Giving Days

How to Build Modern Online Giving Days

Justin Ware
January 4, 2021

It has been roughly 10 years since we first started hearing about the “money bomb” campaign. Money bombs were short duration online events that used urgency and peer-to-peer fundraising to drive substantial new donor and small-gift activity.

Not long after that, we at BWF Groundwork Digital partnered with Florida State University to launch FSU’s inaugural “Great Give” – one of the first “money bombs” in higher education or what would soon be widely known as the “online giving day.”

Much has changed in the 10 years since FSU’s first Great Give. Technology has advanced and become far more dynamic and personalized. Peer-to-peer – while still effective – now requires a more deliberate and strategic approach for large-scale success. We’ve come to realize how critical video is in donor engagement and have developed programs to exponentially increase video production without exponentially increasing our budgets.

Because of these advances, the online giving day has cemented itself as the most important day on the annual fund calendar for most institutions. As we enter the second decade of online giving days in higher education, it’s time to innovate. Here are three ways you can modernize your online giving day for massive success in 2021 and beyond.

Strategies for taking your giving day to the next level

Digital for Development Officers

Empower your major gift officers to be effective digital fundraisers. Increasingly, institutions are recognizing the power of digital channels for warming, cultivating, and stewarding major donors and prospects. However, some are still reluctant to consider digital as a viable solicitation mechanism. The online giving day is proof to the contrary.

Over the years, we at Groundwork Digital have lost count of the many six- and seven-figure gift agreements that were signed during our client partners’ online giving days. At one institution alone in fall of 2019, four $1 million+ gifts were signed during a single 24-hour giving day (by one digitally savvy gift officer).

Online giving days are vibrant, highly positive events that get noticed by EVERYONE in your donor database. And yes, major donors and prospects are included in “everyone.” Frontline fundraisers who understand digital can leverage that excitement and build toward asks that culminate in the weeks leading up to or actually on the giving day. The robust giving day marketing effort serves as donor warming, helping those donors and prospects feel like “now is the time” to make their transformational gift.

STRATEGIC SIDEBAR: Do NOT exclude major donors from social media ad campaigns during an online giving day. While we don’t want to ping these high-capacity donors and prospects with annual fund-language emails, an inspiring video on Facebook is something entirely different. You want all your donors to see this enthusiasm-building content in their newsfeeds. Allow that content to reach all your donors and warm them towards their next gift, regardless of the size of the ask.

Selecting the Right Giving Day Platform

Ultimately, most gifts during an online giving day arrive via the giving day website. Cutting corners on giving day technology could easily be the difference between a 500 donor day and 1,500 donor day. Why? Because the top giving day platforms focus on one thing – converting website traffic to gifts. These top platforms focus the donor on a journey and include urgency driving features at every step of the way. Here are a few things that a quality giving day platform must have:

  • Real-time updating donor and dollar figures. Stagnant tickers that update every 15 minutes (or much worse) are unacceptable when urgency is a top driver of behavior.
  • Floating “Give Now” buttons. Wherever the user is on the site, the “Give Now” button should always be in view, ready to be clicked. This is true on both desktop and mobile devices.
  • Video - A giving day platform must prominently and elegantly display video.
  • Dynamic match and challenge features with the ability to enable competition between ambassadors, funds, and groups.
  • Social media activity feeds that track keywords and/or hashtags.

The above is not opinion – those are all data-backed features proven to increase conversion rates on a giving day platform.

And speaking of conversion rates, can your giving day site provider tell you the percentage of website visitors their platform converts to donors? If those conversion rates are anything lower than 15 percent from the site overall or lower than 50 percent on the gift form, keep shopping. Whatever increased price you pay will likely be recouped in dollars raised during the giving day (not to mention the long-term value of all those new donors you don’t get with lesser platforms)

Commit to More Content Year Round

The social media accounts for development programs (alumni or annual giving accounts, for example) should be producing a minimum one new video per week throughout the year. Yes, that’s a minimum 52 videos every year. Minimum.

A Google study has shown 57 percent of people who watch a nonprofit’s video will eventually go on to make a gift to that nonprofit promoted in the video. Content, video in particular, has also proven crucial to increased donor retention.

And here’s the thing, one new video per week is easy and not anywhere near as expensive as you might think …if you prioritize the right program investments. For example, through the BWF Groundwork Digital Student Gift Officer programs, a team of roughly ten students creates unique video content every week of the year. What’s more, this “authentic” video is proven to drive real fundraising success in everything from higher education to political campaigns.

The students are more than just video producers. Student Gift Officers are your built-in, enthusiastic team of student online ambassadors. They lead the charge for engagement and stewardship most of the year, then drive incredible fundraising results during key events such as an online giving day. Simply put, student-led content efforts have now produced a real return on investment and are proven to drive fundraising results online where traditional methods are currently falling behind.

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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