Picking a Date for Your Giving Day

Posted on 01/01/2018

Several years ago, many in the world of annual giving were asking themselves whether or not their institution should try out a “Giving Day.” Fast forward to the present time and we see that 3 out of 4 colleges, universities and independent schools have held (or are planning to hold) one. So, the new question that many organizations are now asking themselves isn’t if, but when, they should hold the big day.

Back in 2012 when Columbia University celebrated the industry’s first major day of giving, one of their motives was to encourage donors who might typically give in the spring to make their gifts earlier in the fiscal year. For this reason, they decided to hold their giving day in October, and they have continued that tradition every year since.

By any standard, Rice University has made the most of the giving days that they’ve conducted each year since 2013. However, unlike Columbia and many other institutions that hold their event on or around the same date each year, Rice has experimented with different times in order to piggyback on various campus activities and keep donors on their toes. Here’s the approach Rice has taken over the past five years, with results for each year listed in the chart below:

  • First year (2013) — May 10th: Coincided with the celebration of the conclusion of their comprehensive Centennial Campaign, as well as with commencement.
  • Second year (2014) — May 1st: Coincided with “decision day” — when prospective students decide if they will attend Rice.
  • Third year (2015) — June 16th: A little later in the fiscal year, to motivate donors to give during the fiscal year-end push.
  • Fourth year (2016) — February 29th (Leap Day): To have some fun with marketing around the unique date.
  • Fifth year (2017) — June 1st: Based on their success two years before, once again hoping it would give a boost to their fiscal year-end fundraising efforts.

The Rice team didn’t want to train their supporters to contribute at the same time each year or wait until the spring to make gifts. They still wanted donors to respond to their fall appeals and hoped that the spring giving day effort—known as the “24-Hour Challenge”—would help to inspire second gifts or encourage those who had not yet given.

When choosing a date for a giving day, there is no universal “best time”—it’s most effective to think carefully about the unique history and culture of needs of the individual institution. Programs may want to test different dates until they know which time period works best for them. Remember, the success of a giving day effort needs to be judged by more than just a fundraising bump on one day. The ultimate goal is to see the momentum from the campaign continue long after the single day ends.

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