On-Demand Webinar

Moving Forward In Times of Crisis - Giving Days

Join us for this 1-hour webinar, co-presented by Kat Carter, Head of Marketing at Hubbub, and Justin Ware, Senior VP, Digital Marketing at BWF and Founder at Groundwork Digital.

We'll take a look at how donors are currently responding to asks being made within higher education. The ways institutions are choosing to mindfully move forward. And how those learnings can be applied to your own institution's giving day strategy.

To watch the recording of this webinar, please click on the video (above) and register when prompted. All webinar recordings are free to view.

If you would prefer to read a transcript of the webinar recording, please find this below.


Kat Carter - Head of Marketing & Digital Giving Specialist, Hubbub

Justin Ware - Senior VP, Digital Marketing at BWF and Founder at Groundwork Digital.

Webinar Introduction

Whether you've postponed your current Giving Day or are considering running a Giving Day in the next few months, we will provide clear strategies and best practice for how to move forward with planning a successful Giving Day. Especially given the current circumstances we're all facing. These are difficult and strange times. However, there are still many ways that we can mindfully move forward and remain engaged with our alumni while also providing opportunities for donors to support the areas of their lives that they are most passionate about.

Kat Carter - Introduction

Hi everyone, I'm Kat Carter, Head of Marketing and Digital Giving Specialist here at Hubbub. I've been with the team for just over 3 years and I've had the pleasure of working with partners all over the world to run successful Giving Days of varying sizes. Prior to joining Hubbub, I managed Mass Participation Giving at the University of Southampton, here in the UK, for just over 7 years. I was lucky enough to work on some amazing projects while at the University. This included launching the UK's first crowdfunding programme, being a part of a team that led them on their first multi-million pound capital campaign and managing the institution’s direct mail, telephone, community and digital programs. I am really excited to be here today with Justin to not only provide practical strategies and best practice for running a Giving Day, but to also share with you some early results from the campaigns that we're seeing and what our customers are currently achieving.

Justin Ware - Introduction

Thank you Kat, I appreciate it. And thanks everyone for joining today. In addition to the roles at BWF and Groundwork Digital, I've been very involved in Giving Days for a long time. The first Giving Day I was ever a part of was almost 10 years ago, back in 2011 and 2012 at Florida State University. For a long time we've been saying we've done more than 60 online Giving Days. If I went and checked again, it's probably more than 70. We've been really fortunate to have a better than 98% goal achievement rate across all of those many dozens of Giving Days. We understand what makes a Giving Day tick. This is for two reasons:

1. We're very focused on video-driven donor engagement, which is something that's been a priority for a long time.

2. Most importantly, we have remarkable partners (including and not exclusive to):

  • The University of Minnesota
  • The University of South Dakota
  • Washington State University
  • Santa Clara University
  • St. Mary's College of Maryland
  • Other organisations even outside of Higher Education (healthcare and NGO space, international affairs, and humanitarian programs)

We've been really fortunate to work with some amazing innovative partners and that's helped inform our strategy every step of the way.

I'm excited to have this conversation today because you'll hear us say this many times throughout; the number one biggest mistake a fundraising operation can make right now in the era of COVID-19 is not communicating with donors. Not engaging with donors. Therefore I do think it's very very important that we stick to, not the status quo (we'll talk about how to mix things up a bit and make it more appropriate for the time later), but to continuing to engage donors. That is just fundamentally important, and that that's what we're going to cover today.

Part I

Presenter: Justin

The Role of a Giving Day

First of all, the role of a Giving Day does play in a time of crisis. How much is the role a Giving Day plays in general? They are a fundraising mechanism - we know that. But a Giving Day is also a fantastic marketing communications tool. It is one of the best ways to hold up and illuminate everything that is around your philanthropy program. This is obviously true for the Annual Fund, but for leadership annual and major gift giving as well, as we've seen over the years. And I think the same is true right now. Obviously there could be some tweaks, especially if you're having and Giving Day in just the next few weeks.

You would want it to look a little bit different. But a Giving Day can help us communicate a lot of those pieces. We want to talk about how we can structure it and how we need to adjust the Giving Day, the tactics and strategies for coronavirus/COVID-19. It would be inappropriate to say that we don't need to make any changes whatsoever if we have a Giving Day any time over the next month and a half. And then we'll see.

This could extend quite a bit longer. I think people who are being realistic about this know there probably won't be a vaccine until sometime next year. ‘Normal' as we knew it won't be back until that actually takes place. Even if you're thinking about a Fall/Autumn Giving Day, number one: Do it. Number two: Let's talk about how to do it in the webinar today. We're going to have some good case stories and examples for everything from online engagement campaigns to actual online fundraising campaigns. The Hubbub team has some wonderful examples that we've already seen so far and we'll share with you what some of our client partners are doing as well. Then we are going to highlight the importance of ongoing storytelling.

Another refrain you'll hear multiple times today is, if nothing else, this is a really good opportunity to focus on our core messaging. Our storytelling. Donor engagement through video-driven information. And communication. That's the type of thing where maybe we pull back a bit on some of the fundraising right now and focus on a few more appropriate funds at this point in time; but continuing to communicate with donors and tell the story with donors. That's the type of thing that will set us up for a lot of success as we get past this initial phase with COVID-19 and into the recovery phase later this year into 2021.

Comment from: Kat

I think what you're mentioning there is really appropriate around if you're not looking at fundraising at this time. Still sharing stories at this time is absolutely important. You'll probably be seeing that from a lot of the everyday brands that you see on TV that they've switched strategies. Instead of perhaps really pushing sales or pushing their product, what they're pushing is the community and values behind their product. You can take some examples from the bigger brands that we're seeing and really use those within your community to keep the message about; who you are, what you represent and the values that you hold that are still really important at this time. Communicate those stories, even if you're not fundraising, which is definitely a good tip for moving forward.

