If you’ve been in peer-to-peer fundraising for any length of time, you don’t need a study to tell you how valuable repeat participants are to your event and your organization. But from the looks of the data and the declining retention rates for walks and 5Ks, we all need a refresher on what matters when it comes to people coming back year after year.

This year’s Blackbaud Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Study shows retention rates declining for Walks and 5Ks.

While a decline in returning participants from 39% to 37% for Walks may seem slight, think about it this way: In a walk with 1,000 participants, that’s 20 walkers who didn’t return. With the average returning participant raising 2.5 times more than a new participant, you’ll need to recruit more new walkers to replace that revenue. If a top fundraiser doesn’t return it means a much greater loss.Participant Loyalty

Quite simply, returning participants are more valuable champions for our cause. Let’s look at the top three ways to invest in retention.

1. Improve customer service.

According to the 2016 Customer Engagement Index from 24/7, 79% of customers take their business to a competitor within a week of experiencing poor customer service, and Aspect Software’s research show that 76% of Americans view customer service as a “true test of how much a brand values them.”

Countless other studies have found that people are willing to pay more for a product or service when they know they will receive better customer service. These studies have more of a consumer bent to them, but certainly apply to peer-to-peer campaigns as well.

Customer service means more than responding to requests in a timely manner. It means being proactive and always looking for ways to surprise and delight your fundraisers. Nothing builds loyalty better than random acts of personalized wow! Did someone earn a t-shirt for their fundraising? Don’t make them wait until the day of the event to claim it. Send it in the mail with a heartfelt note of thanks. Is it a fundraiser’s birthday? Stop by their office with cupcakes decorated in the colors of your organization. Is a top fundraising team captain checking in at the event? Offer their team admission to the VIP lunch buffet after the event.

2. Focus on staff retention.

Let’s be real, staff turnover in the trenches of peer-to-peer fundraising is a common problem, and we’d be kidding ourselves if we didn’t recognize the impact this is having on retention and loyalty numbers. If we can’t retain solid staff members, how can we expect to retain our participants?

The 2016 Nonprofit Employment Practices Survey shows total turnover remaining steady at 19%. Total turnover also tends to be higher in fundraising staff. The survey also shows that a greater percentage of nonprofits are increasing their staff in 2016. That means there are more opportunities for unhappy staff members to jump ship. The BCG Global Leadership and Talent Index (GLTI), a 2015 study by the Boston Consulting Group, found that companies with strong leadership and talent management practices increase revenues 2.2 times faster and profits 1.5 times faster than companies with weak practices.

If you’re charged with hiring and managing peer-to-peer fundraising staff, take this as a wake-up call to spend a lot more time and resources on hiring, training, and retention efforts for these critical staff members. And this means more than the occasional pizza party.

Don’t throw employees into the fire upon hiring. Train them well. Pay them well. Allow for comp days. Give meaningful promotions, raises, and bonuses. Many front-line fundraisers feel under-paid, over-worked, and under-appreciated. This stymies efforts to build solid relationships with constituents, and it shows in our participant retention numbers.

3. Communicate impact.

People today are more informed than ever. Their expectations are also much higher. For years, storytelling was the cornerstone of nonprofit marketing. In 2016, storytelling is no longer enough. People want to hear actual results. They want to see progress toward a goal. And this doesn’t mean fundraising progress towards your goal. Your fundraisers and your staff need to know how your organization is tracking towards its ultimate goal. Are you eliminating homelessness in your area? Are you getting closer to curing a disease? Are you saving pets from being euthanized?

Share specifics about how the ultimate goal of your organization is being accomplished. Stories are great, but when it comes to retaining fundraisers (and staff), people need to feel like their time and effort truly matter.




Shana Masterson has been a fundraiser since 2001. In 2014, she joined Blackbaud as a senior consultant. Her unique skill set as both a peer to peer fundraiser and a technologist allows her to focus on maximizing peer to peer campaign revenue through success planning, road mapping, communication calendaring, configuration recommendations and more.

Prior to joining Blackbaud, Shana led the American Diabetes Association’s online fundraising and communication strategy for the national special events team. She also worked for the National Brain Tumor Society, the American Cancer Society and the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Connect with Shana on Twitter or Linkedin.

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