Future of Fundraising: How Human Rights Campaign Used Peer-to-Peer to Go Virtual with Ambassadors



Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is a national non-profit organization and advocacy group that has created a powerful movement for equality and fairness for all LGBTQ people. They have spent over 40 years fundraising, promoting, and advocating for their mission.

In a typical year, HRC would hold its National Dinner gala in Washington, D.C. with an audience so big (literally thousands) they had to build their own ballroom for it.

The gala-style event was the crown jewel of their fundraising year. The in-person vibe, energy, and community connection helped create a juggernaut fundraising event, that was crucial to their annual budget.

They had their 2020 Annual National Dinner planned, as well as 30 local galas of HRC communities across the country.

In just a matter of weeks — COVID-19 had swept across the country and changed everyone’s plans.

HRC was forced to reevaluate how they fundraise. After internal deliberation, they decided to incorporate peer-to-peer fundraising, into a national virtual event. They would have one large campaign, culminating in a live stream virtual event for all HRC supporters and local communities across the country.



Never having done peer-to-peer fundraising as part of the National Dinner, HRC had lots to learn and little time to do it. They knew they needed a new way to engage supporters across the country, connect them to the mission, and keep on fundraising!

We knew that we had key constituents that wanted, and needed, to be involved with HRC. After cancelling all in-person galas, peer-to-peer fundraising seemed to be the immediate next step. We needed to engage these social fundraisers,” said Mike Wilkinson, Deputy Director of Events of Human Rights Campaign.

With the OneCause Peer-to-Peer solution, they were able to build a national network of social fundraisers while also keeping their mission at the center of the campaign.



When deciding how to structure their campaign, they thought about leveraging a model that they already had in place: traditional ‘table captains’.

Table captains were a huge part of the HRC fundraising success at the National Dinner and local chapter gala events. They decided to bring these captains into the virtual world, helping create and army of fundraisers to reach 2020 goals.

In a pre-COVID world, their Captains were charged with filling their table with 10 guests that would join them and also participate in the fundraising.


Education: What is an Equality Captain?

HRC thought: Why not apply that gala-style fundraising concept to our virtual campaign?

And that’s just what they did. But, instead of table captains, they created a term that spoke to the mission, and brought the ambassador approach to life. They called them: “Equality Captains.”

Anyone could be an Equality Captain, as long as they had a passion for the HRC mission and the commitment to fundraise.

We’ve used OneCause Mobile Bidding for our annual galas across the nation, and we’ve loved it for many years now. But we’d never really thought about using peer-to-peer on our gala model. COVID changed everything, and the opportunity presented itself. OneCause Peer-to-Peer had all the features that could empower our Equality Captains, or Ambassadors,” said Wilkinson.

What made HRC’s peer-to-peer fundraising campaign so successful? Connecting people, causes, passion, and virtual giving through technology.

Fundraising Education

The HRC team predicted that their donors and participants would need some education to cross over into social fundraising and make the campaign a success.

This meant educating participants, and especially Equality Captains, about social fundraising. Not only how to just do it but have fun with it. Fun is the key to captivating supporter attention, keeping fundraising momentum, and reaching goals in an online campaign.

TIP: Create a volunteer committee that learns the ins and outs of the fundraising software and can serve as the ‘customer service group’ if questions arise. Especially if you’re a small team, this will swill get your participants fundraising in no time!

To help participants get started, HRC provided information on how to:

  • Tell my story on my fundraising page
  • Engage my social network
  • Ask for donations

Once the participants were empowered and educated, it was time for participants and Equality Captains to spread the good news of Human Rights Campaign.

Because these folks are Ambassadors–highly engaged constituents–they need touch points from the nonprofit. Focus on customer service and human interaction in addition to the peer-to-peer technology goes a LONG way to building and keeping fundraising engagement,” said Wilkinson.

HRC-participant page story

Participant Page & Story

Promotion & Recruitment

With the help of the OneCause Peer-to-Peer solution, HRC built their campaign and had each Equality Captain create their own page to for recruitment and promotion.

Equality Captains would tell their individual story on their page—a key factor in gaining attention to a fundraiser’s page and garnering donations.

Think of the peer-to-peer space as your digital meeting place. Put your story to your fundraising page to become the ambassador to the organization, and an active champion of the fundraising results,” said Wilkinson.

Participants could join as Equality Captains and promote their page by:

  • Social media. With the OneCause Peer-to-Peer solution, a social integration allows Equality Captains to share their page directly to their network on social media. When they shared to social media using the campaign hashtag, their post automatically was added to the photo gallery page on their peer-to-peer site.
  • ­Email. Equality captains can send their personal fundraising link directly from their email client and engage their network with a personalized message.
  • Text messaging. Through the fundraising software, Equality Captains could select ‘Ask Using Text,’ enter their number, and receive a pre-written message to forward to their friends via text message.

Engaging Ambassadors

With a multi-week campaign, HRC wanted to be sure to motivate their Equality Captains every step of the way. To keep up the campaign engagement, they used: weekly tasks & virtual pre-events.

  • Weekly Task. HRC challenged and motivated Equality Captains each week with a theme associated with a task for them to accomplish. For example, one week would be to upload a photo to their site and the next, send out a certain number of emails.
  • Virtual Pre-events. Participants were able to create their own pre-event prior to the national HRC event in September. Virtual pre-events became a fun and creative way to achieve a personal fundraising goal.

Pre-Virtual Event Hosted by an Equality Captain

Recognition Program & Leaderboards

Motivating participants is core to building momentum and hitting goals within any peer-to-peer campaign.

We wanted to reward beyond fundraising because our mission goes beyond just the dollars raised – we want to make a difference and spread our mission near and far,” said Wilkinson.

Because the OneCause software allows for milestone recognition, HRC took advantage of leaderboards and the built-in point system to keep the competition hot throughout the campaign. Not only that, but they rewarded top fundraising leaders with Equality Captain badges in their recognition program.

Recognition Badges-HRC

Equality Captain Recognition Badges


Leaderboards are key in displaying the top fundraisers and how much they’ve raised or how many points they’ve earned for specific activities (recruitment, social influence, team milestones). Donors see their name on the real-time updated lists and the competitive fundraising keeps on going!


National Leaderboard: Top 5 Teams

By motivating and rewarding social media reach and recruitment, the focus wasn’t solely on dollars raised. Participants were encouraged to amplify the cause, creating a viral fundraising network online.

Harnessing the power of peer influence keeps a peer-to-peer campaign rolling, and HRC did just that!



Human Rights Campaign wasn’t quite sure what to expect with their first virtual peer-to-peer campaign. Let’s just say they were more than pleasantly surprised:

  • 486 Equality Captains
  • 26 Teams
  • 1,965 Donations
  • 6 million Social Media Reach
  • 109% to goal

If you think it’s going to work TRY IT. Just jump in and do it. Take the leap – figure out what will attract and inspire your donors and bring it to life online,” said Wilkinson.

Connect with a Cause

To learn more about Human Rights Campaign and the mission they work for day in and day out, check out their website.