Back to: Justin

Absolutely. Since we are talking about hope, one of my favourite quotes is from one of my favourite movies, the Shawshank Redemption. Hope is a refrain throughout the movie if you've seen it. I love this particular quote right here:

"Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies." - Andy Dufresne

If we think about the work that we're doing, whether it's in good times or bad, economic downturns, boom times, COVID-19 or a wonderful stretch period where good things are happening left and right.

Fundraising really is the business of Hope. We are selling hope to our donors and our prospects and hoping that in turn they'll support us and be able to realise that hope and those dreams that we're putting forth. In that respect, I think that's important especially now. One of the things that we're probably all craving is the hope that things are gonna get better. We're going to come up with a vaccine or a treatment or we're going to figure out how to get a hold of this with testing. Things are going to be better. And when they are, we're really going to need our donors.

One of the most encouraging things we've seen from our client partners is how donors have really not stopped giving. As a matter of fact, in some cases they're giving substantially more than we ever could have expected. The obvious cases around that are of course the COVID-19 relief funds where you're being very direct and offering donors the opportunity to support personal protective equipment (PPE), hospital beds or research into a vaccine - something along those lines. This is where, in just a few days, we've had Giving Day-like, small gift activity and Giving Day-like, major gift activity. Donors are putting up six and seven figure funds to match some of these campaigns.

We're seeing it spread like wildfire. Going in a way that we probably never would have guessed.

That's suggesting that, first of all, especially around gifts that are specific to COVID-19, donors are ready to go. Nevertheless, what's been even more surprising is how we've seen some of these eight figure gifts come into programs that really have little or nothing to do with COVID-19. These include gifts for the arts for museums, or for other institutions and organisations that don't really play a direct role in the frontline fight against COVID-19 but are very involved in just fundraising. They're doing their work. They're telling their story. They're in a way sometimes bringing it back to how COVID-19 is impacting them. And that can be a compelling reason for donors to give right now too.

Indeed once again, we'll say it many times throughout, now is not the time to stop engaging donors. We want to be reaching out to them. Asking them how they're doing. Getting their opinion and their feedback. Letting them know how coronavirus/COVID-19 is impacting our mission. Telling that story in as many ways as we can. A Giving Day is a fantastic marketing tool. It's vibrant. It's visible. Almost everyone who is following you in any capacity whatsoever, be it through email, social media, your Web site or through an online ambassador, will probably see a Giving Day.

Don’t Stop Engaging Donors

One of the interesting things is we're always so focused on creating a tangible, real-life impact during this Giving Day to give it that sense of place. But we don't have to worry about that this year. At least not for this Spring and probably not for Summer. The Giving Day truly is back to its original intent as an online event. A virtual event. That's all we have now in terms of fundraising. I do know some organisations are doing calling using remote call centres, and that's a really interesting concept.

Direct mail is usually a reliable tool, but it's a risky tool now. We have absolutely no idea what the world is going to be like two weeks from now when the mail piece that we approved today actually hits mailboxes. For that reason, I know a lot of institutions have put a hold on direct mail. That is the one channel where I understand the importance of pausing it temporarily because of how dramatically things can change in two weeks’ time. But digital is perfect. A Giving Day platform can be changed pretty substantially in the moments, if not the days, before it's due to run:

  • You can stop a communication
  • You can re-do email
  • You can give ambassadors entirely new content
  • You can create new video content through a student gift officer program (which we'll talk about later)
Online is dynamic, it's as agile as it gets. The ability to shift, but still have a big vibrant event that engages donors at a time when donors are giving, makes a Giving Day actually probably one of the best tools in your toolkit at this point in time.

Like we said, that doesn't mean you can't just go ahead with whatever your plan was and ignore the fact that the world is in a pandemic. Therefore we will likely need to make some adjustments and we have a lot of institutions out there who have already done this - made adjustments and shifted.

It makes perfect sense that we're seeing this success.

First things first. This is the obvious one and I know a lot of people in this webinar have probably had some success in this. Identify what is happening within your organisation/at your institution that you can directly tie to the frontline assault on COVID-19 and coronavirus. Those are the funds right now that with very little marketing are just absolutely suited.

The growth is incredible. To think that we would be able to put a crowdfunding project out there and have it raise seven figures within 24 hours, but doing very little more than just sending maybe an email with a video is just unbelievable. But it makes sense. We all want to stop this and we want to do everything we can to stop this. For whoever has the means, we can provide them that channel, especially through an organisation or an institution that they already support. It makes perfect sense that we're seeing this success.

The same would be true of course for any treatment or vaccine research. If you are one of those organisations that especially heavily focuses on this, now is certainly the time to spin up a digital campaign and start engaging donors at every level. At every level truly. From the annual fund to the major gifts program, because that's what we're seeing where we're promoting these projects and campaigns and they are getting a few hundred gifts. Funds of tens of thousands of dollars per day in small gift activity and the major donors take notice as well. And I wouldn't just wait for that on accident.

Make sure that you're involving major gifts as well

One of the other things we're doing is remote digital engagement training for gift officers using these tools to be actively engaging donors. Make sure that you're involving major gifts as well. Even if it's not a big gift now, this is the beginning of cultivation for work around a vaccine research program or a nursing school or a medical school. The need has never been more compelling and that can be the start of some really fruitful conversations in terms of engaging major donors as well. In fact, it isn't a whole lot different than your typical Giving Day.

