Getting started with virtual fundraising has been a major shift for organizations of all sizes over the course of 2020. It’s been a challenging year that’s required us to rethink everything, from how we craft impactful messages to conducting online fundraising and donor engagement at all levels.
In the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the scramble to quickly pivot in-person events and campaigns to take place virtually was naturally a top priority. Thankfully, most donors were already accustomed to engaging with brands online in their everyday lives.
Now that we are heading into the year-end giving season, it’s time to step up your virtual game!
Donors are expecting more from virtual campaigns and events, and the competition for their attention online is getting fierce. Simply live-streaming an appeal or asking for donations via email will no longer make your mission stand out. To successfully attract donors in a tough online landscape, you’ll need to take an engaging, multi-channel approach that combines virtual fundraising ideas, online event strategies, and peer-to-peer tactics.
At OneCause, we’ve helped thousands of nonprofits pivot towards virtual fundraising tactics and explore new strategies. We recommend virtual peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns for year-end fundraising because they’re extremely effective for growing your audience and engaging donors with a range of new virtual opportunities.
However, these campaigns require careful planning and strategy to stand out as uniquely engaging experiences. Catching donors’ attention is critical for generating long-term value in terms of revenue, engagement, and retention. These are our top three tips to help ensure your own peer-to-peer campaign stands out from the crowd:
- Incorporate virtual events into your campaign.
- Recruit ambassadors to promote your campaign.
- Centralize the virtual campaign and event experience.
By combining each of these tips and adapting your strategy to fit your unique mission, goals, and audience, you’re sure to see success with your next P2P campaign this year-end season. Let’s get started.
1. Incorporate virtual events into your campaign.
Peer-to-peer fundraising is an effective choice for engaging your supporters because it opens up so many opportunities to incorporate new virtual elements, including virtual fundraising events.
Rather than conduct a P2P campaign and host completely separate virtual events, combine them into a single, overarching campaign strategy. This will ultimately boost the results of both the fundraising campaign and your event because it allows you to generate more interest and direct traffic between the two.
For instance, a classic example of this technique is hosting a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign leading up to a walkathon. Participants registered for the event ask for donations from their friends and family, who are more likely to donate or attend when asked by a loved one. In the weeks leading up to your event, you secure more donations for your campaign and more visibility for your event, leading to higher turnout and engagement overall.
While pledge-style campaigns leading up to a walkathon or similar event is a common example, the shift to virtual fundraising has created a whole new level of flexibility for nonprofits. Consider these routes you might take:
- If you already have a virtual event on your calendar for the year-end season, such as an online gala, consider how a peer-to-peer campaign might help to boost revenue, energy, and registrations leading up to it. This situation is an ideal opportunity to recruit peer-to-peer ambassadors, which we’ll discuss in the next section.
- If you’re already planning to host a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign, think about the types of virtual events that could serve as a grand finale. Virtual auctions, year-end celebrations, and virtual event-a-thons can all be scaled to fit your goals and budget, although you’ll still need plenty of time to plan them.
- If you’re brainstorming a new campaign from scratch, anchor your peer-to-peer fundraising campaign with virtual events from the very start. Live-streaming software has made it easier than ever to host events across the length of your campaign, including kickoff announcements, volunteer training sessions, periodic check-in parties, and a grand finale gala.
Peer-to-peer fundraising and virtual events (whether small or large) complement each other well and should be combined when possible. The 1-2 punch of raising donations and interest in your event with a peer-to-peer campaign is a valuable opportunity that shouldn’t be passed over. This is especially true during a time when maximizing virtual engagement is a top priority.
2. Recruit ambassadors to promote your campaign.
A typical peer-to-peer fundraising campaign works by allowing motivated supporters to launch their own individual giving pages to promote to their friends and family online. By actively recruiting ambassadors, you can take a more fine-tuned and strategic approach to this fundraising style.
There are a few key characteristics to look for in fundraising ambassadors. Ideally, they should display:
- A demonstrated commitment to your cause, signified through a long history of engagement or repeat donations.
- Significant involvement in the community and ties to other local organizations.
- An active network of friends and colleagues who’ll also be likely to support your mission.
Ambassadors are powerful partners for peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns, especially those leading up to major virtual events like galas and online auctions. They’ll secure donations and event registrations, and they can significantly boost your campaign’s energy leading up to the grand finale. As you begin planning an ambassador campaign, take some time to develop ambassador personas. This will make it easier to identify and recruit the right individuals each time you host one of these campaigns.
