In Peer-to-Peer Fundraising, Smaller Programs Seeing Big Gains

If peer-to-peer fundraising were a race, smaller campaigns would be more than keeping pace with bigger campaigns.

A study by the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum shows the financial results of smaller peer-to-peer fundraising efforts are broadly overshadowing the results of bigger efforts.

From 2006 to 2015, the study found, four peer-to-peer fundraising programs that were dominant 10 years ago have since seen “precipitous drops” in revenue. Those four programs are the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training, the March of Dimes’ March for Babies and Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s Komen 3-Day. From 2014 to 2015 alone, revenue for the biggest of those four — the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life — fell 8.1 percent to $308 million.

Meanwhile, smaller, lesser-known programs have racked up sizable revenue spikes. For instance, the American Diabetes Association’s Tour de Cure collected $27.2 million in 2015, up 172.7 percent from 2006.

“While a handful of brand-name programs have struggled to keep pace with their prior results, many highly successful campaigns have emerged. As a result, more charities than ever are seeing significant revenues from peer-to-peer fundraising,” says David Hessekiel, president of the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum.

At DMA’s 2017 Washington Nonprofit Conference, representatives of CDR Fundraising Group, Disabled American Veterans and The National WWII Museum will delve into peer-to-peer fundraising during a session titled, “Catching Fire: Crowdfunding, Peer-to-Peer Fundraising and Beyond.”

Through peer-to-peer fundraising, supporters of a nonprofit tap friends, relatives and colleagues for donations, often through participation in walks and rides, Hessekiel’s organization says.

In its study, the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum found that when fundraising totals for the four programs that witnessed substantial drops in revenue were subtracted, the remaining efforts collectively raised $1.11 billion in 2015, up nearly 54 percent from 2006. By comparison, the four former leaders saw their collective revenue decline about 36 percent from 2006 to 2015, winding up at $455.8 million.

Among the biggest gainers from 2006 to 2015 was the Alzheimer’s Association’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s, the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum study indicates. The program raised nearly $77.5 million in 2015, up 154 percent from 2006.

Walks like those sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association are gaining ground, according to a study by Blackbaud, a provider of fundraising software for nonprofits.

From 2013 to 2015, the Blackbaud study says, online donation revenue for walks shot up 17 percent, with endurance events such as marathons experiencing an even greater increase — 21 percent. However, revenue was down 4 percent for cycling fundraisers and down 13 percent for 5K fundraisers during the same period, Blackbaud says.

Whether donations are up or down, peer-to-peer fundraising programs such as walks and 5Ks remain the “bread and butter” of many nonprofits, according to Blackbaud. However, that “bread and butter” is being threatened.

“Today, there are more nonprofit organizations, more events and more competition for participants and dollars,” Blackbaud says. “Additionally, you have crowd-fundraising platforms popping up left and right, giving individuals more opportunities to create their own fundraising pages and events without needing a nonprofit to provide fundraising tools.”

Nonetheless, Blackbaud notes, some peer-to-peer fundraising programs keep thriving. Fundraisers like the American Heart Association’s Heart Walk, the Alzheimer’s Association’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s Cycle for Survival “all deal with the same uncertain times, yet they’ve found a way to continue to grow year over year,” Blackbaud says.

In fact, the Heart Walk proves that not all large, well-established peer-to-peer programs are suffering from slipping revenue. According to the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum, the Heart Walk pulled in $117.1 million last year, up nearly 5.7 percent from 2014.

“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,” Hessekiel says. “You no longer have to be among the largest or most established organizations to raise money through peer-to-peer.”

This article is brought to you by the DMA. Click here to register for Nonprofit Federation Conference, Feb. 22-24, 2017, in Washington, D.C.