At this point, nearly every university in the US has run or is considering starting a giving day. Of course, this trend started or was inspired by #GivingTuesday and some universities do participate in the day. While Giving Tuesday is still very successful for many nonprofits, it can be a very crowded day in terms of appeals and social media marketing. Many universities have adopted their own day, some with historical significance, to highlight their programs and areas of need. Some universities are still hesitant because of the strain that it may put on a small team, the costs involved, and concern that their donor base won’t respond to this method. However, there’s a successful example at nearly every type of university in the US and several in Australia, so why not yours?
The giving day trend is just starting to take off in Australia. There are a handful of universities and nonprofit organizations that have run their own campaigns, with varying levels of success. I believe that to be successful, an organization must be fully committed to the idea. A giving day often encourages us to deviate slightly from our brand and engage with different donor segments, all in an extremely public way. Essentially, if you run a giving day like a traditional campaign, you will likely have some hiccups along the way. It’s scary to try something different, but those who have taken the leap have seen amazing returns.
After being a part of the giving day team for two successful campaigns at a college in the United Stated and running a giving day for a large university in Australia, I have seen the impact they can have if properly planned and executed. Especially in Australia, where universities tend to have younger development programs, a giving day can have an amazing impact in terms of donor acquisition. Below are five steps that are key in planning or executing a successful #GivingDay.
Communication and Branding is Key
I’m starting with this as number one because you really shouldn’t underestimate the role that communications will play in the success of your giving day. The bottom line is, without a proper communication plan a giving day will not be successful. This doesn’t mean that there has to be a huge budget – in fact, many universities have had great success with a grassroots approach – but proper planning and a written timeline should be a main priority of your communication officer/department. There are so many examples, and making the communications creative should be fun!
Starting a new program at a large organization with a long history is not an easy task. Convincing a development office, campus leaders, and individual faculties to join you in the journey will take a great deal of energy. In fact, I would say that at most universities and nonprofit organizations, this step will be the hardest thing that you will have to do in developing a giving day campaign. However, having key campus or board leaders engaged can make the difference between a huge success and a flop. At the Australian university where I led the team in developing our first giving day, a huge part of my job was visiting each faculty member to explain the concept and convert them from skeptic into advocate. It was basically a huge university roadshow. Once we started the fire under a few key leaders, and announced a large gift, it was unstoppable.
After getting your campus on board, it is time to focus on the outside audience. There are many ways of accomplishing this step:
- Some universities use a service that analyzes their donors and alumni information to see who should be contacted.
- Some universities just call up the people they know really love the university and will be happy to help out.
- And to take it a step further, some universities and organizations search for alumni and friends who are considered “influencers.” These are the people on social media with a huge number of followers and a tweet or post from them will reach thousands of people.
- Similarly, some universities have enlisted the help of famous alumni who are willing to be the “face” of their Giving Day.
Whatever approach you use, more is generally better. That being said, I have spoken with some universities who have recruited a large number of social ambassadors but in a less personal way, which led to a huge meltdown on the day of the campaign. From my experience, a personal conversation over coffee or even a phone call is more effective than email alone.
This was another key to the success of all of the campaigns that I have been involved with. Frankly, this is a fairly simple formula that has worked for me each time that I have been involved with a giving day. Reach out to a donor that is in the final stages of gift cultivation and ask them to be your challenge donor. Advertise this challenge well, and be ready to keep the momentum going even when this challenge is met. Leveraging a large gift to encourage others to give is a great way to increase participation. And perhaps more importantly, utilizing challenge donations means that your acquisition campaign has turned into a tool to bring in a few large gifts. Likewise, having a donor who is willing to match donations will have a huge impact on your participation. The nice thing about matching gifts is that they encourage larger gifts from the average donor, but it also a bit more of a gamble if your campaign is focused on acquiring new donors who will likely give smaller gifts for their first donation.
This fifth step is important, but events can become quite time consuming and costly. I would suggest keeping costs low and engaging volunteers to help your team with running these events. At universities, the on-campus events are generally focused on students. These events can be a great way to highlight your office and worthy causes at the university to this group, and students are often happy with some free t-shirts and pizza. Many organizations encourage advocates to host their own events on a giving day. A morning tea or lunch with friends focused on catching up on uni days is a great way for advocates to highlight the day to their friends and help bring in donations. If your organization does decide to hold a more involved event on the day, remember that the goal is to fundraise. If you are putting time and resources into an event on the day (which will take away from work that will raise funds), this event should bring in a proportionate amount of money. Maybe consider a launch event the night before that will start the day off with a nice pot of money incorporating an auction or another tool for fundraising.
These five steps are just the basics and, as with any campaign, there is a long list of other steps that can increase revenue and participation. Of course, enlisting the help of someone who has run similar campaigns can give you a huge head start. However, too many organizations feel they have to wait until they have everything perfectly in place. While a giving day does take resourcing, many organizations spend less than it costs to mail their spring appeal and they still have amazing results. My final suggestion is just to commit and start planning your giving day.