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How Differentiation Drives Peer-to-Peer Giving and Crowdfunding Success

When David Stephenson, Founder/Director of Development at Engineers in Action, (EIA) described EIA’s unique fundraising challenges and successful peer-to-peer (P2P) and project-based fundraising campaign, I knew you’d want to hear more.

Thanks to David and his colleague, Maria Laura Vargas, for sharing what’s working for EIA:


Nancy: Tell me about Engineers in Action (EIA) What’s EIA’s focus, and unique approach and impact?

David: We hire local engineers and other professionals to work with poor, indigenous villages in Bolivia on their self-determined infrastructure needs such as water, irrigation and sanitation. We then build partnerships with other NGOs, foreign government development agencies working in that country, and local government agencies to fund and build solutions for those needs.


Nancy: The “self-determined” aspect is so different than most organizations working in developing regions of the world, especially in the water arena. How else does EIA differ from other water organizations; like charity:water?

David: We’re unique in hiring local engineers who understand the cultural issues within these communities and who are continuously available to the communities; as opposed to U.S. engineers who are there for only two weeks. Consequently, our projects are much more sustainable.

Another unique aspect of our program is the asset-based model we use for project/community selection. Not all local communities are organized and committed enough to maintain, operate and repair a water system. We focus on those who can sustain a system.

Nancy: What’s one of your favorite EIA stories?

David: I visited Suncallo, a community of 2-300 persons high in the Bolivian Andes about six months after the installation of a water system for the community. The system incorporated a four km-long pipeline from a spring.

When I arrived, most of the adults were out in the fields harvesting potatoes. However, school was in session, and I dropped into a class and started talking with the teacher.

When I asked him about the impact the water had on the community, he smiled and spoke of the reduction in infant mortality and in student sick days, and his students’ cleanliness now that they used the solar showers that had been built on a regular basis. He told me it was a dramatic increase in the quality of life for the village.


Nancy: With stories like that, getting people to give must be a breeze.

David: Not at all, we’re so unique in our structure, and it’s complicated for outside folks to understand, much less prospective donors.


Nancy: Is that EIA’s greatest fundraising challenge? Hard to believe, as you have such a unique approach to getting water to people who need it, and so many clear wins to share.

David: We do. But even so, like many organizations our challenge is showing the direct connection between EIA and the work of our engineers. Individuals and foundations resist donating for salaries, and other types of operating support.

So we have to show donors that their gifts are used for the most crucial resource of all—EIA engineers (vs. typical water fundraising focus on funding wells, pumps, and pipes). Without the engineers, there is no water.


Nancy: How DO you make that connection?

David: Our most successful method is demonstrating the multiplier effect of giving to EIA, like this:

  • Funding an EIA engineer costs about $20,000/yr in salary plus benefits.
  • Every engineer develops six projects over three years
  • Each project raises approximately $30,000 to purchase materials that go directly into the community over three years.
  • Each engineer costs EIA $60,000 over three years, but generates $180,000 over that period (or more) in direct impact on the communities where we are working.


Nancy: What inspired EIA’s recent Water Week (May 2-9) campaign with specific asks for donations to fund three project types (water, sanitation, irrigation) and  three project costs (engineer salary, admin, transportation)?

David: Our challenge is always to show the direct connection of support for EIA engineers and the implementation of a water project in a specific village. We decided to fund EIA’s direct costs for three projects. We wanted to show that the engineer’s salary, administrative costs, and the engineer’s transportation during the assessment and follow-up phases were critical to the project.

We analyzed the cost of these three specific costs ($9-12,000 each) and that became our goal. Then, we chose three different types of projects: drinking water, sanitation, and irrigation to allow donors to ‘invest’ in the type of project that meant the most to them.


Nancy: What features of Network for Good’s fundraising software enabled you to easily launch and manage this campaign?
David: Two things:
1) First, Network For Good makes it easy and quick to donate. They helped us develop our donation page.

2) We have a difficulty fundraising for general operating unrestricted funds to cover the costs of our engineering staff and office in La Paz. So, we decided to focus this campaign on three of our 20 specific projects so we could personalize it more. And we wanted three different ”types’ of projects: drinking water, sanitation, and irrigation.

The heart of our ideas was to give donors a chance to select which project and which project ‘type’ most interested them. Network for Good’s software allowed us to have three separate fundraising pages, with unique pictures and information that described that specific project.

We found that some people would donate evenly to all three. However, most donors chose which project most ‘resonated’ with them. We believe this increased the total amount raised. And, surprisingly, it came out relatively even between the three projects. The ability to have three separate fund raising pages, and tracking those donations separately, was critical to our strategy.


Nancy: So what were the mechanics, e.g. could a donor designate funding to any mix of those elements?

David: Donors were invited to one of the three donor pages:  Carani (potable drinking water); Piquinani (irrigation) and/or Machacamarca (sanitation). They could donate to one or more of the projects.


Nancy: Was this your first short-term campaign? If so, why now?

David: We’ve gone much shorter! Our biggest fundraiser is the Clean Water Fast, a 36-hour fast from food and drink except water, that we run every Fall. However, we needed to do more fundraising and thought it made sense to balance timing six months out from the Fast, thus EIA Water Week in May. Direct mail didn’t apply in this instance.


Nancy: What were the results?

David: We raised $23,500. We had 71 donors, 18 of them first-time donors! While we didn’t quite make our arbitrary goal of $30,000 it was still quite successful for us.


Nancy: Wow, that’s incredible. Any other aspects of the Network for Good tools that you found particularly useful?

David: I believe that the greatest advantage that Network for Good gives us over other similar programs is an easy way to ask donors if they’d like to cover the 3% donation processing fee.

Most online donation services charge similar fees. But by asking the donors to pay for that expense over and above their donation to us, relieves us of the burden of having to pay it. In 2015, 86% of our donors giving through Network For Good paid those fees for us. And when it was all over, EIA’s out of pocket transaction fees totaled only .4%! This is an incredible help to us and was the equivalent of us adding another ‘Large Donor’ to our list.


Nancy: What will you do differently next time?

David: We’ll definitely put more emphasis on matching funds and more individualized attention to potential significant donors ($500 or more).
Nancy: What’s the most important advice you can share with fundraisers considering launching a short-term (day, few days, week-long) campaign?

David: Our most successful short campaign is the Clean Water Fast in which we raised over $60,000 last year with a peer fundraising approach. The difference between the two is that for the Fast, we have 20-25 individuals raising money for their own personalized goals using peer-to-peer fundraising pages.

However, Water Week worked beautifully as a secondary campaign. We made it different, and tried our best to connect the donors to the projects themselves.


What new peer-to-peer or project-based approach will best complement your existing campaigns? Share in the comments below. I hope EIA’s story inspires and guides your organization to its own P2P success.

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