7 steps to start your charity’s peer-to-peer fundraising campaign

This is the second article in a series on peer-to-peer fundraising for charities and non-profits. In this post, I’ll explain 7 action steps you can take to launch your year-round peer-to-peer fundraising campaign.


Research the best possible online tool for creating personal giving pages.

There are lot of free, low-cost and fee-based options on offer and more are being created every time. Research and compare pricing, functionality, geographic reach (e.g. is it available to your supporters in their country), performance reviews, design, tone, the level to which the donor can personalize their page, and ease of use for both your supporters and you. There lots of reviews online about different tools. See http://sumac.com/comparison-of-top-10-social-fundraising-websites#sthash.WSUnMUnn.dpuf for one example.


The details of how to do this and how to brand your page will depend on which provider you choose. It shouldn’t take long to set up your charity’s site – just about an hour or two. Make sure that the text and images you use to brand your site are compelling and inspiring.


For year-round fundraising, your peer-to-peer fundraising campaign should be a permanent fixture on your website and should fit within your overall design. It should:

  • be on your homepage – perhaps with a click-through button;
  • be explained on a great landing page that is simple to figure out and with FAQs. For an excellent example of a landing page see charity:water’s page
  • use graphics to support your text;
  • include prominent calls to action;
  • come with tools to share via email and social media;
  • have well-written and compelling templates for emails so that all your supporters have to do is hit send;
  • highlight events for fundraising – birthdays, holidays etc.


Have a comprehensive marketing and communication strategy to introduce people to the idea of peer-to-peer fundraising and to coach them along the way. This would include:

  • a social media strategy;
  • a donor stewardship strategy to thank donors, such as immediate phone calls to thank people whenever they create a page (see more details about stewardship below);
  • a calendar and strategy for key dates for your organizations and holidays that your supporters might want to tap into for their fundraising pages – e.g. Mother’s Day, Earth Day, International Women’s Day;
  • regular news about your peer-to-peer campaign in your newsletter, and blog so that your supporters know these tools are available and so that they can be inspired by stories of how people are using them. Using blog posts or newsletter articles to highlight a donor’s story is also a great way to thank that person, if they’re willing to have their story shared;
  • consider rotating in different projects. Depending upon your organization’s greatest needs, you can change where the funds are going every so often. For example, you could establish quarterly projects that will be funded, in whole or in part, by the proceeds from your supporter fundraising program.


Test your campaign in house and iron out any kinks. See if board members, volunteers, staff and your closest supporters will start the ball rolling with their own campaigns and share their feedback with you on how the process can be streamlined and improved.


Pick a date for your public launch for the campaign and start spreading the word, following your communication and marketing plan.


As in everything else in fundraising, you can’t overestimate the power of good donor stewardship – thanking people for their gifts or efforts on behalf of your charity and showing them the impact that their generosity has made. With peer-to-peer fundraising you need to have a clear strategy to keep your fundraisers in the fold. Be proactive.

  • When someone creates a giving page, pick up the phone and call them right away to thank them, to see if they had any problems with the platform, to ask if they need any help or information, to provide them with any materials that will make their page more interesting – like photos.
  • Stay in touch with your fundraisers, especially with your most active ones, and send them personal notes (a good board task);
  • Share their success stories to both recognize their efforts and inspire others to follow in their footsteps. This can be done through your newsletter, Facebook page, Twitter, blog etc.
  • Close the loop. Make sure that you let your fundraisers know what type of impact they are helping your organization make. Try to give them concrete information and share pictures, stories and even video, so that they can also share this with their friends who have given. This is the easiest way to cement a positive relationship between your organization and your supporters and keep them inspired and engaged;
  • Show them the love. Make them feel like a part of the family – invite them to special events, call them, send them birthday cards, share your success stories — and they will continue to raise money for you year after year.

Peer-to-peer fundraising – how to add it your charity’s fundraising strategy

What is peer-to-peer fundraising?

Peer-to-peer fundraising is friends asking friends, usually using an online platform on your own website or another fundraising website, that allows individuals to create fundraising pages to collect donations for your charity. Your supporters can personalize their fundraising page with text, pictures and videos and share their page with their friends easily through email and social media.

The benefits are huge. First, by getting your network the tools to fundraise on your behalf, you expand your reach exponentially. Every charity has power fundraisers in their midst – people that love what you do and are happy to spread the word for you. More and more donors are not content with sitting on the sidelines and writing a check; often people want to get more involved in the causes they love and this is a great way to do that. Some of your charity’s greatest fans may not be major donors; in fact, they may have a very limited capacity to give in terms of money, but they may have great, untapped potential and enthusiasm to spread your mission to others and to fundraise on your behalf.

All your organization needs to do is to give your supporters the tools they need to become fundraising all-stars. You also need to thank them and recognize their efforts, large and small, and share their stories to inspire others to follow their lead.

10 reasons why your charity should add peer-to-peer fundraising to your mix:

  1. By getting your network to fundraise on your behalf, you expand your reach exponentially, growing your charity. It’s one of the most cost-effective ways to find new donors and prospects;
  2. It gets results: Peer-to-peer fundraising gives high fundraising yields and increased donor acquisition. According to one study, each “active” fundraiser (where active = raises $1 or more) brings in $568 through his or her fundraising page and brings in an average of 7 donors, of whom 4, on average, will be new to your charity;
  3. You get great response rates: friends asking friends to donate results in something like 10 times higher response rates and 52% higher donations than cold calls and emails;
  4. Peer-to-peer fundraising adds diversity to your fundraising mix and helps to make your organization’s funding more stable. it makes good sense to add another string to your fundraising bow, provided that it has good return on investment in terms of time and money. Peer-to-peer fundraising can have a much better ROI than events;
  5. It’s a simple way to transform every birthday, holiday and other milestone into an opportunity to give to your charity. charity:water’s birthday campaign using peer-to-peer giving has raised over $9 million in a few years and over 40,000 people have pledged their birthdays to the cause, giving a steady revenue stream throughout the year. The average amount raised by a person’s birthday campaign at charity:water is $770. (See more about the peer-to-peer birthday campaigns below);
  6. It brings your greatest fans closer to the organization. Peer-to-peer fundraising allows your supporters to get more involved with your organization and its mission. It also allows helps you forge a deeper connection with supporters by linking fundraising to the special events in their lives;
  7. It provides an opportunity for those who love your organization to do more than just give money, especially if they are already giving to their maximum capacity. Many of your supporters may be cash poor but enthusiasm rich and you can tap into their enthusiasm and creativity. At an organization I used to work at, we had one donor who wanted to do more but was uncertain about how. One thing she knew she was good at was baking bread, so she wondered if she could teach others how to bake. After discussing her wish with me, I helped her create a personal giving page called “Dough for Dough” where her friends could make a donation as a thank you for her baking lessons. Her initial fundraising goal was about $350; to date, she’s raised over $5800 and brought about 127 donors to the charity. She now feels closer than ever to the organization and its mission;
  8. The example of one person’s act of generosity will inspire other people so that more and more people will create giving pages, if you communicate the story well. In the example given above, the donor was initially inspired to do more after reading a newsletter article I wrote about an 8-year-old who collected bottles for our cause;
  9. It’s low-cost, and easy to manage and administer once you’ve got the pieces in place such as your online platform. There’s a wealth of online tools such as Razoo, Crowdrise, Canada Helps and more that are free or low-cost and that can be set up very easily and quickly for your organization;
  10. Other charities are using it so your organization risks getting left behind.

OK, you want to start peer-to-peer fundraising…

Read this blog lost on the 7 action steps to launch your year-round peer-to-peer fundraising campaign.

