If you’re a nonprofit organization with a peer-to-peer fundraising program, chances are you think that you’ve already got a strong community supporting you. After all, community is inherent to the definition of peer-to-peer, right? Your fundraisers reach out to their networks – their communities – asking them to donate, participate in, and support your fundraising events. Community? Check.
But not so fast! A peer-to-peer community is much more than just a list of email addresses belonging to last year’s donors. A community is a group of people bound together by a sense of responsibility, a common goal, and a deep connection to your cause. A true community is neither created instantly nor maintained through generic communications.
The question is - so what? If your email list is currently driving donations, why does it matter if you create a community?
Communities create environments of support, passion, and connectedness – all of which are qualities that ensure your supporters are engaged in your program and feel appreciated. The goal of your program should not only be to attract new donors and fundraisers, but also to retain the supporters you currently have. And creating a community that encourages and recognizes its members will greatly help your retention efforts. If you treat your constituent base as a tightly woven community, you will help them form connections both to your mission and to one another.
Here are four benefits that stem from building a strong peer-to-peer community:
1. A community will keep people coming back. Organizations with peer-to-peer fundraising events, especially events with high fundraising minimums, usually see even their most dedicated fundraisers take a year off here and there, or try something new by fundraising for a different organization. Organizations that focus on building a strong community, however, inspire loyalty to their mission, events, and other constituents – things that cannot be replicated by another organization. When a strong community exists, fundraisers begin to feel like they belong to a group – a group that needs them and relies on them. In this case, a strong community is a big part of what motivates your constituents to raise money and come back again year after year.
2. A community will stand behind you. Over time, and in the past couple of years in particular, we have seen firsthand that nonprofit organizations aren’t perfect – they make mistakes, receive bad press, and suffer the fallout. Just like corporations, nonprofits are susceptible to public scrutiny, which can cause constituents to question or revoke their support. The stronger the community rallying around your organization is, the more likely you will bounce back quickly from any blunders. An engaged, close-knit network (read: not just a mailing list) is more likely to stand with you instead of turn against you when the going gets tough.
3. A community will bring you into their lives. The more connected your constituents are to your organization and to each other, the more likely you’ll become integrated in their day-to-day lives. They’ll wear your t-shirts, they’ll mention you casually in conversation, and they’ll introduce their friends as “Melissa, who I met at the [your nonprofit’s event name here].” A strong community exists within, and more importantly, outside of your programs, and is sustainable because supporters communicate and live your mission beyond event day. This is word-of-mouth marketing at its best!
4. A community will feel ownership of your shared success. Communities share in successes and failures. They are built on common goals, and when a goal is met, the entire community celebrates together, knowing they played an important role in achieving it. Our own Suzanne Mooney, founder of Retired Retrievers, a nonprofit that serves geriatric dogs in need of a loving home, enjoys this experience with her supporters. Suzanne gives her constituents the opportunity to invest in the lives of the dogs she helps by sharing their rescue stories on Facebook. These touching tales form bonds between humans and dogs that may never meet, or may even be across the country from one another. It is these bonds that foster a sense of responsibility in donors whose involvement is inspired by a strong connection to the many Retired Retrievers success stories. The key here is to ensure that your constituents’ contributions take center stage in celebrations of success. The more your supporters understand their responsibility in fulfilling your mission, the tighter the community will become, and the more impact you can make together.
When built correctly, on foundations of empowerment, engagement, and real relationships, a community becomes much more than just a group of people affiliated with your cause. A community becomes a family – and your peer-to-peer family won’t let you down.