I had the pleasure of participating in the 2016 Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Forum Annual Conference and it was fantastic. I try not to use this blog to advertise but have to share that the P2P Forum is a wonderful resource for fundraisers, nonprofit professionals - and just about anyone trying to make change happen. To learn more, go to the website peertopeerforum.com or visit the linkedin group at: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/1902048. The conference was a valuable opportunity to hear from other fundraisers and consultants doing innovative things in this growing space. The conference also features an exhibit area for vendors to showcase their products, services and platforms supporting peer-to-peer fundraising.
One thing that struck me as I explored the vendor area was the vast array of technology available to enhance the P2P experience. Whether you work for a big national organization or are starting your own campaign, there are infinite ways to connect via social platforms (there are way too many to endorse just one but they're all really cool!) There are even tools to connect you with other connectors. And tools that will re-connect you with other re-connectors. And on it goes...
But even with all these advanced tools, my key takeaway was that P2P is still People to People. It can be friend to friend. Neighbor to neighbor. Even Stranger to Stranger. But at the end of the day, whether you're using streaming, gaming tech, or just a good old fundraising page, people still need to reach out to other people. This stuff just helps us do it a lot quicker and more efficiently.
Beyond that, I wanted to share a few standout moments, ideas and concepts and my own takeaways:
Start (or Strengthen) A Social Movement: One of the key concepts that was highlighted several times was that we, as fundraisers using P2P, have the chance to participate - or better yet, be the drivers for social movements. While we as fundraisers often speak the language of goals, benchmarks, objectives and the like, I'm confident that our participant fundraisers and donors will feel a much greater sense of commitment and connection to the opportunity to be a part of a Social Movement. Author and researcher Derrick Feldmann offered some excellent insights and I highly recommend checking out his book "Social Movements for Good".
Its All About Choice: Do It Yourself (D.I.Y.) is gaining momentum - a lot of momentum. This really isn't surprising when you think about evolution as we've come to expect choices in everything from the car we drive, to the phone we use to the foods we eat. So why not fundraising? One size doesn't fit all. Walks aren't going away while runs, endurance events and rides are here to stay. The exciting opportunity here is that we're seeing more unconventional approaches to peer-to-peer fundraising. Our role is to encourage our volunteers to embrace their passions and participate in social movements in ways that move them.
Be the part. It's not enough to just look the part: One of my favorite lines from the movie Rocky III comes at the end when Apollo says to Rocky "You fight great - but I'm a great fighter". That line captures the essence of our role as fundraising - or social movement - leaders. We need to move beyond saying and training to being the embodiment of these movements. It's all too easy to talk about best practices, what our fundraisers should do and how easy it is to send out a certain number of emails which will yield a set number of donations. But are we doing these things ourselves? Are we right there in the trenches with our participants? We should be. One of my favorite fundraising consultants who consistently participates in the endurance fundraisers she leads put it best when she said "I don't care about dressing the part. I care about being the part." Be the part.
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of working in support of a cycling event for a nonprofit client. This was my first peer-to-peer client and event in about two years. By sheer coincidence, my recent work has included traditional fundraising campaigns, board development projects and leadership coaching. It was exciting to step back into the world of peer-to-peer and endurance events, a combination with a special place in my heart due to my passion for running, cycling and of course, fundraising for great causes.
Sometimes stepping away can bring fresh perspectives. In these brief six weeks I was able to experience one of my favorite parts of peer-to-peer: coaching participants in fundraising. And with the event just around the corner, I had the chance to witness the magic of riders seeing the finish line; from first-time century riders to veterans. The opportunity to see first-hand their sense of accomplishment and impact is one of the true privileges of serving in this field. I came away thinking about some of the principles that have stayed the same as well as a few where a shift in thinking could make a positive difference:
There’s Training and then there’s TRAINING: 8 Best Practices to Apply to Your Next Volunteer Training
Sometime ago, I wrote an article titled What Does Your First Date With A Volunteer Look Like? where I shared the parallels between the interview process for volunteering and a first date:
Well, if the interview is the first date, then a high quality volunteer training program can be the foundation for a Beautiful Relationship. I was reminded of this last week when I participated in a two day training session for a local organization I’ll be volunteering for. By way of background, I’ll also share that before I was offered the role, I went to an introductory session at the organization’s office followed by an in-depth interview. That “getting to know you” phase
should be taken very seriously as well - and with this organization it was.
But back to the training. Prior to the training sessions, I completed a series of online modules that prepared me for the two days of on-site work. The training itself was conducted by an outside facilitator, utilized multiple learning styles i.e. group project, individual opportunities and truly encouraged our learning experience as a team. I found it to be one of the most comprehensive training programs I’d come across in nearly two decades of work in this field.
