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Peer to Peer Fundraising Deserves Top Level Focus and Resources

Resource Center - Foundation

By David Simpson

(May 17, 2011) These are trying times for any nonprofit trying to communicate with its members, particularly if it involves a request for funding.  A recent study found that the email fundraising response rate in 2010 was .08 percent. (M&R/NTEN eNonProfits Benchmark Study 2011) This marked a decline of almost 20 percent from the previous year. While direct mail did not suffer a precipitous fall off in open rates, it maintained an unimpressive response rate of fewer than 3.5 percent for "house" lists and a bit over 1 percent for third party lists. (DMA 2010 Response Rate Trend Report).

There is, of course, a bright spot: Peer-to-peer communication. And it will only get brighter for those organizations that devote significant resources to this powerful form of communications.  The reason for its success is simple - people are growing increasingly intolerant of getting messages from people they don't really know (even if it's the executive director of a nonprofit they like). They are increasingly limiting their attention to messages from "real friends" and business colleagues they deem to be of import.

What is the vast majority of nonprofits doing to take advantage of this new reality that has turned traditional organization-to-members communications on its ear? Not nearly enough.  We recommend that nonprofits consider taking the following three steps, by way of building the foundation for a successful peer-to-peer network.

  1. Get buy-in from the top. Many organizations will pay lip service to the benefits of peer-to-peer advocacy, but few will truly embrace it. If the leadership isn't willing to reallocate significant resources from more traditional fundraising efforts to new peer-to-peer programs, you're unlikely to have great success.
  2. Start thinking of you most active members as one of your biggest assets, and treat them accordingly. As you would with your largest donors, reach out to each of these members in a highly personal way, with a face-to-face being the optimal method. (Obviously, if the number of highly active members is too large, you'll have to rely upon phone calls or high-impact asynchronous communication.)
  3. Empower these members to tell your story in a personal way that will resonate with their peers. It's not enough to ask them to forward emails or brochures. You will have to work on shaping the messages - both in their form and content - to have the greatest impact. This will require trial and error; it's not easy or simple. Above all, you will have to make it as frictionless as possible for these special members to convey your story to their friends.

Most institutions are hard-wired to resist change. Non profits are no exception. But, there can be no evading the stark reality of traditional methods of communicating with members and potential constituents: there are an ever increasing number of contacts but fewer real connections. The time is now to understand and promote peer to peer communications, as its future as a reliable modality to "get your story out" is remarkably bright, especially when compared to many of the current forms of communication used by nonprofits.

David Simpson is the co-founder and president of GoldMaila new communications tool that is helping nonprofits advocate and raise funds with greater effectiveness. David is also on the board of Aim High, a nonprofit focused on underserved youth, with which he has been affiliated for more than two decades.

Mark your calendar! GoldMail will offer a free webinar for AFP members on June 17 titled "Increase Open Rates and Drive Engagement: How to Make Messages (with Goldmail) That Are Audio and Visual." Learn more about the GoldMail product and the discounts available to AFP members. Click here to register.

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