The Immediacy of 2020, and Giving Tuesday

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At EverTrue, we love to think strategically. We relish in a good long-term planning session with our board members, investors, and company leadership in which we map out the next twelve to eighteen months and build a thoughtful, informed plan towards our future goals. We know we have this in common with many of our advancement friends. 

But here’s one big, glaring truth of 2020. This is a year of immediacy. The best-laid, long-term, carefully-made plans are, more or less, out the window.

The bad news for us visionary thinkers is that it’s pretty hard to build any type of far-sighted strategy right now. (We need not remind you of the limiting nature of the pandemic, recession, and other major shifts underfoot this year.) The good news is that we are being encouraged (read: forced) to align with the times and keep our work tactical, focused, and impact-driven in response to the immediacy of 2020.

Lynn Wester, Donor Relations (and, dare we say, Spiritual) Guru, hinted at this big theme of the year back in March when she encouraged us to fight against paralysis amidst multiple national and global crises. In her words, “There are two kinds of people: people either shut down or take action. Now is a time to take action.”

Colleges and Universities are big institutions known for their slow-moving ways. And this isn’t a bad thing, particularly in times of chaos and upheaval. Your institution is a rock for so many folks; a reliable, steady place at which so many folks harbor fond memories of “simpler” times.

But, in the year 2020, you as an advancement professional can and must straddle the line of “grounded” and “go-getter.” You can champion your institution as a beacon of stability while matching the urgency of this year through the short-term, impact-driven fundraising milestones that you promote (and meet).

So, Strategizers: let’s get immediate, focus on using the next milestone on the advancement calendar, and take the chance to meet your donors where they are at. We’re talking about Giving Tuesday.

As we focus on this yearly, global, one-day event aimed at mobilizing individuals to support the causes they care about the most, we ask you: How is your institution standing out from the thousands of other non-profits that are working to capture your donors’ hearts and minds?  Do you know what your donors care about the most today? 

Are your alums passionate about racial equity and justice? Find the funds at your school that grow and celebrate your diverse campus community. Are your donors passionate about food security? Find the programs at your school that are eradicating hunger for your students and the local community. Are your donors passionate about social issues, such as immigrants’ rights, voters’ rights, or human trafficking? Identify the clinics that are working on-the-ground to solve these issues every day.

[Remember: You can actually know what your alums are passionate about by tracking their real-time engagement with your institution.]

And then, set a laser-focus on an achievable, impact-driven goal for Giving Tuesday that every member of your institution can rally around. It may be difficult to pick just one, but humor us on this. In theory, giving folks a ton of leeway for where their donation goes sounds great. But in practice, especially on a one-day all-call like Giving Tuesday, this lends itself a paradox of choice that can paralyze people to the point that they never convert. (And, it’s worth noting that your unrestricted annual fund can be “The One,” if the story is told correctly.)

Consider these examples, past and present, of folks that have taken the “all-in” approach to a single day of giving. 

  •  Kansas State chose one cause for its first-ever Giving Day in 2019: to battle food insecurity among its students on campus. Simplifying their Giving Day ask allowed fundraisers to dive deep on the topic with donors leading up to the Day (and who doesn’t need a topic of focused conversation these days?!). K-State was also able to develop and release educational content that not only promoted the day itself, but shed light on a serious issue on which donors could have immediate impact.

The result? They raised over $320,000 from over 1,400 donors. The fundraising foundation was blown away and they plan to double down on the strategy in the years to come. Heck, it was so inspiring that our CEO himself had to get involved and donate.

  • Boston University is embracing a singular focus for the upcoming Giving Tuesday on December 1st. Their super-smart Development staff has been listening closely to their alumni, students, and leadership, and reflecting on the University’s mission statement and new strategic plan. Over and over, the theme is Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

So, BU will, effectively, “walk the walk” by aligning their Giving Tuesday fundraising efforts with their community’s passion. They identified designations across their schools and colleges that focus on promoting and celebrating equity and diversity (i.e. the new Center for Antiracist Research; the Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground; and the Black Law Students Association Scholarship Fund). BU community members have demonstrated that they want to support racial equity, and on Giving Tuesday, BU will point its donors towards scholarships, faculty research, centers, and programs that champion diversity. Wins, all-around.

  • The University of Northern Iowa quickly repurposed their Giving Day in March to encourage gifts to a broad range of student support funds. They also participated in #GivingTuesdayNow in May with a slightly more directed focus to raise scholarships for students experiencing hardship during the pandemic. The two projects combined raised only half of what they would typically raise from their Giving Day.

According to Nathan Clapham, Associate Vice President for Collegiate Development and Annual Giving (and EverTrue 40u40 Winner), what was the main difference between these “mini” Giving Days and previous years’ success? His answer: “How open we were to different gift designations and how aggressively we marketed the campaigns.”

So, UNI will course-correct for Giving Tuesday on December 1st. They will narrow their focus and are preparing major promotions across all marketing channels. Their target designation for Giving Tuesday? Athletic programs. Their target audience? Athletics donors and season ticket holders, with a special eye on folks who engaged with their athletic programs on social media. Simple and actionable: a recipe for success.

Maybe you’re still in need of some assurance that Giving Days can be successful and add value, even amidst the arduous journey that is 2020. We did our research, and you’re in luck:

NC State University held its giving day on September 16th and raised over 8,000 gifts totaling over $23 million, thanks to a super-strong social media presence and a unifying theme of Pack-pride that made it basically impossible NOT to participate. (Listen to the RAISE Podcast episode in which NC State’s Vice Chancellor of Development shares their best tips and tricks.) Also, the University of Miami held their Giving Day on October 1st and raised over $1.4 million, 45% of which came from first-time donors. AND, they used the day to educate their community about philanthropy by coding augmented reality bots to lead digital scavenger hunts across campus, with a focus on named buildings and programs that have been endowed by generous donors. Pretty cool. (Another plug for the RAISE Podcast episode featuring UM’s Vice President of Digital Engagement + Philanthropic Giving.)

This is a tough time for everyone, yes. But it’s also a tremendous opportunity for innovation. When the rest of the world is distracted with huge, daunting, global issues, bring your alums back to the rock that is your institution. Give them something solid, worthy, and actionable to focus on, and connect them to its impact. Immediately. On Giving Tuesday.

We leave you with this, Friends. Stay immediate; stay focused; stay committed. Use Giving Tuesday to close out 2020 in a way that gives us all strength and hope for brighter times ahead.

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