Are Virtual Events the Next Big P2P Trend?

By Peter Panepento

Peer-to-peer fundraising runs, walks and rides are traditionally focused around central, in-person events.

But the growing popularity of FitBits and other wearable fitness tracking devices is making it easier than ever for nonprofits to organize P2P campaigns in which supporters can participate virtually on their own time — wherever they are.

For years, charities across North America have been incorporating virtual elements into their existing proprietary campaigns — offering participants in fundraising rides, for example, the opportunity to ride remotely or on stationary bikes.

Now, an increasing number of groups are organizing stand-alone virtual campaigns.

Virtual peer-to-peer campaigns have already proven successful in the United Kingdom, with efforts like the British Heart Foundation’s My Marathon and Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Running Down Dementia,

In addition, a number of North American charities — including Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and Children’s Cancer Research Fund — are also experimenting with virtual campaigns.

“It’s social fundraising at its finest,” says Robyn Mendez, a senior product marketing manager for Blackbaud. “You don’t have to go through the cost of managing a physical event. You can reach people where they are.”

Sensing a trend, many fundraising software companies are investing in developing peer-to-peer fundraising applications that integrate with wearable fitness trackers and allow users to raise money based on how far their run or ride, how many steps they take or how many calories they burn.

Other companies are developing similar technology — making it possible for fitness-minded participants to build their own do-it-yourself campaigns or participate in virtual activities that are organized by nonprofits.

As a result, Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum founder David Hessekiel says he expects virtual campaigns to take over a larger share of P2P fundraising activities in the U.S. and Canada in the years ahead.

“These campaigns have tremendous potential — in part because they combine the freedom of do-it-yourself fundraising with the structure of a proprietary event,” Hessekiel said. “Virtual campaigns aren’t for everyone, but they do offer some great opportunities for organizations that are looking for new ways to engage supporters or are looking to experiment with peer-to-peer for the first time.”

Early Examples

Unlike proprietary campaigns in which charities organize in-person walks, runs and rides, virtual events often focus on individuals pledging to take on a physical challenge — such as running the equivalent of a marathon or engaging in 30 minutes of exercise for 30 days — and then soliciting donations based on completing their challenge.

Fundraisers track their results through wearable technology or through another system.

“You’re on your own, but you’re not alone,” says Ken Foreman of Alzheimer’s Research UK, which has started the virtual program Running Down Dementia. “While people participate as individuals, they are still able to participate in a community that’s on the same page and aiming for the same thing. You’re just doing it virtually.”

The concept of community is central to most of the early virtual campaigns. Some examples of successful virtual programs include:

Running Down Dementia

Alzheimer’s Research UK partnered with park run — a volunteer group that organizes 5k runs every Saturday at parts throughout the United Kingdom — to encourage participants to raise money in conjunction with their weekly runs.

The program — which challenged people to commit to running 100 km over a 5-month period in 2016 — raised more than £220,000, or $286,000, last year from more than 4,000 runners. Roughly 40 percent of those participants are women between the ages of 35 and 45.

Alzheimer’s Research UK is looking to expand the campaign this year — with the goal of continuing to engage new supporters, Foreman says.

Great Cycle Challenge

The Children’s Cancer Research Fund started the Great Cycle Challenge in 2015 to raise money to support research to develop treatments and find a cure for childhood cancer.

In 2016, the Canadian version of the campaign — which is held throughout the month of June — included more than 10,000 riders and raised nearly $1.8 million.

My Marathon

Rather than running a full marathon in one shot, participants in the British Heart Foundation’s My Marathon virtual campaign have 31 days to complete their 26.2-mile journey.

Participants track their distances using the Everyday Hero mobile app —and the charity can communicate with them directly through the app to provide encouragement and advice for completing their journey and raising money.

To date, more than 32,000 people have raised more than $1 million through the campaign. And the campaign is helping the British Heart Foundation reach a growing army of new supporters — as more than 70 percent of its donors are new to the charity, says Everyday Hero’s Neil Harkins.

Miracle Challenge

Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals has experimented with a pilot virtual campaign called Miracle Challenge in the United States and Canada — raising more than $750,000 in 2016.

The Miracle Challenge encouraged participants to engage in a physical challenge every day for 27 days across one of five tracks: walking, running, cycling/spinning, yoga, and boot camp.

Each day, participants were emailed a mini challenge that they are encouraged to complete as part of the program — and urged to raise at least $10 per day for a Children’s Miracle Network hospital.

The campaign offered participants a way to support the organization without having to attend an in-person event. At the same time, they are able to participate in an activity that will improve their health, says Staci Cross, the organization’s vice president of activation.

