Giving Days

Why a Giving Day is Now More Important Than Ever

Justin Ware
Dec 16, 2020

The online giving day appears to be stronger and more important than ever.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations have recorded monstrous giving days in fall 2020. South Dakota State University raised $1.6 million from 4,888 donors in September – SDSU’s largest fundraising total in the five years since they first launched a giving day.

South Dakota State’s mid-pandemic giving day was the institution’s best to date.
South Dakota State’s mid-pandemic giving day was the institution’s best to date.

Also in September, North Carolina State University raised $23.2 million from 8,230 gifts, while Columbia University’s, one of the most successful and longest running online giving days in the world, tallied $24.16 million from more than 19,000 gifts.

This hardly comes as a surprise. BWF’s 2020 Digital Fundraising survey found, for the first time, that online channels outperformed BOTH the phone program and direct mail in driving donor participation.

In short, traditional annual fund methods are struggling at institutions around the world …but often there is an overlap between those institutions that struggle with their annual fund and those that haven’t properly invested in digital fundraising. And the effort towards establishing a robust online giving day is a clear indicator of that investment.

Why giving days matter now more than ever

Visibility – Few fundraising related events have the reach of an online giving day. Donor galas, homecoming weekends, reunions – rarely can those events generate the widespread buzz quite like a well-run online giving day. For example, if you are a large public institution with more than 100,000 living alumni and your operation is doing content and digital advertising right, more than one million people should see your giving day message via email and social media over the course of a 36-hour period.

The key is not just visibility, but positive attention. The sentiment around an online giving day is overwhelmingly positive. This combination of exposure and positive buzz makes the online giving day the single most powerful tool for marketing a development program, from the annual fund to major gift donors.

The pandemic’s impact on consumer behavior – According to a McKinsey study, US e-commerce activity leapt forward 10 years in just the first three months of the pandemic. And most of us aren’t going back. That same study found that 75 percent of US consumers have tried new stores, websites, and brands during the pandemic and 60 percent say they will not return to their old ways.

We’ve also seen this in recent client partner work where approximately 80 percent of a roughly $20 million annual fund was given via digital channels in 2020. But it’s not just 2020 – that was simply a continuation on a trend toward digital for that client partner.

The annual fund is not in decline – traditional annual fund channels are in decline. Whether you’re moving away from channels like the phone or supplementing those traditional channels, it’s critical we invest in digital to invigorate the annual fund. And an online giving day is central to that strategy.

It works! – We have replaced and reduced phone programs with our client partners and raised the same amount as months of calling in a 36-hour online giving day. We’re seeing data that shows new alumni donors on giving days match an entire year’s worth of donors via a calling program. And the experience of participating in a vibrant online giving day versus having your evening interrupted by a telemarketer …well, that speaks for itself.

Yes, online giving days require resources. So does any fundraising activity that results in significant new donor activity and an overall more engaged donor base. Giving days are often an excellent return on investment for an annual fund and also a mechanism that has a strong and positive impact on leadership annual and major giving.

As we move into 2021, now is the time to learn from the pandemic as well as our past giving days. Let’s grow a good thing, change the narrative around declining alumni participation, and establish the online giving day as a centerpiece of a modern annual giving and donor engagement program.

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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