Where their story begins
For many years Worcester College at the University of Oxford had created strong links with its UK supporter community. However, they had also found that supporters in other countries such as the UK, Asia and Australia were less engaged with giving and engagement activities.
The first question they had was 'How can we increase meaningful engagement?' Could they introduce crowdfunding to give their programme a digital edge? Or would something like a giving day be more appropriate for helping to increase international donor engagement?
After considering both, Worcester College decided a giving day was the best option. It would introduce giving to their donors worldwide, while also helping them to strengthen their relationships with their existing UK donor base.
The College was dipping its toe in the water for the first time, having never really used a digital channel to promote giving and engagement before. They did, however, feel reassured in their choice to run a giving day, making the assumption that their primary audience of American alumni would be particularly receptive to an ask of this kind.
Where they right?
Here, Coleen Day and Anna Fowler from the Development and Alumni Relations team at Worcester College talk us through their first-ever giving day. Including how the day came about and how pleased they were with the results.
Hubbub: How confident were you about the giving day beforehand?
Worcester: We regarded the giving day as a pilot. We’d never done anything like this before but welcomed the opportunity as a way of trying something new that could more closely connect our US and overseas donors with giving to the College. Looking at it in this light from the very beginning meant we didn’t create unrealistically high expectations for ourselves.
The team at Hubbub were excellent at helping us to gain a realistic perspective of what the giving day would require. The initial planning workshops really helped. It made us realise the huge amount of work that would be involved and it was useful to have someone alongside us who knew exactly what to expect. They gave us a good sense of what was going to happen on the day, how we needed to prepare for it, and how to set realistic goals. The workshops also helped us to identify the key areas that we needed to focus on beforehand. Because this was a completely new experience for us, to have access to that know-how was a real benefit.
Finally, knowing that the software was also very intuitive and simple to use helped to increase our confidence. We’ve looked at a lot of other similar systems and they seemed far more complex. Our giving day site was also customisable allowing us to add our Worcester College branding, meaning we could reassure our alumni who were donating that the site was safe and secure to use. The whole donation process was smooth and the system was very responsive.
A champion for success
H: You secured an overall match to support the giving day, as well as a few challenge gifts. Can you tell us how important those championing gifts from alumni where to the success of your giving day?
W: We managed to secure £20,000 in matched funding from a member of our US campaign committee, as well as another £8,000 in challenge gifts from two other donors. Having the support of individuals who were well-known to our US audience was especially useful to the success of the day. Their influence prompted a good number of initial donations from their peers, which were soon followed by additional gifts from other alumni. The match and challenges gifts kept our donors engaged, creating a greater sense of enthusiasm about giving as they watched the match and challenge gifts to rise towards their goals.
Knowing that we had an the match and challenge gifts also helped us to set what we thought to be an achievable target for the day of £40,000. We can’t stress enough how critical the face-to-face element of this campaign was to our success. These leadership gifts compelled others to become involved in the day, providing the enthusiasm and excitement that fed through to others via social media and email. If we missed this step in our planning, the Giving Day may not have been as successful as it was.
A plan to take donors on a giving day journey
H: Just as the match and challenge gifts played an important role in the success of your giving day, so too did your communications plan. How did you go about creating your timeline of activities, as well as the content within the plan itself?
W: During our workshops with Hubbub, we learned so much about how a giving day is all about bringing together the right messages, weaved through multiple channels at the right times, to encourage continuous engagement.
We dedicated time before the giving day to make sure that we had a flexible plan for sending emails and for posting updates on social media. We weren’t used to sending so many emails in one day, nor were our alumni used to receiving so many emails in one day. To make sure that we were organised well in advance of the day, we drafted a schedule of when we would send each email, decided which segments the emails would go to, and drafted the copy of each email ahead of time. The same approach was taken for social media. By being well prepared we could more easily take our alumni and supporters on their own journey - making sure each message that we sent would engage them with the day.
It was so useful having Hubbub on hand throughout this process as they really helped us to focus our communications - especially on the day itself. They were very good at knowing how to react to events throughout the day and how to tweak the content of the communications as things happened. This gave the College team a lot of confidence about the emails and messages we were sending out.
Having student ambassadors in place helped with the communications too. In hindsight, it would have been useful if we’d recruited a few more ambassadors in advance, but we managed to get a few students involved and we were pleased with how this worked. You don’t hit every mark on your first giving day so this will be something we can focus more on in the future now that we understand the underlying principles.
A giving day with multiple outcomes
H: As giving day was a new activity for the team here a Worcester, can you tell us more about what you took away from the experience?
W: There were so many good things that came out of the decision to run a giving day. The College’s development and alumni team learned a lot from the experience because there is so much to be done to make the day a success. Everyone on the team was encouraged to chip in whether that was writing emails, creating videos and other content for social media, asking major donors for match and challenge gifts, designing the look and feel of our site, or recruiting our giving day ambassadors.
In addition to increasing the teams understanding of how to successfully run a giving day, the College community, internal staff members and senior leadership began to develop a deeper sense of what giving to Worcester means. Now, when we speak about giving and the impact it creates for current and future students the response is much more supportive than it may have been before running our giving day.
Overall, the success we had with this giving day will help us to build on the activity over time, increasing our capacity for what we can achieve in future days. Our confidence in digital fundraising has also increased along with our own understanding.
What's next for Worcester College
H: Can you tell us what the overall outcomes were for your giving day in relation to your goals, as well as what’s next for this kind of activity at Worcester College?
W: We’re really pleased with the way the day went. Our aim was to attract support primarily from the US and overseas, however, we actually ended up with an equal split between UK and US donors. More than half of those who gave were new donors, which was an excellent result as acquiring new donors is a priority for the College. Others who gave on giving day hadn’t given for a long time – in one case, since 1989. For these donors, giving day was a way for us to re-engage with donors in a way that direct mail or other approaches we’ve tried haven’t. It’s great to now have an activity that encourages participation from our current and lapsed communities just as much as it does with those first-time donors.
As for what’s next, we think running a giving day once a year - and eventually perhaps once every other year - is probably about right for us. It’ll definitely have a place in our overall annual giving strategy. We just need to decide how it fits in.
In future giving days, we’ll definitely look at using our social networks more effectively to build momentum as well as expanding our engagement with those donors who we speak to in a face-to-face capacity to involve them more.
Until Next Time
Worcester College will be running it's second giving day with us on 17 June 2020.