Day of Giving Campaigns: As Told by a First Timer

Ryan Sowers (@SowCow58) is assistant director of annual giving programs at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford.

Giving days and mini-fundraising campaigns are becoming one of the biggest trends in higher education fundraising and take months of planning and coordination to pull off. In my first year at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, I hosted a three-day fundraising campaign, which had never been done before at the university. The event centered on the founders’ day, which has only become a university tradition in the past three years. I thought we could capitalize on the day to generate donations and instill pride among our student body, alumni, faculty and staff.

We set out with a goal of 100 donors and a monetary goal of $1,963, which coincides with our founding year of 1963. By the end of the three-day event, we received 20 donations and raised $2,477.42. Although our donor number wasn’t where we wanted it to be, we did meet and exceed our monetary goal by more than $500. In addition, four of our 20 donors had never given before and were inspired by the messaging of the three-day campaign, which reminded potential donors that the collective power of small gifts can add up quickly.

I wanted to show a very specific audience—non-donors or one-time donors of small gifts—my philosophy of giving, which is that no matter how large or small a gift is, it creates an impact. Just like throwing a rock into a pond, there is often a ripple effect  larger than you could have imagined. Whether or not the message was received, I believe the seeds were planted for future giving.

Here are the steps we took to hold a successful mini-fundraising campaign.

1. Plan, Plan and Plan

I started planning this event more than three months before the actual fundraising campaign—and I wish I had had even more time. Advance planning is essential for creating a timeline of events, coordinating your social media details and getting ambassadors on board to help push your giving campaign forward.

2. Use a Crowdfunding Platform

For our first mini campaign, we decided not to use a crowdfunding platform. I wish we had opted to use one—it would have allowed us to easily share the giving page on social media and track donations in real-time. In addition, our ambassadors would have had more tangible messaging to share on their social media sites. Also, with a crowdfunding platform, donors can leave messages on the campaign’s giving page. These messages can be repurposed for marketing pieces.

3. Define Your Target Audience

Going into this campaign, we knew that we wanted to reach alumni who had never given as well as alumni who had given between $1 and $99 sometime in the last five years. We targeted these two groups because the goal of the mini campaign was to show that small gifts can make a big difference.

4. Recruit Ambassadors

One of the key components to a successful giving day or mini-fundraising campaign is the power of ambassadors. This is a group of engaged alumni from different backgrounds who help you push the campaign forward. Look for strong connectors with influence—those who have the clout to truly get people to listen to your message. We had ambassadors from our faculty and staff committee, the student body and members of our alumni board and  advisory council. They were given clear instructions on how to impact the campaign and were provided with daily updates on the campaign to keep them connected.

5. Plan Social Media Messaging

Another key to creating a viral campaign is social media. For each day of the campaign, I designed messaging that was coordinated among our university’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts to ensure consistency and a clear focus. One piece of social media that I am particularly proud of was a slideshow of the university throughout the years. You can view the video here:

Adapt to Changing Circumstances

My last piece of advice is to adapt to changing circumstances because your plans will not happen exactly the way you hoped. You have to be able to roll with the punches—think strategically,  adjust your plans and still keep your goals in focus.

I hope these tips help you on your journey to design a day of giving or mini-fundraising campaign. Have you held a giving day or mini-fundraising campaign at your institution? Share your experiences and advice in the comments.

Happy fundraising!

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