COVID-19 Will Impact Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Platforms Forever
COVID-19 threw the nonprofit world into a state of uncertainty. Many nonprofits that rely on peer-to-peer fundraising hunkered down hoping for a return to normalcy. Others created their own certainty by aggressively pivoting. A not insignificant number of organizations are experiencing success.
The success of these programs foreshadows what will become required functionality in peer-to-peer online fundraising platforms.
Until COVID-19, peer-to-peer fundraising looked a lot like this:
- Stand up an online fundraising platform
- Recruit teams and individuals to fundraise
- Plan a culminating event
- Rinse and repeat
There’s more, but you get the gist. While the pandemic pushed organizations to do things differently, there was already a silent shift underway. The pandemic just made that shift go very, very fast.
The Silent Shift
Our constituents had begun to want more from their relationships with nonprofits and their missions. Retention rates were horrifically low. Acquisition was difficult, and among volunteer fundraisers, satisfaction was dismal.
With their feet, our audience was telling us:
- Your fundraising platform doesn’t suit me. I have other platforms that make me happier in other parts of my life.
- I want an experience that happens on more than just one day. I want to be part of something.
- I want to be part of a community, not just a fundraising event.
The Trifecta of Satisfaction
Our constituents had been telling us what they needed. It was important for us to listen, but we didn’t. People who have their needs satisfied tend to stick around. Positive psychology is the study of what makes life worth living, what makes life worthwhile. Positive psychologists have found three factors that result in people being satisfied with various aspects of their lives. I call them the “trifecta of satisfaction.”
- Autonomy: I’m in charge; I’m making decisions.
- Mastery: I can get good at something important and be recognized for it.
- Connectedness: I want connection to something bigger than myself — like a cause or a community.
The most successful nonprofits deliver autonomy, mastery and connectedness to their supporters. You can self-diagnose the experience you provide to your supporters by looking at your retention rate. The higher it is, the more you have succeeded regarding the trifecta.
I Am Alone
When the pandemic struck, the one place and time we gave our constituents community — the event — was gone. One part of the trifecta — gone.
Historically (with some notable exceptions), nonprofit peer-to-peer programs have done a decent job at recognizing fundraising excellence, but a poor one at giving fundraisers a sense of autonomy. Our three-legged satisfaction stool only has one leg in COVIDland — mastery. Fundraisers get to be good at fundraising but receive little in the way of autonomy and a sense of connection.
At the onset of the pandemic, nonprofits rushed to come up with something, anything, that would preserve revenue. Their efforts were (and still are) driven by preserving revenue, not fostering fundraiser satisfaction. We get it… job… boss…revenue... unemployment. As a result, experiences were created that retained only the most dedicated fundraisers, preserving about 50% of peer-to-peer revenue.
Where are the silent shift and the pandemic influence taking us with regard to fundraising platforms?
Fundraise First or Community First?
Fundraisers have been flocking to Facebook to fundraise. Why? It’s the only fundraising platform that gives peer-to-peer participants any sort of community. It’s public, so Facebook is also pretty good at delivering recognition for fundraising mastery. And fundraisers are autonomous regarding their activities on the platform. If I can activate a Facebook fundraiser, I am in charge. Facebook fundraisers deliver to humans what satisfies them: autonomy, mastery and connectedness (community).
Traditional peer-to-peer fundraising platforms focus on providing tools to fundraise. Facebook provides a venue that allows people to commune, and just happens to have fundraising tools. This is our new standard. This is the standard to which all platforms will be held:
- Gives autonomy
- Gives recognition
- Gives community
But Wait, There’s More
Two other ways Facebook is changing the requirements for fundraising platforms is with regard to its ease of use and (perceived) lack of invasiveness.
Our constituents can fundraise on Facebook in three or four clicks. And Facebook doesn’t feel invasive because it doesn’t ask for tons of information. Let’s ignore the irony — Facebook sees and knows all. But in the moment when I activate to fundraise, Facebook doesn’t ask me for information it doesn’t need to open the fundraising door.
Our traditional platforms give nonprofits what we want — the ability to collect gobs of data. And so, we do. Though we all know that doing this diminishes the activity we’re after, namely fundraising.
Redesign for the Human, Not the Revenue Budget
Platform design comes down to the human first, the organization second. Redesigning the user experience must focus on what constituents find satisfying, easy to use and non-invasive. We’ve got a long way to go.
Otis Fulton, Ph.D., spent most of his career in the education industry, working at the psychometric research and development firm MetaMetrics Inc., Pearson Education and others. Since 2013, he has focused on the nonprofit sector, applying psychology to fundraising and donor behavior at Turnkey. He is the co-author of the 2017 book, ”Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising,” and the 2023 book, "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape," and is a frequent speaker at national nonprofit conferences. With Katrina VanHuss, he co-authors a blog at NonProfit PRO, “Peeling the Onion,” on the intersection of psychology and philanthropy.
Otis is a much sought-after copywriter for nonprofit fundraising messages. He has written campaigns for UNICEF, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, the USO and dozens of other organizations. He has a Ph.D. in social psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia, where he also played on UVA’s first ACC champion basketball team.
Katrina VanHuss has helped national nonprofits raise funds and friends since 1989 when she founded Turnkey. Her client’s successes and her dedication to research have made her a sought-after speaker, presenting at national conferences for Blackbaud, Peer to Peer Professional Forum, Nonprofit PRO, The Need Help Foundation and her clients’ national meetings. The firm’s work is underpinned by the study and application of behavioral economics and social psychology. Turnkey provides project engagements, coaching, counsel and staffing to nonprofits seeking to improve revenue or create new revenue. Her work extends into organizational alignment efforts and executive coaching.
Katrina regularly shares her wit and business experiences on her and Otis Fulton's NonProfit PRO blog “Peeling the Onion.” She and Otis are also co-authors of the books, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising" and "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape." When not writing or researching, Katrina likes to make things — furniture from reclaimed wood, new gardens, food with no recipe. Katrina’s favorite Saturday is spent cleaning out the garage, mowing the grass, making something new, all while listening to loud music by now-deceased black women, throwing in a few sets on the weight bench off and on, then collapsing on the couch with her husband Otis to gang-watch new Netflix series whilst drinking sauvignon blanc.
Katrina grew up on a Virginia beef cattle and tobacco farm with her three brothers. She is accordingly skilled in hand to hand combat and witty repartee — skills gained at the expense of her brothers. Katrina’s claim to fame is having made it to the “American Gladiator” Richmond competition as a finalist in her late 20s, progressing in the competition until a strangely large blonde woman knocked her off a pedestal with an oversized pain-inducing Q-tip. Katrina’s mantra for life is “Be nice. Do good. Embrace embarrassment.” Clearly she’s got No. 3 down.