We always want to focus on major gifts in addition to the Annual Fund as well. That's what makes for a really vibrant, comprehensive, fully effective online Giving Day. And that's certainly true right now

Even beyond those that are on the frontlines right now (providing PPE, ventilators and hospital beds), there are other funds that are directly and indirectly related to COVID-19. Think about a mental health program. We think about the organisations that are preventing and stopping domestic violence. We've heard some of the stories and we know how difficult a time this is to be locked into a home setting with someone who is a violent person.In that respect, domestic violence can absolutely be something where we would want to take this opportunity, for lack of a better term, to tell our story. To engage donors and to really make clear the impact that COVID-19 is having. Even well beyond COVID-19, we need to illustrate why these are important funds to support. Nurses, doctors and medical students are of course on the front lines, but we need to think longer term. We are being shown, especially here in the States, how critically important our healthcare system is and how fragile it actually is.

I don't think any of us would have imagined we'd ever have gotten to a point where there just aren't enough hospital beds and supplies to keep people alive when otherwise we could. That's of course what makes this whole thing so terrifying. It’s the fact that if we push our hospital system past capacity, that's when things get really bad.

Again, we should start some of those longer conversations about why it's important to support these programs that support our doctors and nurses of the future, our treatment programs of the future and research into vaccines and whatnot. Those are a really fruitful conversation to be having right now. And again, every single one of these things here could be a different fund on a Giving Day and you could still run a Giving Day.

Student Emergency Funds

Just to reiterate, these have probably been the most popular, especially in the Higher Education space. Everybody's got students - even if they don't have a medical program, they have students. Of course this is another opportunity to:

a) Fundraise for the student emergency funds, food pantries and mental health programs right now, and

b) Use as a conversation starter for major donors.

Whether it's a Giving Day that's coming up, maybe you've already done a campaign or maybe you're mid-campaign for a Student Emergency Response Fund. Carry that conversation through Development Officers in a one-to-one way with prospects and donors who have shown interest in supporting let's say scholarships in the past. This could be a really good conversation starter in that space as well.

Part of what we're trying to do here is obviously raise money. But equally it’s a focus on that marketing communications benefit of doing a Giving Day as well. Development Officers, frontline fundraisers, may be struggling to fill their days because they can't be flying around the country and meeting with people. This gives them the conversation starters. Some of these things that are actually happening at an annual fund Giving Day level are a wonderful opportunity for conversations with them, their donors and prospects as well.

SOS Fundraising

SOS fundraising is one of those things where different people have different opinions. But as a firm at BWF, and myself in particular, we rarely want to lead with the message, "we're falling apart unless you save us". That’s not typically the most compelling message. It's not a mission.

During normal times, we would never recommend that. But these are not normal times. And I do think there is a pretty compelling case to say: "We're going to be here no matter what. But exactly how strong and how effective we're going to be is up to you at this point. We need you to give today, so that we can continue fulfilling and pursuing the mission that we've been pursuing all these years."

You still have to be careful about how you couch it, but people expect this. People in different areas and in different ways are struggling. Therefore, it's not an unexpected or unusual request to ask for help to keep our doors open or just to keep on doing what we need to be doing. But the, 'we need your help to survive,' message #is not compelling enough long term. Don't focus on this over time. Be ready, as soon as you possibly can, to drop that message and go back to sowing the seeds of hope.

If you are doing a Giving Day and if you want to do a Giving Day beyond the COVID-19 response to student emergency funds, this is the message I would recommend:

“We will be back. and we'll be stronger than ever, thanks to donors like you who give today."

That's that message of hope. Fundraising for a strong future. That’s what a lot of people are really craving right now. To have an online community event. Again, it's all virtual but that's all we have right now.

Maybe we'll have this online community event where people are sharing across social media and talking about the prospect of a bright future. That is a powerful tool that I think will drive our fundraising well beyond COVID-19 and probably help to endure a lot more people to our programs because we are providing that ray of hope.

Modify your Giving Day

If we don't want to just focus on coronavirus, there are different ways of doing this as well. I don't think there's anything wrong with providing people with options across a campus, for example still having multiple funds set up. However, I would limit the number of funds. This is another thing that, ordinarily we wouldn't necessarily recommend for a Giving Day. Where you want to try to provide donors with options where they can see themselves. I think some of the best Giving Days, in terms of participation, have provided fund options to support student groups and things like that. There's a very good argument to make once the dust settles here and be clear from the initial shock of COVID-19 and start reopening that this wouldn't be true anymore. Much like the SOS fundraising we just talked about. But for now I do think we want to try to limit it. And we do want to keep the focus on something at least somewhat related to coronavirus/COVID-19.

If you have impact funds, I think that's just a no brainer. That's a really important fundraising focus right now. It's going to resonate with the audience. It makes sense. It's what they're expecting. It's what we probably should be doing right now. But to be clear, if we're going to leave COVID-19 we want that to be a legitimate fundraising request. Don't blur the lines. Don't go into a gray area if what you're raising money for here on Giving Day isn't necessarily related to COVID-19/coronavirus, at least not directly.

There are other things we can do that in a very good way are not things that we might typically do. But we can get away with it at this point in time. We always want to fill the Discretionary Fund, the Dean's Fund, the Executive Director's Project Program. Those things have fallen out of favour in recent years because donors are demanding so much specificity. We can make a much more compelling case now of why we need these things and this goes back to the storytelling piece.


COVID-19. From staffing levels, to students being sent home, to not having the room and board. From tuition, to people no longer showing up and canceling an entire season of performances. There are so many things taking place right now where with great storytelling we can raise a lot of money around a discretionary fund or an annual fund. The type of program that again we've been moving away from more and more because it's been more difficult to fundraise for. Well now, compelling storytelling can be a great tool.

So much of what we're doing is now because we have to. But even long term, with discretionary funds, one of the big pieces that's missing is we've been so reluctant to say, "it does X".

Discretionary funds do real, quantifiable things that we can demonstrate, that we can show. We can exemplify people who have been positively impacted by those funds. Even well beyond COVID-19, we need to think about how we can tell the story of the discretionary fund using great video, using those who are impacted by it. Especially now, when we want to trim down to just one fund per unit during a given day, this would be a recommended path to take.

