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Your Next Peer-to-Peer Campaign: An Ask For The Head Or The Heart?

The Plenty Team
September 9, 2014

In a widely circulated article, Julia Belluz from Vox weighed in on the Ice Bucket Challenge to argue that the challenge is fueling donations out of proportion with the impact of ALS. To illustrate the point, she created an infographic showing the discrepancy between the dollars raised for specific diseases and the number of people who die from those same diseases. Her graphic highlights that “there are big gaps between the diseases that affect the most people and those that net the most money and attention.” She seems to argue that rather than give to causes that pull on their heart strings, donors should make giving choices based upon calculated impact, or what’s in their heads.

The infographic has garnered some attention as it outlines a perceived injustice to some worthy causes. However, to the team at Plenty, the article illustrates some basics of peer-to-peer fundraising that we work with everyday.

Fundraisers are different than donors.

First, let’s get one thing straight. The dollars shown in the infographic are raised from peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns like Race for the Cure and Jump Rope for Heart. Peer-to-peer is not about inspiring someone to donate; it’s about inspiring someone to fundraise.

The most successful fundraisers in any peer-to-peer campaign are people who make the most asks and thus generate a lot of individual donations. Big donations help, but they don’t replace more asks. The Ice Bucket Challenge is a great example of how this works. Although the challenge has raised over $100M, the average donation is around $50. Most peer-to-peer programs – no matter how much they raise – are built on $25 and $50 gifts. Successful peer-to-peer campaigns motivate participants to tell their story and make a lot of asks, not write a check.

Some causes are better at motivating people than others.

It’s tempting to dismiss the success of causes when they hit the fundraising lottery. And it’s easy to get cynical about what captures the public’s attention, especially in event fundraising. At Plenty, however, we believe there is untapped potential for every worthy cause. The challenge is to find and share your organization’s great stories to help unlock that potential.

As my colleague Meghan noted in an earlier post, the ice bucket phenomenon took off when Pete Frates, who has lived with ALS since 2012, issued a challenge to friends and family. Pete has an emotional story that perfectly illustrates the cruelty of living with ALS. His story was the launch pad for the ice bucket phenomenon. Discussing statistics or the calculated impact of a donation to the ALS Association would not have inspired millions of people to pour ice-cold water over their heads and then write a check.

Pete’s story turned buckets of ice water into a phenomenon. For your next peer-to-peer campaign, focus on telling an emotional story that will inspire people to champion your cause.

It’s not about the math.

The Vox article ends with tips on the best way to donate money and suggests methods to calculate the best use of your charitable gifts. Specifically, the author suggests making a choice between “honoring a cause that matters to you and trying to do the maximum good with your dollars.”

The reality is that calculating maximum good is not what compels someone to donate – or fundraise – for a cause. Donors and fundraisers give to what inspires them, not to what appeals to their logic. There’s nothing logical about combining ice, water and fundraising to reach $100 million, but it worked.

No one knows what will be the next viral fundraising phenomenon (although we’re working hard on lots of ideas.) But there is one thing you can count on: it will be inspired by a story that engages the heart.

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