How to have a $1 million+ online giving day at your school

Seems like every week… shoot, almost every DAY now we’re hearing about another $1 million+ online fundraising campaign or giving day in higher education. From Arizona State to Boston University, these seven-figure giving days are becoming the norm rather than anomalies.

But how, right? What is it these schools are doing differently or better than other institutions who are having mixed results?

To get to the bottom of planning a successful giving day, we asked Washington and Lee’s Annual Giving Director, Skylar Beaver, what’s the secret sauce? By answering three short questions in the video below on W&L’s $1.4 million “Give Day” on April 24, Skylar provides an overview for how you might go about planning your giving day in 2015:

A few things jump out from the Washington and Lee Give Day that are common among many successful giving days:

  • Like most successful giving days, Washington and Lee enjoyed significant participation success along with a big fundraising total.
    Like most successful giving days, Washington and Lee enjoyed significant participation success along with a big fundraising total.

    Significant lead or challenge gifts to encourage participation and boost overall giving.

  • A strong strategy led by a interdepartmental team.
  • Social media.

We’d also add good, easy-to-use online infrastructure (in other words, a campaign page and giving form that more donors describe as “fun” rather than “maddening”) and a robust online ambassador program. Really, when you do that combined with the above items, it’s tough to fail.

Are you ready to start the planning for your giving day in 2015? BWF_social has a package to help our higher education partners succeed with online giving days. To find out more, contact our Director of Interactive Communication, Justin Ware, by clicking here or here.


6 Case Studies on Using Social Media in Fundraising and Alumni Relations

CASE, BWF, and mStoner combined to write a white paper on social media for advancement.

CASE, BWF, and mStoner combined to write a white paper on social media for advancement.

If you’re looking for a step-by-step recounting of how to use social media for advancement, check out this recent white paper assembled by mStoner and CASE. (BWF contributed two of the case studies to this effort)

How did UMass Amherst boost it’s culture of philanthropy by acquiring more than 1,000 new donors in 36 hours (half of them students)?

What allowed Georgetown to pull in more than a half million dollars from donors across the country during its 24-hour City Challenge online campaign?

And how in the world did Columbia University raise $6.8 million from 4,400 donors in just a single day? …most of it online?

Those stories plus three more case studies are included in the white paper “#SocialMedia, Advancement, and Fundraising in Education.” Download it,  have a read, and then apply the lessons learned to your own online fundraising and advancement initiatives. No matter your size or goals, the tactics can be scaled to meet your institution’s needs.

Would you like to learn more about using social media to raise more money? Connect with BWF’s Director of Interactive Communication, and co-author of the aforementioned white paper, Justin Ware by clicking here.

Long Tail of Giving Follows Short Online Fundraising Campaigns

A new trend is starting to emerge that provides nonprofits with yet another reason to ramp up their online and social media giving efforts – the “long tail” of giving that follows those short-burst online fundraising campaigns. The roughly 24- to 72-hour, mostly-online or online-only campaigns have already proven themselves to be excellent tools for engaging new donors and boosting overall donor participation. Now, we’re starting to see the value in the “buzz” these campaigns create by the number of gifts that come in online AND off in the days and weeks immediately following the short online campaign.

Big Gifts Follow a Big Campaign at Columbia

GivingDayLogoEven without the post-campaign activity, Columbia University’s 2012 Giving Day was a big win for the institution and its alumni. In just 24 hours, Columbia’s supporters gave more than $6.8 million to the University through 4,940 gifts …all but 184 of which were given online. As is typical in short online campaigns, roughly 40 percent of those nearly 5,000 donors were making their first gift and more than half of the gifts originated on social networks (special apps allowed donors to start the giving process from blogs or Facebook pages. They were were then redirected to the main online giving website). But the giving didn’t end at midnight on Giving Day.

In the week following the Giving Day campaign, Columbia saw a significant boost to giving at all levels, with one story standing out. At an on-campus event, a major gift donor stood up in front of a crowd and pledged a seven-figure gift on the spot. The reason the donor gave for the spur-of-the-moment monster gift? They were proud of Columbia for taking such an innovative approach to giving and excited about all the activity around giving to the University they saw taking place online and, specifically, on social media. This is a direct example of social media buzz leading to major fundraising success for a university.

*Sidenote: multiple other institutions tell stories of seven-figure gifts coming in because a wealthy individual learned of the work being done at an institution on Facebook. That work mattered to the wealthy donor, causing them to reach out to the institution and make their first (very big) gift. Lesson? Social media is not just for the annual fund anymore.

UMassGives …and keeps giving

In late April 2013, the University of Massaschuetts Amherst conducted its first ever UMassGives – an entirely online, 36-hour campaign. The goal of UMassGives was twofold:

  1. Acquire new donors to UMass Amherst.
  2. Nurture the growing culture of philanthropy around the institution.

UMass Amherst accomplished all of the above raising nearly $84,000 from more than 1,500 donors. Roughly half of those donors were making their first ever gift to UMass – many of them students. Nothing says “expanding the culture of philanthropy at an institution” quite like engaging hundreds of students and young alumni in a buzz-worthy online fundraising campaign.


Twitter was a buzz with activity, helping virally spread the culture of philanthropy at UMass Amherst.

Twitter was a buzz with activity, helping virally spread the culture of philanthropy at UMass Amherst.

