Entering its fifth year, #GivingTuesday is a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration. Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the U.S.), #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving.
Since its inaugural year in 2012, #GivingTuesday has become a movement that celebrates and supports giving and philanthropy with events throughout the year and a growing catalog of resources.
As #GivingTuesday approaches for 2016, I wanted to highlight a shining example of a well-executed giving day. My alma mater, Illinois State University, has broken annual fundraising records for two consecutive years thanks to its efforts on #GivingTuesday.
Recently I spoke with Lora Wey, Executive Director of Annual Giving at ISU, to pick her brain about what tactics ISU has used to break these records. Below is a transcript of our question and answer session.
VPM: How did you and your team decide to capitalize on #GivingTuesday?
LW: On Giving Tuesday, annual giving drives the bus for this project. We had to get other units on campus like marketing and communications, web services, donor information services, etc. to buy in to the day. Those units are needed to create your core committee. Next were meetings with the President and Provost, the Deans at each college, and the various department chairs. Gaining buy in top-down is simply a function of how Illinois State is set up. In addition, each college and department manage their own social media so having them on board enhanced a coordinated effort.
VPM: How far in advance did you begin these talks?
LW: In our first year, we began planning in August (for an event in December). Even at a large institution, we were able to get everyone on the same page and pull off a successful event with only three months planning.
VPM: How did you decide what areas to fund?
LW: At Illinois State, there are over 1,000 funds! Listing that many choices on a dropdown menu loses your audience. We decided to start with the largest priority fund per college and department. After the first year, we increased the number of funds to just over 50. People really enjoyed having more options because that is our culture at Illinois State. We’ve found that sticking to around 50 choices is the sweet spot.
VPM: How do you keep momentum going?
LW: We started with the major gift officers. Donors making gifts or pledges payable within the current fiscal were asked if we could use their gift as a challenge on Giving Tuesday. On Giving Tuesday, we opted to use six to eight challenges; these drive the momentum. Throughout the course of the day, larger gifts and challenges will happen organically as donors see the momentum and the excitement of the day. But, having those challenges ready and adding new ones excites and motivates the external audience.
VPM: How many triggers do you suggest throughout the day?
LW: We have always had between five and seven trigger events throughout the day. However, they aren’t always about dollars or specific donor connections. A big part of the efforts is social media participation, so we incorporated re-tweet challenges. That engaged a segment by spreading the word and helping raise awareness.
VPM: Which trigger event was the most successful?
LW: The re-tweet challenge was our most successful and we reached our target very quickly. I would suggest incorporating an engagement challenge in any crowdfunding plan. Re-tweet challenges really engage an observer to get involved in the day.
VPM: What advice do you have as far as timing for content?
LW: Consider memes, short impact videos etc., after lunch and in the afternoon lull. We did the re-tweet challenge at 12:30 p.m. and had other things cued up until 2 p.m. to help fight that afternoon lull. We also sent an email during that period to help counter the quiet period.
VPM: Is it counterintuitive to start with a low giving threshold?
LW: A lot of people in fundraising may think so, but Illinois State is growing a culture of philanthropy, so we had to illustrate that every gift matters. There was concern that the average gift would be $10. We actually found after removing the really large gifts, that the actual average gift for us was $49. So our donors were rising to the challenge and not backing down, even though our first ask was $10.
VPM: What are your goals for year three?
LW: We’ve had success each year, but it hasn’t been around total dollar amounts or average gift. We still want to emphasize donor participation in order to grow the pipeline. This year we may increase our first donor goal challenge to 600 or 650.
VPM: What would you say are key components to a successful day?
LW: Recruit your social media ambassadors! Our social media ambassadors consisted of on-campus ambassadors such as faculty and staff that took an interest, and then alumni “social media ambassadors” that follow us on Facebook and Twitter and engage regularly. We had alumni that are regularly follow our flagship accounts and we reached out to them with information on what we were doing and asked them to share information. We probably had 15-200 social media ambassadors sharing the information via their social media throughout the day. It takes little time and doesn’t cost anything.
VPM: Did you leverage any LIVE components?
LW: LIVE video on social media has really come about in the last year, so we haven’t done anything like that yet. We had all the content and memes prepared beforehand though and rolled those out during the day. This year we plan to have more video components and feature the football and basketball coaches, because we know we should leverage more video content.
VPM: Did you utilize traditional media?
LW: We utilized local and regional media outlets, both print and television. We weren’t the only local not for profits participating in Giving Tuesday but we were the most visible. I would suggest utilizing all forms of media to get your messaging out.
VPM: How was your “War Room” set up?
LW: The room consisted of our core committee. The IT person who designed our giving site, marketing who designed memes and posted on the university Facebook page, and gift processing. There were also other members helping to “like” and “share” as specific units and we also had a dedicated person for questions and support. In total, 8-10 of us coordinating messaging and answering questions. The School of Communications’ SMACC Lab which tracks trends, social sentiment, etc. gave us access into who and what was trending, what ambassadors had the most influence, etc. This also helped us to diffuse anything that was said negatively.
VPM: What are your major “Dos and Don’ts” for hosting a successful Giving Day?
LW: 1) Get the buy-in early with your core team of people.
2) You need someone who understands the web. We “home built” our platform, for lack of a better term, instead of contracting with an outside vendor, so you need someone from IT on board. Even if you use an outside vendor, the IT person needs to be familiar with the platform and how to troubleshoot and prepare for any problems.
3) You need the appropriate marketing and communications people on board to help you promote the messaging and to generate the right chatter on the day of the event. The hope is that the online giving site blows up with activity, so it’s key to make sure your online site can accommodate the rush of visitors.
4) Make sure your email provider/server can accommodate sending mass email sends. Email is a big component, not just social media. You have to make sure your system can send 20,000-50,000 emails in one drop. We asked after year one “how did you hear about this” and the answer was emails.
5) Six emails were lined up to go during the day. The content was written ahead of time and included broad messaging so that we could add additional text right before we sent it. We sent an email once we hit the initial goal and encouraged people to learn more and to keep giving. A lull between 12:30-3:30 was sent to keep momentum going.
6) Involve campus “faces” like the President, coach, or the mascot creatively.
7) Plan to steward Giving Tuesday donors throughout the year to keep them engaged with your university.
With the right buy-in, a well thought out strategic plan and clever content, Illinois State University has been able to crush their annual giving goals. What’s in store for them in 2016? Well, you should keep on the lookout for announcements from them.
In the meantime, I can tell you that you can’t just “wing it” on #GivingTuesday or whatever time of the year you decide to execute your Giving Day. At Verge Pipe Media, we have the knowledge and tools to help you execute a successful giving day and we’d love to help you mimic the success of ISU.
You may think you have the nuts and bolts internally, but we can provide the hands-on expertise and experience to take your event to the next level. Our energy, creativity and willingness to be different has shown proven results.
If you’re still not convinced, just click below to download our FREE case study discussing how we helped the Harbert College of Business during its 2015 Giving Day initiative. The informative study goes into further detail about how we can be the agency partner to help you exceed your annual giving goals.
Images used with persmission from Illinois State University.