Getting started with online videos for your charity or nonprofit

The following article was written by Heather Wardle, CFRE at the request of the editor of Gift Planning in Canada, July 2013.

Nearly all nonprofits recognize the significance of the video revolution and the powerful storytelling potential that it offers. Creating and sharing videos has never been easier or cheaper, yet studies show that online video is underused by charities.

In June, YouTube published the results of the first-ever survey on nonprofits using online video. Of those surveyed,

  • 80% said that video is important to their organization today
  • 91% said they want to make more video
  • 62% said they designate very little or no staff time for video production and distribution

Is your organization using video to tell its story? If not, what’s holding you back?

Many charities are intimidated by video, thinking that they need a lot of money, staff time, expertise and specialized equipment to create video content.

Here are some tips on how you can start today using the tools and resources you likely already have at your fingertips.

  1. Think about your video strategy — who you want to interact with, what you want to say and what your call to actions will be.
  2. Find a video-maker in your midst. You likely have a staff member, volunteer or intern who would love to create videos as part of his or her role. Find someone who already has some video experience or train someone who has the interest. There are plenty of online classes and local workshops.
  3. Start with the equipment you’ve already got. Smart phones, digital cameras, tablets and laptops with web cams can all be used to shoot your video. In addition, most computers come with free editing software, such as iMovie and Windows Movie Maker.
  4. Get your field staff to film and photograph your charity at work. Donors love being able to see their gifts in action.
  5. Create a photo and video archive and a back-up system to store your materials. The cost of a back-up hard drive is less than $200. If you have a system for filing and tagging your visual resources from the start, you’ll save a lot of time later on.
  6. Get your feet wet with small, simple projects. Use your iPhone or digital camera to film little clips of your organization’s work and share them via your charity’s Facebook page, blog and website. Or use your photos, add music and create a video slideshow.
  7. Sign up for YouTube Nonprofits at YouTube.com/nonprofits This is available free to registered charities in Canada and the US, and allows you to create your own branded YouTube page, to have call-to-action overlays on your videos, and live streaming of your events.
  8. Make sure that your videos get viewed by making them sharable, embeddable and searchable. YouTube’s Playbook for Good gives advice on writing descriptions and tags.

Nonprofits yield more than 4 billion views on YouTube – one view for every 2 people on the planet! So far only 22,000 charities and nonprofits have signed up to YouTube’s nonprofit program. If your charity isn’t one of them, I hope this article will inspire you to build your video program today.

A revolution in legacy giving: case studies

The following article was co-authored by Heather Wardle, CFRE and Simon Trevelyan. It was published in the April 2013 issue of Gift Planning in Canada.

There’s a revolution brewing in the field of legacy giving and it’s gaining pace. It will have a profound impact on charities and will determine which survive and prosper in the future.

Building on the work of earlier pioneers, the authors have developed and implemented legacy systems that are making charities re-think the way they approach legacy giving and engage their donors. It started on the West Coast, but it’s spreading to the east and south.

We think that planned givers will want to take note, because in a few years a large number of charities will be adopting this system. Those early adopters will have a distinct advantage over others.

What are the bases for this extraordinary claim?

  1. The latest research on the brain and legacy giving
  2. The results we have seen in a very short time with charities.

The Research: Legacy Giving and the Brain 

The latest research on the brain and legacy giving by Dr. Russell James1 shows that the decision to leave a legacy gift is connected to our internal visualization system, specifically the part of the brain that people use when they think back on their lives and recall autobiographical events. To conduct his research, Dr. James hooked people up to an MRI machine to see what areas of the brain they were using when they thought about legacy gifts and other types of charitable donations, such as annual gifts.

He found that the decision to make annual gifts and legacy gifts used very different parts of the brain. The decision to leave a legacy gift was connected to the same part of the brain we use to think about our own life story.

The implications of this research are profound for all fundraisers. This research clearly demonstrates that to motivate donors to leave legacy gifts, we must connect their life stories with our charity’s mission, vision and values.

