The First Giving Day

Posted on 10/23/2013 - by Dan Allenby

Columbia Giving DayOne year ago today, Columbia University celebrated its first ever Giving Day with the goal of increasing awareness about annual giving and testing how a grassroots-style online fundraising campaign would resonate with alumni.

The idea wasn’t something that was cobbled together at the last minute. In fact, planning for the event began more than six months in advance. The first step was to share the idea with the institution’s leadership. Columbia’s trustees enthusiastically responded by giving $500,000 in challenge match dollars to incentivize participation from alumni and friends.

The first public mention of Giving Day didn’t come until one month out, when the event was featured in an alumni magazine advertisement. Two weeks later, a Giving Day postcard was mailed to all alumni, followed by a stream of promotional emails. This is also when a group of well-organized alumni volunteers (referred to as “social ambassadors”) began the big push of spreading the word to their networks through Facebook and Twitter.

During the 14 days leading up to the event, staff and traditional volunteers also ran an early giving opportunity – a process that, in many ways, resembled the “silent phase” of many larger, comprehensive fundraising campaigns. During this time, key volunteers and leadership annual fund donors were asked for their input and invited to participate early with lead gifts.

The day itself was a celebration filled with online events (e.g., chats with Nobel Laureates, Dean’s roundtables) and friendly contests made possible by the challenge money. What made the day even more exciting was that it took place around Homecoming, a time when the campus was filled with alumni, faculty, and students.

When the day was over, and the dust settled, Columbia’s annual giving team declared its first Giving Day a huge success. It raised a total of $6.8 million and secured more than 5,000 donors  – 40% of whom were either new or reactivated.

Would they do it again? Yes, they would. As a matter of fact, today they are launching their second Giving Day, which they expect to just as big and exciting as the first.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Planning a Giving Day.