Planning a Giving Day

Posted on 10/01/2023

Putting together a successful giving day celebration involves a lot more than simply throwing a date on the calendar and expecting alumni, parents, and friends to find their way to your website with credit cards in hand to make a gift. A successful event takes a lot of preparation, communication, and collaboration—both internally and externally. In fact, the more time and effort you spend in advance, the more you’re likely to get out of the event when it comes to fundraising, engagement, and overall satisfaction for all involved. 

But where (and when) do you begin? Although it may be called a giving day, the best ones take up to a full year’s worth of planning. Of course, there are many different ways to structure and organize the event, and there is no single model that works for everyone. However, there are some universal considerations to be made as part of the planning process.  

Whether you’re preparing for your institution’s very first giving day or looking to build and improve on past events, the following 12 steps (with timeline) can offer a basic road map to guide you and your colleagues through the planning process:

  1. Conduct high-level planning and benchmarking of giving days at other schools (12 months out)—Debrief about your past efforts (if any) and find out about the latest trends and best practices taking place at other institutions.
  2. Get internal buy-in from senior leadership and key campus partners (11 months out)—Sell them on the benefits of the event and make sure their questions and concerns are addressed. 
  3. Create a budget (10 months out)—There will be many ways to invest money in your giving day, but you don’t necessarily need to spend a lot to have a successful event. Determine what resources are available so that you can make the most of them.
  4. Identify your technology needs and select any necessary vendors (9 months out)—You’ll have some options, so make sure you select the right one for your event. Use this as an opportunity to ask vendors for ideas and best practices as they’ll likely have a perspective on the industry as a whole.
  5. Design challenges and secure donors as “underwriters” (7 months out)—Work carefully with gift officers to identify prospects. For some donors, this could be just the kind of exciting special giving opportunity they’ve been looking for.
  6. Develop a marketing plan and promotional materials (5 months out)—Most giving days are run through digital channels like email and social media, but make sure you allow enough time to utilize all of the available tools, including phone and print.
  7. Recruit volunteers to help spread the word (4 months out)—Online ambassadors can make the difference between a good day and a great one, so make sure you have all hands on deck.
  8. Communicate key information and timelines internally (3 months out)—Host at least one meeting for all of your advancement staff and other campus partners so that they know what to expect and what’s expected of them.
  9. Launch the “silent phase” to give your VIPs the early inside scoop (2 months out)—Just like in most major comprehensive or capital fundraising campaigns, gift counting often begins prior to the public announcement, so be sure to set clear guidelines and ensure that you have an accounting system to support your strategy.
  10. Make the first public announcement (1 month out)—Think of this as a “save the date” and encourage all of your constituents to mark the date on their calendars. Make the most of magazine advertisements, postcards, and your call center.
  11. Begin to promote the day aggressively through digital channels (2 weeks out)—Email and social media will likely be your primary marketing channels in the home stretch, so make sure you’re prepared, with lots of content for these final weeks.
  12. Show up (0 days out)—When the big day arrives, your job will be to execute. Create a buzz, raise lots of money, and make sure everybody has fun!

If this seems like a lot of work … well, that’s because it is. But all of your efforts can pay off, and the benefits go beyond donors and dollars. Giving days can also encourage collaboration across campus—or even within your own advancement shop—while offering the advancement team a common sense of purpose and focus throughout the year. To most people, your event will seem to be about a single day. For you and your team, however, it will be the work leading up to the big day that really makes a difference.

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