Why It’s Great to Have Friends With Benefits
Consider the following nonprofit appeal:
“Our mission is to enable a child’s right to clean, safe and sustainable water on the world’s driest continent, Africa. Funds are being raised to build multi-village solar-powered water systems in the lowlands of the Amhara Region of Ethiopia. Please help us transform lives forever by donating!”
The organization’s message is delivered via multiple channels. One channel yields a response of one in 2,500—.04 percent. Another channel’s response is one in four—25 percent.
According to Blackbaud, that is the difference in the rate of return for the average direct response vs. peer-to-peer campaign. The difference is pretty dramatic. And yet, we hear this all the time, “I can make more money at lower expense by asking for a donation rather than asking a constituent to fundraise for me.”
Is that true? What do the numbers tell us?
The numbers that many quote when identifying the “cost per dollar raised” via various revenue sources come from the 1999 book, “Fund-Raising: Evaluating and Managing the Fund Development Process.” With regards to direct mail, the statistics are as follows:
|Fundraising Activity/Method||Average Cost to Raise One Dollar|
|Direct Mail Acquisition||$ 1.00 to $1.25 per dollar raised|
|Direct Mail Renewal||$0.20 per dollar raised|
The Association of Fundraising Professionals cites similar numbers. This information is no longer available online, since the metric is often used to bash nonprofits. We applaud the decision to take these statistics offline.
|Fundraising Activity/Method||Average Cost to Raise One Dollar|
|Direct Mail Acquisition (with a 1 percent or better rate of return)||$ 1.25 to $1.50 per dollar raised.|
|Direct Mail Renewal (with a 50 percent or better rate of return)||$0.25 per dollar raised.|
Source: Affinity Resources
So, what are the costs associated with a typical peer-to-peer program? A typical program starting from scratch looks like this:
Year 1: Revenue neutral / slight loss (including setup of platforms and systems)
Year 2: Revenue neutral to $0.75 to raise $1.00
At Maturity: $0.25 - $0.35 to raise $1.00
For a mature peer-to-peer program that is purely digital, it takes less than $.15 to raise $1.
When you start looking at the efficiency of human delivery of donation requests, the comparisons become quite remarkable. While “costs to raise a dollar” metrics are falling from favor (for good reason), for these purposes, they are handy.
Here is another way to look at it:
- The mail piece is to direct response what the human is to peer-to-peer fundraising.
- Email is to digital fundraising what the human is to peer-to-peer fundraising.
The human is the delivery device of your message in peer-to-peer fundraising. That human delivers your message to a “list,” which they have vetted for responsiveness. The message delivered is as credible as any marketing message could be. A friend delivered it to a friend. The message comes from a trusted source, which has some personal connection and a history with the recipient. The human is a very efficient delivery device.
In the breakout of various revenue sources, monies collected via peer-to-peer fundraising (using a human) isn’t represented. Instead, peer-to-peer is grouped with “special events” because, often, peer-to-peer fundraising culminates in an event.
It is a mistake to do this.
The most productive peer-to-peer fundraising events do not spend big money on events. Spending big money on events is actually counterproductive, because this conveys the message that the organization is in a transactional relationship with its volunteer fundraisers. That is bad, because we know that people who are in transactional relationships do not stay over the long haul.
But the interesting thing about peer-to-peer is what else is produced as a by-product of the fundraising effort. Here’s where the “friend with benefits” part comes in…
We are getting people to deliver a message to the perfect list, in an age when you cannot buy a list. And from that we are getting some enormous benefits:
- Data collection and new donor acquisition—the average peer-to-peer fundraiser gets four contributions from first-time donors to the organization (Blackbaud).
- Self-reinforcement—every time the volunteer fundraiser asks for a donation for a particular nonprofit, they are more likely to continue the same pattern of behavior.
- Self-donation—fundraisers almost always self-donate (Blackbaud).
Jeanette Russell, senior solutions marketer at Blackbaud, sums it up this way:
“Friends asking friends for donations is much more than a dollar-based transaction, like mail. Peer driven fundraising taps into "new power" values which are the core drivers of modern mobilization, which many of today's successful companies are based on. It's also how many people like to engage with causes.
A one-time or even recurring donation gives you revenue, but people powered fundraising gives you the power of the network and a new fundraising source, which far outweighs money alone.
Why not get the donation and the network behind it! It's a great way to diversify your revenue and build your people power. Who doesn't need more volunteers, advocates, social ambassadors? Volunteer-driven fundraising allows you to move your people through your engagement path, while helping you meet critical fundraising goals.
Whatever you call it, investing in your supporters to get their friends involved through fundraising will be a defining nonprofit strategy of the 21st century.”
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.