A lot goes into planning a giving day for higher education. There’s the online giving page, the ambassadors, communicating with colleagues across many different units and departments – all of it crucially important.
Two specific tactics that have been attached to many of the success stories are based on big donors and big events:
- Connecting an online giving day to a well-known, excitement-inducing event in pop culture.
- Working with the major gift program to provide challenge grant opportunities from major gift donors.
Ohio Wesleyan University connected pop culture with their alumni base for online giving day success.
Ohio Wesleyan University, a relatively small school, enjoyed big success thanks to those two factors.
In May 2013, Ohio Wesleyan was looking for a campaign to boost alumni donor participation. Around the same time, “42,” a film based on the Jackie Robinson story, was set to hit theaters.
If you’re not familiar, Jackie Robinson was the first major league baseball player to break the racial barrier and play in the big leagues. Robinson’s rise to MLB was due, in large part, to Branch Rickey – the innovative MLB executive who pushed to bring Robinson into baseball’s top level. Rickey – and subsequently several of his family members – was an Ohio Wesleyan alumnus.
And there’s the hook – a huge, international pop culture event with a prominent alumnus at the center of the story.
So the campaign was set for May 17 and the goal was to reach 360 donors. To help guarantee that would happen, Ohio Wesleyan’s development team worked with a major gift donor who would offer up $25,000 if they could reach the 360 donor goal. This major gift donor often gives a large amount every year and is interested in doing whatever she can to help Ohio Wesleyan increase donor participation. The 42 giving day campaign was used to ensure that donor would make her annual big gift. At the same time, the tactic created an incentive for alumni to give in order to “secure” the big gift in a challenge environment.
In the end, over the course of 42 hours (a time frame set to correspond with the film theme) 377 donors made a gift for a total of $112,965 given during Ohio Wesleyan’s first-time effort toward conducting an online giving day.
And this is just one of many examples of smart, successful online giving days. It’s to the point of being formulaic. From finding an theme that connects with your alumni base, to engaging major gift donors, to all the other aspects of planning an effective event – giving days have gone from guesswork to science. If you’re planning a giving day in the near future, study what works and/or partner with someone with experience in planning giving days that work. You, your annual fund, AND your major gift program will be glad you did!
Justin Ware is Director of Interactive Communication at BWF_social where he leads online giving day planning for clients.