You may have realized that it’s easy for me to become fixated on a topic. A few years ago, it was the $100 t-shirt. While the $100 t-shirt has a place in peer-to-peer fundraising programs – specifically walks – it shouldn’t be the main fundraising ask. Why? That easy… on average fundraisers are raising more than $100. Since fundraisers are raising more than $100, why ask them to raise an amount lower than what they’re actually raising. I’m happy to report that I’ve a shift here. Instead of leading with $100, I’m seeing organizations lead with $200 or $250. I’d say that’s progress… woo-hoo!
I started off this year talking about my path to fundraising enlightenment and the Four Noble Truths of Fundraising, but my new fixation is more reminiscent of the Age of Enlightenment. Since I no longer own a set of encyclopedias, I decided to check out Wikipedia’s definition for the Age of Enlightenment: it was a cultural movement of intellectuals in the 17th and 18th centuries. Its purpose was to reform society using reason, challenge ideas grounded in tradition and faith, and advance knowledge through the scientific method.
First it was Buddha and now it’s Voltaire… what do these guys have to do with fundraising? I’m not comparing myself to the great philosophers of the 17th & 18th centuries, but I do think it’s time to reform our industry, challenge our fundraising best practices which are- ideas grounded in tradition and advance knowledge with data.
In this week’s episode of npVOICES, Steve Mac asked me what I’m currently obsessed with in the world of peer-to-peer fundraising. As always, I’m obsessed with data. But, I believe it’s time to rethink how we’re looking at data. The first metric that we need to rethink is measuring success based on the percentage of participants we’re converting into fundraisers. I know what you’re thinking… I’ve lost it. Converting participants or registrants to fundraisers is the foundation of peer-to-peer fundraising. But, remember it’s time to challenge conventional thinking, reasoning and logic.
So, guess what… despite all our best efforts we’re not moving this massive metric boulder. Seriously… we’re not. Below is a chart which shows percent of participants with one or more online gifts over the last 5 years. I’m only focusing on online data as it’s the most accurate view of fundraising activity.
Do you see what I see? I know it’s tough to read the numbers and my chart is a little more dramatic than it should be because of double numbers in the vertical axis. Here are the percentages from 2008-2012: 27%, 29%, 28%, 27% and 27%. Not a lot of change right? Again despite our best efforts and our focus on converting participants to fundraisers we’re in the same place year over year.
I’ve started to refer to this as the Sisyphus complex. In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was the guy in the Underworld who was compelled to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down when he neared the top – he had to repeat this task for eternity. Sisyphus teaches us the lesson of futile labor. When I think about converting participants to fundraisers I think of Sisyphus.
Ok. I’m telling to you to move on from converting participants to fundraisers and to liberate yourself from the zero dollar participants. It’s time to focus on something else. Let’s put all our energy into our fundraisers. Let’s create new and improved plans to serve and cultivate fundraisers. They’re our most dedicated and engaged people, so how about we focus on them for a change?
I know this might not be enough evidence for you to change your programs. Of course I have more evidence. That’s my next post.
In the meantime, I want you to think about my next question. Marinate on it for a couple days… What have you done in the last 5 years or in the last year to convert participants to fundraisers? What strategies have you implemented? How much time are you spending? And finally are you seeing a change in fundraising behavior? Is it working?