My intention wasn’t to do a rave on this terrific organization - I’ll save that for another occasion. Rather, I wanted to share 8 best practices they demonstrated I’m confident any organization, regardless of mission and funding, can follow when it comes to their volunteer training:
Do you have more to add to this last? Please share away...
After a really busy week, I was looking forward to a pretty laid back weekend. I had decided that starting Friday afternoon I was committed to being uncommitted to any major plans or projects. In keeping with my mandate, on Saturday I did something thoroughly unproductive but especially fun: I read a review of every album by my favorite band, Yes. I was surprised when an online reviewer noted that it was "too bad the guitarist phoned it in" on one of my favorite records. I disagreed: the guitar work on the album was quite good and in fact quite the opposite of a "phoned in" performance. I'm leaving out the name of the album as I wouldn't want to color the opinions of other fans or future listeners.
Saturday's activity got me thinking about the concept of phoning it in as I've seen the term used to describe performances ranging from artistic to political. What does it mean and how can we tell if someone is in fact, phoning it in? It seemed there are no hard and fast rules for determining whether someone is doing so and highly subject to the opinions of others. The urban dictionary (www.urbandictionary.com) provides a helpful definition: To perform an act in a perfunctory, uncommitted fashion, as if it didn't matter. There was a harsher definition but I don't want to offend....
With this in mind, I thought I'd share a few suggestions for ensuring that we're not "phoning it in" when it comes to our performance as fundraisers:
This past week, I had the pleasure of stopping by an event for an organization I volunteer with. I often find it to be a really instructive experience when I go to a charity event as an attendee as it allows me to be reflective in a way that just isn't possible when you're actively involved. This one, a donor appreciation event, turned out to be especially reflective but in a more personal way. By coincidence, it was held on the same block in New York City where I did my first bit of fundraising nearly 15 years ago. Naturally, this got me thinking about how much the fundraising profession has evolved since I started in the field.
With that in mind, I wanted to share what I view as some of the more important changes I've noticed. I'm happy to say that nearly all of these advances are firmly in the win column. They've enabled fundraisers to create stronger, longer term relationships with donors and make the process of giving easier and more appealing to donors. Here are my top three:
The Death of the Traveling Rolodex: I was offered my first fundraising opportunity because it was assumed that fresh from 13 years in the financial sector, I would lead this nonprofit straight to a bunch of high net worth individuals and investment managers. In other words, they weren't really hiring me, they were hiring my Rolodex. A lot has changed since then. First of all, I haven't seen a Rolodex in ages. If you have, please take a picture and share it on Instagram so others can see what one looks like. (PS - sharing and Instagram weren't part of the vocabulary back then but more on that later). Nonprofits have become much smarter. While I'm sure it still happens, there's wide recognition that hiring a fundraiser with the assumption they'll "bring their book" is the exact opposite of what this job is about. The idea that donors move from cause to cause based on their relationship with a particular fundraising professional is a complete non-starter.
Technology and all that comes with it: One of my first challenges during my first year or so in fundraising was trying to figure out how to embed a video donation request into an email. I know, I know - highlight, copy and then paste. But it wasn't that easy in 2001. The BIGGER idea here was we send the video out to our initial list of 300 emails and then (the suspense is killing you)...ASK THEM TO SEND THE VIDEO TO THEIR LIST. We used the term VIRAL and we were thrilled when we got 5 surprise donations because it worked. If this all sounds a bit old and archaic, it's only because it is and it should. Of course today we know this simple act of instantly building and engaging our community as SHARING and we can do it with our eyes closed on any number of social media platforms such as facebook, Pinterest and Instagram. The breadth and depth of technological advances that have happened over the 15 years are worthy of so much more space . But you get the idea.
The Evolution of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising: It's no coincidence I highlighted the first two changes and am finishing out with this one. Peer-to-peer fundraising is the natural outgrowth of them. There's been solid movement away from the old "rainmaker" idea of a professional fundraiser coming in and saving the struggling nonprofit with their contacts and ability to raise tons of money that first year. Rather, there's recognition that the most authentic way to fundraise is for those impacted by causes to create a community of caring by reaching out to those closest to them. And by the way, this model scales easily to major gifts or any other type of campaign. When you get down to it, isn't any true capital or major giving campaign the ultimate peer-to-peer model at work? The technological advances are the icing on the cake that have made these opportunities grow exponentially and move that much quicker.
It's been an amazing first 15 years and I can't wait to see what's next!
Here's a quick multiple choice quiz...