Adjust, don't discard, tactics

Some of the tactics that we've used for quite some time can absolutely be retooled and reapplied in a slightly different way. A lot of you have done Giving Days or followed other top Giving Days. We've seen the social media challenges, which to us typically means upload a photo using the hashtag. Or, upload a selfie wearing school gear and singing the fight song. Or, upload a photo of your pets dressed like this. Something along those lines.

Do something around a hashtag that is unifying and simple. Like snapping a photo, uploading it to Instagram or Twitter and using the hashtag. Then what we typically do is we take all of those who've actually done that, drop those into a hat. Whoever wins gets to give $500 or $1000 to the fund of their choice that's active on the Giving Day. No one's actually winning any prize money of course, they're simply winning the opportunity by luck of the draw to designate funds to a particular area that's active during the Giving Day.

I don't think we should necessarily even scrap that. That's still something that is a fun, virtual, highly engaging, highly interactive activity. That would probably work even better now if we do it in the right way. And the right way maybe isn't to post a video singing the fight song. Instead, maybe what we're doing is post a selfie doing a good deed while physical distancing with this hashtag. Something along those lines where it's appropriate for the time. It's not ignoring the fact that we are in a pandemic. It's giving people some sort of activity that's interactive and easy to do, while still supporting the campaign and building a buzz. Or, it could be with the video singing the fight song as a togetherness activity. We can't be together physically but online everybody can record themselves singing the fight song and use this hashtag. Take all of those 20 or 30 different pieces and put together this mash up montage of everyone singing the school fight song to show how we are together. It's like Hamilton on John Krasinski's, 'Some good news,' when the performers get together and actually all sing at once on a Zoom screen. You could do that with a fight song. That would be appropriate because the whole point is we can't physically be together but we can be together virtually. And here's a really neat way of how we're going to do it.

You could really surprise people with it. For example, if you did that fight song piece before the Giving Day, edited it and sent it out during the Giving Day with 25 or 30 of your online ambassadors or top social media followers it would  be a really fun piece. Once again we've seen social media challenges, we've been using them for quite a while now. They worked really well before the pandemic. They'll work great again after the pandemic and they can work right now with a Giving Day during the pandemic. We just need to adjust it a little bit and make sure that we're being appropriate and cognisant of what's happening around the world.

Fundraising is possible

Do it before, during and after the pandemic. Strong donor engagement and warming is really important. We've very recently launched our Student Content Team concept and the Student Gift Officer concept. The University of South Dakota (USD) was certainly the first institution in the world to actually do a student content team because we launched it with them as a new concept. Like with most things, USD being an incredible, hardworking and extremely nimble team, they really made good work of it.

With the students, we found they matched that expectation. They were wonderful. The idea of a Student Content Team is you hire a certain small set of students. They're charismatic. They're good on video, both in front of and behind the camera. You produce a ton of video content with those students. In a lot of cases they're producing it. In some cases you have to have it professionally produced, either in-house or with an outside agency.

The goal is about one new video per week. A lot of times we're simply saying here's what your gift is doing. Here's the impact of giving. Here's what's happening on campus because of philanthropy. Here's what donors like you make possible. We're repeatedly doing that with the same voices and the same faces over time. What ends up happening is the alumni base starts to become familiar with these students and they start reacting better to videos. As such, if you have a direct mail piece that goes out and you had the Student Content Team video going out at the same time (the same students who donors are familiar with), what we found is that actually the direct mail pieces performed quite a bit better. This is because we have a student notifying them on video of this piece in the mailbox they received today and letting them know it's not junk - "Your gifts make a big difference. Here is why:...".

That has a really profound and positive impact on multi-channel fundraising.

Then before the Giving Day, the students did roughly a 12 part video series where they did brief vignettes of about 60 seconds in length, talking about the impact of giving to specific funds across campus during the Giving Day. Reminding people that the gifts they made last year made a difference, and we need them to come back and give again this year. We had a 50% growth in participation during the Giving Day. Substantially it was much higher than the growth in dollars raised during the Giving Day for USD. Same thing here, it comes back to storytelling again. Who can you tell the story through? Who are your stars who can be these charismatic, on camera personalities?

This is one of those things that if you start it today, via remote and working with students who can produce remote video, you could build these students into the program for the next year or so. Start developing this familiarity with them and do everything from elevating multi-channel campaigns to dramatically increasing email open rates because the recipient knows the name of the student who's sending them that content. You could do some really powerful stuff. That's that engagement and donor warming piece that is often missing in the digital space. The storytelling in between the solicitations that make the solicitations much more effective.


Stony Brook is another university that has a Digital Experience Ambassador, or DXA. It's really another version of the Student Content Team or Student Gift Officer program. And, my goodness what an incredibly talented group. They are just remarkable. This is a team that we searched for, interviewed, hired, and trained entirely via remote over the past month because we had no other option. Really that was the only way we could get in front of these students. They were working on their own from their homes, their parents homes (their cars in some cases).

It's just remarkable - the creativity, the work ethic and the production from these students. One of their concepts is this #SBUtogether campaign, where the students take over Instagram and do Instagram stories. There are six of them. And every six days a new student takes over the Instagram Stories piece and basically starts by recognising we can't be together on campus. That is a huge bummer, but we love Stony Brook and we can talk about that on Instagram. You can go to SBUGiving Day. You can follow it at Instagram.com/SBUGivingDay and you can see these campaigns. Every single day it's a new student leading the way with content - Monday through Friday.

It's gone extremely well. They introduce themselves, introduce the concept and they do this. They put up a question like for example, what makes SBU unique? Or, what is your favorite place to eat on campus? Or, where's the best place to do homework? Those are the types of things that work really well at fostering that online sense of community, that engagement, that bringing us back to the fact that we're still in quarantine but we're not alone. We're still together. We can have a community still in the virtual sense. We get great feedback as well - about a dozen posts with questions answered per day, and they're just wonderful answers.

