10 Ways to Unlock your School’s Giving Day Potential

Giving Days are time-sensitive fundraising events aimed at rallying communities to maximize engagement and donations to your institution and so much goes into running a successful one. The planning, preparation, execution and blend of multi-generational activities really comes together to make a community impact. Knowing the potential pitfalls and ultimate goals of your event makes a huge difference. Giving Days are growing in popularity, but they are also increasingly more engaging with the improvements in technology.

In fact, here at Maryville College, the Maryville Fund hit a record number for the 2020-21 fiscal year, topping out at $2.07 million. Part of the Maryville Fund’s success can be attributed to Tartan Tuesday, Maryville College’s annual 1,819-minute giving challenge. Held during the first week of April, Tartan Tuesday invites all members of the Maryville College community to support the programs and causes that are important to them and help the College earn challenge gifts.

It all started when we noticed larger universities holding successful giving days back in 2014. We wanted to see if this was a channel that our community responded well to. As you can imagine, it was! A giving day was attractive to our team because they are time-limited, technology-driven, can raise a substantial amount in a short time period, and often increase the number of first-time donors to an institution. We have been thrilled with the response to Tartan Tuesday; over time, it has really proven what the Maryville College community can do when everyone comes together and unites around a common goal.

Whether you are just getting started with a giving day or have an established one, consider these 10 tips to get more out of your event.

  1. Keep your Giving Day top-of-mind year-round. A successful Giving Day requires detailed planning upfront. It is never too early to start planning for your Giving Day! Start at least six months early. Our Giving Day always happens during the first full week of April, but we set our strategy and begin our planning in July the year prior.
  2. Set explicit measurable goals. Goals provide clarity about what you want to achieve. They should be measurable and align with the strategic or divisional vision of your Advancement Office. If it is your first year, keep your total raised goal private so you don’t set unrealistic expectations. A participation goal (either trying to achieve a specific number of donors or gifts) seems to work best. For us, our primary goal is the number of gifts and keep our goal at a level we know that our donors can meet so we know that they will experience a “win” every year.
  3. Create a clear work plan or communications calendar. A big task can seem daunting when looking at the big picture – especially something as logistically complicated as a Giving Day! Create a work plan or communications calendar for your Giving Day that breaks the project into manageable pieces or chunks, so that planning seems more doable.
  4. Rally your Giving Day team. Planning a Giving Day is a lot of work! Make sure that you have a dedicated team on your side who can help plan, organize, and run your Giving Day. Create a Giving Day Committee and hold regular strategy meetings. For us, that includes our VP of Advancement, Major Gift Officers, the Database Manager, a representative from the Communications Office, a representative of the Sports Communications Office, and a representative from our Performing Arts Center.
  5. Consider a quiet phase. You are probably familiar with the quiet phase of a capital campaign. Consider implementing a similar quiet phase for your Giving Day. During this period before the public rollout of your Giving Day, secure major gifts and make leadership annual gift asks. We allow our oldest alumni and members of our leadership annual giving to give early and have their gifts count for our Giving Day. Position early giving as a benefit of membership in a special group like a recognition society or a milestone reunion.
  6. Identify prospects and close challenge gifts. As part of your quiet phase, identify major donors who might be able to provide a challenge or matching gift to your Giving Day. When you solicit these donors, be sure to emphasize how their challenge gift will create momentum for the campaign and encourage others to give.
  7. Perfect your crowdfunding hub. We work with JustGiving® and Blackbaud Professional Services to create an attractive, branded crowdfunding hub for our Giving Day. No matter what you use, create a sense of urgency by emphasizing the time-sensitivity of your campaign on your crowdfunding hub. You want donors to feel that if they don’t get their gift in by the end of the day, it won’t make as big of an impact.
  8. Take a multichannel approach. Plan to use multiple channels to reach your target audiences and make sure that messaging is consistent across all channels. Start with a direct mail campaign during your quiet phase to special groups. Analyze the preferences of your donors and segment based on their communication preferences. Take advantage of e-mail marketing, social media, texting, video, phone calls, push notifications, and in-person events to make sure that you are reaching all your donors via their preferred channel.
  9. Make day-of donations as smooth as possible for donors. The volume of gifts on your Giving Day will likely be higher than you are used to. Plan for potential technical issues and create a crisis management plan just in case. Work with your Advancement Services team and representatives from online donation platform (again, for us this is the design team with JustGiving) to ensure that day-of donations run smoothly.
  10. Recognize and steward Giving Day donors. Your Giving Day is over and you have hit your goal! Remember that this is a major achievement for your donors and celebrate accordingly. Create thank you e-mails and videos to share the results of your Giving Day with all donors. Prep targeted acknowledgments and receipts for your Giving Day. We also created a listing for our Giving Day donors in our annual President’s Report.

Since it began in 2016, Tartan Tuesday has seen record giving totals every year. During its inaugural year in 2016, Tartan Tuesday raised over $94,000, with 329 gifts. In 2021, giving exceeded $451,000, with 966 gifts. We look forward to another exciting giving day this year and hope the same success for you!