Which of these scenarios offers your nonprofit organization the best chance of launching a successful walk, cycling event, run - or something else entirely - that leverages use of the peer-to-peer platform?
All right I admit it. It's a trick(y) question. The answer could be 4. Or just as likely it could be 5. Having a large sponsor in your corner is a strong start but not a guarantee you'll find the participant base needed to build out a sustainable event. Getting buy-in and the start of a leadership team from your volunteers is helpful but it's still the tip of the iceberg. Finally, a semi-successful launch is the beginning of what may become a story that can be scaled. However, if you're still in the mistake-making phase, keep learning before moving forward. That's why pilot programs are well, pilot programs.
With an ever growing number of organizations looking at peer-to-peer as a very viable source of new revenue, I wanted to suggest the following tips as you look to launch new fundraising events:
Diversify, Diversify, Diversify: Be sure you've got a diversified group of supporters before launching an event. This should include prospective participants, sponsors, leadership and volunteers. Fight the urge to roll out an event simply because a few of your key volunteers or a major sponsor says they'll support your new fundraising initiative. I realize this can be really difficult. Let's face it, we're in this profession because we want to do good things for others. More money = more good. But this is a slippery slope. Just because you have The Big Sponsor (for example), that won't suffice in place of a consistent and diversified audience for your event. Unless you've identified all the key moving parts, you may be holding a big party that very few are attending.
Scale when you've got something worth Scaling: No matter how much organizational capacity you have - staff, committed volunteers and yes, MONEY - figure out your model for success first and then replicate it. If scaling is about replicating a working model and you're still experimenting, learning, trying and failing, you're most likely replicating mistakes. You're doing the opposite of establishing best practices.
Do A Feasibility Study: Several of the pitfalls I've identified (and probably a few that I haven't) can be revealed with the help of a decent feasibility study. Even on a limited budget, you should be able to test for some basics including:
While doing the above is no guarantee of success, doing your homework first is a great starting point.
A few months back I wrote a post called “What Does Your First Date with A Volunteer Look Like?” I identified several parallels between a first date and that initial connection with new volunteers or board members. These included the need for clear and honest communication and the fact both parties come to the table with lots of expectations, both spoken and unspoken. (you can find it here: http://www.trainingforgoodinc.com/blog-basic-training/whats-your-first-date-with-a-volunteer-look-like )
In recent conversations with colleagues though I’ve noticed a struggle with how to get that date in the first place. And in particular dates with P2P participants - volunteer fundraisers. By this I mean: the organization wants to offer P2P options but haven’t exactly figured out the how, who or of most concern, the WHY of starting this process. As one example of a potential “dating mismatch” I recently had a conversation with a charity leader that had decided to launch a walk. As we had further discussions, I learned that her interest in introducing the walk had little to do with identifying it as a fit for their fundraising mix or constituency. Rather, it was because they’d heard that (fill in name of charity) raised a ton of money doing a walk and they wanted in. I’m sure this story isn’t unique.
To keep the dating analogy going, developing the optimal portfolio of P2P events and connecting with a supportive audience starts with answering some questions:
What’s Your Type? Who are you trying to attract? If you’re thinking of launching a walk – which tends to connect with the more cause related supporters – will those constituents truly embrace your event? The charity I mentioned above that was eager to launch the walk was located in New York City but all of their potential participants happened to be international visitors and a few ex-pats. That makes for a tough start! Conversely, if you have a strong walk in place, are you better off scaling your walk program or can you introduce a compelling endurance event or series of events to complement it? Ultimately, you need to know who you want to attract, why you’re trying to attract them and what might get them interested.
What Are You Doing to Get Noticed? Are you sending out the right signals to potential participants? Once you’ve identified who you’re trying to attract, how are you showing off your strengths and responding to challenges? If you’re trying to find a cause related audience for a new walk, highlight your quality of research, depth of service and model for change as a starting point. If you’re launching a new cycling event in a community with multiple rides, what can you offer in terms of an event experience to stand out from the crowd? Maybe it’s the venue (think: vineyard, hard-to-access locale) or an incredibly different or challenging course. You can’t be all things to all people so figure out how to standout from the crowd and connect.
What’s Your Big Pick-Up Line? Come here often? What’s your sign? Do you know the pick-up lines that attract (and better yet KEEP) your P2P participants? One sure fire way to do this is to ask your long-term volunteers what attracted them to your organization and amplify their responses in your messaging. And keep it real. If you’re betting the house on free registration and lots of giveaways to reach endurance fundraisers, you’ll do great with one-timers but your retention may be hit or miss. It’s worth taking the time to build out your event experience so that you’re attracting – and retaining - participants that can move beyond fundraisers to become long term friends and future leaders of your organization.
