COVID-19 Will Impact Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Platforms Forever

COVID-19 threw the nonprofit world into a state of uncertainty. Many nonprofits that rely on peer-to-peer fundraising hunkered down hoping for a return to normalcy. Others created their own certainty by aggressively pivoting. A not insignificant number of organizations are experiencing success.

The success of these programs foreshadows what will become required functionality in peer-to-peer online fundraising platforms.

Until COVID-19, peer-to-peer fundraising looked a lot like this:

  • Stand up an online fundraising platform
  • Recruit teams and individuals to fundraise
  • Plan a culminating event
  • Rinse and repeat

There’s more, but you get the gist. While the pandemic pushed organizations to do things differently, there was already a silent shift underway. The pandemic just made that shift go very, very fast.

The Silent Shift

Our constituents had begun to want more from their relationships with nonprofits and their missions. Retention rates were horrifically low. Acquisition was difficult, and among volunteer fundraisers, satisfaction was dismal.

With their feet, our audience was telling us:

  • Your fundraising platform doesn’t suit me. I have other platforms that make me happier in other parts of my life.
  • I want an experience that happens on more than just one day. I want to be part of something.
  • I want to be part of a community, not just a fundraising event.

The Trifecta of Satisfaction

Our constituents had been telling us what they needed. It was important for us to listen, but we didn’t. People who have their needs satisfied tend to stick around. Positive psychology is the study of what makes life worth living, what makes life worthwhile. Positive psychologists have found three factors that result in people being satisfied with various aspects of their lives. I call them the “trifecta of satisfaction.”

  • Autonomy: I’m in charge; I’m making decisions.
  • Mastery: I can get good at something important and be recognized for it.
  • Connectedness: I want connection to something bigger than myself — like a cause or a community.

The most successful nonprofits deliver autonomy, mastery and connectedness to their supporters. You can self-diagnose the experience you provide to your supporters by looking at your retention rate. The higher it is, the more you have succeeded regarding the trifecta.

I Am Alone

When the pandemic struck, the one place and time we gave our constituents community — the event — was gone. One part of the trifecta — gone.

Historically (with some notable exceptions), nonprofit peer-to-peer programs have done a decent job at recognizing fundraising excellence, but a poor one at giving fundraisers a sense of autonomy. Our three-legged satisfaction stool only has one leg in COVIDland — mastery. Fundraisers get to be good at fundraising but receive little in the way of autonomy and a sense of connection.

At the onset of the pandemic, nonprofits rushed to come up with something, anything, that would preserve revenue. Their efforts were (and still are) driven by preserving revenue, not fostering fundraiser satisfaction. We get it… job… boss…revenue… unemployment. As a result, experiences were created that retained only the most dedicated fundraisers, preserving about 50% of peer-to-peer revenue.

Where are the silent shift and the pandemic influence taking us with regard to fundraising platforms?

Fundraise First or Community First?

Fundraisers have been flocking to Facebook to fundraise. Why? It’s the only fundraising platform that gives peer-to-peer participants any sort of community. It’s public, so Facebook is also pretty good at delivering recognition for fundraising mastery. And fundraisers are autonomous regarding their activities on the platform. If I can activate a Facebook fundraiser, I am in charge. Facebook fundraisers deliver to humans what satisfies them: autonomy, mastery and connectedness (community).

Traditional peer-to-peer fundraising platforms focus on providing tools to fundraise. Facebook provides a venue that allows people to commune, and just happens to have fundraising tools. This is our new standard. This is the standard to which all platforms will be held:

  • Gives autonomy
  • Gives recognition
  • Gives community

But Wait, There’s More

Two other ways Facebook is changing the requirements for fundraising platforms is with regard to its ease of use and (perceived) lack of invasiveness.

Our constituents can fundraise on Facebook in three or four clicks. And Facebook doesn’t feel invasive because it doesn’t ask for tons of information. Let’s ignore the irony — Facebook sees and knows all. But in the moment when I activate to fundraise, Facebook doesn’t ask me for information it doesn’t need to open the fundraising door.

Our traditional platforms give nonprofits what we want — the ability to collect gobs of data. And so, we do. Though we all know that doing this diminishes the activity we’re after, namely fundraising.

Redesign for the Human, Not the Revenue Budget

Platform design comes down to the human first, the organization second. Redesigning the user experience must focus on what constituents find satisfying, easy to use and non-invasive. We’ve got a long way to go.

Katrina VanHuss and Otis Fulton have written a book, Dollar Dash, on the psychology of peer-to-peer fundraising. Click here to download the first chapter, courtesy of NonProfit PRO!

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