Why Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Is the Future


Constant connection defines the current generation. Everywhere you go, you’ll be surrounded by people on their phones, connecting with friends via text, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (or perhaps pretending to connect with friends via text, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter). People are in constant contact with their social networks and are strongly influenced by what their peers are saying, doing, and consuming. So what better way to increase donations than to cultivate peer networks?

Not convinced? Here are three valuable reasons to leverage peer networks for fundraising.

1. Peers are influential.

Everyday, we consciously and subconsciously make decisions based on the actions, opinions, and schedules of our peers. What time we have lunch, where we go after work, and the issues that matter to us are all influenced by our peers. Issues or causes that may not have previously concerned us often become important if they are meaningful to a friend.

This peer impact translates to the donation world; according to a survey done by Kimbia.com, 1 in 4 solicitation emails sent from peers resulted in donations, while 1 in 1,250 sent by a fundraising organization did the same. This statistic clearly indicates that organizations should seek to capitalize on the powerful influence of peers. For a school, this could mean soliciting alumni to discuss giving with fellow classmates or asking professors to reach out to alumni who they mentored or influenced. Not only is it more difficult to refuse a peer or professor, but this form of outreach also demonstrates personal interest in each prospect, and helps the prospect understand that his gift, no matter the size, is both needed and appreciated.

Scott Harrison successfully leveraged the power of peer influence with charity: water, his nonprofit that strives to bring clean drinking water to almost 800 million people lacking access around the world. When Harrison founded Charity: Water in 2006, he set out to “reinvent the way people think about giving,” as he explained in an interview with NPR.


Harrison began by asking his network of friends, family, and acquaintances to give $32 for his 32nd birthday. This sparked the idea for a key aspect of charity: water’s fundraising strategy: encouraging volunteers to reach out to their networks in creative ways. Examples include holding lemonade stands, asking friends to donate money for birthdays, and requesting donations instead of wedding gifts. These events allow people interested in the cause to engage their friends and raise money in a fun and—sometimes unconventional—way.

2. Peers have peers.

Suppose I tell five friends a secret. They tell five friends, who tell five friends, who tell five friends, who tell five friends. Now 3,125 people know my secret. Moral of the story, I should get more trustworthy friends. However, when it comes to news I want to spread, these friends are keepers! As you can see from the multiplying effect I just demonstrated, peer networks have immense reach. While this phenomenon may not be beneficial when it comes to secrets, it certainly is when trying to raise awareness about a cause.

Does anyone remember watching videos of friends and celebrities pouring buckets of ice water on their heads last summer? (Perhaps a more appropriate question is who doesn’t remember this?).


The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge not only helped raise over $100 million in one month for the ALS Association (which raised just $2.5 million in all of 2013!), but also raised awareness about the disease across the world. Participants in the Ice Bucket Challenge filmed themselves dumping a bucket of ice water on their heads and then nominated five friends and family members to do the same. The result? A wonderful, beautiful cycle of unprecedented giving to and awareness of the ALS Association. And the giving didn’t stop when the videos faded from Facebook; the challenge expanded the ALS donor base, paving the way for increased future giving to the organization.

3. Information is to peers as cars are to the Autobahn.

Wait, what? You thought you were done with the SATs, didn’t you? We know that peers have peers, but how fast can these peers reach each other and make an impact? Pretty fast; even faster than a car traveling on the Autobahn. The rise of mobile phones and social media has immensely increased the speed of communication. Peer-to-peer fundraising not only widens the breadth of donors engaged with your organization, but also does so efficiently.

One way nonprofits can capitalize on the speed of peer-to-peer fundraising is with online crowdfunding campaigns.Crowdfunding programs raise an average of $9,000, and many schools and other nonprofits have already launched crowdfunding platforms of their own. For example, UC San Diego recently launched Crowdsurf, where students, faculty, and staff can raise funds for an important cause or project by acquiring small donations from a large number of people. Through the ease of sharing project pages with peers online, they’ve been able to successfully fund a number of initiatives—including a recent project that raised $66,315 from 44 donors for the construction of their new “state-of-the-art” Triton Ballpark. Instead of using funds from the endowment or individually soliciting alumni support for the new ballpark, the crowdfunding campaign leveraged the speed and breadth of peer networks to hit the school’s target sum. News spreads quickly on social media; all it takes is a few “re-tweets” or “shares” on Facebook to get the donations rolling in.

So, back to my original question: Why not tap into the bountiful resource that is peer networks? Peers have a powerful impact on each other and have the capacity to significantly expand your base of donors and supporters. Whether your organization explores peer-to-peer fundraising through crowdfunding, online ambassadors, or other methods (let us know in the comments below!), you’re bound to save yourself time AND see an uptick in dollars.

Interested in how different schools have implemented crowdfunding? Learn about 20 great higher-ed crowdfunding platforms here.

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