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6 ways to help your supporters raise money from their friends

There's an old adage in the development world: people give to people, not to institutions. But many board members and loyal supporters are reluctant to ask their friends -- the people they know best -- for money. Here are 6 great tips from the Chronicle of Philanthropy's Eden Stiffman on ways to help your institution's supporters become more successful fundraisers.

by Eden Stiffman

Asking supporters to reach out to their friends, family, and networks for donations can energize loyal supporters by offering a deeper level of involvement in your cause. Some of the biggest of these campaigns involve charity walks and runs, but do-it-yourself campaigns, like Movember and the St. Baldrick’s head-shaving campaign, in which volunteers choose their own fundraising activity, are growing.

When done right, these campaigns can help a nonprofit multiply the power of the relationships it has with its supporters, says David Hessekiel, president of the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum, which offers an online resource guide.

Below is some advice from Mr. Hessekiel and other experts.

1. Give fundraisers there tools they need to succeed.

Make it easy for supporters to help you. "We’re trying to make it really simple and easy for people because this is something they’re doing in addition to everything else they have in their lives," says Kate Nare, digital marketing program manager with World Vision USA. For example, when people sign up to raise money for a cause, the system suggests three actions they can take immediately: customize their personal fundraising web page on the charity’s site, make a donation, and share it with 10 to 20 contacts. "We want them to feel like a rock star," she adds, so the group makes sure to acknowledge fundraisers when they are halfway to their goal and congratulate them when they reach it. Much of this is automated, so it’s easy for the nonprofit.

The American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life program, the largest such campaign, according to an annual survey by the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum, provides participants with a guidebook containing sample email appeals, event web pages, videos, and social-media posts.

Nichole Pfeiffer Hicks, who oversees millennial participation in the program nationwide, works with a team to bolster students’ fundraising skills. Through webinars and monthly calls, volunteers learn how to ask for donations and explain where the money goes.

Share Our Strength’s Chefs Cycle program, in which chefs raise money before a three-day, 300-mile cycling event, also supplies volunteers with a fundraising tool kit that makes it easy for chefs to create a campaign quickly. Adele Nelson, who directs the nearly three-year-old event supporting the charity’s No Kid Hungry campaign, finds that new fundraisers can be an asset.

"If people haven’t done fundraising before, they probably have a lot of favors out there that they haven’t cashed in on," she says.

2. Support creativity, but set some guidelines, too.

In addition to providing basic tools and sample appeals, many leaders of these campaigns suggest sharing creative examples from volunteer fundraisers that others can emulate.

At Relay for Life, for example, volunteers at campuses across the country maintain a blog and share examples of smart fundraising tactics on social media.

"Don’t create a structure that’s too rigid," says Ms. Pfeiffer Hicks. "It will not be as easily adapted if we tell people exactly what to do." Still, the organization does have some safeguards to control its brand. If fundraisers want to use the charity’s logo on their materials or at events, they must click a box on the website agreeing to use it in the appropriate manner.

3. Help set fundraising goals and deadlines.

Many campaigns set a minimum dollar amount that volunteers must raise. Fundraisers participating in the AIDS/LifeCycle ride, which supports the Los Angeles LGBT Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, are required to raise a minimum of $3,000. Many end up raising much more; the average is around $6,000. Another group of volunteers, referred to as "roadies," help with tasks like setting up campsites, fixing bicycles, and pouring water during the ride, which runs from San Francisco to Los Angeles over a week. Those volunteers are not required to raise money, but they often do.

Other campaigns, like Relay, suggest that each participant raise $100, though not everyone does, says Ms. Pfeiffer Hicks. "We know that most of our fundraising comes from a small percentage of people who are super committed," she says.

While campaigns tied to a specific event have a natural deadline for fundraisers to meet their goals, online DIY campaigns often are generally ongoing. Ms. Nare, who manages World Vision’s DIY campaigns, through which supporters raise money to give farm animals to families in need or to protect vulnerable children, suggests creating flexible "deadlines" around holidays or other dates to motivate fundraisers through a sense of urgency.

4. Encourage fundraisers to give, too.

Volunteer fundraisers are already giving their time, but many charities encourage them to donate as well. "It kicks off your fundraising, and it makes you accountable if you’re financially invested, too," says Ms. Nelson, with Share Our Strength.

When supporters create their fundraising page on World Vision’s website, they’re encouraged to donate right off the bat.

"Getting rid of the $0 really gets the ball rolling," Ms. Nare says.

5. Treat your top fundraisers like major-gift donors.

Staff members should take cues from traditional development work, says Kristin Flickinger, director of programs at the Los Angeles LGBT Center and a previous director of the AIDS/LifeCycle ride. Her organization has used a standard major-gifts strategy to move fundraisers to higher levels of participation.

"Make sure everyone has a phenomenal experience, but really steward your high-potential participants in a special way," she says.

At the LGBT Center, special recognition groups are formed for those who raise more than $10,000 and more than $20,000. Staff members make personal calls to these riders and sometimes take them out to lunch to show appreciation and get to know them better.

"If you invest in your high-level donors, you’re going to get a lot," she says. Staff members at the center build deep relationships, "We know the names of their dogs."

6. Realize that people are giving because they know the fundraiser, not necessarily to further the cause.

It’s a myth that these types of campaigns will tremendously boost the number of donors in your database, Mr. Hessekiel says.

While some people who give through these campaigns contribute second gifts, they tend to give because they want to support the person who’s asking them, not because they have a relationship with the cause.

"Communicating with them gets complicated," says Ms. Flickinger. "We don’t want to alienate them from the cause or circumvent the relationship between them and the fundraiser."

If charities want to go back to the donors who give through these campaigns, they should thank them and provide information about the impact of their gift. "Give them the opportunity to sign up if they want more information," he says. "Then that becomes a group that is worth reaching out to directly."

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