Nonprofits Begin To See Brighter Future For Peer-To-Peer Fundraising
The tide is finally starting to turn for nonprofits that raise money through peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused massive disruptions for peer-to-peer programs in 2020 and through the first half of 2021 as nonprofits scrambled to host virtual versions of historically in-person events.
These disruptions, in turn, led to a steep drop in revenues for most programs. Fundraising revenues for the 30 largest programs dropped 33.9 percent in 2020, according to the Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Thirty survey. Many smaller programs reported even steeper declines.
But a new survey of 75 campaigns by the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum shows that many fundraisers are expecting to meet or exceed their revenue targets for 2021 and that they expect to emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever in 2022.
Optimism Abounds in New Survey
Peer-to-peer fundraising is the practice of having a nonprofit’s supporters take part in an activity such as a walk, bike ride, or video gaming challenge and reach out to their friends, family members, coworkers, and followers for donations.
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According to the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum survey, more than four in five peer-to-peer program leaders expect their campaigns to meet or exceed pre-pandemic revenues in 2022. Even better, more than two-thirds report they are ahead of or on target to meet the revenue goals they’ve set for the second half of 2021.
It’s worth noting that this survey is not a large, randomized study and optimists may have been more likely to participate. But a similar survey conducted last spring – during the early days of the pandemic – painted a much darker picture. At that time, P2P fundraisers expected to raise only about half of what they had budgeted at the beginning of 2020.
It turns out those projections weren’t far off.
Today, the mood is much different. Peer-to-peer professionals are much more optimistic than they were a year ago – and that they are expecting to come out of the pandemic with stronger, more diverse programs.
“People are really excited to come back,” said Jennifer Schell Podoll, senior vice president of constituent engagement for Autism Speaks, where she oversees its series of walk and endurance fundraising programs.
Like most nonprofits that operate peer-to-peer programs, Autism Speaks made significant shifts to its strategy during the pandemic.
Prior to COVID-19, the organization hosted a series of about 70 walks each year throughout the spring and fall. During the pandemic, however, it shifted its entire walk series to the fall and added a new do-it-yourself campaign to its spring calendar – a 30-day kindness campaign that coincides with World Autism Month in April.
For its 2021 fall walk campaign, Autism Speaks is planning to host many of the events in-person, using a hybrid model that allows those who are unable or not yet ready to gather in person to take part virtually. The flexible approach also allows each event to conform to local COVID-19 guidelines, which are continuing to change and evolve.
Podoll says she doesn’t expect Autism Speaks’ peer-to-peer revenues to approach 2019 levels until 2022 – largely because fewer people are participating right now. But by concentrating its walk program in the fall and adding a new program to the calendar, she expects the organization to operate more efficiently while offering supporters more choices for getting involved.
In the meantime, those who are participating this year are energized and excited. Podoll points to the mood at a recent gala event held by Autism Speaks in New Jersey – which produced a record result – as a signal that peer-to-peer events are poised for a rebound.
“The New Jersey gala had its best year ever this spring,” she said. “It was the happiest event we’ve ever had.”
While supporters are eager to get back together in person, most nonprofits that run peer-to-peer programs are being careful about how they will structure their programs this fall. Almost every fundraiser in our survey — 95 percent — reported their campaigns are staying virtual or hybrid through the end of 2021.
Most groups are opting for hybrid events – which give supporters the opportunity to gather in person or continue to engage virtually. This is especially true for national organizations that are hosting events at multiple locations across the U.S.
But even when the entire nation is ready to lift restrictions, many peer-to-peer programs are likely to continue offering virtual or hybrid options – noting that many supporters like to have choices and flexibility.
“We’re worried less about the day-of structure of the event and focusing more on creating opportunities to build community and connect,” says Nicole Dolan, senior director of American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of Darkness Walks.
Rather than building campaigns around a single-day event, Dolan believes peer-to-peer fundraisers should work to create programs that engage with supporters over a series of months through a mix of virtual events and in-person gatherings.
She’s also making it clear to supporters who are signing up for its walk program that they don’t have to commit to participating in-person or virtually – since circumstances may change between now and the scheduled date of the walk
Participants are encouraged to sign up now and decide how and when they want to engage.
“We’re looking at it like it has to be a fully integrated experience now. Not one or the other,” Dolan says.
A New Model
The Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum survey found that most groups expect to come out of the pandemic as strong – or even stronger – than they were in 2019.
And that strength will come, in part, from lessons learned during the past 18 months.
Peer-to-peer fundraising will continue to look much different than it did prior to 2020 – with more options for supporters to engage, improved event experiences, and a better return on investment for nonprofits.
“Elements of what we learned and experienced will be retained when we are fully in person,” said National MS Society’s Cindy Yomantas. “Even when we are fully in person, we will be able to offer an enhanced virtual experience.”