Peer-to-peer: fundraising without borders

Published by Rebecca Davies on

With a young family, my wife and I decided we couldn’t support Ebola in the field by me going to West Africa, so she suggested we embrace the Walk Without Borders campaign instead! We fundraised with all the intensity of working in the field. It became an obsession to do all we could do from Canada, and relieved the guilt of not being able to go to the field in person this time around. – Dr. Raghu Venugopal ($21,400 raised)

What’d we do?

The Walk Without Borders Challenge, MSF Canada’s first peer-to-peer fundraising campaign (developed by agency Stephen Thomas).splashWe asked supporters to walk in solidarity with a patient or field worker who travelled a long distance to receive or give lifesaving medical care. The activity itself was self-directed: people could walk (or run or roll) alone or as part of a team. They chose the distance they walked, and collected pledges from family, friends, and acquaintances, who could follow their progress on personal campaign webpages.Some spread their challenge out over six weeks, others finished the whole thing in one day. We encouraged people to come up with creative and personally meaningful ways of completing their challenges as a way of getting others to participate or donate.

Why’d we do it?

Money and engagement: peer-to-peer fundraising is one of the fastest growing online social activities and sources of donations. MSF Canada has very loyal donors, and we wanted to take advantage of the passion of our current supporters by asking them to extend their influence to their networks.

Raising funds for mission obviously was the main objective of this program. Engaging Canadians was also a pillar of our strategic plan: the WWB campaign also effectively brought our mission to life through storytelling and highlighted the emotional connection between being an MSF supporter and helping people in crisis. wwbubc

Lastly, some of those closest to our organization – Canadian aid workers overseas or in between missions – had been asking us for years to develop an organized campaign for which they could fundraise and raise awareness.

People are hungry for engagement, and of course with each opportunity for involvement, loyalty increases. Now, not only could you donate to MSF or volunteer in the field with MSF, you could also take action by signing up for WWB, telling your family/friends/associates about it, walking in solidarity with our patients, and raising money for an organization/cause you care so very much about.

Why’d we do it this way?

While a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign was always in our 2014 annual plan, we didn’t know what form it would take until a few months before. And by then it became obvious: our campaign launched on the tail of #nomakeupselfie and #icebucketchallenge. We, too, would take advantage of social media trends for charity. All our modest budget went into creating walkwithoutborders.ca and marchesansfrontieres.ca, personalized fundraising pages for participants, a Facebook app, a social media push, and digital communications with participants throughout the challenge. What was unlike #icebucketchallenge and #nomakeupselfie is that we de-emphasized a uniform activity and experience, encouraging participants and donors to reflect on real stories of patients and aid workers walking long, long way to get or give medical care.

Ebola also changed the landscape. The outbreak – and MSF’s solo response to it – was all over the media, and a potential entry point for advertising the campaign. In the end, we purposely didn’t incorporate it into design. We wanted a scalable campaign not based on a single, and hopefully singular, crisis.

How’d we do?

wwbmontrealOver 500 participated (our goal was 200), helping raise nearly $280,000 (the goal was $200,000) from 4,000 supporters, more than 80% of whom were new to MSF. The two most successful fundraisers, notably, were two of our doctors: association members Raghu Venugopal and Sarah Giles, accounting for more than 10% of the total raised. And more good news: of the participants who responded to our post-campaign survey, more than 90% said they’d do it again.

The digital advertising side saw almost 2,000 clicks on over one million impressions with a modest $2,953 spend. Since this was MSF Canada’s inaugural walk event, the remarketing portion of the campaign was important. There, we got 400 one-time donations, 12 monthly donations and 6 event registrations.

Now what?

Ultimately, focussing on an internal audience was key to this campaign’s success. What should be the strategy to sustain and build on it for next year? For the answer, I asked colleague Justin Webb. Justin’s been working in the data and fundraising industry for over twenty years. He’s a long-time supporter and passionate participant in all sorts of fundraising activities, particularly events that challenge the body and soul. His advice and experience:

It would be wrong to suggest that all events, participants and donors are created equal but historical event trends tend to tell a similar story when we want to identify where to focus next on our event journey.

There’s no doubt Walk Without Borders was a successful introduction in its first year, but what happens now that the first year’s event is in the books? Where should our focus be now to make sure that our event grows and continues to prosper? There are literally thousands of variables that can impact the success of an event many beyond our control e.g. fewer people want to run on a rainy day! But there are many that you can influence. Three are key to an event’s success and should be top of the event organizers’ list: data analysis, retention, and participant segmentation.