Of course we can share whatever we want, and we don't have to put it out there if we don't want to. A lot of the comments are just wonderful, heartwarming messages that really show the strength of that community. This is something that acts as that engagement piece, that warming piece where we bring a community together online. It's then very easy to pivot that into a Giving Day message. Giving Day is about coming together and doing what you can to support that institution almost always. It's almost always, at least partially, a participation driven event.

That's what this is about. We've been talking about being together for so long. Well, today is the Giving Day. Today we come together to support students, faculty and campus. Today we help rebuild for a stronger future. Ultimately it comes back to hope. The hope that there is a brighter future ahead for us, that things are going to get better. The most important piece, and the message we want to drive home on a Giving Day, is it gets better starting with the support of our donors, our alumni and our supporters.

Comment from: Kat

That's great. I really love that last bit in that case study about increasing engagement, because that was already on the cards for Giving Days. Those of us who work on Giving Days, consult with our partners and work with these amazing teams saw that increasing engagement on already on the horizon. It's almost like the situation we're currently find ourselves in has almost brought that need for engagement forward. Instead of being the shift to better engagement being further down the line, we're starting to see it right now.

For some of your supporters this increase in engagement may be the difference between the realisation that they didn't know that their university does stuff like this. That they make such a difference with the research that they do. That their university is leading the way, not just at the University, but within their local community and maybe even nationally or helping the worldwide effort. Then when that's all backed onto with the student aid relief or making sure that the theater that is on campus is still there for when life resumes as normal, they just may not have known that. Now they know, and they're willing to do good things right now and to have hope. There's a good opportunity - and that's not a phrase that Justin and I use lightly, but with the intention to help you see that there is a way forward. Even when everything may seem impossible at this time.

Part II

Presenter: Kat

We just went through some great recommendations for adjusting and adapting our Giving Day strategies. I really like what Justin mentioned at the beginning, which was using fundraising as a vehicle for hope for our donors. Whether they're current donors who are familiar with our institutions or those donors who are looking for hope that our institutions can provide.

In this next part of the webinar we're going to take a look at the following:

  • How you can communicate to inspire hope.
  • How you can increase donor participation once messages have been delivered
  • How you can increase donor retention to increase donor loyalty
  • A customer story

It is really amazing that we have these opportunities to provide hope to our communities at this time. Giving Days have always been excellent ways to engage with donors and to display the pride that exists within the institution's wider supportive community. With the tips we've just been through from Justin, there are really clear ways to move forward with running a Giving Day. Whether that's in the next month, the next few months or even in the next year and beyond. The first things that we want to look at here are those communications.

Tips for conveying hope in communications

The communications that surround a Giving Day have always been important, if not critical, to their success. During this period the communications you choose to send are even more important. There are lots of tips that I could have mentioned. But, being mindful of the time I've turned it down to just three. Some of them will echo back to what Justin mentioned earlier.

Be mindful, clear and transparent.

Regardless of the medium, whether it's email, social posts or videos - everything that's communicated at this time will be under a microscope. Being clear and transparent with your language will mean that nothing can be misinterpreted when you're looking to communicate a clear message. Donors also want clarity and transparency at this time so that they feel informed and understand where they're making a difference. They want to know how their gift will help. Finally being mindful of your donors' financial circumstances at this time is really important.

If donors can give, emphasise the participation over the size of the gift. If donors are unable to give, ensure that their support can be made in other ways. This could include being an ambassador, volunteering in other ways or participating in those social campaigns that Justin mentioned. For example, if they can't give, they can share in singing the fight song and be a part of a campaign in that way. It doesn't just mean that people need to give at this time. They can engage in other ways.

Tell stories of impact to inspire hope (and giving)

The second test for your communications backs right onto what Justin mentioned earlier; storytelling to inspire hope. Very often I see campaigns, appeals and Giving Days that focus more on the 'what', rather than the 'why' (and I'm guilty of this too). If you've ever thought of focusing on the 'why' rather than the 'what', now is the time to do that. This also means taking the time to talk more about the student and how they're going to benefit from the scholarship that may be provided to them, rather than talking about the university itself.

Or, you could talk about the research that scientists are going to be able to do, the vaccines that they're going to be able to move forward with developing. Even if it's not now, even if it's in 18 months, talk about what that means to them, to those who will receive those vaccines and what that means for the future. Talk about those patients who are being treated and the future within society. Really focusing on that 'why'. Tell stories about people who will be positively affected by the generosity of others.

Focus on telling stories that are told in such a way that they inspire hope, and inspire others to feel that hope. In one video or email, instead of telling lots of stories about lots of people, we usually suggest picking one person's story to tell in that communication. The reason for that is because it's easier for the audience to focus on just that one story, to understand how that story makes them feel. Then to act on those feelings.

Use donor-focused language

This tip goes hand-in-hand with the second one to make sure that the donor understands that what's being said to them is specifically for them. This involves using more 'you' focused language rather than 'we' focused language. Here is an example of a statement that's 'we' focused:

‘We’ focused: Our university can create life-saving vaccines if donors give.

‘You’ focused: Your gift, no matter its size, will lead the way towards creating life-saving vaccines.

That last bit really makes me feel that the message is for me. That it's for me to do something, to take some action. It's an opportunity for me to make a difference in a time that I'm really wanting to make a difference. If you've written your communications already, or you're yet to write them, do keep these tips in mind so that when you can start writing you can start engaging with your audience. These tips are also good if you're not fundraising at this time. If you're working on those engagement communications, telling stories using donor-led language ('you' language) is really helpful for engagement communications, just as it is for fundraising communications.

