What are the Opportunities and Risks with Days of Giving?

Days of Giving have become an irreplaceable element of the annual funding cycle for many organizations, and their popularity has surged with the growth of social media. Amplifying a fundraising message for a 24-hour period can bring many new donors to the cause, but there is a lot of preparation that comes with a successful Day of Giving. Here are some opportunities and risks to keep in mind when getting ready for an upcoming Day of Giving.

Opportunity: Donor Acquisition and Increased Participation

The general trend for annual giving is that donor participation is declining each year, and a greater proportion of fundraising dollars are coming from a shrinking pool of wealthy donors. 2020 saw a reversal of that trend, with a 7.3% increase in the number of individuals who made charitable gifts over 2019. Time will tell if this participation rebound can be sustained, because a strong donor pipeline depends on a steady flow of new individual supporters. The amplified messaging from a Day of Giving provides an important opportunity for new donors to join your database, annual solicitation list, and giving societies. 

Colby Falconer, Annual Giving Manager at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, incorporates Giving Tuesday as a donor acquisition tactic: "We see Giving Tuesday as a way to reach out to members and donors who aren’t in our giving societies. With the buzz that day now has behind it, I think more people take notice and may feel compelled to participate in a worldwide day of giving. We also see some new donors through The Big Give for which we are very thankful, as they help to bring awareness to us and our mission."

Opportunity: Peer-to-peer Solicitation

I’ve written before about the incredible effectiveness of peer-to-peer solicitations - generating up to 300 times the response rate of a professional solicitation. The buzz from a Day of Giving creates a perfect opportunity to ask your supporters to share your fundraising appeal via social media. It’s a fantastic way for them to make a difference after making their own donation, and it really works. If peer-to-peer proves to be popular on your next Day of Giving, those individuals may agree to do some volunteer fundraising throughout the year as well. 

Raeceen Dukehart, Director of Annual Giving at Otterbein University, piloted a standalone Day of Giving called 1847 Minutes for Otterbein. She says “Peer-to-peer solicitation is truly the lifeblood of a Day of Giving. Sure, you can be successful on your Day of Giving without peer-to-peer. However, you are going to see exponentially more success when you meet your volunteers and donors where they are and make it simple for them to solicit their peers on your behalf.”

Opportunity: Matching Gifts

The ultimate evolution of peer-to-peer giving is the matching gift, which continues to be a popular hook for creating urgent appeals in both nonprofit and political fundraising. There is a double opportunity of engaging smaller donors who want to stretch their donation further, as well as cultivating the individual who submits the matching gift. In my experience, putting up a large matching gift appeals to those who feel responsible for the mission and gravitate towards recognition and esteem for their generosity.  

Opportunity: Create Civic or Institutional Pride

Raising money on a Day of Giving is only part of the goal - rallying a group of loyal supporters and bolstering the reputation of your organization is just as important. Many universities choose their Founder’s Day as a historic jumping off point for a call to action. Celebrating the long tradition of your organization making a difference is a way to secure the devotion of your donors as they make a gift. In 2011, The Columbus Foundation started their Day of Giving called The Big Give, in part to create civic pride in the city and its many worthy nonprofits. Their results in that effort are undeniable.

Risk: Competition With Many Organizations 

One of the complexities of running a Day of Giving is that there can be a lot of competition for your organization’s message to be heard among dozens or even thousands of other worthy causes. To differentiate your fundraising appeal, consider spacing out your messages far ahead of the big day, when there will be the highest traffic of emails and social media content. Along those lines, consider how to distinguish your message - what will make it memorable? Like a Super Bowl ad, these appeals have a brief window of opportunity before the competition will occupy the attention of your potential donors. Consider whether you can justify putting marketing budget towards “boosting” your posts on social media - this might be the time when such spending really makes sense. Finally, consider hosting a standalone Day of Giving to avoid competing with other nonprofits altogether.

Raeceen Dukehart from Otterbein University says “Most organizations participate in Giving Tuesday, so cutting through the noise on that day can be difficult. With a Day of Giving, you can really focus on a theme that will resonate with your donors. Whether that is focused on the year your institution was founded, a significant anniversary, or a special project, you can customize the emails, social media posts, and other outreach to speak to your donors, without competing as much for space in their inbox. Most folks are passionate about multiple organizations, so having a Day of Giving focused on your organization alone can help carve out the time for your volunteers and donors to advocate on your behalf by sharing on social media, sending a few texts, or even putting up matching funds.”

Risk: Timing Conflicts with Year-End Appeals

Timing is an important consideration in fundraising, because donors habitually send in donations according to the month of the year. For many, that means between December 15 and December 31st, and some who support their alma mater are used to mailing a check in June before the academic and fiscal year end. A Day of Giving appeal might not be as large as a year-end solicitation, but it will inevitably overlap with the same core supporters if the timing is close. Giving Tuesday typically falls between November 27 and December 3, which coincides with the year end direct mail launch. In 2020, The Big Give was on June 10, which added complexity to university year-end fundraising appeals. In previous years, The Big Give has been held in the spring or fall, and does not have a recurring date. Your organization may choose to designate its own Day of Giving to avoid this, along with competition from other nonprofits. You may also choose to avoid using direct-mail on a Day of Giving in favor of only digital solicitation, to better control the timing in such a tight window. 

Risk: Huge Time Commitment for Preparation

A Day of Giving does not represent a single day of work! When done properly, it represents months of strategic planning, writing and editing messaging, creating digital content, contacting individual donors, and working with program staff to articulate the impact of these donations. If you cannot start working on a Day of Giving until a few weeks prior, it would be better to wait until next year. The global prominence of Giving Tuesday has drawn out countless examples of small nonprofits who only participate on the day preceding and day of the event. Take a look at one of these examples and see where this effort falls flat - has the case for support been thoroughly explained? Is the content visually appealing and memorable? Have enough supporters been notified ahead of time to respond and create momentum? The Day of Giving is only the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to the effort and planning ahead of the big day. 

Colby Falconer has led several Days of Giving at the Columbus Zoo and says "The heavy lifting takes place about two months before the big day. We try to involve as many facets of the organization as possible. We ask animal care teams to take and send photos and provide sound bites or text for us to use that allows us to show what a donation does to help the animals and their care teams. We recognize everyone is busy doing their own work so we try to plan far enough ahead for those requests to get those materials back and then work with communications to schedule all the posts."

If you have ideas or advice about the best way to approach a Day of Giving at your organization, leave a comment below!


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