Top Tips for Creating Powerful Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Email Communications

These days, peer-to-peer fundraising takes many forms. It might be an in-person run, walk, or ride. It might be a virtual fundraising campaign. Or it might be a hybrid event.  

No matter what your peer-to-peer fundraising looks like, one thing’s the same: you must communicate with your participants. And when it comes to participant communications, email is still king.  

Email is a powerful tool for peer-to-peer fundraising. It can help you recruit participants, motivate your fundraisers, and build long-term relationships with supporters. 

There are many aspects that go into effective email communications for peer-to-peer fundraising, including:  

  • Overall strategy 
  • Email timing 
  • Email content 

Let’s take a look at some pointers for these three facets of peer-to-peer fundraising email communications. The following tips come from an email communications workshop I presented with peer-to-peer fundraising experts from Susan G. Komen, Event 360, Peerworks Consulting, and our own Cathexis Partners team as part of the virtual conference, It’s a Peer-to-Peer World.

Building a great overall email strategy for your peer-to-peer fundraising

Taking time to think about strategy might seem like a luxury you can’t afford. But keep in mind that there’s no point in sending emails just to send emails. They need a purpose.

A strategy establishes the “why” for your email communications. Then you can determine how your individual email messages will help you get there. 

Here are two key steps for establishing a strong strategy for your email communications: 

1. Articulate your goals.

Start by articulating your virtual campaign, in-person and/or hybrid event goals so you can then create your email communications plan to support those goals. Here are some things to think about:

  • What is the primary purpose (goal) of the campaign? What must the campaign do to be viewed as successful?
  • What role does this campaign play in your overall fundraising program? How does it relate to, complement, or compete with your other fundraising campaigns?
  • What do the campaign’s goal and role in the fundraising program tell you about what the tone of the campaign’s communications should be?

2. Understand your audience.

To communicate well, it’s important to understand the typical person in your target audience (their interests, demographic information, etc.). It’s also important to understand the groups of individuals in your audience so that you can develop targeted messages that will inspire and motivate them.
For example, look at your audience by their affinity with your campaign. This is what that might look like for groups of individuals in an in-person or hybrid cycling event (in order from weakest to strongest affinity): 

Group Motivation What they might say 
A The activity “I love to spin, and the cycling event is so much fun!” 
B The group “My team from work (or school or church) is riding, so I’m riding, too.” 
C The tribe “My friends and I ride every year in memory of our mutual friend, Jane.” 
D The cause “My family and I are riding to celebrate my niece, who is now cancer free.” 
E The organization “The doctor who helped save my life works at the medical system whose foundation hosts this cycling event.” 

Another way to look at groups of individuals is their role with the campaign or event. For example:

  • Top fundraiser 
  • Board member 
  • Team captain 
  • First-time participant 
  • Survivor 
  • Volunteer 

Here are some other examples of insights you can gain from your peer-to-peer fundraising data to help you segment your audience and target your communications: 

  • First time or returning participant status 
  • Fundraising status (raising money or not, yet) 
  • Team affiliation (captain, member, or none) 
  • Logged into their fundraising center or page 
  • Customized their fundraising center or page 
  • Sends a fundraising email and/or promotes page on social media 
  • Personalizes a fundraising goal

Here are some things to consider as you think about your audience: 

  • What is your primary target audience for this campaign?
  • What do you know about the primary audience on average?
  • What other information might be helpful to know about individuals so you can customize your email communications?
  • How can you collect other important information?
  • How can you use audience information to build more targeted communications?

Finding the right timing for peer-to-peer fundraising emails

When it comes to timing of email communications for your peer-to-peer campaigns and events, there are three big levers you can adjust: 

  • Launch This is about when you launch registration, recruitment, and regular communications with your participants.
  • Frequency This is about how often you send each type of communication.
  • Shift This focuses on when to shift communications from recruitment to participant engagement. 

Let’s look at how timing varies by type of event. And, for our purposes, let’s break down events by four event types:  

  • Fundraising events – Fundraising is the number one focus of the event. The audience is there primarily because they care about the cause. These events are often 5k in-person or hybrid runs/walks, bike rides, or any activity that just about anyone can do.
  • Awareness events – These events require a low commitment, are not difficult physically, and require no fundraising minimum. The goal is typically high visibility of the cause with many participants. Examples of these types of events are large walks, festivals, and even social media events or giving days.
  • Activity-based events – These events are centered around a physical event that’s often challenging. Participants don’t necessarily have a connection to the cause – they’re mostly in it for the fun of the event. Examples of these types of events are races, mud runs, and obstacle courses.
  • High commitment events – These events require a high fundraising commitment and often a high physical commitment. Most participants have a strong connection with the cause and tend to return year after year. Examples of these events are multi-day walks or bike rides, marathons, and cross-country journeys.   

Simple-to-use and free to join, JustGiving® from Blackbaud® offers automatic, templated coaching emails to your fundraisers to help them raise more. Learn more today! 

