How to Hit Your P2P Revenue Target
If your job is in peer-to peer fundraising, you are in the movement business. Movements require numbers—big ones. Mainstream fundraisers often look at P2P fundraising with suspicion veiled in skepticism. It looks a little bit like magic, too much like an art and certainly not a science. It looks like messy work, too, with big numbers of humans all attached to small donations. Wouldn’t it be easier to find and cultivate one major donor, rather than try to manage a system with a lot of unknowns?
Even inside P2P fundraising, the industry has largely worked on gut and not defined the variables that drive P2P fundraising. Here, we will define a big variable and show you one example of putting social science to work in your revenue projection.
P2P fundraising leverages the social networks of supporters and fundraisers. The expansiveness of those relationships has metrics, right? Knowing how far an individual’s social network extends is useful. But how could we possibly know that? And how can we use that knowledge?
Thanks to the work of British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, we do know the extent of a person’s social network. In the 1990s, Dunbar found a correlation between primate brain size and average social group size. Extrapolating from the results of primates, he proposed that humans should be able to maintain about 150 stable relationships. He was right.
Think of 150 as your casual friends—the number of people you might invite to a large party. It turns out that 150 is an average, with a range of between 100, for the most solitary of us, and 200 for the most social. And as you would expect, the specific people in someone’s social group changes over time.
In the past 20 years, 150 has come to be known as “Dunbar’s number.” Although 150 is the number most often associated with Dunbar, there is actually a series of Dunbar’s numbers. On the upper end, 1,500 is the average number of people to whom we can match a name with a face. On the lower end, the number five represents your close support group, which consists of your best friends and family members.
Dunbar’s number has had a big impact on social media companies, such as Twitter and LinkedIn, guiding the way software engineers design these tools. Shouldn’t the use of social media make our social networks larger? You would think so, but research has found that people engaged daily in social media still maintain only between 100 and 200 stable social connections. And a Michigan State University survey of Facebook use among undergraduates found that although students had a median of 300 Facebook friends, they counted only 75 as “actual” friends.
In P2P fundraising, you can use Dunbar’s number to do many things:
- Decide if you’ll use a staff person or volunteer committee to coordinate the P2P fundraising recruitment.
- Predict how many teams a single staffer or committee member might be able to recruit using a percentage of Dunbar’s number.
- Decide how big a committee you might need to have enough connections into the community to recruit enough teams to raise the amount of money you want.
- Compose fundraiser-training guides with anchors to “normal behavior” in terms of how many people to ask for a donation, as in, “Ask 150 of the people closest to you for a donation.” (Good plan!)
The following is a real-life example of Dunbar’s number in action. A client of mine, a hospital, wanted to create their first P2P fundraising event. When we began to strategize, the team quickly came to these basics for the proposed event:
We would inspire a social relationship with the registrants. Nothing would be “for sale.”
- We would recognize relentlessly, sometimes creating jobs, so that we could recognize people for doing them.
- We would use elicited behaviors to install intrinsic labels.
- We would use the mission at every turn.
But the big question was: How do we acquire participants? Some discussion centered around putting on a “best of breed” activity that in-and-of itself would draw participants, like a great cycling event. But we knew that kind of event would not produce great fundraisers. We would not be able to attract people to the event based purely on the great experience, although we planned to make their time deeply meaningful. We had to find another way to recruit people.
The team and I talked about building out a volunteer leadership committee that would attract the majority of volunteer fundraisers. Here’s how it worked:
We needed to raise $500,000, of which we thought about $100,000 would come from sponsorships, leaving us $400,000 to rise. If the average team raised $1,000 we would need 400 teams of about 10 people each. Where would we get 400 teams? We planned and recruited a volunteer-leadership committee. These are the influencers who would dig into the community to recruit our team captains.
We knew that Dunbar’s number said that each volunteer leadership committee member would have about 150 connections in the community that might say “yes” to being a team captain.
We assumed a low conversion rate, meaning that of the 150 friends I asked, only two percent would say yes, giving us three team captains per leadership volunteer. Four hundred teams divided by three teams per leadership volunteer meant we needed at least 133 leadership volunteers. The team recruited that number.
Being conservative in our estimates paid off. Three weeks before the event, the organizers emailed me to ask how many registrants would likely not show up… because now it was oversold. They needed to figure out if they could take more registrations for people who planned to attend.
Dunbar’s number provided the framework for success. And the proof is that the event itself was not what drove fundraising, because more than $1 million that was raised in the event’s inaugural year, with $900,000 of the total coming from P2P fundraisers recruited through social relationships.
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 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 also regularly shares her wit and business experiences on her and Otis Fulton's NonProfit PRO blog “Peeling the Onion.” 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.