Peer-To-Peer Fundraising in Higher Ed: 6 Proven Strategies for 2023
Peer-to-peer fundraising is a powerful social giving tool that many educational institutions have employed to increase donations while expanding their donor base. Through these campaigns, schools of all sizes empower their donors to raise money on their behalf.
Peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns have become a mainstay of fundraising for higher education causes and charities because they tap into the power of your donors’ social connections. Plus, they’re extremely flexible and easily adapted to today’s virtual and hybrid fundraising landscapes.
Schools are especially well-positioned to benefit from peer-to-peer fundraising since they have large communities of alumni, current students, and family networks who have emotional connections to their mission and the overall institution. These supporters are also likely to share your campaign online, and the social proof of their support encourages their wider social networks to get involved, too.
This guide will cover six key strategies that higher ed institutions need to succeed with peer-to-peer fundraising. But first, let’s review how these campaigns work.
How does peer-to-peer fundraising work?
There are a few core steps to executing peer-to-peer fundraisers. Every campaign will follow this general structure:
- Your institution develops a campaign page that explains your fundraising goal and tells a story about how donations will help you better serve students.
- Your team recruits supporters (current students, parents, and alumni) to create their own fundraising pages and fill them in with personalized stories about what your institution means to them.
- Supporters then share their pages with friends and family online to ask for donations, and you provide them with tools and encouragement to make fundraising social, mobile, and fun.
- Donations secured through the individual fundraising pages flow into your central campaign, helping you reach your goal.
- Your campaign draws to a close. Celebrate your success and blast out the good news to your wider community and online network!
Within this easy-to-launch campaign process, there are plenty of other steps, tools, and strategies that you’ll need to succeed. Although your supporters are doing the actual fundraising, these campaigns aren’t hands-off. Use these six strategies to help you reach (and exceed) your campaign goals:
1. Use dedicated peer-to-peer fundraising software
Providing an easy giving experience is one of the most important things you can do to drive supporter engagement and increase donations. The fundraising software you use directly impacts the donors’ experiences with your campaign.
Peer-to-peer fundraising software should allow you to:
- Create a central campaign page
- Create templated giving pages for donors to easily launch and customize
- Manage and track your campaign in real-time
- Include gamification and amplification elements like matching gifts, leaderboards, badges, and targeted achievements.
By leveraging dedicated tools designed specifically for peer-to-peer fundraising, launching and managing your campaign and individual giving pages can be easy. Using peer-to-peer fundraising software that offers robust features, mobile-optimized giving pages, offline donation tracking, real-time reporting, and CRM integrations allows you to easily launch new campaigns and meet and exceed your annual fundraising goals.
2. Recruit ambassadors to promote your campaign
Before launching your peer-to-peer fundraising campaign, you’ll need to create a core campaign page. The next obvious step would be to spread the word online, allowing anyone to get involved to help you fundraise. While this approach definitely works, we also recommend taking a more strategic approach by actively recruiting ambassadors for peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns.
Fundraising ambassadors are your most passionate and well-connected supporters. Rather than hope they’ll join your campaign, personally reach out to them in advance! Ambassadors can help your campaign by:
- Fundraising on your behalf online
- Representing your institution in the community
- Promoting about any associated campaign events
- Hosting small events of their own
This strategy is particularly effective for peer-to-peer campaigns leading up to an annual gala or other large-scale events. Just be sure to provide your ambassadors (and all of your volunteer fundraisers) with the resources they need to succeed.
3. Offer fundraising training and support
When you prepare to launch a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign, it’s important to offer training opportunities to your supporters. Most supporters might not have a ton of experience as fundraisers, so getting them set up on the platform and providing them with resources will boost results and engagement. This is particularly important for ambassadors, who you may work with to set specific fundraising and event sign-up goals.
To make fundraising easy for these supporters, be sure to provide the following resources:
- Training: Providing your supporters with technical training in your peer-to-peer fundraising software will give them the tools and confidence they need to succeed. Make sure you have access to your software’s tools and resources so you can pass along fundraising knowledge to your supporters.
- Marketing toolkit: A toolkit with your mission, logo, branded images, social graphics, and impact statements can help your supporters craft their personal stories while still staying on brand.
- Mission and impact: Tie supporters to your cause and help them understand why this campaign matters. Social donors are heavily motivated by mission and impact, so they’ll want to know what kind of difference their support will make.
- Templates. Social media and email templates are an excellent way to give your supporters the materials they need to quickly get the word out. This makes it easy for them to share the campaign and ask for donations while still adding their own personal touch.
- Ongoing support: Regularly check in and monitor the progress of your ambassadors and supporters. Offer words of encouragement where needed and recognize high-performing fundraisers for their achievements.
- Customizable pages: Give your supporters the ability to customize their individual campaign pages so they can demonstrate their connection to your cause. Allow them to upload photos, for example, and create their own content to tell their story.
