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A Few Good Tools for Friend-to-Friend Fundraising

Help your supporters raise funds for you with these online tools and best practices

 
Andrea Berry and Stella Hernandez - July 27, 2011
Enlist your supporters to fundraise for you with friend-to-friend fundraising tools.

This article is courtesy of Idealware, which provides candid information to help nonprofits choose effective software. For more articles and reviews, go to www.idealware.org.

Enlist your supporters to fundraise for you! A number of online tools make it easy for staff, or anyone eager to help your organization, to set up individual donation pages to engage friends and family in a fundraiser. In this update of the 2009 article A Few Good Tools for Online Distributed Fundraising, we asked six nonprofit technology experts for advice on the tools and best practices that make this fundraising technique work.

Friend-to-friend fundraising isn't new. For years, many organizations have engaged supporters to raise funds on their behalf, including everyone from staff and volunteers to program participants and current donors. Traditionally these individual campaigns took the form of walk-a-thons and similar events where supporters enlist sponsors from their own networks of colleagues, friends, and family. Informally, this kind of distributed fundraising is sometimes called "team," "a-thon," or "peer-to-peer" fundraising.

But the types of events used for friend-to-friend fundraising now include online tools that let supporters participate in broader campaigns. Some facilitate the creation of individual online donation pages, while others provide "widgets" that can be placed on personal web pages and allow supporters to communicate about the cause directly to their friends and family.

Is this kind of fundraising right for your organization? We asked six nonprofit technology experts for advice on how to decide and for recommendations about tools that have worked well for their nonprofit colleagues. We combined their advice below.

How Does It Work?

Most basic tools in this area let people create their own personalized fundraising pages related to your campaign. These individual pages let supporters use pictures and text to talk about their involvement in the cause — they contact people in their network, direct them to the page, and ask them to donate.

Many tools also offer fundraising "widgets" or "badges," which usually take the form of a small box — often with a logo, text, and donate button — that can be added to existing websites, blogs, or social network profiles. While supporters may need to know a little HTML (the language of websites) to add a widget to a page, these widgets can be useful to reach out to entire communities, like the readers of a blog or Facebook friends.

Some of the more sophisticated tools also let organizational staff members oversee a campaign's progress. A centralized web page may show the overall status of the campaign with tools to compare individual fundraisers' results or easily download information about donors. Some even allow fundraisers to organize themselves into teams and let you track their progress.

Tools You Already Have

When thinking about tools to implement a friend-to-friend fundraising campaign at your organization, the best place to start looking for them is in-house. Your own constituent management or donor management system may work just fine. Many systems, including Convio, Donor Perfect Online, DonorPro, Artez Interactive, and Blackbaud's suite of tools, offer suitable functionality, though sometimes you may need to pay an additional fee.

Using a system you already have offers the benefit of direct integration with your existing database, which can provide insight into your success and save you considerable time once the campaign is complete. These integrated options offer varying levels of functionality and features. Since not every system will offer exactly what you need to support your program, it is worth a little investigation to find the right one.

Tools to Get Started Quickly

If your current system doesn't offer the friend-to-friend functionality you want, there's a bunch of tools available in stand-alone format. Many let you experiment with distributed fundraising without making a significant investment. They are relatively easy to set up, with no big up-front costs, and are better for smaller campaigns or to get your toes wet if you are new to distributed fundraising.

Many are free, except for a percentage fee for each donation. Some offer upgrades to a more sophisticated set of features for a small cost, such as the ability to create campaign blogs and connections to social networking sites. This type of service generally hosts your campaign on the vendor's website. It's clear to donors that they're donating on a site other than your own, but some tools offer the opportunity for customization.

Some also offer helpful features like "thermometers" to visually display the campaign progress, lists showing the people who have already donated and their comments, and the ability to upload contacts from other sources.

When evaluating these systems, make sure to look into how easy it will be to get your data into your current donor or constituent management system after your campaign is over.

ChipIn

ChipIn is a widget with a donate button and a thermometer showing overall campaign progress. Supporters place it on their own websites or Facebook profiles. It also lets users without websites create pages for free on ChipIn.com. There's no cost for ChipIn itself, but organizations must set up a PayPal account to process donations and pay the associated PayPal transaction fees (less than 2.5 percent for nonprofit organizations).

WhatGives!?

WhatGives!? is also predominantly a widget-based tool that specializes in integration with Facebook, although it can be installed on your blog or website. It provides some level of customization of look and feel and installs as a tab on your organization's Facebook page. Supporters can donate via the tab and install the widget on their own blogs and websites. WhatGives!? is free to set up, and integrates with PayPal to accept donations at a less-than 2.5 percent transaction fee for nonprofits.