This brain research correlates perfectly with the success we’ve seen in implementing what we call our “motivational” approach to legacy giving. This is a very revolutionary method compared to the traditional “planned giving” model still used by most charities in North America. Rather than sitting face-to-face with a select few donors to talk about the various planned gift vehicles and the tax savings, this new method engages all charity supporters and encourages them to reflect on the work and values of the charity and how those converge with their own values and desires to make a difference.

This research has even wider implications for our sector; it indicates that the skills you will need for future success in legacy giving are very different from the ones that our planned giving sector has been promulgating for decades. To have a successful legacy program, we need to tell donors WHY to make a gift, not HOW to make a gift.

The Proof: A 20-Fold Increase in Legacy Commitments and Leads

First let’s confirm some terms. Legacy “commitments” are those people who have confirmed to a charity that they have included a legacy gift in their estates. The vast majority are bequests. Legacy “leads” are those supporters who have expressed interest in leaving a legacy gift to a charity through actively asking for information about leaving a gift or saying that they are interested.

Simon Trevelyan, one of the authors of this article, has been developing his motivational-based engagement system for the last 10 years. At the BC SPCA, the multi-channel marketing and solicitation approach increased legacy leads and commitments 20-fold, generating $150 million in legacy pledges.

More recently, this approach is starting to be adopted by charities both large and small. It gives organizations the tools, systems, training and coaching to generate legacy leads and commitments for themselves, indefinitely.

Inspired by the method and its success, the other co-author has now implemented this revolutionary legacy engagement system at two charities with the following results:

Charity A is a small, established international development charity in BC with an active donor base of about 2,200 and one full-time fundraiser able to devote only 5% of her time to planned giving.

Steps to success:

  • Creation of a strategic plan with a goal to increase legacy commitments from 0.5% to 5% of the donor base within 5 years;
  • Creation of a case for support for legacy giving that was mission based and which appealed to the values, backgrounds and aspiration of individuals;
  • Development of a legacy brand for the charity and key messages;
  • Creation of a donor survey system, marketing collateral, an inspirational legacy video, donor stewardship systems and follow-up and cultivation strategy;
  • A multi-channel marketing and communications plan so the legacy message could be used throughout the organization’s touch points with donors, from the website, to the newsletter to the annual report.


  • 117 leads generated – a 22-fold increase
  • 81 legacy commitments confirmed – 3.7% of the donor base (so well on track to reach the 5% goal in the strategic plan)
  • almost 50% response rate to donor survey

Charity B, based in Seattle, USA, has less than 2 full-time staff in North America. Prior to launching the legacy campaign, the charity knew of only 3 legacy commitments and had 0 legacy leads. As with Charity A, the following steps were put in place to launch the legacy campaign:

  • a strategic plan to convert 5% of all donors to a legacy gift within 4 years
  • a case for support in the form of a legacy booklet
  • an online and print legacy survey
  • database tracking systems to measure performance
  • donor stewardship systems and correspondence templates


In the FIRST MONTH of the legacy campaign, 249 surveys were completed and:

  • 82 leads generated (33% of survey respondents)
  • 24 legacy commitments were confirmed (10% of respondents)
  • 56% response rate to legacy donor survey

planned giving campaign results

The above chart shows the potential increase in legacy revenue to Charity A and Charity B before and after the implementation of the motivational legacy campaigns. It assumes an average legacy gift size of $60,000 for the Canadian charity A and $32,000 average legacy gift size for Charity B in the US. It combines both expectants and leads before and after the campaign, an assumption the authors feel comfortable in making knowing that only a small portion of each charity’s donor base has been so far been reached with the legacy campaigns.


The motivational legacy campaigns and supporting marketing materials clearly engaged donors and struck an emotional chord with them, as is shown from the results.