While Cross said the program was successful, she said the organization is now encouraging supporters to take on their own virtual challenges in support of the charity — rather than organizing a full-blown virtual event.

Why Consider Virtual?

As the above examples show, virtual campaigns don’t yet compete with the size and scale of longstanding proprietary programs.

But they are nonetheless a potentially useful option for nonprofits that are looking to dip their toes into P2P and for groups that are looking to offer new P2P options for their supporters.

Virtual campaigns are worth considering for nonprofits that are looking to accomplish the following:

Reach new audiences

Younger supporters — particularly millennials — might not be keen on participating in a walk-a-thon or participating in a cycling event. But they are willing to leverage their interest in fitness — and their comfort with technology — for good. By providing them with the option of a virtual fitness campaign, you have an opportunity to reach this important and growing group of supporters.

Engage rural supporters

In-person campaigns work great in areas that can draw from large populations. But they aren’t always practical for those who live hours from a big city. Virtual campaigns make it possible for those in rural areas to run, walk, ride or swim in support of your organization.

Extend an existing P2P campaign

Many proprietary campaigns grow quickly during their early years — then plateau as they reach maturity. Incorporating a virtual element into your next ride or walk provides you with an opportunity to offer a fresh twist on your event, engage new audiences and help it grow beyond its core group of annual supporters.

Experiment with P2P

Mendez says virtual campaigns offer smaller organizations and groups that are new to P2P fundraising develop programs without a large upfront investment. “It helps with risk management and offers a low barrier for entry,” she says.

Manage their brands

Some organizations are fearful about encouraging supporters to take part in do-it-yourself or independent fundraising campaigns because they have little say in what their supporters say and do to raise money on their behalf. With a virtual campaign, groups can create a more structured program — and more effectively manage their messaging.

“It’s safer than DIY because you can maintain your brand presence,” Mendez says. “You can give people to fundraise on their own terms, but you can do it within the structure of an actual program.”

Advice for Getting Started

While virtual campaigns are still emerging, those who have staged successful campaigns offer the following advice for getting started.

Experts advise those who are considering a virtual campaign to consider the following advice:

Make a Simple Ask

You don’t have to get fancy when you develop your campaign. Instead, develop a concept that is easy to understand.

Running Down Dementia, for example, asked participants to run 100 kilometers and raise £100 pounds.

“The simple ask got people engaged,” says Kenneth Foreman, sporting event manager for Alzheimer’s Research UK. “Some of the virtual events I’ve seen seem a bit complicated. By keeping ours simple, we were able to get people to quickly understand — and we had a quite a number who raised much more than £100.”

Create a Community

One of the challenges of virtual events is that supporters are dispersed. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be connected.

In fact, it’s important to develop a community for participants where they can share advice, push each other and draw energy.

Some virtual event organizers create private Facebook groups for participants where they can meet in a closed community and share information. Others host meet ups and other in-person gatherings to bring participants together.

Provide Coaching

Technology offers amazing opportunities for organizers of virtual campaigns to communicate with supporters.

While you should certainly use technology to push information and encourage people to raise more money, you can also use it to provide tutorials and coaching.

The British Heart Foundation, for instance, uses its app to send messages to runners who reach certain milestones — and to push them to achieve their next goal. Alzheimer’s Research UK, meanwhile, uses Facebook Live to coach runners.

Offer Incentives

Because they aren’t as costly as proprietary events, virtual campaigns offer organizations the opportunity to invest in incentives that reward those who reach certain fundraising thresholds — while still keeping the overhead needed to manage the campaign quite low.

Consider investing in T-shirts and providing them to participants who reach minimum fundraising thresholds. This will help them feel more connected to the campaign — and will help you spread the word, Foreman says.

Get Personal

Don’t forget to make sure you add some personal touches to help build connections with your participants.

While text messages through your fundraising app or emails are nice, consider taking the time to have staff members or volunteers call to thank your supporters for reaching fundraising goals or to offer encouragement along the way.

These extra touches can help build stronger connections with your supporters that extend well beyond the campaign itself.

Coldest Night Continues P2P Fundraising Growth

Canada’s first major peer-to-peer fundraising campaign of 2017 is in the books — and its results should provide a measure of optimism to Canadian nonprofits that are planning P2P programs this spring.

Blue Sea Philanthropy reports that Coldest Night of the Year, which raises money for organizations that help the hungry and homeless, raised more than $4 million in February — a record total for the fast-growing event.

Revenues totaled about $3.85 million in 2016, or roughly 17 percent more than the $3.3 million raised by Coldest Night in 2015.


