The New Wave of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising | npENGAGE

The New Wave of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising

By on Aug 25, 2016


Peer to Peer Fundraising

Just how far will your organization’s supporters go to raise money on your behalf? Would they walk across hot coals? Shave their heads? Ride a rollercoaster with hundreds of strangers…while naked?

During the past decade, we’ve seen a massive explosion in the number and types of activities that comprise peer-to-peer fundraising—the practice of having a nonprofit’s supporters reach out to their friends, family members, and colleagues for donations through their participation in activities.

In the past, these campaigns were built largely around structured events like charity walks and bike rides. Today, these campaigns can take hundreds of forms. But one thing remains constant—organizations that are diligent and disciplined in their approach to donor stewardship are the ones most likely to succeed.

For the past 10 years, my organization, the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum, has been tracking the results of the nation’s 30 largest peer-to-peer fundraising programs.

And as we look at how these large programs have evolved, it’s clear that the landscape has grown more competitive and that supporters have more opportunities than ever to raise money for their favorite causes.

Looking back at America’s five largest peer- to-peer fundraising programs in 2006, four have experienced precipitous drops in revenue. These four programs are still huge—they collectively raised $455.8 million in 2015. But that figure is $254.5 million less than what those same four programs raised in 2006.

While these campaigns have struggled, a new wave of rapidly expanding programs has emerged.

Nearly one-third of the top 30 programs have seen their revenues more than double during the past decade. Two others—Memorial Sloan-Kettering CancerTM Center’s Cycle for Survival and the bicycling event Pelotonia— are so new that they didn’t even exist 10 years ago. Pelotonia, which hosted its first event in 2009, is already the nation’s 20th largest program after raising nearly $23.7 million in 2015.

While a handful of brand-name programs have struggled to keep pace with their prior results, a new generation of highly successful programs has appeared—meaning more charities than ever are seeing significant revenues from peer-to-peer fundraising.

Collectively, the 30 largest peer-to-peer fundraising programs raised more than $1.57 billion in 2015. And beyond the top 30, we saw great growth from locally-focused events.

We’ve seen a true democratization of peer-to- peer, where your success isn’t driven by the type of event you run, but rather your ability to produce excellent experiences for volunteer fundraisers. You no longer have to be among the largest or most established organizations to successfully raise money through peer-to- peer fundraising.

To do this, you need a relentless focus on stewardship—a focus that begins with your first communication with your volunteer fund- raisers, extends through the event or campaign, and continues long after the campaign is over.

The most successful campaigns begin with focused messages to supporters that include clear calls to action—likely driving them to a page on the nonprofit’s website that makes it easy for them to sign up for the event and learn more information. Simply put, organizations make it easy for people to join and spread the word to their friends and colleagues. Many groups supplement their larger-scale marketing efforts with in-person outreach.

But they don’t stop there.

They keep pushing and asking people to not only join their effort but also to ask for support on their behalf.

The fact is, many participants who sign up for your event won’t contribute or attempt to raise money beyond what’s minimally required. But the folks who do take the extra step of fundraising for you will carry your event.

The most successful organizations invest heavily in identifying and stewarding those power participants. They communicate with them regularly with personal messages and offer meaningful challenges and rewards. They provide support. They make them feel welcome and wanted.

This level of stewardship continues through the actual event. The organizations that succeed find ways to connect the event to their mission and give participants a reason to feel like they are accomplishing something special. They also pay attention to every detail, making sure that the experience itself is pleasant and fun.

To do that, they must make sure they are properly staffed, they have an army of well- trained volunteers, and they have planned ahead to ensure that they have a plan B in case the weather doesn’t cooperate, technol- ogy backfires, or a key volunteer gets sick.

Groups that nail the pre-event stewardship and provide a world-class event experience, have a greater chance of bringing their best fundraisers back to future events.

But the work doesn’t end there.

It’s also vital that organizations thank and engage with these participants regularly once the event is over. The best campaigns—regardless of their size and history—are the ones that are organized and thoughtful and recognize that if they are able to put the fundraiser first at every step of the process, that fundraiser will do almost anything to support their work.

Even if that means riding a rollercoaster in the buff.



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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *