Top Peer-To-Peer Events Struggling, Down 7.7%

Many of the nation’s leading peer-to-peer fundraising programs had significant declines on returns during the past decade. The trend, coupled with an overall increase in giving through the fundraising mechanism, has shrunk the gap between peer-to-peer Davids and Goliaths.

Four of the top five peer-to-peer campaigns in Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum’s top 30 list this year, American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, March of Dimes’ March for Babies, Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s Komen Race for the Cure Series and National MS Society’s Bike MS all recorded decreases in gross totals from 2014 to 2015 by a collective 7.7 percent. March for Babies’ and Relay for Life’s totals are both down from 2006, the year of the initial top 30 list, by a combined 28.7 percent.

American Heart Association’s (AHA) Heart Walk and Youth Programs ranked second and sixth in the 2015 list, with a combined gross total of $196,065,000. The total represents an increase of 7.7 percent from 2014 and 29.8 percent from 2006. An AHA representative did not respond to a request for comment.

For the full list, visit www.peertopeerforum.com/research/.

Total revenues from the 30 largest programs increased by 9.8 percent from 2006 to 2015, from $1.44 billion to $1.57 billion. The distribution of that revenue has begun to flow toward the bottom, according to David Hessekiel, president of the Rye, N.Y.-headquartered forum. The top 10 programs raised about 80 percent of the list’s revenue in 2006. The top 10 now makes up about two-thirds of the list’s total revenue.

Increased competition can be cited as a main reason for the shift. No Internet or social media limited individuals’ options several decades ago, Hessekiel said, leading to the advent of mass participation programs such as charitable walks, runs and rides.

A digital revolution and generational shift has deemphasized one-size-fits-all large programs while also providing more organizations with the opportunity to tap into supporters. “There has been a huge change in consumer attitudes in how they get involved with charities and there is more competition among a much larger group of players,” Hessekiel said.

Two of the top 30 events, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center’s Cycle for Survival (18th) and Pelotonia (20th) didn’t exist when the first ranking was released. Several other events just missing the top 30 are similarly young. That isn’t to say that the future of peer-to-peer fundraising is a zero-sum game in which the top organizations must make way for up-and-comers. “It requires ever greater doses of savvy and investment in changing in some cases culture, technology, strategies, tactics, et cetera to make these programs as successful as they can,” said Hessekiel.

Alzheimer’s Association’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s, ranked seventh in 2015, has shown steady improvement, increasing revenues each year since 2006. The walk generated $77,464,687 in 2015, up 14 percent from 2014 and 154 percent from 2006.

Donna McCullough, chief development officer of the Chicago-based organization, cited the engagement of national and chapter staffs for maintaining the walk’s upward trajectory. The Walk to End Alzheimer’s has become an organizational priority, both in terms of fundraising and promoting awareness. Alzheimer’s, itself, has also moved toward the forefront of the national consciousness, she said.

“I think a lot of it has to do with, when it becomes a priority for your organization and when you’re engaging communities around it, whatever the cause is, that really helps,” McCullough said. “There is no real secret recipe for that…it’s having the discipline to do that.”

Newer events can jumpstart their success and more established programs can find their groove back by following three pieces of advice, according to Hessekiel.

* Create a program that speaks to people. Understand the allegiances to your cause and type of people inclined to help. The Pan-Massachusetts Challenge benefitting the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Mass. ranks 11th in this year’s list and has remained successful by understanding the affinity the community has for the center and the regional popularity of long-distance cycling, Hessekiel said. The audience for such an event is quite different than a short charity walk.

* Be smart with your communications. Understand that you are creating a fundraising event as opposed to what can be perceived as a community event. The new generation of successful events ties raising money in with participation.

* Take advantage of digital tools. Understand how to use them and target potential participants with email and social media. The more active the outreach, the more money can be raised.

Reflecting on 10 years of data has been eye-opening, according to Hessekiel, as the forum was unaware of how much things have changed. What is not yet reflected in the rankings is a shift from a relative small number of mega programs to more and more large events. Hessekiel predicts that the next big trend will be do-it-yourself fundraising.

The method would attract those who either can’t participate in mass events or wish to go above and beyond. Participants can dedicate a birthday, host a pancake breakfast, run 100 miles, or do any number of things to benefit an organization, with nonprofits stepping in to provide tools to help the individual or group promote the event.

“Ten years from now, mega will taper off, regional and middle-of-the-pack will remain strong and there will be a huge number of significant programs based on people getting tools to do it themselves,” Hessekiel predicted.