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Peer-to-peer campaigns for nonprofits

What is peer-to-peer nonprofit software?

Nonprofit software is undergoing huge changes since Covid. The broad trend is moving from structured, broadcast campaigns to unstructured, relational campaigns. It is now harder and harder to recruit donors and volunteers with social media campaigns, and online or offline events. What has happened is that nonprofits are moving to a model of relational organizing that prioritizes the micro-community around every individual supporter, in effect, word-of-mouth type campaigns.

As was pointed out by Jay Godfrey of NationBuilder recently, "Actually the most effective voice to get someone to go out and participate is their sister, co-worker or mum. And when your sister sends you a link, perhaps for a Zoom town hall meeting or a petition, and you click on it, the campaign will know it was her link you clicked. That means campaigns can see, acknowledge, and thank people who are really enthusiastic," he said.

Peer-to-peer campaigns acknowledge the centrality of supporter engagement for the nonprofit and they prioritize building relationships with supporters over all else. These campaigns are following the trend away from broadcast campaigns and towards relational organizing techniques as we will explore in the next section.

Check out this case study of peer-to-peer campaigning at a UK based trade union.

How to set up your peer-to-peer campaigns?

1. Database of supporters - In the first instance p2p campaigns need to build on a strong supporter database. The campaign is dependent on accessing the micro-network [friends, family and acquaintances] of each individual supporter to ask for donations, volunteering or other support. As this database is so important it is preferable to have a high-quality visualization of these supporters including mapping functionality and profiles with contact information. With a supporter database of this quality it is possible to drive peer-to-peer actions for the nonprofit.

2. Visualization as strategy - It cannot be underestimated how important visualization of supporters is when running a campaign remotely. Being able to see clusters of supporters can help you to understand where to run your campaigns for further recruitment. It can also help you to see which previous campaigns were successful. For example, you might have done a leaflet drop in an area and have since seen a number of people sign up to donate in that area. Of course, being able to see supporters’ profile pictures and the skills they have to offer you can help you  figure out how best to use these people in your campaign subsequently. Compared to a simple database in list format, this visualization will greatly enhance your remote supporter management.

3. Enhanced internal communications - Word of mouth campaigns and, by extension, peer-to-peer campaigns rely on excellent communication. To achieve this word of mouth campaigning requires a mobile app to be on every supporters’ phone. This app allows the supporter to capture conversations, donation pledges, etc at the moment they happen, mimicking what happens in word of mouth campaigns. The app needs to be able to capture data such as a donation pledge but it also needs to be able to push social media posts or email templates directly to the supporter so they can amplify the nonprofit’s campaign messaging. This level of internal communication is changing what is possible with unstructured, p2p campaigns.

Peer to peer forum recently surveyed 100 nonprofits on their upcoming campaigns and reaction to an ongoing situation with Covid. Their president, David Hessekiel says, “This Spring, the coronavirus forced almost every organization to scrap their long-planned events and create virtualized campaigns on the fly. It’s clear based on this latest research that most groups are taking active steps to avoid facing the same fate in 2021. Rather than waiting, they’re making decisions now so they can begin communicating with their supporters and get a jump start on fundraising.”

4.Incentivising independent action - Peer-to-peer campaigns build on the goodwill, energy and independent action of supporters. They are unlike directed campaigns around events or on social media. Understanding this inherent difference is essential when looking at success/failure criteria. Using technology peer-to-peer campaigns might be configured with certain types of actions or potential responses from the public. On the other hand it is valuable to allow supporters to act as they see fit in a given situation and assume they are acting in good faith on behalf of the organization. As the Peer-to-peer forum report said, “...some groups, such as Junior Achievement, say they are giving local chapters the opportunity to make decisions based on circumstances in their communities or are moving their spring campaigns to a later date, with the hope that they can safely host in-person events in the summer or fall.” A good example of leaving local operations dictate the type of actions they take.

5. Unstructured campaigning - Thinking back to a time before mobile phones and the internet is useful in understanding the power of relational organizing. Before you could send 10,000 emails in one click or run a social media ad to 100,000 people, there were still nonprofits and there were still campaigns. However, they were more local, more personal and built on word of mouth. Relational organizing mixes the power of technology and central planning with the immediacy and personal touch of an individual reaching out to another individual. The way in which this outreach takes place is usually by text, phone or in-person but the information captured during that exchange is also captured by the main database or CRM system. This takes old school organizing methods and repurposes them for the 21st century.

It is good to remember that not everything in nonprofit organizing needs to be a formal campaign. What we mean by that is that a lot of p2p campaigning relies on motivated, independent supporters using their own initiative to achieve the organization's goals. Instilling a culture of action can be more effective in other words than demanding specific actions from supporters. If you can motivate supporters to want to reach out to their networks then you are a long way towards achieving your goals. You will need to give them easy ways to engage the community. An app with options to recruit a new donor perhaps? Or a volunteer drive, or an easy way to set up a community event even? Success outcomes for unstructured campaigning need to be discussed with supporters of course so it doesn't become a free-for-all but that can be done simply with a Zoom meeting to discuss strategies and what is working already. Focus on building people-power and energy in your organization, not just campaign outcomes.

Why is peer-to-peer so important in 2021?

Ongoing Covid impact

Despite Covid vaccines being close to released, it appears unlikely that restrictions on normal life will be fully lifted anytime soon. Remote team management and a lack of in-person events or campaigns will continue to be the hallmark of at least the first half of next year. That means that relational organizing, digital transformation and peer-to-peer campaigning will continue to be vital to nonprofit organizations as they try to reach out to their communities and members.

Trend from broadcast to relational

Covid has been a huge impact in 2020 but the trend has been moving away from broadcast (1 to many) campaigns to more personalized relational campaigns (peer-to-peer) anyway. The reason for this is obvious if you look at broadcast campaign results. Email open rates continue to fall, text messaging campaigns are becoming very annoying for consumers, and social media campaigns are simply not able to break through the noise online. Nonprofits understand that their supporters are their best asset to reach the wider community. In doing so there is a huge benefit in terms of building strong personal relationships as well as strengthening the commitment of existing supporters through the actions they are taking. This trend to relational looks set to continue through 2021.

The differentiator in 2021 is membership and power index

Nonprofit organizations including fundraising managers, outreach teams and community engagement professionals need to understand that the key differentiator in 2021 is the strength of their membership. The stronger and more engaged supporters and members are, the stronger the organization. To avoid fracturing and attrition in support databases nonprofits need to concentrate on building people-power. Once the people-power has been developed through peer-to-peer campaigns it becomes a lot easier to develop credible fundraising forecasts, event planning and lobbying campaigns.

Nonprofits are mission driven organizations and delivering on that mission, whether it is climate action or services to people with diabetes, is a function of how engaged their supporters are. That engagement might be in the form of donations or it might be willingness to volunteer, or it might just involve resharing a social media post. Whatever it is, it is necessary in order to achieve the mission. If nonprofits are looking to quantify their ‘power’ or how likely they are to be able to achieve their goals then, it is important that they can track their supporter engagement and incentivise it.

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