10 Ways to Make a Giving Day Work for Your Charity

Don't Let Fear of Failure Keep You From a Giving Day

An email promoting the Red Cross Giving Day in April.
Some nonprofits stage their own Giving Days. This is an email from the American Red Cross promoting its Giving Day in April. Screenshot by JFritz

I admit it. I was a skeptic about Giving Days.

That is until I learned to appreciate what a great learning experience a Giving Day can be for every participating nonprofit.

What Is a Giving Day?

Another variation on crowdfunding, a Giving Day is a 24-hour special day for giving to charity.

Giving Days have evolved over the past several years into a pretty standard part of fundraising. They often take place in a particular geographical area, such as a state or a city.

Some community foundations around the US now have annual giving days that raise funds for charities in their regions. Examples include GiveMN, Arizona Gives Day, and BmoreGivesMore

Even institutions such as universities have launched their own Giving Days.

Some Giving Days are national in scope and theme based.

The best known is #GivingTuesday, created to encourage charitable giving after Thanksgiving and offset the commercial (think BlackFriday) aspects of the holiday season.  

Give Local America provides a way for entire local communities to create giving days. It is reminiscent of the "Buy Local" campaigns for small businesses.

Finally, several large charities have their own giving days. An example is the American Red Cross. Its Giving Day takes place in April each year.

Why Should Your Nonprofit Participate?

Giving Days are not easy to pull off for individual nonprofits. It takes planning, enthusiasm, and good follow up.

Some experts have questioned whether Giving Days impede giving because donors may participate in the Giving Day and then not give to their favorite charity's annual fund drive.

But, such cynicism seems to be fading as Giving Days start to show promise, and cannibalization of other fundraising seems unlikely.

Because Giving Days take place online, they may be particularly useful in recruiting new donors.

Kimbia, an online fundraising platform, says that some organizations find that 60 percent of Giving Day donors are brand new.

That's because many new donors give that first gift online. They also often have higher incomes than other donors, and the amount they give is usually larger than for offline donors.

Giving Days, like most crowdfunding, are ideal for peer-to-peer fundraising.

Friends asking friends is a wonderful way to acquire new donors. If those new donors are properly followed up by charities, they can become long-time donors who give in a variety of ways.

Another reason to participate in Giving Days is that a charity enjoys enhanced awareness through the exposure generated by the organizers of the Giving Day. 

A Giving Day also provides an excellent opportunity for a charity to practice its digital skills and learn more. Although Giving Days always offer prizes to those charities that raise the most funds or bring in the most donors, all participating nonprofits learn tactics that they can use throughout the year in their individual fundraising campaigns.  

How to Be Successful at Crowdfunding on a Giving Day

1. Start planning six-nine months before the giving day

If another organization sponsors your Giving Day, find out everything you can right now.  Make sure you understand the rules. Register and fill out forms.

Participate in any training (webinars or online tutorials) available, and download materials such as logos, printed items, planning tools, and templates.

Giving Day organizers provide precious free resources and advice. Don't ignore any of it.  It will save you time and money.

2. Set specific, measurable, but realistic goals 

Goals can include:

  • the amount of money you want to raise
  • number of donors you'd like to see participate
  • number of new donors you'd like to bring in
  • the participation of key audiences, such as volunteers or staff

Learn about the incentives the sponsor provides. There are usually prizes for those charities that raise the most or have the highest participation.

The incentives can be very simple such as extra money for the top three charities, or very complex with prizes for hourly goals.

Understand all of these, but don't make them your primary objective. Those incentives are almost always scooped up by the charities with the largest social media lists and donors who are the most adept at using those tools.

If you just focus on the prizes, you’ll be disappointed and discouraged. And that is not the goal of Giving Days.

They are meant to build your online lists, gain your charity visibility, and help you bring in new donors. Focus on those goals, and you can feel good, whatever the outcome.

Work up a realistic giving pyramid for your dollar goal, just as you would for any fundraising campaign. Include a small number of donors at the highest level and then work your way down to many donors at the lowest levels.

Work hard to find donors at all the levels, but primarily the smaller ones. Crowdfunding works best at bringing in a lot of donors, not the largest gifts.

3. Find matching money

Matches work wonders! Even a modest match can multiply your results significantly.

Possible sources for matches are your major donors or a business that you have worked with before. It would be reasonable to shoot for five or ten percent of your goal to be in matching funds.

Good matching also means encouraging donors to use their employer's matching gift program. You can promote that right on your donation page.  Some companies can make all of that matching easier. My favorite is Double the Donation.


4. Start recruiting teams of supporters who can fundraise for you

Make a game of it and put together teams of volunteers or your best donors who are true ambassadors. They may be able to set up group donation sites and then work their contacts in the community.

If you've worked with local businesses, help them to create teams that can fundraise for you on the Giving Day. Giving Days are a natural vehicle for peer-to-peer fundraising.

