How to Infuse ‘Matterness’ Into Peer-to-Peer Fundraising

Allison Fine

By Allison Fine

What would you do with an extra $100 million?

That was the happy problem facing the ALS Association after this summer’s mega-viral Ice Bucket Challenge. According to ALS, the Challenge raised more than $100-million from more than 3-million people. This compares to $2.3-million raised all of last summer by ALS.

The Challenge was powered friend-to-friend and then the mainstream media kicked it into hyper drive.

While it’s unlikely that your organization will get ever get the massive influx of support that came through the Ice Bucket Challenge, you don’t need to a movement of that scale to be the beneficiary of unexpected support from a friend-to-friend campaign.

In fact, as a peer-to-peer fundraiser, you routinely have an opportunity to turn spontaneous donors into doers, step-by-step and person-by-person.

You simply need to focus on what I call Matterness; building the powerful connection between people and organizations that happens when organizations stop working at people and start working with people.

Using the ALS Association as an example, here are three ways that organizations can infuse Matterness into their work:

  1. Get Conversational. ALS has a nice presence on Facebook with nearly 340,000 Likes, presumably many of them are new friends who came on board following the Challenge.
    Rather than simply using its Facebook group as a billboard, the first thing ALS can do with all of these new friends is to prove to them that they are part of the crafting of the organization’s new agenda, made possible by their donations.
    Organizations generally have fixed programs or services that they need to support as part of their mission.
    But when they receive a gift of serendipity, there is also the opportunity to share some of the power and engage these new donors in conversations about what they would like to see happen.
    For instance, an organization can dedicate a relatively small amount of money, say 10% of its budget, to do whatever the community chooses to do. Organizations need to stop broadcasting at supporters shouting how great they are and start having meaningful conversations that go where supporters want them to go. Purpose losing control is a very powerful way to build community.
  1. Find Some Little Bites. I’m not talking about the snack food. Little bites are the opportunities that can be created for crowds of people to provide meaningful support beyond fundraising.
    One of the most powerful aspects of the social media toolset are the opportunities for anyone, anywhere to support a cause by brainstorming about something, raising awareness within their own networks, bringing their professional expertise to a problem, doing some leg work to increase intelligence within a network. There are lots and lots of different ways to help, but it requires organizations to think different about the power of social networks beyond fundraising.
    For ALS, maybe there is some research on facilities treating people with ALS these new folks could help catalog. Or perhaps there are some new medical data sets being created through Obama care that the network could help crunch. Or collect information about ways that governments overseas are helping ALS patients.
    Anything that required too much manpower before is now on the table for the new ALS network to tackle. Cause work is often exhausting because staff people insist on doing everything themselves rather than spreading the work out with their network. People have a lot of capacity and a lot of good will to offer, organizations need to tap into that power.
  1. Tell Stories. Causes are ultimately about making the lives of people better. All of these people have powerful stories to tell, in their own voices. Organizations need to actively look for stories in their network and invite people to tell them.
    In addition, organizations need to become much better at thanking people as individuals. The thank-you form letter needs to go the way of the cassette tape.
    Whatever the gift is, personal attention to a gesture of gratitude is needed. Using someone’s real name on a thank-you letter or perhaps adding a handwritten note at the bottom of a letter will have a huge impact.
    Very few organizations have so many thank you notes to send that someone cannot be bothered to write something personal on it. And if it has to be a mass email, at least put some humility in it, something personal and meaningful that others will empathize with.


One of the most powerful aspects of social media is the ability to tag specific people publicly and make them both known and accountable. Naming three people and giving them just 24 hours was the fuel that caused the Ice Bucket Challenge to take off.

The principles behind these actions; distributed power, making people known in a network, relying on people’s natural kindness and generosity, are the same ideals that need to go into an organization’s effort to build on these moments and turn new donors into long-term doers.

Editor’s Note: Allison Fine is one of the nonprofit world’s foremost thinkers, writers, and speakers on social media. She is the author of Matterness: What Fearless Leaders Know About the Power and Promise of Social Media.  Her previous works include the award-winning Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age, and co-author of the bestselling The Networked Nonprofit.