Using donor survey as a soft, gentle ask allows the donors to answer questions about legacy gifts in their own time and to reflect back on the connection between their life stories and the charity’s mission and vision. Sending out the surveys in small batches allows for personalization, rapid replies to donors, great donor stewardship and a manageable workload for the charity’s staff.

It appears, from the authors’ experience, that small organizations may be more nimble and willing to take on a new approach. Based on these results, maybe the little guys will lead the way in this legacy revolution and can teach the big charities something.

Many charities, large and small, still practice a very dry, tax-incentive-based approach to legacy giving that tends to be much more demanding of staff time and charity resources. The authors suggest they might want to examine a new approach or risk missing out of a large number of potential legacy gifts that could bring about a massive change in their ability to achieve their vision.

1 Charitable Estate Planning as Visualized Autobiography: An fMRI Study of its Neural Correlates (February 6, 2012). James, Russell N. and O’Boyle, Michael W. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2000345 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2000345

Simon Trevelyan is President of S.T. Legacy Group, an innovator in legacy development and marketing, helping charities to maximize their planned giving potential. Contact him at simon@stlegacygroup.com or visit www.stlegacygroup.com.

Heather Wardle, CFRE is a Vancouver-based fundraising and communications consultant. Contact her at heather.wardle1500@gmail.com or visit www.heatherwardle.com.

How to perform a SWOT analysis

Doing a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis for a charity or non-profit is an essential first step to effective strategic planning and fundraising. It gives a quick scan of the environment.

Here’s a quick summary of the steps and also a downloadable form that you can share with your board of directors.

STEP 1: Get input from multiple perspectives including multiple levels of the organization and even clients and users of your services.

STEP 2: Consider these external factors that will affect your organization:

  • Social trends – such as the birth rate or numbers of older people in the population.
  • Technology – what implications do new technologies have for your organisation and your area of work?
  • Economic trends – what are the local, regional, national and even international trends and situations that can affect your organization? For example, interest rate changes may affect your organisation’s investment income.
  • Political and legal matters  – politics, both local and national, influence the environment in which charities and voluntary organisations of all sizes operate.
  • People’s views – what do the users of your services and products think of your organization?

STEP 3: List all your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

STEP 4: Review the opportunities and threats and rank them and rank them to determine greatest impact. The highest priority opportunities would be those that advance your mission and goals. Those could be growth, profit, sustainability, reputation, awareness or countless other metrics. Threats should be prioritized in terms of the size of the threat and the likelihood of the threat becoming a reality.

STEP 5: Identify strengths that can be leverages to create opportunities and/or combat threats, and weaknesses that must be addressed to avoid disaster.

Take into account your organization’s:

  • Services/activities
  • Buildings
  • Clients/users
  • Staff and volunteers
  • Management (board, CEO etc)
  • Organization and structure
  • Communications
  • Revenue
  • Costs

Here’s a downloadable SWOT analysis process and form that you can use for your organization’s SWOT analysis.

Finding the best allies for your charitable cause

As fundraisers and marketing people for non-profits and charities, we need to continually reach out to find new supporters for our causes, while at the same time practicing the best possible stewardship for the donors and volunteers we currently have.

Recognizing that it takes a lot more money and energy to find a new donor than to take care of an existing one, there is always donor attrition and we need to grow our donor base even just to stand still.

One of the most effective and inexpensive ways to find new supporters is to reach out to strategic allies or partners who will help spread the word for you.

Let’s face it — we don’t have the time or energy to reach out to all the potential partners who are on our list and who might be helpful in our mission. We need to be strategic about who we choose to invest our time and energy in.

In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell talked about “The Law of the Few” and said, “The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts.” According to Gladwell, economists call this the “80/20 Principle, which is the idea that in any situation roughly 80 percent of the ‘work’ will be done by 20 percent of the participants.” These people are described in the following 3 ways: Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen.