Yep, that’s right, your P2P event participants aren’t registering by email. Sure, you may get a few who had already planned to do it, but an email alone rarely generates enough registrants for a really successful event. No matter how pithy your email blast, how powerful your event imagery is or how motivational your quote, emails only go so far in getting new people to take the leap of faith and join up. This holds true whether you’re talking about attracting your cause related audience and perhaps even more so when trying to recruit athletes you hope to bring out to your endurance events. To build and grow a sustainable event, you have to be where the people are.
I had a wonderful experience this past Saturday that highlights the power of “Being There.” I was at an open house hosted by one of our local bike shops. At one point, a cyclist came to my table and was clearly familiar with our NJ Ride. It turns out that one of his neighbors, who happens to be one of our top volunteers, had been trying to get him to join his riding team. The cyclist had been on the fence - he had another event the week before, a few concerns about the fundraising – nothing I haven’t heard before. I shared a bit more about why our ride was special and joked about what a coup it would be if after this coincidence, he ended up signing on. And he did, right on the spot.
No email, e-blast or incentive could have made this story happen. And there are more stories like this waiting to happen.
My suggestion that emails don’t get people registered is of course extreme. I’ve shared it to illustrate that relying purely on digital marketing as a driver for P2P participation is a mistake. We, as P2P leaders need to go beyond the classic “I sent an email and am waiting to hear” as the primary method of attracting participants. Here are a few good steps
Go Where the People Are: Whenever possible, be a part of the communities you’re trying to engage. If you’re trying to reach walkers – usually thought of as cause-motivated participants - attend informational sessions, workshops, panels etc. related to the cause. Maybe even the mall or the park. If you want to reach runners, you know the drill: expos, running stores, and of course running events. The list goes on. I realize there are limitations and we still need mass efforts to reach the masses. Nevertheless, becoming a part of the community, someone that is seen to be around, makes a difference.
Pick Your Spot(s): It’s a hard call to define those few perfect points of engagement so you’ll need to experiment through trial and error. For example, communities often have several cycling shops that attract riders with different interests. Some cater to big clubs while others bring in the tri-set. Ask an owner if you can table at their place, try the expo for a big ride or join the group ride. See what works for you and your event. And then stick with it.
Pick Up the Phone: OK, so you can’t be everywhere all the time. But again, stop relying on emails and e-blasts to do the fun part of our job: connecting with people. If you can’t be there – out in the community – pick up the phone! Long ago, in a galaxy far away, we used to pick up the phone and call people without even setting up an appointment on Outlook. Try it. You’ll be amazed how cool it is to actually talk to your volunteers and participants live.
Usually, my posts and suggestions are connected to my experiences in the charitable sector. Traveling in Southeast Asia last week, though, triggered some thoughts on how we as nonprofits communicate and why volunteers and donors might find our terminology foreign, leaving gaps in their understanding.
My wife and I were celebrating our 15th wedding anniversary with a trip that to Bangkok, Thailand, followed by a visit to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, one of the 7 Wonders of the World. While we’d typically fly between destinations, my wife really wanted to see the countryside and suggested we travel from Bangkok to Cambodia by train. Given that the train had no A/C and temperatures were 90+, our compromise was the bus. We had read travel blogs that warned of the potential challenges of crossing by land at the Thai/Cambodia border. These included a range of pricing variations and requirements for entry into the country and of most concern, rip-offs and scams to take advantage of naive tourists and their inability to speak the native tongue.
The first part of the journey went well. We enjoyed the scenery, were relatively comfortable and got to meet a few fellow travelers. At the border, our driver shooed everyone off the bus, using his best English to convey that we should “go through Customs, cross the border, walk to the casino and the bus will be waiting for you." On the ground, in the sweltering sun and dust stirred up by the myriad of motorcycles, bikes, carts, stands selling crispy crickets to snack on, and vendors proposing all forms of assistance and products, we found our way to the Thai customs office and received our outgoing stamp. Easy…and then we went outside and saw not one but at least six casinos lining the border road. Our bus – with all of our luggage and possessions on it - was nowhere to be found.
I'm embarrassed to say that I immediately went into panic mode. I was having visions of the movie "Midnight Express" (though that takes place in Turkey) and a new home and career in the Cambodian casino industry. Fortunately, my wife is the calmer member of our team and after taking some pictures of the border chaos, we wandered around and found the bus, only to be told we could not get back on until we went and found the Cambodian Customs office and got that stamp as well. Actually, this was conveyed through hand signals more than English but that seemed to be the gist of it. Wandering through the dusty road once more, we found this office, got the stamp and were rewarded with clearance to re-board our bus.
