what motivates peer donors?

New research aims to find out, so get involved to gain valuable insights for your P2P strategies and maximize event revenue.

At the end of 2015, my fundraising director gave me a very difficult task: to create a campaign to acquire donors who gave to 16 passionate and dedicated peer-to-peer (P2P) fundraisers who had walked the Great Wall of China, raising funds for scholarships. She wanted me to come up with a marketing campaign to inspire those donors, not just to donate again to our charity, but to become repeat donors.

As I sat at my desk trying to strategize, some burning questions came to mind.

“Why did these people decide to donate? Were they giving to us, the charity, or was it the fundraising donation? What prompted these people to give?

I went looking for answers to help guide my campaign, but found very limited research. The only information I could find was anecdotal and largely based on the opinions of consultants or charity fundraisers. Although the experiment could gather important information, very few charities had put their theories to the test, and many had not asked the donors themselves.

Fast forward five years and these questions still lingered in my mind unanswered, coming back to the fore when I considered a research topic for my PhD. So what exactly do we know about the motivations that influence P2P donations?

The concept of “relational altruism” was coined by researchers in economics, Scharf and Smith (2016) in their research examining the online donation webpages of 35,000 P2P fundraisers in the UK. Their research suggested that P2P donors are largely motivated to give because they have been solicited by fundraising.

Australian researchers Chapman, Masser and Louiss (2019) also suggested that P2P donors are more influenced by the fundraiser and their actions than by the charity or the cause, following their examination of survey data from 10,000 P2P fundraisers.

In 2020, a new motivation of ‘being inspired by young people’ or wanting to support a young person’s fundraising efforts was proposed by sports scholars Filo, Fechner and Inoue.

Academic researchers have also highlighted the importance of the challenge in P2P fundraising. A key feature of P2P donations is that the fundraiser agrees to undertake an activity in exchange for the donation to their designated charity. Whether the activity is perceived as demanding or difficult has also been found to play a role in a donor’s decision to donate (Olivola and Shafir, 2018). However, interestingly, this research found no correlation with the amount given and the degree of difficulty of the challenge.

When it comes to P2P fundraising, you can’t discount the work of Martin Paul and Gavin Coopey from More strategic, a Brisbane-based consultancy. They proposed the P2P online triangle, which suggests that not only the relationship between donor and fundraiser plays a role in influencing P2P donations, but also the type of relationship, the level of challenge, as well as the link between the fundraiser and the cause. They based this hypothesis on data collected from fundraisers who participated in the fun City2Surf race.

However, based on the limited review to date, particularly research looking directly at P2P donors, it is unlikely that all of the motivations driving P2P have been uncovered. My research aims to uncover and understand the full range of motivations that influence P2P donations.

Why is this research important?

There is no doubt that economically, P2P fundraising can be a very profitable way for charities to raise funds. In the United States, the Top 30 P2P fundraising initiatives raised nearly $1.37 billion in 2019. Although little is known about the amount raised through P2P fundraising in Australia, it is believed that in 2018 up to 32% of the Australian people donated via P2P fundraising (Charitable Aid Foundation, 2019).

Charities today face increasing levels of competition, with more charities being created every day. In Australia there are over 58,000 registered charities, with this figure increasing by 4% each year. With this increasingly crowded marketplace, charities need to work harder than ever to solicit support.

Understanding the factors that influence someone’s decision to donate to a P2P fundraiser is very valuable. By understanding what these motivations are, charities will have a better chance of maximizing donation revenue by creating more effective P2P fundraisers.

What are the benefits of being involved in this research?

Benefits of participating in this research include access to information that charities could use in developing their P2P strategies and events. This research could also be used by charities to develop more effective tools and guidance to help P2P fundraisers in their fundraising efforts. Charities may also be able to use this information to help inform marketing campaigns to convert P2P donors into long-term supporters, helping to ensure the future sustainability of the charity. Charities participating in the search will be able to access the search results once the search is complete.

What is planned

I’m looking to interview charity representatives to hear your opinions and thoughts on motivations, based on your experience running P2P fundraising programs. The total commitment to participate in this research is a one-hour telephone interview. All information provided by representatives of participating charities will be anonymized and participants will be anonymized. No information will be shared with other charities or third parties.

My research also involves hearing from donors directly through focus groups and also a large-scale survey of donors.

About the researcher: Tanya Carlyle worked in fundraising for 10 years before moving to academia, where she is currently undertaking her PhD on the motivations behind peer fundraising at Newcastle University. She has worked for various charities including the Breast Cancer Trials Group, TROG Cancer Research and the Newcastle University Office of Alumni and Philanthropy.

How to participate in research

If you are interested in participating in this research or have any questions, please contact: Tanya by email at: [email protected] or telephone (m) 0407 276 061.

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