3 Questions You Need to Answer About Your P2P Program

Do-It-Yourself FundraisingNonprofits across North America are exploring new types of peer-to-peer fundraising programs from do-it-yourself campaigns to attention grabbing new proprietary events.

Too many recent efforts haven’t performed as hoped.


One key may be that groups haven’t taken the time to answer these three basic questions:

1. What is the goal of the program?
The answer to this question can’t simply be ‘to raise more money’. Having a goal beyond raising money is likely to give your program a much needed strategic direction. Without it, experts say you’re better off simply doing direct outreach to donors through an annual giving or major gifts program.

2. Who is your key audience?
Many nonprofits mistakenly believe that their peer-to-peer programs will appeal to nearly all of their supporters. But new initiatives are much more likely to connect if they target a specific demographic — with communications tailored to suit.

3.    What is your risk tolerance?
Some organizations jump into creating new initiatives expecting big initial results (often based on management excitement and misunderstanding of “overnight successes” like the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Managing expectations is key — if your organization’s executive leadership or board is expecting big results right away and isn’t ready to accept the fact that new programs often take time to build, peer-to-peer might not be the best fit for you.

A new program might seem like a great idea for your organization. But without taking the right strategic steps up front, the program is likely to fall short of expectations.

Take the time at the beginning of the process to establish your goals, identify your audiences and ensure that your organization is ready to take this big step.

For more insights on how your nonprofit can launch a successful do-it-yourself fundraising program, download our free new e-book,DIY Fundraising: Its Promise and Perils today!

Webinar: P2P Mixtape – How to Make Your P2P Program a Hit

Original Broadcast Date: May 24, 2017

How we share music with others has changed dramatically since the days of the mixtape, but why we share music hasn’t changed a bit. We share because we want to build and strengthen connections with people and open their ears, eyes and hearts to things we believe are worth their time and attention.

At the heart of Peer-to-Peer fundraising (P2P) the very same premise is true. Today, digital platforms have opened limitless (but sometimes overwhelming) opportunities for P2P participants and leaders to inform and engage others in the causes they care about. But like music sharing, the evolution of the digital space has empowered fundraisers to do so in new and exciting ways.

Gain insights from Sue Dalos (Principal Consultant) and Colleen Legge (Sr. Interactive Consultant) from Charity Dynamics’ as they share some of their favorite evolutions in the digital Peer-to-Peer fundraising space to inspire and get you excited about what is possible. Joining them is Jack Matarasso, VP Digital Marketing, from the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation who will share invaluable insights, tips and tricks for how to become a champion for Peer-to-Peer fundraising innovation inside your organization.

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DIY Fundraising: Its Promise and Perils

Original Broadcast Date: March 28, 2017

Nonprofits across North America are experimenting with ways to inspire their supporters to create their own fundraising campaigns — and are investing in technology and marketing to make it easier for these do-it-yourself fundraisers to succeed.

But recent research by the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum has found that many nonprofits aren’t making the most prudent strategic decisions when they develop DIY campaigns. As a result, their programs are not reaching their full potential.

Learn how to make the strategic decisions necessary to position your DIY program for success.

During this insightful discussion, you will learn how to:

  • Make the case for your DIY campaign
  • Avoid the four key mistakes that doom many campaigns
  • Identify best practices that will position your campaign for success


Christy Haught is the National Manager of Digital and Emerging Fundraising Programs for JDRF, driving its P2P digital fundraising strategies and spearheading the launch of the organization’s re-envisioned DIY fundraising program. Haught, who has 11 years of nonprofit fundraising experience, specializes in digital communications and online fundraising strategy. Prior to joining JDFR, she worked with nonprofit clients such as National MS Society, National Wildlife Foundation, United Cerebral Palsy at Event 360.

David Hessekiel is founder and president of the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum. Since 2006 the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum has brought thousands of peer-to-peer fundraising professionals together via its annual conference, workshops and webinars to share best practices and provided them with access to the information they need to raise more for their organizations.

Peter Panepento is co-founder and principal of Turn Two Communications and serves as content director for the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum. He is the author of the forthcoming P2P Forum publication DIY Peer-to-Peer Fundraising: Its Promise and Perils.

PRICE: $99 or free for Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum members

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Double Your P2P Fundraising Results by Telling the Right Stories

Original Broadcast Date: April 11, 2017

Stories raise more than twice as much as statistics alone, according to a Psychology of Giving study out of Stanford.

And your peer-to-peer event emails are the perfect vehicle for telling those stories.

Learn how to get more registrations and donations using storytelling in your peer-to-peer event emails.

