Giving Days Provide Organizations a Platform to Broadcast Their Mission
In order to achieve their missions, nonprofit organizations must get funding. Though this may be obvious, there are many ways to go about this, ranging from soliciting donations to applying for grants.
However, one of the ways an organization can fundraise is through a giving day. Like the name suggests, a giving day is a 24-hour period of time in which donors are encouraged to make a gift. These days consist of targeted fundraising efforts to emphasize a nonprofit’s fundraising needs.
Setting Up a Giving Day
For most organizations, giving days are a means of engaging with current and prospective donors. This is the case for New Jersey-based Rowan University, which hosts its Day of Giving event during the spring semester.
“It happens on campus, it happens with the alumni community, with our students, with our whole campus community,” Kaylee Collins, director of annual giving at Rowan University, said. “We have a lot of deans and faculty that get really involved and are excited about Day of Giving. So it's very much an all-encompassing fundraising initiative.”
Collins noted that Rowan’s Day of Giving is always in the spring but doesn’t fall on the same day every year, since the university’s campuses have different spring break schedules.
However, some organizations may pick a particular day that coincides with their mission.
“What I advocate for is for the nonprofit to pick a day that’s meaningful for them and make their own giving day,” Terry Pearl, founder and CEO of 360 Philanthropy Group, said. “One of our clients is an organization that is about 8 years old, and it’s a founder-led organization, and the founder really drives [with] her commitment — she’s still the executive director and much of the success of the organization is around her commitment. So, we’ve done a successful fundraising drive around her birthday.”
For the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, the day that stands out is April 11.
“The Michael J. Fox Foundation chose to align World Parkinson’s Day on April 11 with our Day of Giving,” Kristen Teesdale, vice president of individual and legacy giving at the Michael J. Fox Foundation, wrote in an email. “By doing so, we highlight how donors and their contributions are essential to The Michael J. Fox Foundation’s urgent mission to cure Parkinson’s disease.”
Aside from picking a day that is significant to their organization, Pearl highlights multichannel fundraising as one of the keys to hosting a successful giving day.
“Make sure that your messaging that you send out via email matches the messaging that you’re posting on any kind of social media, matches your text messaging, [and] if you do end up sending out any direct mail, that it all kind of ties together and that it uses a thematic approach,” Pearl said.
Also vital is creating buzz around the day of giving. According to OneCause, a giving day itself “creates urgency, excitement, and can provide a jolt of adrenaline to any campaign.” Pearl suggested amplifying that effect by promoting your giving day before it happens.
“I'm not suggesting something that is a really high requirement of resources, but even by just doing a social media campaign, sending out two social media posts the two weeks leading up to the day gives people the opportunity — you're building anticipation, you're building excitement, and I think it's really a great way to showcase what you're doing without asking for money,” she said.
Running a Giving Day
While it’s important to stay connected with your donor base throughout the year, giving days offer the opportunity to foster the relationships that are so impactful. For the Michael J. Fox Foundation, building the connection to get donors to participate in its Day of Giving campaign is part of its strategy throughout the year.
“Like other nonprofit organizations, many donors to the Michael J. Fox Foundation plan to give their contribution at the end of the year in December,” Teesdale said. “This timing provides the opportunity to communicate our thanks, report impact and engage with our community before asking again for their support on April 11.”
The nonprofit’s constant focus on relationship-building — as well as the timing of its Day of Giving campaign — is crucial given that the organization uses all funds within 90 days of receiving them “to keep science moving forward at all times,” Teesdale said.
The strategy for Rowan’s Day of Giving, Collins explained, relies on smaller challenges throughout the day rather than just reaching an overall dollar amount. These include competitions to get the most donors or the most dollars, as well as matching for certain funds. Ranking at the top of the leaderboard for most donors, for example, garners a monetary prize toward that particular fund.
Thinking on the obstacles that come with putting together a giving day, Collins said, Rowan’s annual giving team encounters few obstacles that come with putting together a giving day.
“I think people do understand what a giving day is,” she said. “A lot of times it's just on the back end in our office — figuring out those challenge funds and making those work, or people last minute would be like, ‘Hey, I would love to do a challenge,’ and so trying to figure out if that can work or not in time.”
The other obstacle the organization has encountered has been making people aware of the recent rebrand to Day of Giving from RowanGIVES.
But for Rowan University, the successes of its Day of Giving outweigh the challenges. The university’s giving day, which is entering its 10th year, has brought in more funds each year, raising $314,672 in spring 2023, Collins said.
She also explained that the nonprofit has started using a new platform relatively recently that enables peer-to-peer fundraising and allows participants to see how much they’ve raised.
Like Rowan does with its Day of Giving, the Michael J. Fox Foundation aims to give its donors an engrossing experience on its giving day.
“Recent efforts at The Michael J. Fox Foundation have positioned campaigns, like Day of Giving and Parkinson’s Awareness Month, as an all-encompassing donor experience, which has a direct correlation with its success,” Teesdale said.
Giving Day Versus GivingTuesday
While Pearl encourages nonprofits to pick a day that is significant for their cause, there is no rule that limits an organization to having just one day of giving. For instance, one of her clients — whose organization provides housing for formerly homeless female veterans in New York City — sets a giving day near Veterans Day and another around Mothers’ Day.
On top of that, she said that many nonprofits can make use of the most well-known giving day of all: GivingTuesday. Despite Rowan University and the Michael J. Fox Foundation having their own giving days, they still participate in GivingTuesday.
“GivingTuesday is wonderful, fantastic, but also every nonprofit is participating on GivingTuesday, so it's very noisy for folks that are donors and give to multiple areas,” Collins said. “They're getting requests from a lot of nonprofits on that day, whether it's higher ed, a small nonprofit or a large nationwide nonprofit. It's exciting but also very busy. So, we participate in a much smaller way and then have this sort of standalone day because we're likely not competing with other nonprofits or other institutions on that same day.”
Pearl added that putting more emphasis on their own giving day rather than GivingTuesday enables nonprofits to cut through the noise to make connections with current and prospective donors, as well as get more donations.
“People have a set amount of money that they have set aside for GivingTuesday, and that leaves you in a little bit of a container of what you can raise,” she said. “For example, doing it before — Veterans Day is before GivingTuesday, so perhaps people will give more. Or they'll give to you first, which would also mean that they would give to you more.”
As for the downsides of putting GivingTuesday on the backburner of your fundraising strategy, Pearl only cited missing out on the momentum surrounding giving on that day. She suggested that, like Rowan University and the Michael J. Fox Foundation, nonprofits consider doing something small for GivingTuesday in addition to an independent giving day.
“It doesn't have to be either/or, but again, where are you going to get your greatest return on investment?” she said. “That's going to be doing your own giving day.”
Related story: Who Wins and Who Loses on Giving Tuesday