revenue from registration fees, consider clarifying your fundraising message. Is it clear that the event is a fundraiser? Do participants understand that the main goal is to raise money? You can increase the visibility and frequency of fundraising communications, tips, and coaching to participants to help clarify this.


Thank Yous

Thanking and following up with peer-to-peer event donors is critical. Oftentimes these donors have little to no familiarity with your organization and cause, only giving initially because they are asked by a friend. To maximize the potential of these new supporters, you must welcome them with a strong series of stewardship touches to educate them and get them more involved with your mission.

Start with a personal thank you from leadership and share more about your organization. Provide visibility into the impact of the donations that were raised by showcasing something specific. Send additional messages with ways to get involved like signing up for a newsletter or volunteering. Just like in a race, timing is important when planning fundraising asks for these new supporters. Too many asks too soon will wear out a donor. Too little too late and the donor remains stationary. You want to leverage the excitement from your event but also make sure you leave some space for your event stewardship efforts. For most organizations, this could be between one to six months. A good reference would be to look at your current donor file for an indication of the average timing between first gift and second gift.

By planning your campaign timing, you will ensure maximum performance from your event and conversion campaign without stepping on the toes of either one. You can also use predictive analytics to determine which donors can give or those that already give to other similar organizations. This allows you to focus on the supporters who are most likely to respond to an additional ask and to devote less time and attention to the truly one-time givers that may never get involved outside of an event.