You’ll discover the four types of stories that convert into registrations and donations with Mandy O’Neill of ConnectedNonprofit.

Mandy will also give you the proven “storytelling formula” that convinces people to take action – that you can use again and again for consistent results.


Mandy O’Neill, Chief Strategist & Founder for Connected Nonprofit, is a 14-year veteran of using online tools including websites, email, social media, and mobile technologies to build targeted digital relationships for nonprofit organizations and individuals. A veteran of peer-to-peer fundraising, andy speaks, blogs, trains, and provides creative direction for nonprofit organizations to achieve well-defined, high value goals using online tools.

PRICE: $99 or free for Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum members

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Setting Strategy In a Peer-to-Peer World

Original Broadcast Date:  December 6, 2016


In a networked world, setting fundraising strategy has become more dynamic than ever – the environment changes rapidly, and the techniques and messages that worked even a year ago have already lost their impact. Add on to that organizational goals that seem to increase every year – along with budgets that only get tighter and tighter – and the amount of change and flexibility we all need to muster can be daunting, not to mention exhausting.

Join Plenty co-leaders Jennifer Mulholland and Jeff Shuck along with Project AWARE’s Tiffany Leite for a discussion about strategy, leadership, and change in a peer-to-peer world.

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Facebook Tests New P2P Pilot With Movember

Facebook has been making it easier for nonprofits like Movember to raise money directly through its platform.

Facebook has been making it easier for nonprofits like Movember to raise money directly through its platform.

Facebook appears to be stepping up its game in the peer-to-peer fundraising space.

The social network is partnering with Movember to test a new system that makes it easier for fundraisers to share stories and solicit donations, according to a report by The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Here’s an excerpt from The Chronicle’s report (available only to subscribers):

The social network is also doing testing with men’s-health nonprofit the Movember Foundation to integrate volunteer fundraisers’ pages on and Facebook. They will essentially be synced so that Movember’s fundraisers can share personal stories, solicit friends and family, and log donations seamlessly on both sites without jumping between the two.

Facebook appears to be bolstering its ability to play a central role in “peer-to-peer” fundraising, or fundraising done by individual supporters on behalf of nonprofits.

This bears watching. It could ultimately help more nonprofits capture donations through the world’s largest social network.

The move might also pressure other social networking sites to make it easier for users to raise money for charities.

It also follows an effort by YouTube to add “donate” buttons to live video feeds.


Additional resources:

Blog: Read more about how Movember has been expanding its efforts to appeal to women and to fundraise year-round.

Webinar: 5 Rules for Building a Successful P2P Social Media Campaign


For P2P Success, We Sometimes Have to Give Up Control

It wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to say that traditionally P2P fundraising professionals have been control freaks. We produced events and told people where, when and how to participate.

At our recent Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Canada conference, the Parkinson Society’s Jon Collins confessed that giving up control was one of his greatest contributions to the success of Pedaling for Parkinson’s.

Our 2016 Cash, Sweat & Tears Award honoree Peter Istvan started the 3-day bike ride in rural Parry Sound, Ontario six years ago to support the Society’s work.

When Collins saw the program gaining traction he thought of taking greater control of the event and perhaps spreading it to other markets. Istvan politely told him to back off – they did not want to lose the community nature of the event.

The friends manage nearly every detail of the event – from recruiting riders, to collecting donations, to enlisting family members to bake cookies and dole out hugs. Parkinson Canada offers basic support for the campaign, but it largely stays out of the way and lets the friends manage the event their way.

The result is nothing short of inspiring. This July, 250 people took part in the ride, raising more than $200,000. All told, Peter and his friends and family have helped raise more than $700,000 for the charity.

Bravo to Peter for creating such an impressive program – and to the team at Parkinson Society for knowing when to help and when to get out of the way!

5 Tips to Drive Better P2P Results

Peer-to-peer fundraisers from across Canada joined us last week in Toronto for our second P2P Fundraising Canada conference — and they were rewarded with a day full of advice and inspiration.

We invited participants to share advice that they learned during the event on Twitter — and our friends at DonorDrive used Twitter to help collect stories of inspiration from Canadian P2P fundraisers.

Below are some of the top tips shared by participants. We also invite you to check out DonorDrive’s compilation of inspiring acts.


Tip 1, Tell Fundraiser Stories



Tip 2: Use Photos


Tip 3: Embrace Your Repeaters


Tip 4: Segment Your Messaging


Tip 5: Create a Message Worth Supporting


What was the biggest lesson you learned at P2P Fundraising Canada’s 2016 conference? Share it on Twitter using the hashtag #P2PCanada16.