Tips for increasing donor participation

If you've run a Giving Day previously, you know that Giving Days are at their most successful when they focus on participation. Even if there is a financial element to what your fundraising for at this time, if you focus on participation, income will follow. First, you want to make sure that, once you've clearly communicated the impact of a donor's gift, the pathways to them making that gift are really clear. Make sure that there aren't too many clicks to reach the donation page. Ideally, there is only one from whatever medium you've sent to making that gift.

Then, make sure that the donation buttons and links are really clearly visible for your donor. This is especially true for mobile. People are spending a lot of time on their phones right now. If they're reading that email or looking at social media and making a gift, make it really easy for them to make that gift and really visible on social media with donation buttons and mobile responsive forms.

Secondly, you'll probably want to emphasise single gifts over regular gifts at this time. This is a big thing here in the UK - we love our regular gifts. But now is the time for a single gift opportunity in terms of asking. Donors who are worried about their financial position will be less encouraged to give a regular gift. Also take a look at the donation amounts on your forms. Make sure that what is on the donation form is really what works for giving right now, in this climate. We did a webinar last week and the University of Oxford had some feedback from one of their donors that said:
"I would have given but the amounts are really high. I didn't think that my gift would actually make a difference or was what you were looking for".

When they went back and looked at their donation amounts on their form they realised that they could be turning off a lot of donors because the amounts on their form were really just too high for the current situation. In retrospect, you could start up at 25 dollars or pounds and work up from there. It's important to make donors feel comfortable with the choice that they're making with their gift.

Thirdly, you just want to make sure that either in your communications or on the online form that you are providing contact information for anyone interested in making larger contributions. Donors do give large gifts online, but, if a donor wants to speak with someone about their gift, having contact information available can ensure that that donor is more likely to complete their gift.

Next, consider putting the budget towards retargeting ads on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. It's really important for those who make it to the donation page but don't end up making a gift. These are donors who may need more information or they may need a few more stories. They may not be fully bought into giving right now, or maybe they got distracted because there are a lot of things distracting us. In short, they just didn't end up making their gift. But, if you have retargeting ads running in the background, they can serve as reminders to those people who are engaging with you who got to the site but didn't end up making their gift and can encourage them to fulfill that gift.

Once donors have given, do encourage them to share the opportunity with their friends, their family and their networks via social media. Peer-to-Peer giving is having a really big impact on giving right now and with lots of gifts coming in from referrals (whether you do this formally through your ambassadors or off the back of a thank you email), encourage sharing to help increase that donor participation and to help get the word out. People really want to share good news right now and this allows them to do that

Finally, celebrate more than you ask, which may sound a bit backwards. But this is particularly suggested again for social media. Obviously we want to share those initial messages that encourage and ask for donations. However, once donors start to give you can turn to a strategy of thanking rather than asking. We see it all the time with social posts on Giving Days and just in online giving in general. When you lead with a ‘thank you’ post and you celebrate those donors, actually those posts have higher engagement and higher conversion rates than the posts where the ask was originally made. This is because people love to celebrate. People love to see their impact. They like to share that and they like to feel good about the contribution that they've made. For this reason, definitely share those 'thank you' posts and celebrate

Donor retention

It's excellent that we have all these donors who are giving right now, so having a strategy for keeping these donors engaged is really important. We need to be able to continue to engage with these donors long after Giving Day is over. The 'thank you' process that you have once a donor makes a gift online should be really watertight. If you haven't encouraged online gifts previously, this includes making sure that donors immediately receive their 'thank you' email, including stating all the details of their gift. This should also include its impact and who to contact if they have any questions. A lot of your donors may never have given online before, so they may really want to feel reassured in this process. This is especially the case if you want them to refer others to making a gift. If they have a good experience and they see that it's safe and secure they will encourage others to do the same.

As Justin said before, we're not really sure what's happening with physical mail at the moment. Therefore, making sure that you have a nice process for sending out thank you's via email will make sure that donors feel informed about their gifts and aren't waiting for something in the post. Afterwards, once you've initially made that thank you, you can continue the conversation with your donors even after their gift has been received. That really encourages the engagement. If you're running a Giving Day you'll still include them in those emails to tell them how long is left, to encourage people to make their gift if they haven't already or to thank them if they have. Keep sharing and as the excitement and momentum builds, that want to share will increase. Keeping that engagement up and going is really important for Giving Days. But even if you're running something longer term, keeping up that momentum is still really important. Also it's important to keep in touch with the donor regarding the impact of their gift, the progress of the day and the overall success. Keep that communication going even in three months' time, and in six months' time. What's the continuing story that's happening with their gift, and what's the impact that they're continuing to make, even though they made a gift six months ago. It really keeps those feelings of hope alive and encourages the donor to give again. This leads us onto our next point. Making your next ask.

We don’t want to immediately ask again. However, do have a plan in mind for when we are going to be asking our donors to make another gift. Thinking about the evolving situation of being really clear in our strategy of what that next gift may be. We talked before about those of you who may need to run emergency campaigns to keep the lights on, which you normally wouldn't run. Then in six weeks' time, you have a look to see what's happening and to pivot that conversation. The same is true for a Giving Day. For example, maybe you ran your Giving Day and the situation has changed and become something different. How can those donors continue to still make a difference and continue to provide hope even though Giving Day has passed? For a lot of us here in the UK, that next ask is probably going to be a regular gift ask. Even so, we can make sure that we at least have a plan for what that next ask is going to be to make sure that the conversation keeps on going and we keep those donors engaged.

Finally we just want to repeat that process above and have this be a process not just for Giving Day but for any point at which a donor makes their gift.

