Setting Goals for a Giving Day

Posted on 04/09/2017

When McGill University launched their first ever Giving Day two years ago, the goal was pretty clear. With the big event scheduled just one month before the end of the fiscal year, their aim was to secure just enough donors and dollars necessary to achieve their overall annual fund targets as well as to enhance the culture of philanthropy on and off campus. But when they decided to undertake their second Giving Day (known as McGill24), things got a bit more sophisticated.

Understanding that the right goals would help motivate the team, set expectations, and raise sites, they didn’t want to just pull random numbers out of thin air. Instead, they wanted to be data-driven and set goals that were both realistic and ambitious. So, when McGill’s annual giving team began their planning process more than six months in advance, they undertook a goal-setting exercise that took the following seven elements in account:

  1. Benchmarking – A look at peer programs confirmed what they already suspected: there aren’t currently industry standards for Giving Day accounting, and institutions make their own decisions about what kinds of gifts to count, when to start counting, and how to tally the final results.
  2. Gift categories – The peer review also identified three types of gifts that are commonly included in Giving Day fundraising totals. These were challenge gifts (i.e., larger gifts secured months in advance that are used as an incentive for others to give), silent phase gifts (i.e., gifts secured through targeted email and phone solicitations in the few weeks leading up to the event), and day-of gifts (i.e., donations made online or received on the day itself).
  3. Past results – Reflecting on the donor and dollar totals from McGill’s first Giving Day provided them with a conservative baseline to project what they might achieve next time. They also looked at historic giving results for March 15th (the date of McGill24) as well as typical giving patterns for the first two weeks leading up to that date. They also considered a “best case scenario” based on the previous record for a single day of online giving.
  4. 80/20 rule – It became clear that while the majority (roughly 80%) of the gift transactions would come on the day itself, the remainder (the other 20%) would come as part of the silent phase or in the form of challenge gifts.
  5. Donor behavior – Analysis of donor segments from the previous few annual cycles as well as the last giving day helped to project that about 40% of Giving Day participants would be current or prior year donors, 20% would be reactivated lapsed donors, and 40% would be new donors making their first gift ever.
  6. Alumni perceptions – Using data collected in a survey, the team was able to better understand how McGill alumni would respond to Giving Day. This not only informed how aggressive they should be with projections; it also influenced much of their messaging and branding.
  7. Leadership expectations – Regardless of how much data they were able to compile, they knew their goal setting wouldn’t be complete without input from organizational leadership.

When the analysis was complete, the team set an internal goal of raising $1 million from 1,500 donors. While they didn’t broadcast the goal publicly, they did find it to be a useful tool internally. And that must have worked because, when all was said and done, McGill24 ended up exceeding its goal – raising over $1.4 million from 3,400 donors. That’s 1 gift every 25 seconds.

Goals can serve a lot of purposes. They can be a motivator, helping individuals and teams to get and stay focused. They can help set and manage expectations – especially when a lot of different stakeholders are involved. They can also raise sites and help organizations strive to do better, to accomplish more – particularly when programs have become complacent or satisfied with the status quo. Regardless of their purpose, goals work best when they’re conceived thoughtfully, developed collaboratively, and informed by data.

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