Fewer Participants, More Revenue: A Reverse Model for P2P

Peer-to-peer fundraising has long been built on the idea that more is better. More events and more participants bring more dollars, which, in turn, more help to those in need.

But the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation is proving that the opposite can also be true.

MMRF, which raises money to combat a specific strain of cancer that annually affects about 30,000 people in the U.S., has been experimenting with a new campaign that brings together small groups of passionate supporters to participate in adventure-based P2P events.

The campaign, Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma, succeeds because of participation is exclusive — as small as 12-15 people per excursion — and the level of interaction among participants is high.

To date, MMRF has played host to 6 treks to exotic locations such as Mt. Kilimanjaro, Machu Picchu and Mt. Fuji — and it has been able to underwrite the cost of staging the event through sponsorship from a pharmaceutical company that provides treatment for the disease.

And the results have been extraordinary — 112 participants have raised $1.2 million for the organization during these six events.

“This is a very different type of program,” says Alicia O’Neill, MMRF’s director of partnerships and business development. “You have to set up each group to be high touch. This is almost like stewardship of major donors in a development office.”

Such a model won’t work for every organization. But it can be highly successful, particularly if an organization is able to meet some or all of the following conditions:

A Strong Community

Unlike some nonprofits that raise money to fight diseases, multiple myeloma is a disease that affects a relatively small population. As a result, MMRF doesn’t have a huge base of supporters who have a close connection to the cause.

It does, however, have a highly committed group of supporters — many of whom have a close connection to the organization and its work.

This intimacy between the organization and its supporters lends itself to smaller, more focused events. It also means that some of its supporters are willing to take on extreme challenges and devote significant time to raising money on its behalf.

“We’re not an organization that is going to have a 1,000-person ride,” O’Neill said. “But we’re going to have 18 people who want to cross the country to raise $400,000.”

MMRF is careful to ensure that each person who takes part in the excursions has a close connection to the cause — either as a patient, a family member of a patient, or a medical professional who works with multiple myeloma.

A Committed Sponsor

Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma’s financial model is built, in large part, on the fact that participants do not have to pay for their trips.

Instead, those costs are underwritten by a sponsor, Takeda Pharmaceuticals.

The company agreed to sponsor the programs to help market a new drug that it had developed to help multiple myeloma patients.

“We don’t pay for people’s trips,” O’Neill said. “But with the support of Takeda, we have a grant that allows us to cover all of the costs.”

The sponsorship means that MMRF doesn’t need to cut into fundraising revenues to pay for the trip — and participants don’t have to worry about shelling out their own money for the effort. In turn, this frees them to focus on raising more money to support the organization.

A ‘High Touch’ Approach

Unlike larger events, Moving Mountains succeeds because of its intimacy.

Not only are participants carefully selected, they are also mentored by MMRF staff — and each other — throughout the process.

Participants are part of a private Facebook group, where they get to know each other as they train for the event, have personal get-togethers months before the event, and are guided through the journey by MMRF.

“I’m right there with them,” O’Neill said. “I’m training. I’m climbing the mountain. I’m fundraising. I’m experiencing everything that I’m asking them to do.”

To go big, sometimes it pays to think small!