Data AnalysisThe details are in the data. Understanding the trends in donor data has long been the domain of successful fundraisers. A consistent analysis of data pre-, during, and post-event should become the domain of your event organizer and will provide decision-making tools that will influence many aspects of your planning and will definitely impact your ability to manage retention and understand your participant segments.

RetentionIt’s not unusual to experience up to or more than fifty percent attrition year over year amongst event participants. This level of attrition has a devastating impact on key factors of event success, revenue and expense in particular. High attrition means lower levels of dollars raised and greater expense incurred to fill up your event with new participants.

What to do? It’s a competitive world:participants and the donors that support them have more event and fundraising choices now than they’ve ever had. A critical part of your event plan should be a participant retention and stewardship program. Your program should be designed to begin before, during your event and in the typical one-year lead up to next year’s event.

The specifics obviously will vary by organization and event but the system is likely similar regardless of the event.Most events have migrated online so the default communications mechanism typically is a thank-you email and this is fine, but, in isolation, likely won’t have the lasting impact you hope for.

Participant stewardship should be a carefully scheduled series of messages using email, social media, and direct communications designed to occur twelve months of the year. An equal amount of effort should be expended on supporting the relationship that exists between your participants and their network of donors. In each case the message should be defined and carried out based on participant and donor segmentation.wwbubc2

Participant Segmentation and participant retention/loyalty are closely linked. A long-term participant raises more money than a new participant. How much more they raise varies, but it is not unusual for a two-year participant to raise more than twice a new participant’s contribution and a loyal (2+ years) participant to raise more than four times the new participant total.

The math makes sense and it’s obvious that you want to keep your loyal participants, so why the emphasis on segmentation? Understanding who these groups of people are and segmenting by funds raised and loyalty will help you to design and implement an efficient stewardship and loyalty program. That messaging we talked about earlier should be driven by these segments and sometimes these segments are defined by no more than a handful of participants and the magnitude of their participation can be staggering. I recently participated in an event and one participant alone was responsible for in excess of $500,000 in funds raised. Clearly this level of support from a participant should drive how we message and manage that relationship, and likewise each of our other defined segments.

Have a great event!

Justin Webb,Partner,Cornerstone Group of Companies Donation Processing & Fundraising Services Business


Bonus: Dr. Sarah GilesWalk Without Borders Fundraising Tips ($9,562 raised)

1. Personalize your WalkWithoutBorders.ca personal fundraising page!Make sure to add your name and your personal story.

2. If you can, link your fundraising to an upcoming event. I’m leaving for Pakistan next week to work for MSF and have asked people to donate as a good luck token.

3. Post to social media often as not everyone sees every post. Post a link of a beautiful scene from your walk and a link to your personal fundraising page.

4. Email your friends who aren’t on social media.

5. Email your close friends and explain why MSF is an important cause to you.

6. Mention MSF’s Ebola response. Ebola is in the media and people are concerned. And if they know that MSF is working hard to respond they’re more likely to want to help your walk.

7. Post personalized thank-you messages on your friends’ social media. People like a little recognition and it reminds others to donate. Thank people no matter the size of their gift.

8. You can’t guess who’ll donate. I’ve been shocked to receive donations from people I haven’t spoken to in 10 years, but am friends with on Facebook.

9. If someone mentions that they are going to donate, follow-up with a friendly email about something else that usually jogs their memory.

10. I write a blog and have posted a link to WalkWithoutBorders.ca. Encourage other people to raise money through whatever means you have at your disposal!

Rebecca Davies

Rebecca Davies

Rebecca Davies is incoming Chief Development Officer of Save the Children Canada. As past director of fundraising for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Canada, from 2007-2014 she lead a team that in seven years increased private revenue from $19 million to over $50 million. Prior to joining MSF, she held senior fundraising positions in some of Canada’s top hospitals and the University of Toronto. Her current volunteer passion is the Ripple Refugee Project, where she and a group of concerned Torontonians are sponsoring and settling five Syrian families over the new few years. Rebecca’s an active musician (French horn), plays hockey and golf, and very proudly is on the executive for and was the inaugural blog post contributor to 101fundraising.org.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *