Peer-to-peer fundraising is in the midst of a major transition, as some of the nation’s largest nonprofits shift their focus toward hosting more efficient campaigns and a number of emerging programs show significant growth.
The Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Thirty, which ranks the 30 largest U.S. P2P campaigns, found that these campaigns raised nearly $1.45 billion in 2017, down 6.7 percent compared with 2016. This decline continues a trend among the top 30 programs, which have seen their collective revenues drop each year since 2012.
But the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum found that this top-line revenue number isn’t the whole story. In fact, the survey and interviews reveal that most large programs are raising more money per participant and many charities are staging multiple campaigns rather than focusing all of their energy on one national-scale series.
“Peer-to-peer fundraising is becoming much more diverse — and much more efficient — than ever before,” said Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum President David Hessekiel. “Nonprofits report that they are taking steps to make sure they are managing their costs and getting more bang for their investments.”
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 challenge and reach out to their friends, family members and colleagues for donations.
In the past, peer-to-peer fundraising was dominated by large national health charities that played host to multi-city events.
But the landscape has shifted in recent years with the explosion of social media and do-it-yourself fundraising, in which individuals can easily launch their own campaigns to raise money for their favorite charities.
Indeed, many organizations are moving beyond staging massive national-level campaigns and are focusing on producing a mix of programs that engage more targeted audiences and generate higher margins. As a result, their flagship campaigns are growing more efficient — and they are able to reach new fundraisers with innovative programming that keeps them more engaged.
At the American Cancer Society, for instance, Relay for Life remains its flagship program, by far the largest in the field. But the campaign has a deliberately smaller footprint. Relay for Life raised an estimated $230 million in 2017 — a decline of $49 million, or 17.56 percent, compared with 2016.
The campaign, however, was much more efficient than it was in previous years. American Cancer Society reported that it produced 930 fewer Relay for Life events in 2017 than the 4,500 it produced just one year earlier.
With that smaller footprint, each Really for Life participant raised an average of $115 in 2017 — up more than 11 percent compared with the $103.33 the average participant raised in 2016. At the same time, the organization is working to cultivate a number of smaller, more nimble programs.
In 2016, for example, the organization launched a new campaign called Real Men Wear Pink with a simple ask — men would wear something pink every day for the entire month of October and raise a minimum of $2,500 for the fight against breast cancer.
Susan Petre, an American Cancer Society vice president who also oversees its popular Making Strides Against Breast Cancer campaign, says the Real Men Wear Pink effort has caught on quickly. During its first year, Real Men raised $5.5 million. In 2017, it drew more than 2,600 men in about 200 communities who raised nearly $7 million.
“We’ve entered an era where the size of your signature campaign is less important than the overall direction of your peer-to-peer program,” said Donna Wilkins, founder of Charity Dynamics, a consulting and technology company that specializes in peer-to-peer fundraising.
“Today, success is measured by your strategy and your ability to meet your key audiences where they are with programs that connect with them. Because of that, we’re seeing a number of leading nonprofits move away from having one or two signature events and toward a portfolio of campaigns that give their constituents a variety of ways to participate and support the organization.”
Other highlights from the 2017 Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Thirty include:
- Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals‘ popular Dance Marathon series was the fastest-growing P2P program in 2017. Revenues increased 19.63 percent to nearly $39 million.
- The Pan-Mass Challenge posted another record fundraising total, generating an estimated $56.5 million. This total again made the ride the largest single-event peer-to-peer fundraiser in the United States — and marks an increase of more than $6.7 million over its 2016 total.
- Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center’s Cycle for Survival raised $34 million in 2017, an increase of 13.3 percent. Named the 2018 Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum’s Program of the Year, Cycle for Survival has seen its revenues quadruple since 2012.