P2P Donors Are Not Strangers: Convert Them into Real Supporters

My friend and colleague Meghan was upset. She’s the development director at a local chapter of a large, nationwide nonprofit organization. Like many nonprofits, her chapter hadn’t met its annual fundraising targets for the past couple of years. She’d tried mixing up her campaigns a bit, but they just weren’t bringing in what they used to. Individual giving was down, and so were major gifts. Sound familiar?

As part of the planning and preparation for their upcoming fiscal year, her sustainer (monthly donor) fundraising targets had been raised. By a lot. A whole lot. And her acquisition budget had been cut by 50%. So where was Meghan supposed to find these new monthly donors? Under a magical tree?

Feeling frustrated, unsupported, and generally over it, Meghan hopped on a video call with me. After venting for a few minutes, she was ready to do some problem solving. I asked her to run through the typical methods she was using to find new monthly donors. She said:

  • New email subscribers
  • Event attendees
  • Volunteers
  • Advocacy action-takers
  • Google Grant search ad-clickers
  • Random local connections

Are You Forgetting Something?

Our conversation continued.

Me: Are those all the main sources of new donors that could become sustainers?

Meghan: Yup, those are the main ways we capture and try to convert new monthly donors.

Me: What about your walk, run, and pickleball events? And your tribute fundraising pages? Those bring in a ton of new donors!

Meghan: I don’t do anything with peer-to-peer donors. We send them into our general communications stream if they happen to sign up for email when they make their gift.

Me (super casual): How many of those peer-to-peer donors would you say you get in a year?

Meghan: Hmm, let me look— (keyboard clicking). Last fiscal year we had 3,967 people donate to a peer-to-peer campaign.

Me: How many new monthly donors do you need in your new fiscal year?

Meghan: About 500.

Me: Ahem.

What’s the Deal with Converting Peer-to-Peer Donors into Real Supporters?

Organizations that have run, currently run, or are thinking about running peer-to-peer (P2P) fundraising events usually have the same donor engagement plan that Meghan had. There’s no formal cultivation in place, and very little is done to try and convert a P2P donor into an actual supporter. There are solid reasons why we’re not sure what to do in this situation:

  • They gave a donation but they aren’t a “real donor”
  • They had no relationship with you before the gift was made
  • You haven’t controlled the previous communication with them

Most nonprofit development teams are already spread thin, and if our typical appeals don’t result in P2P donor conversion, guess what? We turn our attention to other groups of supporters who are more likely to deepen their engagement. It’s logical, when you think about it. A P2P donor has little to no connection to your work. Their motivation to give has nothing to do with you.

Riddle Me This: Isn’t a Slightly Warm Pipeline Still a Pipeline?

On the flip side, I also hear complaints and concerns from many nonprofit leaders about not being able to contact donors who give through Facebook. And many of those Facebook donors are also giving because someone close to them asked them to donate.

  • Why do we think of one type of social donor as already lost even when we have their contact info?
  • Why do we see another type of social donor as being ripe for cultivation if only we had their contact info?

I’ve been on all sides of this situation in my career. I’ve recommended that nonprofit teams do their best to convert peer-to-peer donors, while acknowledging that success in this area takes sharp planning and work. Today, I’m firmly in the “convert” camp. New donor acquisition is always on our minds. If it’s our job to raise money to support our mission, we can’t ignore a pipeline of slightly warm contacts.

We Need to Engage Peer-to-Peer Donors Differently

Let’s take a step back and consider who these P2P donors are and what they want:

  • Motivated to show support for the fundraiser/participant
  • Need to be encouraged to learn about your work
  • Have a lower level of trust in the organization
  • May not be comfortable with technology (potential for making a mistake when donating)
  • Want the fundraiser/participant to know they gave
  • Expect an easy, fast, and secure giving experience
  • May feel some sense of community with other donors who supported the participant
  • Need effusive thanks from the organization

Once you understand where a P2P donor is coming from, it can feel easier to try out some new things. In fact, you’ve got a buffet of ways to meet peer-to-peer donors where they are. Here are six ideas to get you started building those relationships.

  1. Personalized welcome: Send a personalized welcome message or a welcome series of emails to new peer-to-peer donors thanking them for their support.
  2. Participant updates: Let your new donors know how their friend or family member is making progress toward training, recruitment, or fundraising goals.
  3. Engagement opportunities: Invite new donors to get involved, beyond just making a donation. Offer opportunities for them to volunteer, attend the event (if open to the public), or participate in related activities.
  4. Express gratitude: Immediately after the event, send a heartfelt thank-you message to new donors expressing gratitude for their contribution and support.
  5. Share impact: Follow up with donors to share specific examples of how their donation made a difference, through stories, photos, videos, or impact reports.
  6. Cultivate relationships: Continue nurturing the relationship with new P2P donors beyond the event by showing genuine interest in their continued support and involvement with your nonprofit.

Think about your technology, data, and content: What can you do now without a lot of effort? Avoid falling into the perfection trap. You don’t need to do it all to make progress. Start small and play the long game with your P2P supporters.

Figure Out This P2P Engagement Plan Together

After brainstorming P2P donor engagement tactics together, Meghan was feeling better about her ability to hit her sustainer targets. She left our call with a couple of action steps, including meeting with the peer-to-peer, communications, and individual giving teams. It takes a team effort to plan and run a new P2P donor engagement process.

I recommend that you take a similar collaborative approach at your organization. Bring communication, peer-to-peer, and fundraising experts together and create a plan that’s easy to execute for your team and meaningful to your donors.

You Can Do This!

Every P2P donation brings you a potential long-term relationship. Turning strangers into supporters really boils down to investing time into building genuine connections and focusing on what works for P2P engagement:

  • Sharing stories that resonate
  • Showing deep appreciation for every gesture of support
  • Keeping the lines of communication open

Slight changes to your donor engagement efforts won’t just help you hit peer-to-peer fundraising targets—you’ll start building a community that feels like family.