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July 17, 2013

Takes One to Know One: Peer-to-Peer Fundraising

2086953033_e54673d5aeWe learn so much from the organizations we work with. We are inspired nearly every day. Most of our blog posts are ripped from the headlines of our work for the week.  And this one is no exception.

The other day, we were facilitating a retreat and this title appeared on a slide.

Takes one to know one.

This particular discussion was about recruiting Millennials, but the title immediately made me think: that’s IT!  That’s why peer-to-peer fundraising works so well.  Millennials know what makes other Millennials tick.  They recognize each other, know how to communicate, know their concerns and dreams.

It’s great for fundraising staff and Board members to theorize and strategize ways to engage Millennials, women, foundation officers, or entrepreneurs in fundraising.  But really, the best way to recruit groups of people is to have their peers ask them.

Whether it be for money, contacts, or volunteer hours, the best solicitor is someone just like them.

This isn’t a new theory of fundraising, but it occurs to me that there are some great examples out there that we all could learn from:

Corporate Donors: A few of our clients have seen significant success — across all kinds of organizations — in recruiting corporate donors who then go out and recruit other corporate donors.  These groups may or may not meet, but they are very effective in getting their corporate brethren to join them in sponsorship. There’s a real “bandwagon” phenomenon (with a dash of competitiveness) that goes along with corporate giving. In order to avoid risk, companies tend jump on with people they know.

Philanthropic Advisors: There are definitely a slew of advisory committees that are completely inactive, but recently two of our clients have recruited small groups of “thought-leader” advisors who are dedicated to their organization and reach out to other philanthropic advisors and foundations officers. These groups don’t necessarily meet at all, but they serve as informal conduits to other doors of funding that couldn’t be opened without them.

Millennials: One group we have worked with even had a separate Board for Young Professionals in the Generation Y cohort.  This group has a goal for fundraising, recruits its own members and has separate events.  It also provides a feeder track for the governing Board.

Entrepreneurs: The granddaddy of all peer-to-peer engagement is Natural Resource Defense Council’s E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs), started in 2000.  E2’s membership has grown exponentially to 850 members with 8 chapters across the country.  It always had a fundraising goal (the first year it was $1 million) and it was started by two entrepreneurs that wanted to harness their networks to support NRDC.  They key? This group was built by the founders, not by NRDC.

Womens’ Groups: We’ve seen more and more womens’ circles, groups, and guilds emerging from the organizations we work with. Women are natural “pollinators” and can draw in potential donors, volunteer help, and dollars.  Some meet regularly and have a social aspect as well.  Some meet more in retreat fashion. Nearly all grow quickly when they have the right peer founders to set the tone of the effort.

Great ideas, right?

But there are keys to making it work:

Make sure it fits into your fundraising strategy: You don’t want to do this just to do it.  You have to ask yourself: will building a peer-to-peer group support my fundraising strategy?

Look for opportunity, but don’t force it:  This is not the kind of thing that you can just go out and do on your timetable.  If you want it to be successful, it may take months or even years for you to find just the right (and willing) volunteers to start working on your group of donor pollinators.

Start by identifying your target audience and then go out and see where your connections lead you.  Network, ask questions, and be flexible.

Be willing to give up control: This is the difference between a peer fundraising group that works and one that doesn’t. Most organizations find it really scary to let a group of supporters form their own group with their own structure, their own timetable, their own way of working.  But that is exactly what the most successful of these efforts do. In fact, that’s the point.

It takes one to know one. The founders of your group will know how to recruit, communicate, and activate your target audience because they are one of them.

Be clear about goals and expectations:  It’s important that the expectations around support, dollars, and access be clearly delineated between the organization and the peer group. Make sure you know what your fundraising group is expecting from your organization and vice versa.

Provide support:  Relinquishing control doesn’t mean “hands off”.  If your organization is lucky enough to get some traction going on one of these peer-to-peer groups, you will need to offer support in the form of contact information, materials, access to program information, and time from top leadership. It’s about what they need to succeed. You’re partners in this venture!

Do you have other ideas or examples?  Please write and let us know.  We always love to hear from you!

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