Changing The Present

This site encourages donors to replace traditional gifts with donations to a cause. The free package gives organizations a very basic home page where donors can make simple donations of any amount, and supporters can create fundraising pages to raise money for the organization. Changing The Present also offers a premium package for $100 per year. With the premium package, organizations can create pre-packaged gifts that show supporters what they can provide for a given price — for example, a $100 donation feeds a child in Somalia for one month — and lets them purchase those donations as gifts. The premium package also allows for more customization of the organization's profile. Fees are 3 percent, plus $.30 per donation.

Causes

While the other tools listed here support a more general audience, Causes is specifically geared towards Facebook users who can use that social networking platform to raise funds from their list of friends. Facebook members establish a cause, select a beneficiary organization, and solicit donations through their friends' networks. They can also post Causes profiles on their Facebook page, including a new tab functionality that creates a more seamless integration. In addition to general nonprofit pages, fundraisers can use the popular Birthday Wish feature to raise money in lieu of birthday gifts. Costs are 4.75 percent per donation, processed through Network for Good. Donors must be registered on Facebook in order to donate.

Razoo

Razoo's low costs and substantial functionality makes it a compelling option. It offers a friendly format that allows organizations to create a homepage and then develop multiple, separate fundraising projects that all link back to the central page. Supporters can fundraise on behalf of one of the pages created by the organization or create their own personal project pages. Razoo profiles and fundraising projects are not highly customizable, but do allow both the organization and fundraisers to add images, videos and text. Interesting features include the ability to present an annotated donation amount menu and for the system to support recurring gifts. Costs are 2.9 percent of each donation, processed in partnership with U.S. Bank. Razoo facilitates team fundraising projects for an increased per-transaction fee. It charges an additional 2 percent fee for donations that come through the advanced team fundraising functionality. There's a minimum donation amount of $10.

FirstGiving

FirstGiving provides easy-to-use tools that let supporters set up their own fundraising pages and allows campaign administrators to track campaign progress across individual fundraisers. With the basic program (which is free except for transaction fees), the organizational and individual pages are not very customizable and won't necessarily mesh with your organization's graphic style. The premium package is $300 per year (with the same transaction fees) and offers more customization, the ability to link back to your organization's homepage, and support for teams of fundraisers. FirstGiving also has some Facebook integration options. However, unlike some of the other tools, it does not have a "built-in" audience, so you'll need to rely solely on your own supporters to spread the word. Transactions cost 7.5 percent (5 percent for the FirstGiving service fee and 2.5 percent for credit card processing.)

Six Degrees and the brand new CauseVox are other interesting options, which both provide friend-based fundraising functionality with unique methods and pricing.

Tools for a More Robust and Integrated Strategy

Organizations that plan to run many campaigns may find the above tools lacking. In particular, they don't provide much centralized control, and it can be difficult to integrate data — for instance, records of your donors and gifts — with other systems. For nonprofits ready to invest a little more, there is another class of systems that offers more features — and considerably more central control and reporting.

Blackbaud Friends Asking Friends, part of Blackbaud Sphere Events

This hosted solution allows organizations to create sophisticated, customized, distributed fundraising campaigns centered around individual fundraising pages. This application is particularly widely used to support online fundraising for "a-thon" events. Administration is centralized and provides several easy-to-use templates for creating fundraising pages, but customizing pages can require substantial technical know-how. Blackbaud charges a setup fee of $1,400 plus a percentage of each donation.

This tool is also available as modules for a much larger suite of online communication and constituent management tools and can be fully integrated with other fundraising strategies — in fact, this is true of most of the up-market tools in this area. Over time, they'll better support sophisticated long-term campaigns, but they'll take considerably more time to get up and running.

Remember, the donor management tool or integrated package you are already using may have a sophisticated option like the one offered by Blackbaud. Convio and Artez Interactive are also particularly well known in this area.

Crowdsourced Fundraising Options

Crowdsourcing fundraising tools often contain many of the same features as standard friend-to-friend tools, with one important difference — in addition to allowing nonprofits to reach out to current supporters and invite them to fundraise on the organization's behalf, crowdsourcing tools offer access to a home-grown network of people interested in supporting compelling projects.

Individuals join the "crowd" using a specific tool, search the charities and other projects posted there, and make donations — frequently to organizations with which they have no established relationship. Often these tools cater to a specific mission area, like arts, education, or progressive causes. Most rely on innovative funding models to encourage their community of donors to participate and rally around a cause.

Crowdrise

Of the tools we cover here, Crowdrise supports the most general audience. It allows nonprofits to set up fundraising pages and invite their supporters to create personal pages and collect donations on their behalf. And it also offers the organization access to the large community of donors using the site. Nonprofits have the option of signing up for a free basic profile or a $299 per year featured profile. Featured profiles are promoted to the Crowdrise community and offer such additional benefits as an increased number of Crowdrise points to entice community members to donate. Donations are managed through Network for Good and include fees of 5 percent per donation plus a per-transaction fee of $1 for donations under $25, and $2.50 for donations over $25.

