Breaking Giving Day Records at Brown University

In 2018, higher education institutions accounted for a third of all #GivingTuesday revenue, and many of those institutions additionally raised millions of dollars on their other designated giving days. With the demonstrated power of giving days for higher ed, now is a perfect time to start thinking about adding one to your fundraising strategy like we did at Brown University.

At Brown University—a centuries-old, independent, and coeducational Ivy League institution in Rhode Island— we incorporate two giving days, Brunonians Pay it Forward Day in April and #GivingTuesday, into our fundraising strategy. As a result, we have been experiencing both a lift in funds raised annually and an increase in donors and engaged volunteers.

Our giving days began in 2014, with the fiscal year 2019 being the third year of having two distinct giving days. Unlike many higher-ed institutions, giving days at Brown have focused solely on the Brown Annual Fund versus a university-wide strategy. In 2019, the Brown Annual Fund raised more than $5.5 million from over 8,100 donors over its two giving days, setting a new, collective giving day record. Brown saw year over year growth of 19% in funds raised and 16% in donors.

Currently, we focus on using giving days to drive Brown Annual Fund donor participation and for volunteer engagement. The key to our ongoing success has been using a peer-to-peer solicitation platform as well as a microsite to engage and track volunteers. These tools have helped us to create interclass competition and an expanded social media presence.

  • Peer-to-Peer Solicitation Platform. When you have a large, motivated group of volunteers like we do, a robust strategy for engaging with them throughout the months leading up to, during, and after the giving days is crucial. The peer-to-peer solicitation platform and microsite enabled our team to send out more than 1,000 emails and track volunteer solicitation progress. While most donors give through email from a direct link, the microsite was an effective way to drum up additional participation. The ability to show real-time progress on the microsite all day and night encouraged volunteers around the world to do outreach for the full 24 hours.
  • Interclass Competition. We leveraged a live progress tracking feature on the giving day to show funds raised in real-time and promote friendly competition among classes. Brown’s class of 1984 has set the record for number of donors every giving day thus far – and the class of 2019 was determined to come out on top, ending their streak. While the class of 2019 had a strong showing, the class of 1984 remained on top.
  • Expanded Social Media Presence. Social media has played a significant role in every giving day for Brown. Our team had more than 25 ads running on Instagram and Facebook targeting segmented audiences throughout the month of April for Brunonians Pay it Forward Day, culminating over 138,000 total impressions and reaching 79,000 individuals. While email continues to play a huge role in reaching donors, social media has helped extend that reach and amplify the message.

Our team is already thinking of how we can build on this success and improve strategies for our future giving days. A few initiatives include:

  • Setting comprehensive goals for each fiscal year versus individual giving day.
  • Sticking with a simple challenge so donors and volunteers don’t have multiple challenges to keep up with throughout the day.
  • Expanding internal strategies for fundraisers to leverage giving days to close leadership gifts.

For Brown, simplicity has been instrumental for our giving day success thus far. We’ve focused on securing unrestricted support, ensuring that efforts continue to be focused around creating a simple challenge, and increasing participation. As you consider implementing giving days at your own institution, focus on the most important singular goal for reaching your fundraising bottom line.