Customer story: UK University

Before diving into this customer story I want to preface that this isn't specifically about a Giving Day. However, the results of what the institution achieved are very similar to if they had run a Giving Day. By showing you this example I hope to encourage those of you who have previously run a Giving Day to feel confident that moving forward with your planned Giving Day is still a viable option. Also, take into account the recommendations that Justin has provided earlier. For those of you who haven't run a Giving Day before but are considering it, I hope this example provides you with the confidence to know that donors are giving even if a Giving Day is something that's completely new to your team.

This institution is based here in the UK. They have previously run fundraising campaigns for research priorities both at the major and mass participation levels, but haven't ]run a Giving Day. They launched their campaign in early April and within the first 24 hours had more than 400 donors. This type of activity is essentially a Giving Day.

I called up this institution and talked about their makeshift Giving Day. They were equally amazed. They just couldn't believe, off the back of one email, what had been possible. Now they've raised more than £173,000 from over 820 donors, which is amazing. It makes me feel a bit flushed to think about it because it's just incredible how people are stepping forward. All just in a matter of days and all from online.

Whenever we talk about case studies people always want to see the data behind what's going on. Taking a look at the gifts over time, we can see that initial spike. You can see they received over 400 gifts initially, followed by peaks and troughs of giving. Sometimes people can look at this and be a little bit worried about those peaks and troughs, but those peaks and troughs are totally normal in online giving. For example, weekends come and then the week comes back. Weekday giving is probably higher than weekend giving, even though it all feels like a blur at the moment.

Those peaks and troughs definitely still follow the activity that's happening behind the scenes of the institutions sending those emails and posting those social posts. That activity will be what is driving those online donations. That continuing engagement. Then, when we look at the channels that are triggering those donations (on the right hand side) we can see that the majority were triggered by email. This is great because those emails are being sent out and they're being picked up. As you can see, we do have a small but decent amount of donors saying that their gifts were a result of social media and word-of-mouth, which is really great and probably higher in terms of where those gifts have been seen before in other similar online campaigns.

It's good to be paying attention to where those gifts are coming from. You can then use that to inform strategies moving forward about how you target other audiences and other constituencies, maybe the community, about giving to this campaign.

We can see that the majority are alumni, which is what we probably would expect. It's nice to have the data to confirm it and back that up. We can also see a good amount of staff who are giving in high numbers, which is great for internal engagement around the institution to see staff giving. Lastly, there are also quite a lot of people in the 'other' category who are giving. I looked into that a little bit more and those are people within the local community or friends of people who work at the University who saw this and wanted to give because what's going on is happening right in their backyard. They want to help their local community and strengthen their local community. That's really great to see.

Finally on the right again we have gifts by their amount given. That's always the question: What's the average gift? We can see that lots of people are giving at about the £25 level. There's also lots of people giving £10, £50, £100 and then you can see a nice little trickle of larger gifts. This is really great for building that pipeline for your major donor colleagues and helping to make sure that their pipeline is still secure. That they're still able to have conversations and to engage with those individuals to see how they can help in other ways. Something that I was thinking about before, when Justin was talking about major gift colleagues, was that this campaign could be an opportunity for someone to make a difference in a way that they didn't know how. And you were the institution who let them do that. They could give you £1,000. They could give you £1,000,000. And who knows where that's going to lead. Start that conversation now. I think that's a really great opportunity for us to see where that goes right now and to give people that hope.

Just a final thought here for anyone who may be wondering how this appeal compares to previous ones. More precisely, do they run direct mail and telephone campaigns and things like that. They do. But, this appeal has outperformed both the direct mail and telephone campaigns that they ran in the last six months. There's some food for thought.

That was just a really quick run through of what we're currently seeing and I really hope that it provides a bit of insight into what we might expect if we're running any appeals, including a Giving Day.


Question: We have shifted our Giving Day and are revamping the communications plan. We will only be sending emails and posting on social media on top of peer-to-peer outreach. Do you have a  recommended frequency for email communications to market the Giving Day beforehand, and probably during the day, as well? We're trying to be sensitive so that we don't inundate people on top of all of the other COVID-19 messages they are receiving.

Answer: Kat

I think it is good to be thinking about the fact that people are receiving a lot of messages right now and you may even mention that in the message that you send out. To say, we know that you're hearing a lot from people and it's almost overwhelming. Acknowledging the fact that this is happening helps them to understand that you realise that that's happening and so you're on the same page for the very beginning. But then just bringing it back to why that message in particular is important for them as part of your community and that you didn't want them to miss out. You can also mention that if hearing about Giving Day isn't something they want to hear about right now, here's the link where they can opt out of Giving Day-specific communications.

Answer: Justin

I think that's perfect advice. Be more mindful. Understand what's happening. Addressing the fact that the situation is unique and allowing people to choose to opt out of that particular Giving Day email communication is wise. Also, I do think drawing down a bit of the frequency is a good idea. In saying that, most institutions don't email nearly enough during Giving Days - in the lead up to or during. If you're typically doing 6 emails on a Giving Day, you could knock that down to 3 or 4 for example. But, you do want to email for sure. You want to change the strategy a bit. Be cognisant and clear that you know the situation and you understand where people are coming from. But also, the situation is the reason why we need to be doing the Giving Day and we hope you'll support us. Definitely email. Don't just email once, email several times but be more mindful about it. Think about the messaging and how you're communicating via email. The same is true for all of the channels. And also, if we're going to be emailing less, really focus on content on other channels. For example, on social media have a very vibrant, robust, video campaign ready to go for the Giving Day so that if people aren't seeing it as much in their inbox they have the opportunity to see it more through peer-to-peer sharing on social media.

Answer: Kat

That peer-to-peer engagement could be really powerful right now, especially for spheres of influence and what people are influenced by at the moment. It could be their friends and their family rather than the institution itself. I'm going to give another shout out for data. If you've run a Giving Day previously and you usually send emails before Giving Day: send out your first email, see what the open rate is, see what the click-through rate is. Send the next email, evaluate the open rate and click-through rate again. Look at your engagement and see if it's any different. If it isn't any different then you can feel confident moving forward. If it is different then you can change strategy and maybe decide to email less. Using your data to guide you is always my way forward.  

