The “Annual Day of Giving” concept: Is it working?

By Marion Lee, CFRE

Now that we have been through several cycles of annual giving days for nonprofits throughout the U.S., we want to take a closer look at the impact of these special drives and examine whether they are here to stay.

As savvy development officers know, the purpose of such community-wide giving challenges is to increase public awareness of local nonprofit organizations, expand donors’ opportunities to give online to causes that mean the most to them, and potentially boost the outcome of the day’s efforts by qualifying for matching monies and prizes.

In 2016, “Big Give S.A.” raised more than $4.3 million for 1,054 nonprofits throughout the region from 40,400 gifts. Problems with a website, which crashed early in giving drive, forced organizers to extend the Big Give an additional 10 hours the following day. Organizers said the software glitch impacted 80 cities throughout the country. As a result of the glitch and ensuing problems by donors in making gifts to their organizations, the 2016 total virtually tied 2015 results, down from a goal of $6 million.

Some nonprofits, however, enjoyed success in their one-day efforts. One of Lee + Associates clients, Tarleton State University, held its first annual Day of Giving on April 5, and donors supported 139 university and student programs with gifts totaling $141,756. Another goal achieved was exceeding 1899 donors, marking the University’s founding year.

Organizations that plan and implement a Day of Giving are crafting a fundraising program that is focused on a central theme that is culturally sensitive and appealing to the prospective donor base. It is very personal. They can be effective in small communities and are quite effective within higher education.

Kyle McGregor, Vice President of Advancement & External Relations, said broad based support across campus boosted Tarleton’s results. “While the object of the day was to involve as many participants in giving as possible to “pay it forward” for our students, we anticipate that the Day of Giving will result in more than $100,000 to support the university and scholarships.”

The critical turning point for a Day of Giving, and other programs such as Big Give or Amplify Austin, is determining where these special drives fall in your annual giving program. It is not a one time –catch all – hit the big bonanza moment. These fund drives must be part of a well-crafted strategy of raising annual operating funds (annual fund) that includes staff, board members, donors and prospective donors in a series of direct mail approaches, events (not a lot of these!) some foundation requests, phonathons and other creative outreach ideas to bring in new donors and to encourage current donors to increase or diversify their giving. No one aspect of your giving program should carry so much weight that the organization is harmed if it does not go as predicted. Events are subject to weather, Big Give suffered a set-back with technology, and one organization’s direct mail piece got caught in a flood of other mail and did not get delivered to the target market for almost a month!

In a recent poll of nonprofits in Central and South Texas who participated in the Big Give or Amplify Austin, we found 35% of the organizations we interviewed placed too much weight on the outcome of the drive. In these cases, they were anticipating 50% or more of their revenue to come from this community-wide special drive. For approximately one third of this group, their goal was realized and they are very happy with the outcome. For the rest, the outcome ranged from “disappointing” to “devastating.” They also stated that they invested considerable time and energy setting-up events to engage donors and constituents and had less than 28% participation by board in giving and in supporting the drive as volunteers. When asked about the diversity of their annual fundraising strategy or if they had a back-up plan in place, the majority did not have healthy diversification in their overall development plan nor did they have a back-up plan to sustain the organization that late in the giving cycle.

Given the response to our inquiries, we do believe that special drives are here to stay particularly for new or small to moderate budget sized non-profits. When used correctly, they are excellent strategies for engaging volunteers, encouraging board members to help in the fundraising process, bring in new donors and raising an organization’s profile. That said, as organizations mature, we recommend that they begin to transition to Days of Giving and other diversified forms of fundraising that are tailored to fit their constituents and reflect their culture. These are truly focused giving strategies that teach philanthropy.

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