Kickstarter

Kickstarter is a crowdsourcing tool used to find funding for arts, music, films, and other creative projects. Users post projects along with their goals and a timeframe, and the community pledges money. Typically the projects will offer little in the way of rewards or thank you gifts to donors. But they link to Facebook and Twitter, making it easy to bring networks of friends and supporters to the very active Kickstarter community. It's important to note that Kickstarter works on an all-or-nothing basis. If your project doesn't meet its goal by the deadline, you don't get any money, and all of your donors are refunded in full — a policy designed to motivate nonprofits to fundraise and supporters to donate. While free to use, Kickstarter takes a 5 percent fee of what you raise if your project is successful.

IndieGoGo

Similar to Kickstarter, IndieGoGo focuses on creative projects but doesn't follow the all-or-nothing model — nonprofits and other project owners keep money pledged even if the project fails to meet its goal. IndieGoGo charges a 4 percent fee if the project succeeds, which rises to 9 percent if it does not.

Which Is Right For You?

Determining which tool is the right one for your organization requires a little planning and self-assessment. Ask yourself the following questions:

Have we done this before?

Past experience with distributed fundraising is more important than the size of your organization or the resources (constituents and dollars) you can bring to the project. If you're just starting out, choose a straightforward, easy-to-use tool — for example, fundraising pages and widgets. Distributed fundraising is an iterative process, and every attempt yields new knowledge and skills and builds your network for the next round.

What are our fundraising goals?

How many fundraisers and donors do you expect? How much money do you hope to raise? This information will help decide how much you're willing to spend on a tool. Fees differ in structure. If you want to raise a lot of money through many small donations, you might choose a different pricing structure (higher base fee, lower transaction costs) than if you wanted to raise a smaller amount through a small group of donors (higher transaction cost, lower base fee). Make sure your solution is scaled to the campaign so you don't pay a lot if you don't get a lot.

Do we have the network?

How many fundraisers do you need to make the campaign work, and how big are their networks? Effective and connected fundraisers, as messengers for your cause, are the most important component to distributed campaigns. You'll need to rely on their efforts and personal networks in order to succeed. You should have a number of "seed" fundraisers committed before launching the online campaign.

Are we reaching the people in our network where they already are?

Make sure you'fve correctly identified the tools your network is likely to use. If you're using a tool that only works for registered Facebook users, ensure that your supporters are using it. On the other hand, if your supporters use Facebook much more than email, you could be missing a whole group of potential donors by not including it in your strategy.

Do we have the time?

Successful campaigns integrate basic tools with social networking and conventional communications, making them complex things to manage. If you cannot commit the necessary time to a campaign, it will be uphill the entire way. It is essential to make campaigns fun and easy to participate in. Create incentives, and provide technical support and written templates to help your fundraisers gain traction and feel supported at all points in the process. Blog posts, progress updates, and incentives all can help keep energy up. If you ask staff to fundraise, make sure you give them time to set up individual pages and get involved.

Do we have the technology know-how?

Different tools mean different levels of complexity, customization, and involvement. If you're just starting out, choose a solution that's easy for participants and administrators to manage. If you expect a lot of participants, choose one that can integrate campaign data into your existing systems, but remember, more features often mean more complexity.

Does the application have "critical mass" and a good reputation?

Since you're often essentially co-branding with the tool's provider, the reputation and professionalism of your chosen tool are important. In addition, better-established vendors can typically provide better technical support to keep a campaign running smoothly.

Wrapping Up

Whatever your budget, you can likely find a tool that will allow you to try out an online distributed campaign. Advanced features and customization can be helpful, but inexpensive tools can be used creatively to good effect. Customization and the ability to manage the overall campaign may be more of an issue for larger campaigns where it's important for your staff to see the progress of the entire campaign.

Whatever tools you use, your strategy is critical. Identify who you're going to ask to participate, and how you're going to ask them, and then help them keep their momentum. Distributed fundraising can be a useful technique for many different kinds of organizations, as long as you have a core of devoted followers who can help you spread the word about your organization — and you're willing and able to invest the time to manage and support their fundraising efforts.

For More Information

24 Tools for Fundraising with Social Media
Socialbrite's Vivian Ramirez looks at ways to raise money for your favorite cause.

44 Ways to Turn Your Supporters into Fundraising Superstars
At netwitsthinktank.com, Mike Snusz considers the combination of fundraising expertise, engaged staff members, and savvy technology necessary to convert supporters into fundraisers.

Enlisting Your Fundraisers to Fundraise for You: A Case Study
The article's co-author, Andrea Berry, relates a case study of the REACH School and its first attempt at a friend-to-friend fundraising campaign.

Thanks to the following nonprofit technology professionals who provided recommendations, advice, and other help:

Image: Women texting, Shutterstock