Question: What did the case study in the UK entail? Was it just email and what were they fundraising for?

Answer: Kat

They have done email and social media. They started it off with email and have kept on perpetuating the communications online. Then there was a second email sent to donors to update and thank them for the amazing giving that they had done. The campaign is fundraising for a catch all. This is what Justin was saying before about having just one fund that will help to fund any kind of project that is either known to the university now or not known. There's a lot of uncertainty and it's difficult to plan for everything. If you're fundraising for that kind of relief, whether you know about it or not, then that allows your donors to feel like they're giving for now and for the future. That type of giving had fallen out of favor and I think Justin is right. But, I think that to a certain extent it's coming back because people are really understanding that that might be what's necessary right now.

If you want to know more about that particular university they feature in one of our three case studies in next week's webinars: Moving forward in Times of Crisis - Supporting Students (Part 3).

Question: How effective are social media campaigns when you are a smaller organisation without much of a social following?

Answer: Justin

That is a great question. I think it's a very different answer than it would have been even a few years ago. More so than ever before, especially on Facebook pages, the number of people following your accounts really makes no difference. There is almost no organic reach on Facebook anymore, so sure you will of course get a few more people if you have 100,000 versus 1,000 followers. But it's still a very minimal reach if you're only posting from your institutional account and especially if you don't have online ambassadors driving activity.

Advertising, especially on Facebook and also Instagram, is the great equaliser there. Advertising is why it doesn't matter how big your follower base is anymore. As long as you know who to target, as long as you know what your audience is interested in, as long as you have the content to run a campaign and as long as you have some ad budget, it really doesn't take much. Really, $500 goes a long way on Facebook and Instagram ad campaigns and it gets your content seen and engaged with. Social media campaigns for small organisations with a tiny following can be incredibly powerful if you have good content and you know how to set up a Facebook and Instagram ads campaign. But more so than ever before, it's a little different on Twitter and I guess it's a little different on Instagram as well. If you have a big following it's more likely people will see and take notice of your posts of course. But Facebook is the big one. It's where the majority of people, especially donation giving aid people (those aged 30 to 60/70), spend a lot of their time and organic reach just doesn't really matter but ads do in a big way. Think about advertising. Think about a small budget of $500-$1000. It goes a very long way and will probably deliver a pretty good return. Not necessarily directly on people clicking on the campaign and giving, but in creating that buzz that drives people to take action on an email for example.

Question: This is more on major donors and anyone who may be listening who is thinking about their major donors. For example, they're worried about getting those matches and those challenged gifts. Either because they're not sure if their donors still would like to give at this time, or because that face-to-face meeting is no longer possible. Justin, do you have any suggestions for how they could approach that now that the situation is different?

Answer: Justin

The same thing - do not stop fundraising. Do not stop cultivation. Do not stop talking to donors. They're out there and a lot of them really want to hear from you.

One of the things that we've just launched in the last couple of weeks at BWF and Groundwork Digital is remote, digital donor engagement workshops for Gift Officers who don't know what to do with their time and aren't sure how to use these tools: Zoom. Facebook Live. Facetime. Taking the time now to set up a Facebook page or a Facebook group. This goes for every gift option, not just a digital Development Officer. Every modern Gift Officer should have a billing account, personal account and a Facebook page. Not your personal profile, that's different, but an actual Facebook personality page. They have different sections as business pages, and there are community and public figure pages.

More than half of your constituents are on Facebook and that's being conservative. The numbers are probably quite a bit higher. A lot of them get their news from Facebook every day. A lot of them interact with people on Facebook. Saying I don't want to have a Facebook page for example is basically like saying I'd rather not have a telephone. It's critically important that every Development Officer has digital capabilities. We've heard about the Digital Development Officer program and that's a really good hiring decision, a really good staffing resource decision to actually have a digital program - whether it's mid-level, major gift, qualification or discovery.

We see a lot of that. But, right now, especially now, is the time to provide your team with that type of expertise. To be able, to be confident and to be empowered to use digital to engage donors. Because that's the only way they can engage donors right now. That's the only way to engage donors for months. We've mentioned this earlier. That might be the only way you can engage donors for another year. We can't stop fundraising for a full year. We can't stop talking to major donors and prospects for a full year. They're waiting. They're happy to have these conversations.

Again, many of the client partners we work with have had a lot of success using Facetime, Zoom, and Facebook Groups to really inspire lots of really good chatter. It doesn't mean you have to push for a solicitation right now. I understand some people are maybe delaying that just a bit or recalibrating how you make the ask. But cultivation and stewardship should be going at full speed right now. Storytelling is not just for the annual fund - it's critical and that one-to-one or one-to-a-few level for the major gift piece. And the only way we can do that is through digital, remote means.

We can call people on the phone. We can text them and email them. We can post online and it works. We've seen it work really well in a lot of institutions. On the bright side, one of the things I'm hoping is after we get past the pandemic a lot of organisations will be better equipped to use digital for major donor engagement. Right now is the time to get started. There's no reason not to because what else would Development Officers be doing if they're not engaging donors and prospects via remote?

Sign off

We just wanted to let you know of a few more resources. These include the webinars that we have next week with those institutions where we'll be talking about relief for student hardship. They'll be talking through what they've been doing, how it's been going and what they're planning to do next. Those will be some good case studies for anyone looking to do fundraising around emergency student support.

We do have a Giving Day webinar series, so if you are looking for more tips about writing and Giving Day go check that out. We also have something new called the fundraising copy checker which is available through our social media. That is the best way to find it on LinkedIn. It's really addictive. It gives you a score. It helps you write better copy fundraising. I love it. Go check it out.


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