However, you’ll still need to actively encourage and support them throughout the process to maximize the results you see. Consider these best practices for working with ambassadors:
- Actively train and support your ambassadors. Host one or more orientation sessions to review the campaign’s purpose and goals. Set specific donation or registration goals for ambassadors, and check-in with them regularly to review progress and offer help.
- Provide useful resources. Give your ambassadors everything they’ll need to succeed, including one-pagers detailing your campaign, pre-written blurbs about your mission, and templates for social media posts and emails. If your ambassadors are helping to promote a virtual auction, providing item donation request templates is a good idea, too.
- Generate some healthy competition. Once you’ve set fundraising or registration goals for your ambassadors, motivate them with unique prizes for top performers. During your finale event, recognize and thank all of your ambassadors, then take some extra time to reward your top volunteers who made the campaign such a success.
- Boost donor engagement with challenges. Many nonprofits have exceeded their goals with ambassador campaigns by promoting unique challenges. For instance, if enough donors contribute to an ambassador’s giving page, that ambassador will have to record themselves doing a funny dance, cracking an egg on their head, or anything else you can think of. The personal connections between ambassadors and donors can be a powerful motivator when unique incentives like these are involved!
Peer-to-peer techniques are a great way to keep your messaging relevant in the most direct way possible by having your messages come straight from potential donors’ friends or family members. With ambassador campaigns, that effect is supercharged.
That’s because you’ll be able to focus your efforts on supporting a smaller group of volunteers rather than a large crowd of supporters who choose to launch their own giving pages. For campaigns leading up to events, ambassadors are extremely useful for raising donations and securing registrations, which boosts overall revenue and engagement.
3. Centralize the virtual campaign and event experience.
Technology has naturally played an outsized role in the nonprofit sector’s shift to virtual engagement tactics in 2020. Since peer-to-peer fundraising is a method that already relies heavily on technology (particularly social media and optimized donation pages), the biggest tech adjustments to consider will revolve around the additional virtual elements that you incorporate into your campaign.
In the first stage of your campaign, most of your supporter engagement will occur on social media. But what about as your grand finale gala, virtual bikeathon, or other celebration approaches? How can you ensure a smooth flow of engagement from your initial interactions on social media towards your virtual events?
Look to technology to streamline the donor experience as much as possible by using a centralized virtual campaign and event center.
Remember, requiring supporters to navigate between multiple platforms, like social media, a live-streaming platform, and a separate donation page, can dramatically harm the overall user experience. It opens up risks for supporters to drop off, get confused, or simply feel frustrated at the process of joining your virtual event.
Instead, a virtual campaign center can simplify your donors’ experience by bringing these elements together in a single digital location:
- Information about your campaign and your central donation page
- Individual giving pages and progress trackers for your ambassadors
- Multimedia content explaining your campaign, event, and mission
- Live-streaming platforms to facilitate your virtual events
- Built-in donation and messaging tools to use during events
For a large-scale virtual campaign and event, like an annual gala and auction preceded by an ambassador campaign, use dedicated virtual fundraising software. These platforms make it easy to combine your live-streamed programming, messages to supporters and from ambassadors, and donation tools within one streamlined interface.
For smaller-scale undertakings that might not require a full investment in new tools, you should still take steps to centralize the campaign experience. We definitely recommend creating a dedicated microsite or event page to anchor the user experience (rather than spreading it out across existing parts of your website). This will give supporters a central place to find instructions and tools for engaging with your campaign and virtual events beyond their initial interactions on social media.
Heading into the year-end giving season and following a year of major disruptions, truly engaging your donors and supporters will be more important than ever for nonprofits.
And in a competitive virtual fundraising landscape, it all comes down to connecting with supporters and keeping them engaged with your mission and message. This is why virtual peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns that incorporate virtual events, engaging ambassador techniques, and streamlined technology will be such a strong choice going forward.
These three core recommendations can be adapted to fit practically any campaign context or unique fundraising situation, so get creative when thinking about what will work best for your own goals and audience. Best of luck!
About the Author
Joshua Meyer brings over 14 years of fundraising, volunteer management, and marketing experience to his current role as the Director of Marketing for OneCause. Currently, as a member of the OneCause sales and marketing team, Josh manages all of the firm’s marketing efforts. He has a passion for helping to create positive change and loves that his current role allows him to help nonprofits engage new donors and achieve their fundraising goals.