4 Lessons About Getting Started with Giving Days

Tuesday, August 12, 2014 - 12:52 pm EDT
George Stevens

Online giving days are generating huge interest among community foundations.

Giving online is increasing in double digit percentages year over year, yet in our community, many of the nonprofits we serve have barely have a website let alone a “Donate Now” button. As a result, we thought it was important for us to help our nonprofits become familiar with raising money online.

We organized training sessions on how to use social media and sessions on raising money through the internet, but in the end we were the ones learning. We raised $4 million in a single day by practicing what we preached.

At Coastal Community Foundation we held our first Lowcountry Giving Day in May of 2014. It was not without trepidation as we had never conducted an online campaign before. We held our breath and took a deep dive into “crowdsourcing.” We let our grantees plan and execute much of the giving day strategy. As mentioned above, we were successful beyond our most optimistic projections. While our goal was capacity-building for our grantees we had a major marketing success, we found hundreds of new donors, and we raised $25,000 for ourselves.

Some lessons:

Ask for help. Rather than put together a design team for the logo we asked the nonprofits to create one. We used a high-tech solution (a Google+ Community) but it could have just as easily created one via email. This built a sense of ownership as well as saving us the labor and design costs.

Find a friend. We shared with all nonprofit participants the number of followers and likes each had on Twitter and Facebook. We encouraged partnerships between organizations (big with small, neighbors, rivals, and odd fellows) to work together to promote each other. We encouraged everyone to be friends with the organizations with the larger social media followings (in our case the local aquarium and the two animal rescue organizations). Cross posting helped to drive traffic on the giving day.

Be a skeptic. Most of the published reports on giving days come from larger organizations in larger communities. We ran our day with as few people as possible, delegating the work to the partnering nonprofits. Most published reports suggest several fulltime staff, a large media budget, and a war room of volunteers. We did it with 200 hours of staff time over six months, less than 1% of our total organizational workload. Just because some other community foundation raised lots of money does not mean that whatever tactics or staffing plans they used will work for you. [I suppose that applies to this advice too.]

Let go. The combination of allowing the nonprofits to design the day and telling them to find their own technical support meant that each of them could effectively target their particular donors in their own way. An unintended, but very nice, consequence of this was that we reached far more people than if we had controlled the message, scripted the tweets and posts, and laid down lots of rules. It was scary, but it worked.

But once again, be skeptical. Just because we stumbled on great success does not mean all of our decisions were good ones. What might have given us even greater success? What made our effort different from what would be successful in your community?

George Stevens is the President and CEO of the Coastal Community Foundation of South Carolina.

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