Plenty Discusses the Peer-to-Peer Paradigm for Executives

By Will Schmidt
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Because humans are creatures of habit, it’s often difficult for executive leaders at large organizations to embrace new ways of thinking and operating—especially when it affects the way they view and manage communities of people. The rise of peer-to-peer, however, makes it more important than ever for leaders to adapt.

Recently, we spoke with Jennifer Mulholland and Jeff Shuck, Co-Leaders of Plenty to discuss the need to cultivate peer-to-peer environments. To be clear, the duo isn’t referring only to peer-to-peer fundraising. Rather, they’re saying that peer-to-peer should inform your entire paradigm, including the way you lead and engage.

“We often get asked why anyone should be in peer-to-peer. Our answer is that you already are whether you want to or not. The world we live in is now based on peer-to-peer.”

Jeff Shuck

Below, we discuss what this peer-to-peer world looks like with Jennifer and Jeff. They give their expert analysis of how it applies to our daily lives, and why executive leadership needs to adopt this mindset if they haven’t already.

Defining the New Paradigm

According to Jeff and Jennifer, the peer-to-peer mindset is something we experience all the time.

We live in a networked environment. You mobilize your biggest supporters and constituents through peer-to-peer every day.”

Jeff Shuck

Not only does it relate to your fundraising efforts, it also goes well beyond that.

For example, look at a platform like Facebook, which has 2 billion monthly active users. This is a system that thrives on a peer-to-peer mentality to provide restaurant recommendations, political opinions, and content suggestions, to name a few.

“With senior executives, you don’t talk about peer-to-peer as [a different way of operating]. You talk about everything as being peer-to-peer in this new paradigm.”

Jeff Shuck

This concept demands we think more broadly about our approach to different topics, campaigns, and initiatives. For example, if growing a donor pool is your organization’s main goal, focusing on one channel or tactic isn’t enough anymore.

Instead, you need to take a holistic approach that rallies entire groups of people around a common passion that leads to you acquiring new donors.

Let’s say your mission is to end world hunger. You can send an email to your current supporters asking them to engage with their family and friends.

However, that can’t be the only thing you do if you want to net new donors. Identify and engage with social media groups that actively discuss world hunger solutions. Sponsor events that can tie into your mission. Write content for local and national publications about why your work is important.

Leverage the peer-to-peer world we’re living in to get your message in front of people who will then organically pass it along because it aligns with their passion. They’ll spread it to their networks, and eventually you’ll have a community that rallies around your work and moves together.

Shifting the Leadership Mindset

The industry needs to co-create and work together to best serve their constituents, from top to bottom. That shift in mindset affects everyone at an organization, but the biggest change starts with executive leadership specifically.

C-level executives have been taught that they’re the magic answer machine and need to have a solution for everything. The new peer-to-peer paradigm strays from this towards a model of community.”

Jennifer Mulholland

According to the duo, leaders that want to succeed can’t just rely on their individual opinions. Instead, they need to extract wisdom, knowledge, and insight from their constituents, including donors, fundraisers, followers, or board members. This way, you can better identify common passions and create the framework that unites people.

“This is simultaneously the great challenge, and opportunity, for how leaders can harness the new paradigm of peer-to-peer.”

Jennifer Mulholland

To accomplish this, you need to adapt a peer-to-peer mindset.

Adapt a Peer-to-Peer Mindset

If you want to successfully build a community around a common passion, it’s important to understand your constituents and how the peer-to-peer mindset drives them. Jennifer and Jeff routinely ask clients questions to help them understand just who their supporters are, like:

  • How much time do you spend on Facebook?
  • Do you look at your phone when you go to bed or wake up?
  • Do you ever make judgements on an organization based on what you read on the internet?

The point is to show that if you, the nonprofit professional, are doing all of this, your constituents are surely doing the same. They’re sourcing information from their peers across various channels, devices, and platforms that inform their opinions.

But it’s not just platforms like Facebook that foster this behavior. As Jeff says, “peer-to-peer is a human system, not just a software system.”

According to Jennifer, people are starving for connections with their peers. This is where it goes back to understanding people’s goals before engaging groups and communities: know what they care about to build a network and craft appeals that speak to them.

Once you identify what appeals to your constituents, you can make your work more meaningful and efficient through technology, such as social media or fundraising software like Classy.

To tap the earlier example again, if your constituents are deeply passionate about solutions to ending world hunger you can build a Classy donation page that plays to this. Your Impact Blocks can demonstrate how different amounts of money will make a difference, you can offer incentives for people who donate over a certain amount, and people can directly interact with one another on the page’s activity wall.

Further, you could use Classy’s email automation features to send pre-written social media copy to your donors. It could say, “I donated $X to end world hunger. Won’t you help me in this fight?” They can spread the word across their social media pages like wildfire.

In any case, the right technology can bring people together and have the features and functions that allow you to not only create lasting communities, but harness them to fulfill your mission.

Also, as Jeff and Jennifer say, this is your opportunity to “extract wisdom, knowledge, and insight” from your supporters. Pay close attention to what resonates with them and their audiences to adapt future experiments and messages to fit your leadership style and organization.

“This is a new way of thinking—a change in habitual action. That’s not easy. There is no magic pill or one answer that will set you right.”

Jennifer Mulholland

Every environment is different, and large nonprofits specifically are a complicated ecosystem with countless inputs.


At Plenty, Jennifer and Jeff help people become awake, aware and mindful about what’s happening in their organization by deploying what they call theFive Keys Assessment, an inquiry around the five keys of transformational growth. They ask questions in areas of Wellbeing, Leadership, Strategy, Funding and Community that executive leaders aren’t accustomed to hearing for themselves or their staff, like:

  • How often do you express your whole self at work and at home?
  • Do you feel engaged by the values of the organization?
  • How often do you take care of yourself in the presence of pressure and daily demands?
  • How often do you connect to your constituency and are they connected to each other?

This assessment gets them to think about their organization holistically, which is Plenty’s approach. The simple but powerful questions surface cultural and alignment issues, current state reality, and staff’s desires for change that reveal areas for attention, presence and improvement.

For example, if someone complains of too much work being done in silos, they might appear overly critical. However, this indicates that they could simply want more of a collaborative element in their work environment. The peer-to-peer paradigm applies to your own organization and it’s operations just as much as it does your community of supporters

Since organizations are made up of people, it’s the leader’s job to ensure that the human infrastructure doesn’t fall apart. Remember to attend to the wellbeing, fulfillment, skills, and alignment of your teams. This goes double for the peer-to-peer communities you work to build and sustain.

And if the adoption of this new mindset ever feels overwhelming, Jennifer has some parting words to put you at ease:

There’s a simplicity in following a flow. The path of least resistance is often nature’s way. These changes don’t have to be as hard as we make them.”

Jennifer Mulholland

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