Sometimes we get lucky. We put plans together based on what our gut tells us is right and then cross our fingers and hope for the best. But sometimes, no matter how long and hard we keep our fingers crossed, our strategy fails—our gut told us wrong and our campaign flops.

Other times, we plan. We strategize, prepare, and harp over the details for months, ensuring that every possible barrier to success has been addressed and accounted for. There’s no need for crossed fingers because the strategy that’s been put in place is driven by data, research, and an understanding of what works—what compels our audience to engage.

On Giving Tuesday 2015, The Office of University Development at University of Michigan set an example for how this kind of thoughtful planning and preparation can dramatically increase results:

  • 1000 donors completed gifts online within the first 49 minutes
  • $1 million was raised by 10:03 a.m.
  • Total donations on the day totaled $4,361,327, an increase of 34% over 2014
  • Total donors on the day totaled 6,927, an increase of 27% over 2014

How did they increase both donors and dollars raised by nearly 30%? And how can other organizations achieve this kind of success in 2016? Linda Douglas, Senior Director of Marketing and Annual Giving at UM’s Office of University Development, shared with me some insight into what it took:

University-Wide Participation

In 2014, rather than supporting multiple different, smaller crowdfunding campaigns throughout the year, the Office of University Development decided to maximize efforts by instituting one university-wide day of giving—they call it Giving Blueday. They opted to have their giving day coincide with the National Day of Giving (Giving Tuesday) so that they could leverage the day’s media attention around philanthropy, allowing for them to be a part of the global movement while also branding their messages to the specific needs of the university.

In 2015, every school, college and fundraising unit across the university participated in Giving Blueday, along with 117 student groups.

Staying true to the open source movement that is Giving Tuesday, The Office of University Development focused on overall awareness for Giving Blueday but gave the participating schools, colleges, units, and organizations the freedom to add messaging for “why them.”

For example: Last fall, a wooly mammoth was unearthed near Ann Arbor and donated to U-M. The University of Michigan Museum of Natural History used Giving Blueday to raise funds to begin development for their Wooly Mammoth Exhibit.

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Advanced Planning

To develop a collaborative plan across the entire university, a taskforce of 25 stakeholders began planning early on. Plans were made, goals were set, and specific decisions were made about what the giving day would look like. They opted not to present their giving day as a competition for dollars. Instead, they chose to focus on the overall messaging of “give to wherever you’re drawn to”, which helped to support customization at the unit level.

Pulling off an event of this magnitude required a concrete plan and collaboration.

The Office of University Development ran dress rehearsals to ensure that their systems were equipped to handle the projected influx of activity on their giving site; hosted a 24 hour war room, answering calls and monitoring tech; created a promotional toolkit for participating organizations; and developed a risk management process to identify all of the possible issues that could occur and how to respond.

The advance planning work was critical to a smooth, successful day. Having clear plans as to which team members would be handling which tasks, and having practiced each function, allowed us to basically go into “auto-pilot” mode on Giving Blueday, knowing that there were contingency plans in place for nearly any unlikely scenario.—Linda Douglas

Social Media

In this age of online-centric audiences, social media is critical to a campaign’s success. Knowing this, U-M formed an online ambassador program to help amplify their #GivingBlueday messages. They invited a range of students, faculty, staff, and alums with large Twitter followings and asked if they’d be willing to advocate for the university online. Additional supporters volunteered to become advocates as part of U-M’s M-bassador program. As of December, 2015, more than 650 people had volunteered their social clout as M-bassadors for the university.

With over 25 million media impressions on Giving Blueday, amplification from M-bassadors and U-M advocates was instrumental in generating buzz on the day. But this exposure was about more than just raising dollars. U-M saw it as an opportunity to engage with their audience, make them aware that they’re a nonprofit organization, and build a culture of philanthropy with their students.

Culture of Continuous Improvement

The success of Giving Blueday is testament to the power of a decentralized environment. As U-M’s Office of University Development continues to move forward, they plan to provide more tools across campus that put power in the fundraisers’ hands.

We will continue to evaluate the wide variety of tactics that make up an event of this magnitude, and make informed decisions as to what changes to make for future efforts. We believe in a culture of continuous improvement. – Linda Douglas

It’s this kind of attitude that fosters growth—celebrating success while also recognizing that every milestone is a step to something even bigger, should you choose to measure and plan. No fingers crossed.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Madeline Turner is the Online and Social Marketing Manager at Blackbaud. Prior to running Blackbaud’s social media and thought leadership blog npENGAGE, Madeline worked as a Managing Editor for Blackbaud’s Content Marketing program. It is her goal to create content and share ideas that challenge the status quo of the nonprofit industry. When Madeline isn’t tweeting or writing blog posts, you can find her drinking coffee out of her ‘Crazy Cat Lady’ mug, wearing giant headphones and singing off-key.

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