Top U.S. Peer-to-Peer Programs See Slight Revenue Decline

NEW ORLEANS — Overall revenues for the top 30 U.S. peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns declined in 2018, according to an annual survey by the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum. The decrease, however, was 60% less than the year before — and a number of indicators show that the overall climate for peer-to-peer fundraising continues to improve.

The Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Thirty, which ranks the 30 largest U.S. P2P campaigns, found that these campaigns raised more than $1.39 billion in 2018, down 2.7 percent compared with 2017.

But while the top-line number is down, the climate for peer-to-peer fundraising programs is improving.

If you remove the impact of a big decline at the largest P2P campaign, the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, the remaining 29 top programs posted a collective revenue increase of nearly $6.4 million in 2018.

“The forecast for peer-to-peer fundraising has been steadily improving — and we are hearing from many of our members that they’re expecting to see strong results in 2019,” Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum President David Hessekiel said. “As Relay for Life stabilizes after a planned downsizing and as other programs continue to grow, we’re hopeful that we’ll see positive numbers for the top 30 when we conduct next year’s benchmark study.”

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 charities that play 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.

P2P’s New Wave

The latest arrival to the list of top 30 programs — Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals’ Extra Life campaign — reflects this shift. Just 10 years old, this video-game focused campaign vaulted into the top 30 after increasing its revenues by $2.6 million — or 24.2 percent. The gain is the largest percentage increase among top 30 programs in 2018.

Extra Life wasn’t the only Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals campaign to post big gains in 2018. Its signature Dance Marathon continued its climb up the list to No. 12, increasing revenues by $4.6 million, or 11.7 percent, to more than $43.5 million.

“Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals is among a new wave of nonprofits that are tailoring programs that speak to younger, more diverse audiences,” Hessekiel said. “These organizations show that you can succeed in peer-to-peer using a number of different types of campaigns.”

Traditional Programs Show Strength

The Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Photo courtesy of the Alzheimer’s Association.

At the same time, a number of more traditional programs are also succeeding.

The Alzheimer’s Association — the 2018 P2P Fundraising Organization of the Year — had the largest increase in amount raised with its signature campaign, The Walk to End Alzheimers. The Walk raised nearly $96.9 million in 2018, up nearly $7.9 million, or 8.8 percent, from $89 million in 2017. If it continues to follow recent trends, the Walk will soon eclipse the $100 million mark.

Another stalwart program, the Pan-Mass Challenge, claimed a spot in the top 10, its highest-ever ranking. The cycling campaign raised $59.3 million, up 4.9 percent. With the increase, the Pan-Mass Challenge also broke its own record for the highest-grossing single event fundraising campaign.

Another fast-growing campaign, St. Jude Heroes, climbed four spots, reaching No. 21. Its revenues increased by 22.8 percent to $25.5 million.

Relay for Life Prepares to Rebound

As it has every year in the P2P Thirty’s history, Relay for Life was the nation’s largest campaign, reporting revenues of $184.8 million in 2018. That figure was down $45.2 million — or 19.7 percent — from a year ago.

Even with the decline, The American Cancer Society says the campaign exceeded expectations in a year in which it was intentionally trying to reduce the campaign’s massive footprint and focus on hosting fewer, more profitable events.

The organization reported that it cut the number of Relay for Life events by more than 1,000 — running 2,516 events in 2018 compared with 3,570 in 2017.

As a result, while overall revenues were down, its revenue per event increased by 12 percent. The number of participants per event also increased by 12 percent.

The decline in revenues for Relay for Life were also tempered by growth in other American Cancer Society peer-to-peer programs, including its Making Strides Against Breast Cancer series, which raised $63.5 million in 2018, an increase of $1.5 million, or 2.4 percent.

“We reduced the footprint of events and planned for an overall decline, but made significant gains in diversifying and growing revenue in other community-based fundraising and DIY activities,” said Maria Clark, senior vice president of volunteer events.

Another long-standing top 30 program — Avon 39: The Walk to End Breast Cancer — was the only campaign from the 2017 list to fall out of the top 30. Avon 39 was discontinued in 2018 after raising $34 million in 2017.

Top 10 Programs

The top 10 American programs by total gross revenue in 2018 were:

  1. Relay for Life – American Cancer Society – $184.8 million (-19.7%)
  2. Heart Walk – American Heart Association – $122,654,921 (-2.0%)
  3. Walk to End Alzheimer’s – Alzheimers Association – $96,898,684 (+8.8%)
  4. American Heart Association Youth Programs – American Heart Association – $84,267,440 (+6.5%)
  5. Light the Night Walk – Leukemia & Lymphoma Society – $76,970,400 (+4.0%)
  6. Bike MS – National MS Society – $65,519,000 (-4.2%)
  7. March for Babies – March of Dimes – $65,457,000 (-11.5%)
  8. Making Strides Against Breast Cancer – American Cancer Society – $63.5 million (+2.4%)
  9. JDRF One Walk – JDRF – $63,299,938 (-1.2%)
  10. Pan-Mass Challenge – Pan-Mass Challenge – $59,250,000 (+4.9%)

About the Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Thirty

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.

The 2018 survey is sponsored by Charity Dynamics.

Results of the study were unveiled at the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forums annual conference today in New Orleans.

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