In order to reach your institution’s fundraising goal, your supporters must communicate to their networks in the way you need them to while offering them a way to put their own personal touches on the campaign. Training and support are also essential for making your peer-to-peer fundraising campaign a positive experience for your fundraisers. This will help ensure that the campaign pulls double-duty—raising donations and boosting alumni relations.
4. Promote your campaign through multiple channels
While your students may be online constantly, it’s a good practice to diversify your fundraising campaign’s promotional strategies to create maximum reach and appeal to a wide range of donors.
Donor and alumni networks consist of different generations, so you and your volunteer fundraisers will need to meet all of them where they are.
According to the OneCause guide to peer-to-peer fundraising, this means using a mix of traditional and modern marketing methods, including:
- Social media
- Direct mail
- Digital ads
- Phone calls
The various approaches you and your fundraisers use should be tailored to your donor audience to maximize impact. If you’re trying to reach a broad range of alumni and donors, you should use outlets that will help you reach a variety of age and location demographics. But if your fundraising campaign is mainly geared toward younger alumni, focusing on email and social media (and forgoing expensive direct mail) can be a smarter way to focus your efforts.
It’s helpful at this stage to review the performance of your previous fundraising campaigns. What marketing tactics worked best to engage particular donor segments? Use these insights to guide your new promotional strategy, and encourage your volunteer to rely on those outlets as well.
5. Plan events alongside your peer-to-peer fundraising campaign
Peer-to-peer fundraisers work well with events, and you have tons of flexible options. Organizations often host a range of kickoff events, mid-campaign gatherings, and grand finale events like walkathons or galas for their fundraising campaigns. The rise of virtual fundraising events has opened up even more opportunities to efficiently plan and host a variety of events.
Take some time early in the planning process to brainstorm a few options based on the scale of your campaign. As you’re brainstorming, keep these top of mind:
- Recognition: Events are a great way to recognize your fundraisers and tie in your gamification strategies. Highlight some of your top donors at your event to show them how much you appreciate their effort.
- Merchandise: Set up a table at your event to sell items that promote your institution’s cause. You can even offer free event merch to your top peer-to-peer fundraising campaign participants.
- Social elements: Peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns pair well with active and community-based events such as 5K races, obstacle courses, walkathons, and others. Don’t be afraid to get creative to pivot these events to virtual fundraisers, as well!
- DIY-style events: Consider asking volunteers to launch their own casual fundraising events like car washes and garage sales to generate more revenue for your campaign. These activities deepen your connection to the community and attract an even wider base of donors.
Pairing your peer-to-peer fundraiser with an event or two can be an impactful way to bring your campaign full circle. Using peer-to-peer fundraising software that’s part of a broader suite of fundraising tools, including registration and virtual event features, makes it easy to diversify all of your future campaigns with a variety of events and donor engagement options.
6. Use gamification strategies to boost your results
Who isn’t motivated by a little friendly competition? Donors love to be recognized for their contributions, and your institution can benefit from leveraging gamification tools throughout your peer-to-peer fundraising campaign.
Classic gamification tools include:
- Fundraising thermometers on your main campaign page and individual giving pages.
- Leaderboards to highlight your top volunteer fundraisers in real-time.
- Event text messaging to stir up excitement and interest.
- Countdown clocks to create a sense of urgency to donate.
Gamification and goal-setting are especially important if you’ve recruited fundraising ambassadors for your campaign. Give them plenty of support and specific goals to reach. This will help them better motivate their audiences to give. During your grand finale event, honor your fundraising ambassadors, have them complete fun challenges, and reward your top fundraiser.
And don’t forget that gamification and add-on strategies can help to boost your donations in more direct ways, too. Try implementing a matching donation challenge during which a corporate partner matches all incoming donations. Or challenge your fundraisers to see who can secure the most employer-matched gifts overall through any corporate philanthropy programs that donors may be eligible for.
Appended employer information can help you identify more opportunities among your alumni and guide your matching gift strategy during the campaign.
Peer-to-peer fundraising has proven to be one of the most flexible and effective ways to reach donors in recent years. For higher ed institutions with a large alumni community, launching a campaign that capitalizes on all those connections is a win-win: more donations to support your work and strengthened donor relationships.
Study up on these tips and other expert peer-to-peer fundraising best practices, equip your team with the right tools, and be prepared to help your volunteer fundraisers promote your campaign. You’ll be reaching your goals in no time!
About The Author
Kelly Velasquez-Hague brings over 20 years of fundraising, nonprofit management, and sales/marketing experience to her role as the Director of Content Marketing for OneCause. As a member of the OneCause sales and marketing team, Kelly manages all of the company’s content strategy and execution. She is passionate about empowering great missions and loves that her current role allows her to continue to help nonprofits reach new donors and raise more funds for their cause.