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The Five Biggest Opportunities For Nonprofits In 2015: #5

The Plenty Team
April 14, 2015

#5: Think On Multiple Dimensions

[This is the fifth in a series of blog posts expanding on this year’s peer-to-peer fundraising trends, as presented from the main stage of the 2015 Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum Conference and unpacked in our e-book, The Expansive Impact of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising]. 

When it comes to a nonprofit’s peer-to-peer program portfolio we often see organizations try to mimic the successful events and activities of other groups. And after playing the imitation game for some time, they usually ask us, “Should we really be doing XYZ or not?” The inquiry typically stems from one of two places: “Everyone else was already doing it, so we thought we should too, but now it doesn’t feel special” or “Everyone else was already doing it, so we thought we should too, but we’re not having much success.” In either case our answer is always “It depends.”

If you are going to replicate an activity, make sure that you don’t lose sight of the other key drivers that influence participation. The three drivers you should always have top of mind are:

  • Interest in Activity
  • Sympathy for Cause
  • Identification with Community 

These drivers can either cohesively create momentum for your program or work against each other and stall program growth. The goal is to thoughtfully dial up each component as much as possible to maximize fundraising and the longevity of your program.

At Plenty we urge clients to “be who you are.” The more you stand out by staying true to what makes you unique, the more the right, passionate supporters will align with you and your cause. This especially applies when you are deciding how to leverage the three drivers: what activity to do, how to infuse your cause into it, and how to engage your community. Problems typically arise when we focus too much on one area and neglect the other two.

It isn’t always easy to focus on multiple elements of your program, and it’s even harder to make them work together effectively.

To help you jump start the process, here are three common participation driver questions we hear from organizations, and the advice we give our clients to answer them.

Question #1: “All our program needs is a really cool activity, right?”
It’s important – but it’s not the only criteria someone utilizes in determining whether or not to participate. It’s a mistake to think that a new activity that works for one organization will be your organization’s silver bullet. Take the mud obstacle run as an example. It works for some groups, but for others, the activity presents too much of a barrier to entry for their constituents or simply doesn’t interest them.

Think you can come up with the next big thing in fundraising activities? Maybe, but there is something to be said for a tried and true activity that needs no explanation or invention. For example, look at how the 5K has been reinvented over and over and over again. The Color Run, the Glow Run, the Zombie Run, Cupid’s Undie Run – the list goes on. It’s important to choose an activity that your audience has a frame of reference for. Start there, and then put your fun, mission-oriented spin on it to make your participants feel proud to be part of your event. If done right, the experience will inspire participants to brag about it to their friends and family, which can drive continued awareness and participation for your program.

Regardless of the activity you choose, remember – the activity is important, but it isn’t everything.

Question #2: “All we need to do to create a community is bring people together on event day, right?”
Yes, participation on event day is important. But you need to think about the experience of your event as a year-round affair. A mass of people that shows up to a parking lot at the same time does not constitute a community.

A community is created when your supporters have opportunities to interact, share, and be acknowledged. People want to feel like they are part of a tribe that includes passionate, motivated, and like-minded people. You can cultivate this feeling by creating touch-points that allow constituents to meet each other, share their stories, and discuss their connection to your cause. Creating community is easier than you might think, and there are multitudes of ways your organization can do so on event day, including:

  • “Why-I-participate” bibs
  • Customized t-shirts
  • Tents with perks for top fundraisers
  • Story-telling sandwich boards

The digital world also facilitates community easily by providing online forums, pages, and photo albums for participants to use. That said, it’s up to you to create the opportunity for constituents to connect and generate buzz around your event by sharing with it their networks.

These earned wearables (t-shirts, hats, and wristbands) and online shareables (badges, wallpaper, and screensavers) play into a tenet of human nature – to want to advertise that you belong to a tribe. Look at any high school, for example, and you can almost immediately tell which tribe (athletics, academics, arts, etc.) each kid relates to most by how they dress.

The benefits of building a community aren’t just short-term. When your participants bond over an experience, they build ties with each other (not just your organization) and become inclined to seek out that shared experience year over year. The resulting networks of like-minded people will draw motivation from their shared passion for the great impact your organization is making in the world.

Question #3: “Everyone will care about my cause once they know about it, right?”
Your cause is absolutely important. It’s paramount. But it won’t resonate with everyone. What will resonate most with potential participants, however, is learning that your cause means a ton to someone they know. This is why we suggest recruiting through the people who already care about your cause: build your event with them in mind and then ask them to extend an invitation to participate to others in their network. This is the power of peer dynamics. Allow their personal stories and infectious passion for your cause to spread the word and bring in new constituents.

The key to capitalizing on this dynamic is to properly steward your evangelists in meaningful ways – impact reports, handwritten notes, and phone calls. Authentic touch points throughout the year say, “You matter to us.” Maintaining relationships with your core constituents is critical when it comes time to ask them to support your event.

To bring it full circle, don’t forget to include mission-related touch points on event day as part of the activity and experience. Impactful moments will reinforce the stories of your core constituents, embody your cause, and bring it to life for the newbies.

So what sets you apart? Brainstorm what makes your organization unique – the type of constituents you attract, the change you are making in the world, and how you do what you do. Infuse your unique flavor into the key drivers – activity, community, and cause – and you will build an experience that is uniquely you, and successful because of it.

Activity, cause, and community are best supported by a forward-thinking nonprofit strategy. For a deeper look into developing a cohesive strategy based on the latest trends in P2P, download our e-book "The Expansive Impact of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising."

Download your copy here!

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