Enlisting Your Supporters to Fundraise For You: A Case Study

How can online friend-to-friend fundraising help you to raise money and engage your staff and volunteers? This detailed case study looks at how one small school raised $3000 from mostly new donors with a minimal investment.

Fundraising has never been more important to nonprofits, and thanks to technology there have never been more ways to reach out to constituents for support. One method, online friend-to-friend fundraising, is growing in popularity as new tools to support it become available. But how well does it work, and is it right for your organization? Let’s look at a successful campaign to see what’s involved and what we can learn from it.

The REACH School is a pre-school in Cumberland County, Maine, that serves children on the autism spectrum ages five and younger. Students work in school settings that range from classrooms integrated with typically developing preschoolers and three-to-one student/teacher ratios to one-on-one home-based interventions. Since 2001, the organization has grown rapidly, and currently serves 50 students and their families.

Last year REACH launched its first Annual Fund Campaign to supplement state funding. While school board members were eager to participate, engaging the 30 staff members and other constituent groups in the campaign proved next to impossible. Despite their commitment to the mission, their anxiety about asking friends and family for money was high, and excitement about letter-writing was low.

With a golf tournament already scheduled for spring, board members were reluctant to introduce another special event, such as a walk-a-thon, onto the fundraising calendar, and instead began to investigate other avenues for constituent engagement. That search led them to friend-to-friend fundraising.

About Friend-to-Friend Fundraising

In its most basic form, friend-to-friend fundraising, also called group or distributed fundraising, is simply inviting friends and family by email to donate money to an organization you support. Individuals raise money that contributes to an overall team total. To help mount such campaigns, software packages make it easy to create individualized fundraising pages, photos and interactive goal “thermometers” to measure and display overall success.

Because fundraisers typically find asking for money via the Internet less intimidating than writing letters or making phone calls, organizations benefit from the increased participation, typically larger gifts and the ability to track real-time progress toward fundraising goals. Friend-to-friend fundraising has become a relatively common occurrence, from walk-a-thons to campaigns on social networking sites like Facebook. 

The REACH School Campaign

So, why friend-to-friend fundraising? For the REACH School, staff demographics, and the school campaign’s broader goals were well-aligned for friend-to-friend fundraising. REACH staff are generally tech savvy, young and highly in tune with online technology, making friend-to-friend fundraising both an easy sell and a welcome challenge. The broader goals for the campaign were to expand the school’s donor base, extend the reach of—and increase returns from—the Annual Fund campaign, and to involve more of the school’s varied constituent groups in the fundraising process.

Once the school decided on an online campaign, it needed the right software. Facing a market full of options, REACH identified three key ingredients: ease of use, features and cost.

For the REACH School, ease of use was key. Compared to a phone-banking session, the advantage of an online group campaign is obvious—most people find it much easier to fire off an e-mail to a friend than to cold-call a stranger. The anxiety of asking for donations is greatly diminished online. To maintain that advantage, the software has to be easy for even non-technical people to use.

As for features, most friend-to-friend fundraising software provides the user with the essentials: the ability to create and send individualized fundraising pages, online donation processing and the ability to generate and send tax receipts. Many programs also offer, at an additional cost, sophisticated administrative oversight over all the fundraisers’ pages, customizable organization home pages, or direct input into donor management software.

The REACH School: Raising the Funds

The right staff? Check. The right goals? Check. The right software? Check. The REACH School was ready to start its campaign. To jumpstart the campaign, the organizers sent a number of emails to the staff, first with teasers, and then with directions including strategies to develop lists of potential donors. They then hosted a kick-off event that transformed a standard all-staff meeting (using work-time, not personal time) into a luau, complete with music, decorations and food. At the event, staff were trained in how to use the software and then given time to complete their individual pages. The organizers outlined the goals, which would be important for sharing success in the future. To stoke some friendly competitive fires, the board offered prizes such as gift certificates to staffers who raised the most money and contacted the most people.

But as with any fundraising campaign, the work doesn’t begin and end at one event. After the kick-off, REACH sent fundraisers weekly email updates highlighting the current top five fundraisers and including helpful tips and strategies to increase funds. The school also suggested participating staff send e-mail updates to their contacts noting progress toward both the school-wide fundraising and individual goals. Those who came close to or exceeded individual goals were encouraged to raise their goals and send out additional requests. Consistent reminders and an ongoing competition, albeit a friendly one, are helpful tools for online group campaigns.

The REACH School campaign began in November 2008, and continued through January of 2009. Half of the staff participated. By all accounts the campaign was a success. The initial goals were modest: Raise $2,000, make 500 contact points and bring on 50 new donors. Through the online campaign and a complementary offline campaign, the school raised $2,300, brought on 59 new donors, and staff members have sent out close to 1,000 e-mails.  

In addition, a number of donations have come from secondary contacts—donors who received a forwarded campaign e-mail from an initial recipient, or a “friend of a friend”—underscoring the power of the e-mail campaign in comparison to a letter-writing campaign. The REACH fundraisers have also experienced another online benefit—receiving consistently higher donation amounts online than from the school’s letter-writing campaign. That’s generally true for online campaigns. Donors tend to give more online, as credit card charges are often perceived as easier than check-writing.

Overall, the staff spent about five hours in preparation and training time to launch the REACH campaign. And the cost? $100 for food and decorations for the party.

Learning from REACH’s Success

Looking at the success of the REACH School’s distributed campaign, it’s easy to see how other nonprofit organizations might benefit from similar approaches to fundraising. They’re likely to work best for organizations that have a majority of staff working on the front line, interacting with clients on a frequent basis, or those at which staff or committed volunteers have compelling personal stories to tell. Organizations should have a strong “go the extra mile” culture, with staff or volunteers willing to put in extra time and effort into the project. 

It’s also essential to have staff or volunteers that are tech savvy—or at least not technophobic. Staff familiar with social networking sites like Facebook will find friend-to-friend fundraising familiar. Structurally, organizations will find success if they designate a staff member to manage the campaign. He or she doesn’t have to necessarily be a fundraising staff person, but should be someone who can be very accessible. 

When organized right—and managed well through the end—friend-to-friend fundraising campaigns can be effective ways to engage large groups of constituents at minimal cost to the organization. Done properly, they hold great potential for increasing a nonprofit’s annual giving program, expanding its donor base and increasing awareness about its mission. If your organization has involved, tech-savvy staff or volunteers, and someone who is excited to oversee the campaign, friend-to-friend fundraising could work for you.

For More Information

For additional information on best practises for Friend-to-Friend Fundraising and the tools available to support your effort, view our On Demand Recording Getting Started with Friend-to-Friend Fundraising.

 

Andrea Berry is an independent fundraising consultant focusing on helping nonprofits build and expand their fundraising capacity, she can be reached at ABerryConsulting@gmail.com. Andrea is a proud member of the Board of Directors of the Friends of the REACH School and encourages you to visit her Firstgiving fundraising page at www.firstgiving.com/steveandandreaberry.

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