If you're working with a sponsoring organization and its donation platform, your ambassadors will be able to set up their fundraising pages to support your charity. Encourage it.

5. Set up the technology that you will need

Many Giving Days use one donation service. For instance, Arizona Gives Day, organized by the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits,  sets up a centralized donation system for all participating nonprofits.

That makes it easy for even a small organization to take part and enjoy all the bells and whistles of a sophisticated system. Each participating organization creates a branded donation page within the larger platform.

Make sure you understand how the donation system works well ahead of schedule and then test it. Learn how to get reports from the system, and improve your branding elements that will appear on your specific donation page.

If you're participating in a National Giving Day, such as #GivingTuesday, you'll need to handle your donations. You can use a third party system, such as Razoo, Network for Good, or any number of other crowdfunding sites.

If you already have the ability to process credit card payments through your merchant account, just adapt that to handle your Giving Day transactions.

But don't be generic. Customize landing pages and donation pages specifically for your one-day giving campaign.

Make it clear, simple, and quick to make a donation. Design a post-donation page that the donor sees immediately after giving. It can be simple, such as an excellent image plus a thank you.

Third-party donation platforms are mobile friendly. And that is more important than ever. Network for Good suggests that as much as 30 percent of your donors will make their donations with their phones. If you're using your system, make sure everything works well on mobile.

6. Prepare a detailed communications calendar

Think about when you want to alert your supporters that the Giving Day is coming up.

Set up a series of emails to build awareness and enthusiasm for the special day. You may even be able to encourage people to donate early and schedule the donation to take place on the Giving Day.

Ben's Bells in Tucson sent out such an email about ten days before Arizona Gives Day. Donors could donate and change the date on the donation page to the time of the special day.

7.  Get your best stories together

Start building momentum with every newsletter and email you send out. Tell the stories that will move the hearts of your donors.

People respond best when they read the story of one person, one family, one animal rather than stories about groups of individuals or animals. So focus on one beneficiary at a time and use your best images. If you have vulnerable clients, find ways to protect their identities while telling their stories.

Besides personal stories, use statistics in an attractive way to illustrate the impact of your donors' dollars. Use simple graphs or infographics to show how much good the money will do and for whom.

8. Prepare your thank you messages

Thank yous for Giving Days include the automatic email receipt that is sent immediately after the online donation completes. Make sure that this thank you is not just generic. Make it warm, specific to the Giving Day, and include details about how you will use the donation.

But don't stop with that first thank you/receipt. Follow up with a thank you on social media, on your website, and, as soon as you can, with a mailed note or letter.

Consider doing a social media video saying thanks or an emailed video showing your clients saying thanks. I loved this one that came via email from Ben's Bells.

Think outside the box and don't worry about thanking too much. You can't go too far with thanking donors.

Plan now for getting back to your donors about what your campaign accomplished. Report on how much you raised, how many donors contributed, and the impact of those donations.

Report results within 30 days of the close of the campaign. It can be done through various channels, including a special email, in your next newsletter, on social media, and on your website and blog.

9. What to do on the day of giving

Have a team of people on duty all day and until the close of the Giving Day.

You'll want a social media person working your Twitter stream, posting to your Facebook Page, and to any other social media where your supporters are likely to be.

Have your blogger pump out content and updates on the campaign. Know your Giving Day hashtag, and use it liberally.

Have someone prepared to answer questions by phone, and make calls to your ambassadors to see how the day is going.

Consider putting together a few volunteers to make reminder phone calls to long-time donors or to make some thank you calls to people who have donated today online.

Keep track of how well you are reaching your goals and celebrate accordingly. Remember, just being a part of the game and learning what works and what doesn't is just as important as winning a prize or reaching a particular goal.

Don't even let the word "failure" into the room. There is none when it comes to Giving Days. There is just doing, learning, and celebrating.

Make a party out of the Giving Day. Have food and drinks available and decorate the office with banners and balloons. Celebrate your wins with gusto.

10. Follow up, follow up, follow up

Besides thanking donors and reporting back to them, analyze your metrics.

For example, how many people gave? How many new donors gave? What percentage of former donors gave?

What was the average donation, for individuals and fundraising teams? What are the high points, what were the weaknesses? When did most donations occur?

Collect your social media data. How many tweets did you send? How many were shared? How many mentions did you receive?

Look at your Facebook analytics to see how many shares there were, how many clickthroughs to your web page or donation page. What was your reach?

Did you keep track of phone calls during the campaign? What questions were asked? By whom? How many were complaints? Did anyone complain about technical difficulties?

All of these data will help when you start planning for the next year.

Above all,  keep everything positive. Remember, success with Giving Days may not be perfect at first.

Learn the lessons, apply them next time, and you should eventually see the worth in adding one or two Giving Days to your fundraising calendar.