Peer-to-Peer Thirty: New Initiatives Surge While Many Established Programs Struggle

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ORLANDO — Peer-to-peer fundraising programs are growing quickly among groups that lead events that fall outside of the traditional run, walk, and ride event model. But a number of longstanding, high-profile programs are continuing to see declines, according to the peer-to-peer fundraising industry’s annual roundup.

Overall, contributions to programs listed in the Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Thirty — the ranking of the 30 largest peer-to-peer fundraising programs in the U.S. — totaled $1.62 billion in 2014. That figure represents a 2.47 percent drop from 2013.

That decline was driven, in large part, by struggles at two of the dominant charities in the peer-to-peer fundraising world.

The American Cancer Society, which has been in the midst of an organization-wide restructuring, reported that its popular Relay for Life series experienced a fundraising decline of $45-million in 2014, to $335-million.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure, still dealing with the aftermath of a 2012 controversy concerning its relationship with Planned Parenthood, saw its Race for the Cure series drop from No. 2 to No. 4 on the list after posting a decline of 10.8 percent, or $11.5-million. The drop was even more pronounced for a second Komen program — the Komen 3-Day walk series which declined 38.1 percent, from $42-million in 2013 to $26-million in 2014.

Combined, the American Cancer Society and Susan G. Komen for the Cure saw a decline of $72.5-million in those three programs. “The American Cancer Society and Komen took some big hits in 2014, but the $519 million+ they raised from peer-to-peer fundraising last year demonstrates the tremendous support they continue to enjoy,” said David Hessekiel, president of the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum, which authors the study.

The declines at some of the largest peer-to-peer programs also obscure the growth that is happening at many smaller and newer peer-to-peer programs.   Many of those programs are built around regional cycling events or individualized activities such as growing mustaches or shaving heads rather than traditional walks.

While 11 of the 20 largest peer-to-peer fundraising programs reported revenue declines in 2014, most of the programs that fall outside of the top 20 reported growth last year. In fact, eight of the 10 programs ranked 21-30 on the Peer to Peer 30 list reported increases in 2014.

Four programs in the top thirty grew by more than 30%: Memorial Sloan Ketterings Cycle for Survival, an indoor stationary bike program, was up nearly 43%, The ALS Associations Walk to Defeat ALS was up 36.3%, The American Foundation for Suicide Preventions Out of the Darkness Walks, was up 32.4%, and the American Heart Associations Jump Rope for Heart/Hoops for Heart youth programs were up 31.6%.

Whatever the activity they focus on, nonprofits trying to grow their peer-to-peer fundraising programs must invest in attracting, training, and motivating staff and volunteers, leveraging storytelling and smart marketing to communicate effectively, and giving participants the tools, coaching, and support they need to fundraise, said Hessekiel, whose group has been collecting this benchmarking data since 2007.

The top 10 American programs by total gross revenue in 2014 were:

$335-million (-11.8%) Relay for Life, American Cancer Society

$110.8-million (+4.9%) Heart Walk, American Heart Association

$97.2-million (-3.5%) March for Babies, March of Dimes

$95.3-million (-10.8%) Komen Race for the Cure Series, Susan G. Komen for the Cure

$82.8-million (-0.4%) Bike MS, National MS Society

$71.2-million (+31.6%) Jump Rope/Hoops for Heart, American Heart Association

$68.3-million (-12.4%) JDRF One Walk, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation

$67.9-million (+18.6%) Walk to End Alzheimers, Alzheimers Association

$63.2-million (-4.6%) Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, American Cancer Society

$60.1-million (+2.7%) Light the Night Walk, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

The Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Thirty is based on survey responses from professionals who manage major peer-to-peer fundraising programs and publicly available data. The full report and a narrative analysis of the findings are available on the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forums website.