Connectors are the people in a community who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions. A connector is essentially the social equivalent of a computer network hub. They often know people across a wide array of social, cultural, professional, and economic circles, and they make a habit of introducing people who work or live in different circles. They are people who “link us up with the world … people with a special gift for bringing the world together.” They are “a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack [… for] making friends and acquaintances”. Gladwell characterizes these individuals as having social networks of over one hundred people. Gladwell attributes the social success of Connectors to the fact that “their ability to span many different worlds is a function of something intrinsic to their personality, some combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability, and energy.”

Mavens are “information specialists”, or “people we rely upon to connect us with new information.” They accumulate knowledge, especially about the marketplace, and know how to share it with others. One person wrote, “A Maven is someone who wants to solve other people’s problems, generally by solving his own.” Mavens start “word-of-mouth epidemics” due to their knowledge, social skills, and ability to communicate. “Mavens are really information brokers, sharing and trading what they know.”

Salesmen are “persuaders”, charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills. They tend to have an indefinable trait that goes beyond what they say, which makes others want to agree with them.

As you think about how you’re going to find new supporters for your cause, it’s useful to remember Gladwell’s Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen. Think hard about who you can approach and what their roles in your organization can be. Should they be a board member, an honourary spokesperson, an event host or your capital campaign chair? There are lots of possibilities for getting the right people involved in your mission and harnessing the power of word-of-mouth marketing.

Storytellers can and must change the world

Good fundraising and advocacy are all about storytelling. If we want to make the world a better place and to solve the urgent crises facing our planet, we must tell better stories – stories that move people to action. I’m reading Jonah Sachs’ new book Winning the Story Wars. Sachs is the creator of renowned viral videos including The Meatrix, Grocery Store Wars and The Story of Stuff. Winning the Story Wars by Jonah SachsHis book is packed with great insights into the art of storytelling and how our world is shaped by stories.

Charities, just like businesses, are trying to compete to have our stories heard over the background roar of information. While storytelling tools have become easier and cheaper for charities to access, with everything from YouTube, to blogs, to Pinterest, the competition to have our voices heard above the din is also much stiffer.

Jonah Sachs has good advice about how to win in the story wars. “What we need to know to tell great stories are these simple commandments”, says Sachs:

  1. Be interesting
  2. Tell the truth
  3. And if you can’t tell the truth, change what you’re doing so you can. In other words, live the truth.

Sachs also points out that there is opportunity in areas of discomfort, where the old stories or myths no longer make sense or can keep up to our fast-changing world. He calls this the “myth gap”. “Every marketer is looking to tap into the zeitgeist, and there is no more direct way into it that through the void created by fraying myths,” says Sachs. “This is where anxiety is welling up. This is where people are looking for therapeutic relief. This is where new ritual is ripe for the making.”

Sachs says a good example of this is the Occupy Wall Street movement, which stepped into the gap caused by the crisis around the myth of the American dream – that if you are willing to work hard you will succeed. The breakthrough message of “the 99%” both reaffirms the values of the American dream and at the same time provides clear character and conflict to the story. It is the message or story that has stuck and spread.

Reading Jonah Sachs has also prompted me to re-read Joseph Campbell’s seminal works on myth. Good stories should encourage people to go on a journey of self-discovery. As Joseph Campbell told Bill Moyers, all myths are about “the maturation of the individual from dependency to adulthood through maturity and then to the exit”. This is what he called “the hero’s journey”.

Charities must take their donors on a hero’s journey. The charity acts as a mentor figure empowering and guiding the donor who takes the transformational journey. This is a journey that must appeal to the best in human nature and calls on us to be great.

True engagement does not come from negative emotions. Sachs points out that most advertising is based on negative emotions such as greed, lust, and fear and either creates, or preys on, existing feelings of inadequacy. He notes that, “Ads aimed at consumers of products or services generally create anxiety and then offer the magic solution.”

Sachs concludes his book with a grand vision and a call to action to storytellers to change the world. “We have the means to design the future we want; what’s most needed are the stories that will engage millions of people to want to get there.”