Panda Nation is DIY Done Right: An Interview with WWF’s Jonathan Cass | npENGAGE

Panda Nation is DIY Done Right: An Interview with WWF’s Jonathan Cass

By on Jul 20, 2015


As an industry, we’ve been talking a lot about do-it-yourself fundraising. If you’ve read DIY Fundraising – Easy Money for Your Nonprofit?, you realize there isn’t a pot of gold at the end of the DIY rainbow unless you work hard for it. Before embarking on a new or resurrected DIY campaign, remember that all of the fundraising basics still apply:

  • Plan to invest resources and budget in staffing, a website, fundraising materials, incentive prizes, and more
  • Be strategic in determining how you can best leverage your supporters to fundraise on your behalf
  • Ensure extensive communications and marketing are in place to build excitement and promote sign up
  • Coach your participants to fundraising success
  • Be flexible and realize you’ll never have a perfect campaign

World Wildlife Fund’s Panda Nation gets all of these concepts right, thanks in part to the always innovative Jonathan Cass. In this interview, Jonathan shares details of the past, present, and future of Panda Nation.


Jonathan Cass image

“By improving our technology and investing staff resources into Panda Nation, we were able to double our peer–to-peer fundraising revenue in the first year.”

What is Panda Nation?

Panda Nation is World Wildlife Fund’s DIY peer-to-peer fundraising program. Launched in spring of 2014, Panda Nation was built to empower our supporters to make a difference for wildlife and wild places in whatever way is most meaningful for them.

Supporters can create their personal fundraising page in one of six categories: Athletic Event, Community Event, Favorite Animal, Honor/Memorial, Special Event and Classroom fundraising.

Prior to Panda Nation, WWF passively offered a peer-to-peer fundraising site, Panda Pages. By improving our technology and investing staff resources into Panda Nation, we were able to double our peer–to-peer fundraising revenue in the first year.


What is your role with Panda Nation? What other staff are actively involved in managing the campaign and what do they do?

I serve as the Senior Specialist of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising. My colleague Sarah Robie spends half of her time on Panda Nation and half on our online marketing program. Together, we make up the 1.5 person team that manages Panda Nation.


Is the type of support provided to Panda Nation fundraisers different than what is done with event-oriented walks, rides, etc?
One of the big differences is that traditional athletic events have a specific date and location that you can build your communications and fundraising plans around and automate for a large audience.

With DIY, dates and activities change from fundraiser to fundraiser, and it’s more difficult to ensure you’re getting the right message to the right person at the right time. Some fundraisers will have a specific date for a fundraising event (i.e. birthdays, weddings, races, etc) but others are tied more to the purpose than an event (favorite animal).

With limited staff, we’re working to improve the timing and content of the automated messages that are sent so we’re able to provide the most relevant message for each fundraiser. We’ve also learned a great deal from the personal contact we’ve made with some of our fundraisers, and that feedback has helped us further refine our communications.


Can you share which types of activities have resonated most/least with your supporters?

Favorite Animal pages are by far the most popular among our fundraisers. They account for 45% of all Panda Nation pages created, followed by Special Occasion pages.

However, even though Special Occasion pages represent only 21% of all pages created, they account for 49% of the total revenue generated through Panda Nation.

And if you think about it, that makes sense. Special Occasions like birthdays, weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs have cultural norms of giving associated with them. For a potential donor, a message of “instead of gifts, please donate to my Panda Nation page” is very motivating.

One of the things we’ve learned is we need to coach our fundraisers on how to inspire donations if there is no event. We are reworking our fundraising tips to help them talk about our work, making it personal, adding a sense of urgency to their appeals and providing hope.


What lessons have you learned since the creation of this new campaign? What’s next for Panda Nation?
One of the lessons we’ve learned is that DIY fundraising is a great way to harness the creativity of our supporters, but there’s a lot more involved than just making a website and letting people go to it. Ongoing staff involvement, updating our messaging and continuous promotion to our current and potential supporters are essential.

Saying you can fundraise for us in any way you’d like is a perfect way to engage some of our supporters, but for others it leaves them with far too many options and not enough direction.

So we’re working to ensure Panda Nation will be able to meet the needs of both of these types of people. The DIY, fundraise your way, model will continue to be an important component of Panda Nation, but we’re also inviting people to join us for more specific opportunities. We’re building up an athletic program by participating in Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon events across the country and we’ll be launching a fall campaign that will engage our supporters in a whole new way for us. We’re excited to be able to try new things and see what resonates with our supporters. Through both DIY and more specific events, Panda Nation has allowed us to uncover the passion and creativity of our supporters, and we can’t wait to see what else they can teach us!


Impressed with Jonathan Cass and his DIY know-how? Please give our session proposal for the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference a vote: Is Crowdfunding Changing Fundraising As We Know It? 


Shana Masterson has been a fundraiser since 2001, and now helps a number of organizations improve their fundraising in her role as a senior principal consultant at Blackbaud. 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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