And now let’s look at how timing levers vary for each event type: 

For fundraising events:

  • Launch: Launch recruitment communications about six months out from the event to people who are not registered
  • Frequency:  
    • For recruitment emails, start sending communications about every other month. You can increase this frequency around times you might be running special discounts or other promotions
    • When people register, start an on-boarding series to welcome them and give them tools and information to get them fundraising right away. Communicate with them about once per month to give them key tools and information. About two months before the event, increase communications to about two times per month. These communications should encourage participants to raise more dollars and recruit others to participate in team fundraising. In the final two to three weeks, increase this to once per week to ensure they have the information they need for the event and to encourage final fundraising pushes.
  • Shift: About two to three weeks out, begin to shift focus away from recruiting and toward participant engagement and encouragement (anyone registering after this time will not have much time left to fundraise). Consider sending one final “registration is closing” message around this time and ask if non-registrants might want to make a donation if they do not want to register.  

For awareness events:

  • Launch: For this type of event, plan to launch closer to the event – about three months out. Any earlier, and they might sign up but then lose interest by the time of the event.
  • Frequency:  
    • For recruitment emails, send communications about once per month, increasing to twice per month closer to the event
    • As with fundraising events, start an immediate on-boarding series with a welcome message and initial details. Then, begin asking them to recruit their friends and family to participate. Increase the frequency of these communications about one month before the event.
  • Shift: In this type of event, there really isn’t a shift phase; continue to recruit participants up until the day of the event. 

For activity-based events:

  • Launch: Because people tend to be focused more on the activity than the cause for this type of event, they often register at the last minute. So, as with awareness events, plan to launch about three months before the event
  • Frequency:
    • While you might include a soft fundraising ask in recruiting email communications, the purpose of these communications is primarily to recruit. Send communications about once per month, increasing to twice per month closer to the event
    • For participants, send them an onboarding email series with key information, and then ask them to recruit others to participate – but keep the number and frequency of communications to a minimum. As you get closer to the event, you can step up the email frequency to share details and reminders about the event.
  • Shift: Similar to awareness events, continue to recruit participants up until the day of the event. 

For high-commitment events:

  • Launch: If possible, launch as far out from the event as one year. This will catch participants while they’re still enthusiastic from the past event and gives them time to build their fundraising and train for the next event.
  • Frequency:
    • Send about one email per month. 
    • Send an onboarding email series to registrants to get them fundraising right away while their commitment is fresh. Then, send monthly emails to encourage them to fundraise and recruit other participants. Around six to nine months before the event, increase communication frequency to about two times per month. One to two months out, increase to about one to two times per week.
  • Shift: High-commitment events will not likely have last-minute registrants, so you can shift focus away from recruiting at about one month before the event so you can focus most of your time on engaging participants.  

Creating compelling peer-to-peer fundraising email content

Before you begin writing email communications, it’s important to have a clear idea of what you want your audiences to do. Think about the four stages of their journey with your peer-to-peer event or campaign: recruiting, activation, optimization, and retention.  

Then, for each area of the journey, think about what you want your audiences to do and what your call to action (CTA) should be. Here are some examples that can apply to an in-person, virtual, or hybrid fundraising event: 

 Goal Working CTA 
Recruit New people to join us Will you join us? 
Returning people to join again Will you join us again? 
Start a team Will you start a team? 
Build a team Will you build a team? 
Activate Inspire people to fundraise Will you start fundraising? 
Start their team’s fundraising Will you jump-start your team’s fundraising? 
Optimize Encourage people to keep fundraising Will you keep fundraising? 
Teach people to fundraise more Will you ask more often?
Will you ask for larger donations? 
Retain Return Will you come again next year? 
Bring their friends Will you start a team? 

With your CTAs in mind, it’s time to build content that grabs the readers’ attention. Here are some tips to help you build email messages that get noticed and drive the actions you’re after: 

  • Subject line – This is the one shot you have to get someone to open your email.
  • Keep the subject line concise so that the full subject line will show up in most email programs (about 40 characters maximum).
  • Make it a summary of the email content.
  • Optionally, pique the reader’s curiosity by including an offer, teasing content, or presenting a deadline. 

Example subject line: This is the year to [mission]

  • Preview copy – This is the text on the line after the subject line of an email notification on your mobile device and even some desktops. Use this space to make the reader want to read more. For example:
  • It can be a literal continuation of the subject line so that you have more space to extend your subject line’s message
  • Another option: Remind readers of why they’re participating.
  • Make the message more personal by adding the reader’s name in this space. 

Example preview copy: Here’s how you can help, [Firstname]. 

Try to keep preview copy short and concise. While some email clients support up to 140 characters, others are limited to 40, so plan for no more than 40 characters. 

  • Message content – Now that you have your readers’ attention, it’s time to start inspiring them to take action. While your specific message will vary depending on your type of event and your audience, here are some effective approaches:
  • Explain why you’re writing to them and why they might want to take action. Using powerful statistics and stories can demonstrate your mission impact and bring your mission to life.
  • Add impact by suggesting that taking action will help more people than just them.
  • “Normalize” the action to show that others like them have participated.
  • Demonstrate how they can participate. This can be accomplished through the use of stats, testimonials (written, video, or audio) from other fundraisers or participants, and fundraising and team captain toolkits.
  • Provide an incentive for them to take action. 

Take the next step with your peer-to-peer fundraising emails

With some advance planning, you can ensure you send the right message to the right audience at the right time to improve your peer-to-peer fundraising campaign’s results. Learn more about how to build strong email communications for your next peer-to-peer fundraising campaign or event with Cathexis’s free guide, Building Powerful Email Communications for Your Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Campaigns and Events.