Student Engagement Teams

Growing Giving Days with Student Engagement Teams

Justin Ware
Mar 10, 2021

Online giving days have cemented a permanent place on the fundraising calendar for most higher education institutions. For many colleges and universities, the giving day raises as much from as many donors as a full year of a calling program. The feel-good celebration of philanthropy that a giving day delivers has far-reaching benefits to the annual fund, leadership annual giving program, and even the major gifts program.

The question for many with the giving day has become not “should we do a giving day?” but “how do we grow and modernize our online giving day?”

The latter is the right question. Part of the answer, we believe, is a robust Student Engagement Team.

The first two {{firstname}} Student Engagement Team programs were built to elevate giving days. The result? For one, a 50% increase in donors and a 100% increase in dollars. The other, a critical mid-pandemic lockdown pivot from a giving day to a student emergency fund, where student content out-performed all other content by a margin of 3:1.

At Stony Brook University, the plan was to hire and train a Student Engagement Team for the upcoming spring giving day at SBU. When COVID-19 postponed the giving day, SBU moved toward a Student Emergency Fund (SEF) appeal. The students - known as Donor Experience Ambassadors or DXAs at Stony Brook - quickly launched a social media community-building campaign for engagement, then set to work on creating video content.

When the May SEF push commenced, the first emails came from leadership - the University president and deans delivered video messages to their constituency. After some modest fundraising activity, the students released the following video…



The results?

  • Leadership video appeals
  • 205 gifts
  • Just under $25,000
  • The above student video:
  • More than 700 gifts
  • $70,000 raised

Student content can be fuel that powers your digital donor engagement. Without good content, you have a car with an empty tank. Likewise, without a smart digital marketing strategy, you have a tank full of gas and no way to realize its power. 

So, let’s talk about how we combine both for the biggest and best giving day your institution has ever enjoyed. It involves the {{firstname}} Awareness-Consideration-Conversion-Stewardship continuum.


Content for Awareness

Does your full database even know you have a giving day? Sure, you email them ...maybe, if you’re lucky, one third of the recipients have opened those emails. Perhaps they follow you on social media, but that doesn’t mean the majority of your constituency sees giving day content on their heavily curated feeds.

The solution is two-fold:

  • Create great, authentic content that inspires organic engagement - which then encourages newsfeed algorithms to show that content to more people (organic content views is very much about a snowball effect). Highly-produced, buttoned-up content does not inspire donor engagement in the same way an authentic message that feels more “real” inspires donor engagement. Student-produced content is that real content of which you need more.
  • Sophisticated paid, targeted advertising - Can you prove that Facebook Ads spends are the start of a successful funnel that leads to a gift? Do you have a modern email strategy that keeps open rates near 50 percent? (If not, let us know - {{firstname}} can help you achieve both and quickly)


Once you lock down the right type of content and have a plan that will lead to that content being seen, then launch a robust awareness campaign informing on the what and when, while educating about the “why” you have a giving day

The first one 

Consideration - Help donors see themselves in the giving day

We call this the consideration stage. Supporters are aware of the giving day, now it’s time to help them see their roles in the giving day. Use Student Engagement Team content to…

  1. Highlight programs that have benefitted from gifts to past givingI o days
  2. Address specific segments - and even some individual mid-level and major gift donors - to help them see why gifts are being requested to support the areas of campus about which those segments and donors are passionate
  3. Use “bookended” video to personalize appeals for VIPS - top donors, key influencers, student leaders


Convert interest to gifts

A ThankView study has shown authentic video leads to a 50 percent increase in clicking a “call to action” button when compared to more highly-produced video. Again - through a combination of organic reach and paid advertising, get this heart-warming, student-produced content in front of your audience to complete the journey from awareness to consideration to conversion for more and bigger giving day gifts.


Don’t forget to steward!

One of the ways in which we’ve been working with students the longest, is around saying “thank you.” During giving days we’ve watched mid-level donors receive a personalized thank you video from a student, and then that donor shares the thank you video with a close connection. That close connection then immediately makes another mid-level gift to the giving day.

It’s important to say “thank you” and mean it. Have your messages of gratitude come from the heart of students, as the student experience is often the primary driver of donor support to giving days.


{{firstname}} has built several Student Engagement Team programs for our higher education clients. Click here to learn how we can reinvigorate your annual and leadership annual giving programs with a high volume of quality student content.


Justin Ware
Justin Ware is a digital fundraising expert with nearly 15 years of experience helping nonprofits raise money online. An Emmy-winning YouTube producer and one of the original pioneers of the online giving day and online ambassadors programs, Justin is focused on innovative tactics and "what's next?" for cause-based work.

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