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Canada Is On The Rebound: Strategies to Grow Your Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Program

by sue dalos

Without a doubt, nonprofit organizations in Canada faced their share of challenges during the rollercoaster year that was 2020. At the height of the pandemic, it was difficult to predict whether an event could be held and if so, what form that would take.

Not surprisingly, overall event participation declined in 2020, but the Canadian peer-to-peer fundraising space did see some bright spots. According to the Charity Dynamics 2020 Canadian Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Top 30 Guide, a total of $133 million was raised last year by the top 30 organizations — a not-insignificant amount given the circumstances. And the average revenue per participant was even more amazing: It increased by 29% over the previous year.

What that tells us is that loyal and passionate supporters stuck with their organizations and even upped their efforts. It also tells us that there’s plenty of room for growth in the Canadian peer-to-peer community — room for new ideas, new opportunities and new event experiences.

While it would be easier to revert back to pre-pandemic strategies, the reality is there is no going backwards. Too much has changed — in our organizations, in our communities, in our environments. We can only go forward from here.

Taking a Proactive Stance

Canada proactive
The good news is we are moving out of a “re-active” stance. Now is the time to be purposeful and pro-active in your event planning to take advantage of all of the opportunities ahead of us. Here are four factors that you should consider before getting started:

Is your organization clear about your what the event experience is, and what impact fundraising for the event will have? Create strong and clear messaging that is both informative and inspirational for your participants, prospects and volunteers?


Organizations need to build flexibility into their planning and consider the possibilities:

  • Are you creating an event experience that will resonate with participant expectations for their event experience in today’s environment?
  • We don’t know what we don’t know. Do you have a Plan B and Plan C in case things change mid-campaign?
  • How do you build in additional flexibility for local chapters so they can adapt to circumstances that may only affect their area?
  • What tools or support would you need to remain nimble?

The rate at which Canadians are adopting mobile technology, and apps in particular, has more than quadrupled year over year. And the greatest app adoption growth has come from older users (Gen X, Baby Boomers). So how are you capitalizing on that shift to the greatest benefit of your constituents?


“Phygital” world
This term describes how technology is bridging the physical and digital worlds to provide unique interactive consumer experiences. This connection became necessary last year but remains an important one, even as our society is starting to open back up. How is your organization connecting the virtual and real worlds to create and support a fully 360-degree experience for your event?

Tips for Where to “Grow” From Here

Canada money

On top of those four factors, here are several strategies to consider as you approach planning future peer-to-peer programs:

Slow down and then plan with purpose. It may sound contradictory to suggest pausing to take a breath at this point. But it’s next to impossible to think about new opportunities and a new direction when you’re still carrying the weight of 2020 on your shoulders. So before doing anything else, take these two steps:
  •  Take a deep breath (or several) and clear your mind.
  • Create a safe space in your day-to-day work so you can stop reacting to every situation as an emergency and instead plan with purpose.
Now, you’ll be ready to take back some of the control needed to move forward.
Provide an emotional event promise. Each event you hold — whether in person, virtual or a hybrid — makes a promise to your participants. By asking them to participate or contribute, you’re promising them they will have an impact and, in return, will have an experience, create a memory that they can cherish for years to come. For loyal supporters, that promise keeps them coming back year after year. For prospects, it’s a deciding factor for choosing your organization and event over another. What is it about your organization and your mission that makes people choose your event — in other words, how are you relevant to them? It’s not necessarily about what makes your organization different from others, though. It’s how you make them feel. Because the people you are looking to engage with will have that connection or emotional resonance with your mission. And as a result of their participation in your event, with your organization. You want them to ask “How will they connect to this story they are reading?” or “How am I connecting them to this experience?” As you plan and then move forward, go back to step #1 often. Then for each strategy, each decision, ask “How is this relevant?” and “How does this resonate?” Because if you can answer both of those questions, you’re going to see your participation rate skyrocket.

Innovate and evolve your events. Regardless of how back to “normal” we get, the pandemic has irrevocably changed how the public interacts with each other and with technology. We are social beings though and still crave personal connections — thus the aforementioned phygital world combining virtual and real-world experiences.

Technology, especially mobile technology, gives you the ability to provide your constituents with more options than ever before, ensuring they can fundraise and participate on their terms, in the way that makes them the most comfortable. Here are several ways the phygital world translates to your peer-to-peer events:

  • Introduce contactless options such as scanning QR codes to manage day-of-event check-in, curbside incentive pickups, and on-site traffic management.
  • Use a one-stop shop mobile app for event information, community connections, activity tracking, and more. With enough run-way in your planning process, there are no limits to how you can incorporate mobile technologies.
  • Offer personalized, dynamic event experiences with avatars and achievement badges to recognize and reinforce the positive behaviours you want your participants to engage in, customizable videos and social sharing tools and as well as on-demand tech support and coaching.

Remember: We Are Their Charity

Your participants — donors and supporters — are not “yours.” Instead, you are “their” organization. It used to be that nonprofits could count on newly acquired donors continuing their support for an average of 25 years, but the nonprofit landscape is vastly different today with hundreds if not thousands of options for people who are interested in a particular cause. If an organization has a brick-and-mortar location, such as a hospital, community center or food bank, then people can experience that mission firsthand, which can go a long way in retaining those supporters.

Many organizations today, though, may not have that physical presence or have plenty of similarities in mission to others, at least from the public’s perspective. So that brings us back to relevance and resonance:

  1. Be clear about what you stand for and the impact you have in the community.
  2. Give the public a reason to choose you.

But don’t forget, you need to live up to that promise, to keep them as supporters — to continue to be their charity. So as you move forward with your peer-to-peer event planning, remember to constantly look at your supporters through that lens and focus on what you can do to help them make the world a better place.

One final note: In working with peer-to-peer event participants, you continually encourage them to thank their donors and other supporters. And you automatically send those donor thank-yous out too. But what other moments could you be celebrating with your supporters or thanking them for? It can be hard to take time (remember: slow down!) for those little wins, but it’s so important to acknowledge and celebrate those moments — with your colleagues, with your volunteers and with your participants.

About the Author

Sue Dalos
Principal Consultant