The Evolution of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising and the Rise of DIY | npENGAGE

The Evolution of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising and the Rise of DIY

By on Mar 1, 2016


P2P Fundraising

As a kid, I was fascinated by exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History on the evolution of man and loved to watch National Geographic specials showing archaeologists digging up bones and piecing together our long chain of predecessors: Homo Erectus, Neanderthals, Cro Magnons and the like.

Digging into ten years of data from our annual Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Top Thirty, I felt a bit like P2P’s version of Louis Leakey sifting through the dirt at Kenya’s Olduvai Gorge. I unearthed and—tongue in cheek—scientifically assessed the periods of P2P’s evolution.

The Early Days

Massive walks, runs and rides dominated the earliest days of peer-to-peer fundraising in such a way that it could be dubbed the age of “Homo MegaRunWalkRideus”. The top 10 programs (e.g. Relay for Life, the Komen 3-Day, Heart Walk) accounted for nearly 80% of the top thirty’s revenue in 2006.

Though some megaprograms have stabilized or grown since 2008 (Heart Walk and the Alzheimer’s Walk being two great examples), most have taken major hits to the top line.

Overall top thirty revenue grew nearly 10%  from 2008 to 2016.

That growth reflects the impressive growth of:

  • Regional cycling (e.g. the Pelotonia cycling event in Columbus, Ohio),
  • Unusual (e.g. St. Baldrick’s head shaving events),
  • Endurance (e.g. St. Jude Heroes) and
  • Targeted interest group (e.g. the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness Walks) programs.

Putting on my anthropologist’s hat, I call this the advent of “Homo Small-but-Mightyus.”      

The collective revenue of programs in the bottom two-thirds of the top thirty roster hit $1.11 billion in 2015, up 53.7 percent over the $724.7 million raised by that pool of programs in 2006. Whereas the #30 program in 2006 only raised a couple of million dollars, it took a gross of $13.7 million to make it onto the most recent list.

The top 30 offers many insights—any serious player in the field should review the data—but it does not capture the trend that will most heavily influence the next ten years of peer-to-peer fundraising.

The rise of independent fundraising

There’s a dramatic increase in people deciding to raise money for the causes they care about by reaching out to their networks on their own timetables while involved in activities of their own choice, such as asking for donations in lieu of wedding or birthday gifts, holding pancake breakfasts or running across town or across the country.

Evidence that nonprofits have recognized the power of “Homo Do-It-Yourselfus”?

Nearly as many people attended specialized DIY programming at the conference as went to programming for traditional proprietary event programs.

Peer-to-peer fundraising is poised for tremendous growth, but it won’t be fueled by enormous new hundred million dollar events. The field will continue to be democratized with more and more organizations raising hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars via specialized events that appeal to their core audiences and by providing supporters with the tools and coaching they need to do their own thing.


Fifteen years of working at the intersection of commerce and cause has strengthened David Hessekiel’s conviction that companies can do well by doing good.

The co-author of Good Works! , Hessekiel owns and leads Cause Marketing Forum, Inc., a firm that educates, inspires and brings together professionals pursuing both purpose and profits.   CMFI has two divisions:

Since 2002, Cause Marketing Forum ( has empowered thousands of executives through its conferences, workshops, webinars, awards, research and online offerings.  CMF provides cause marketers with practical knowledge, valuable connections and recognition for outstanding accomplishment.   In 2014, CMF launched Companies & Causes Canada, an extremely well-received conference for Canadian businesses and NGOs.

The Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum ( has served leaders of athletic event fundraising programs since 2007.   The council’s annual ranking of America’s top thirty “thon” fundraising programs has become an industry benchmark. Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Canada began serving the Canadian market in 2015.

Hessekiel’s insights into these two growing fields have made him a sought-after speaker in the US and overseas and a frequently quoted source by such publications as The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Chronicle of Philanthropy and Advertising Age.  He’s a regular blogger on Huffington Post,, Mediapost’s Marketing:Causes and CMF’s own Companies and Causes.

The recipient of a BA from Wesleyan University and an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Hessekiel was a journalist, publishing and consumer marketing executive and consultant before founding CMFI.   Father of two daughters, Hessekiel lives in Rye, New York with his wife, the writer Andrea Atkins Hessekiel.

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