Elizabeth Chung

What Girl Scout Cookies Can Teach Us About Peer-to-Peer Fundraising

Did the Girl Scouts Invent Peer-to-Peer Fundraising?

Nonprofit fundraising has been in a state of rapid transition over the last decade. E-mail marketing and online donations have become the norm and more and more organizations are using peer-to-peer fundraising to expand their pool of donors. Is peer-to-peer fundraising just a fad or is it a proven effective fundraising tactic? There have been some objections to the peer-to-peer model…

…But what if I told you your grandmother used peer-to-peer fundraising before you were even born? And it all started with a simple cookie recipe.

A Delicious Tradition

Have you recently been approached by a pint-sized cookie mogul? If not, it’s only a matter of time.

Every year, Girl Scout troops hold their annual cookie fundraiser, generating $700 million dollars of revenue for their programs. And one of the reasons this fundraiser is so successful is that it reaches far beyond the organization’s own membership.

If each troop asked solely for donations or membership fees, the Girl Scouts’ fundraising potential would be very limited. Instead, each year, every scout becomes a fundraiser and reaches out to her family, friends, and community to sell cookies. The Girl Scouts base much of their cookie-selling success off of reaching out to their personal networks, and so should your organization. When launching your own peer-to-peer campaign, remind fundraisers to tap into their personal networks of friends and family and leverage their visibility on social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

One of the reasons peer-to-peer fundraising is so effective is that new donors are not being approached by complete strangers; they are being asked by a friend or relative (or at least someone with one degree of separation). A recent survey by Nielson, a leading market research company, found word of mouth is still the most trusted form of advertising. 92% of respondents said they trusted the recommendations of people they know, while less than half trusted ads.

The Girl Scouts also benefit from running their cookie sales as a time-based campaign. Because cookie season comes but once a year, people are especially motivated to get those Thin Mints while they can. This urgency can be recreated by your fundraisers when they link their fundraising to a particular event, like a birthday or a 5K they’re participating in. Setting a deadline for reaching a fundraising goal increases urgency and posting progress updates can help motivate people to help a fundraiser cross the finish line. With a wide audience and limited selling time, the Girl Scouts have gone beyond simply fundraising for their organization – they have created a cultural institution.

There’s a Badge for That

Another peer-to-peer principle at play in the success of Girl Scout cookies is that each troop can personalize their campaign. Like an online peer-to-peer fundraiser, individual scouts set their own sales goals, operation methods, and track their results.

In the past, we have discussed how to use prizes and rewards to keep your campaign going, and the Girl Scouts do this by incorporating achievement badges into the cookie fundraiser. Scouts can earn badges for creating a business plan, marketing, budgeting, and philanthropy. And it isn’t just Girl Scouts who should be recognized for their efforts. You can feature your own stellar fundraisers in your newsletter or honor them at one of your events.

Fundraise Like a Girl Scout!

The Girl Scouts’ Cookie Sale is just one example of the power of peer-to-peer fundraising. This model of fundraising exponentially increases the number of potential donors and encourages your supporters to go beyond making a donation and become active advocates for your organization. The average active fundraiser raises $568 for an organization. Not only do they amplify the revenue they could have brought in individually, but an average fundraiser also introduces 4 new donors to your organization. If you have ever sold Girl Scout cookies or candy bars for your soccer team, you already have experience in peer-to-peer fundraising! Utilize the knowledge you have of reaching out to your personal networks, setting goals and incorporating personalized messaging into your sales pitch to leverage the power of peer-to-peer fundraising for your organization.

Success by Example: 10 Digestible Case Studies

examples of successful nonprofit fundraising campaigns

Image Credit(s): MissMessie, VCU Libraries, Timothy Valentine

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