We ended up having a fantastic trip and loved seeing Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world. Beyond that, my momentary scare got me thinking about the charitable sector and the potential for misunderstanding and need for clarity in communication. Here are three thoughts I came away with:
Speak in an agreed upon language: I'll be the first to say that our bus driver was doing his best to speak English and I appreciated it. After all, we were guests in their country. As nonprofit professionals we tend to be very comfortable using our own language (and occasionally lingo) associated with our profession. We're fluent in theories of change, funding objectives and evaluation criteria. But is this the language our volunteers and donors speak? Chances are they'd rather talk in terms of the social movement you're working towards, the change you want to see in the world and what their hard work and dollars can do to make that happen.
Provide translation when necessary: OK, so you're probably going to have to use nonprofit terminology some time and not just when talking to institutional donors. If you have to, then use it to educate and engage your volunteers and donors. As one opportunity, consider inviting volunteers to have a voice in grant or sponsorship proposals. While you're explaining the need to have a theory of change, help them see how vital their inputs (volunteer hours, network connections, funds and/or in-kind support) are to the outputs - real change and the potential to achieve your mission and vision.
Have an agreed upon and specific destination (a.k.a. GOAL): My experience would have been very different if we had agreed upon a more specific destination. Something as simple as we'll meet at 1:00 at the sixth casino on the right side of the road would have worked. S.M.A.R.T. Goals - those that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-sensitive - are the Gold Standard since they leave little room for misunderstanding or confusion. Make sure your constituents are clear on the SMART goals of your organization and their importance in achieving them.
And it's nice to be home...
The word "Scalable" has become a mainstay of our workplace vocabulary. Its use is widespread both in for profit and nonprofit settings. I knew the word had reached a new level of trendiness when it was featured in a very funny article in The Huffington Post that appeared a few months ago called "10 Ways to Sound Smarter in Meetings". The sixth top suggestion was to ask "Will this scale?" no matter what you're talking about! Brilliant. The link for the article is at the bottom of the page (read it after mine of course!) I realized I wasn't even sure of the exact definition of the word. Was this an actual word or something we had all invented? Apparently, it is a real word with a formal definition as follows:
Scalability is the capability of a system, network, or process to handle a growing amount of work, or its potential to be enlarged in order to accommodate that growth.
Upon reflection, I realized that there were several situations where I was involved in projects where scaling - and the dollars that came with it - were more the end than the means. Naturally we all want to sound smart. But the next time you're considering the Big Scaling Question, it's worth asking yourself and your team a few key questions:
Will you raise more? In fundraising - and more specifically in event fundraising - we often find this notion that adding more (or scaling ) events will bring in more dollars. But too often the events we have in place become the end goal as opposed to the beginning of the donor cultivation process. We plan, work our tails off, hit our magic number and then we chill for for a few months. When we start all over, naturally we ask how can we raise more? And the answer is: Do another event. Then maybe another. But is it really better to launch another event as opposed to maximizing the quality and potential of the one in place? Are you really making the most of the new volunteers, donors and possibilities of engagement from the first? Maybe. Maybe not. But it's a question worth asking.
Will you save more? Well, this since post is about trendy stuff, might as well throw in that old classic - Synergies. If you've made the decision that another event, program or (fill in the blank) is what the doctor ordered, are there real savings - or synergies - that will go along with that decision? Can you keep the same level of staffing or will you need to hire additional staff for the new programs or events? Sometimes there are very clear synergies. For example, when you're doing multiple fundraising events, there are savings around creating and printing collateral, marketing and advertising. And these savings can translate into even more profitable sponsorship packages. Raising more or expanding your mission is great but doing it in a cost effective manner is absolutely essential.
and the winner is....
Does it really need to be scaled? Many times I've seen the #1 objective of a Strategic plan stated as "Our goal is to raise $5 million per year over the next five years. Or $1 million. Or some other number. Naturally, my next question is Why? Is $5 million the exact amount it will take to have the impact you want to have? Silence. Big Audacious Financial Goals are often another way of saying we want to scale. But have you considered Why you want to scale? Is it absolutely necessary to achieve your stated mission? If you're a community organization focused on delivering a specific service to a specific population and you're doing it well, what's the benefit of adding - or scaling it? I'm not discouraging you from being ambitious and thinking big. Just make sure you're growing for the right reasons.
PS: Here's that Huffington Article I talked about in the beginning. Check it out for a good laugh:
Huffington Post Article
Robert Grabel is the President of Nonprofit Now! You can find his posts here and at www.robertgrabel.com
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