Again, the giving didn’t end with the 36-hour campaign. May 1-8, 2013 – the week immediately following UMassGives – saw twice the number of online gifts given and twice the dollars raised online when compared to May 1-8, 2012. This 100 percent increase to online giving is another example of the long tail following a short campaign.

Ambassadors drive buzz during and after online campaigns

Both Columbia’s Giving Day and UMassGives incorporated a peer-to-peer online communication plan. Or what we call at BWF, an online ambassador program. Ambassadors programs are built around the concept of having your biggest supporters do your communication work for your organization. Ambassadors share content on Facebook, post items to their blogs, tweet messages about your institution – they engage in activity that promotes your organization’s initiatives directly to their online connections. Simply put, ambassador programs are friends encouraging friends to support your philanthropic mission. It’s the age-old “recommendation from a friend” that is and has always been the most trusted form of promotion that leads to the most conversions – in the case of fundraising, that means more gifts given.

For Columbia and UMass, ambassadors were highly active during their online campaigns, igniting buzz in dozens of social media communities and spreading word of the campaigns. That buzz wasn’t extinguished the moment the campaigns ended. It carried throughout the days and weeks following the campaigns, helping to raise more dollars, acquire more new donors, and extend the culture of philanthropy for both institutions. The key is building a volunteer ambassador program for your organization so that you can influence that peer-to-peer activity and enjoy that long tail of giving, long after a short online fundraising campaign.

To learn about how BWF can help your organization build comprehensive online ambassador programs and prepare for online fundraising campaigns, contact BWF’s Director of Interactive Communication Justin Ware by clicking here.

Emails That Don’t Ask – Online Fundraising Done Right

When producing an email for donors, the following are a couple tips for grabbing your supporters’ attention:

  • Keep it short.
  • Provide engaging content (like a video or an awesome picture).
  • As often as possible, make it about the donor.
  • Avoid making an ask in every email.

As is often the case, the online team at the Humane Society of the United States provides the blueprint for online communications with this email sent to donors who gave to prevent the Canadian seal slaughter:

HSUS_SealThanksEmailIn addition to the above criteria, this email is personalized, opens nicely on mobile devices, connects easily to leading social networks for sharing, and is upbeat. The last point is not always associated with animal welfare organizations, but the HSUS understands the value in providing hope along with the more horrific reasons why a person should give to their organization. Especially when your cause is a tough one to face on a consistent basis – poverty, illness, child abuse prevention – it’s important to remind donors that their contributions are making the world a better place.

The focus on email is crucial. According to this Chronicle of Philanthropy piece on the 2013 eNonprofit Benchmarks Study, the share of people who made a gift in response to a fundraising email dropped by 21 percent. The article offers a slew of reasons for the decline, none of which suggest email is dead. If anything, the lower numbers are due to a carpet bomb approach and/or a general lack of good data about the donors behind the email addresses. People do read emails and when the message’s content is done right, they respond positively. The key is being personal and offering users something via email. Make it about them, as opposed to always being about your organization, and engagement with your email audience will grow …which leads to gifts when you do make an ask.

OK, now that you’ve made it through my brief tips/rant on nonprofit emails, here’s a video of cute seal pups:

Justin Ware is a fundraising consultant who specializes in online and social media engagement at Bentz Whaley Flessner. To contact Justin, click here.

3 Tips to Boost Online Fundraising – WEBINAR

On Thursday, March 14 BWF conducted a webinar that offered expanded details and advice behind what we believe are three things your nonprofit organization can do to dramatically increase your online and social media fundraising. (Yes, you CAN raise money through social media …quite a bit, if you do it right) Below is the full-length webinar that we’ve posted to the BWF YouTube channel. Below that, are the three tips. Below that is a link that leads to my LinkedIn profile, in case you’d like to talk more about increasing your online fundraising…

Three Tips for Improving Your Nonprofit’s Online Fundraising

  1. Improve your online infrastructure.
  2. Develop a comprehensive online ambassador program.
  3. Invest in (experienced) social media personnel.

Justin Ware is a fundraising consultant who specializes in online and social media engagement at Bentz Whaley Flessner. To contact Justin, click here.

3 Tips to Boost Your Online Fundraising in 2013

Make 2013 the year online giving takes off for your nonprofit.

By now, news of the continued, meteoric rise of online giving as detailed in this Chronicle of Philanthropy piece hardly counts as surprising. According to that piece, in the fourth quarter of 2012, online giving grew between 36 and 38 percent, depending on what you’re measuring. Hopefully, this new set of data combined with several years of data leading up to it – all showing the sharp upward trend in online giving – will convince your organization’s leadership to increase investment in online and social media. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in that situation of extra budget for online engagement, the following are three areas I suggest your bolster first:

Develop an online ambassador program: I’m convinced that you can tweet, post to Facebook, write blog posts, and what ever else until you’re blue in the face. None of those things will drive action as much as having your strongest online supporters share your org’s message with their networks of online friends. From FSU’s Great Give, to Columbia’s $6.8 million 24-hour campaign, the commonality among many successful online campaigns is the organization’s use of online volunteers to spread the news about the campaign. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Instead, check out this Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising report that tells us, among other things, the five most influential forms of advertising or promotion are as follows: 1) Recommendation from a friend, 2) consumer opinions posted online, 3) editorial content such as newspaper articles, 4) branded websites, and 5) emails.

So how can you build a strategy or program around something that seems so uncontrollable – the messages your followers are sharing with their friends? It’s about developing and sticking with an online ambassador program that 1) identifies potential online ambassadors, 2) has a plan in place for soliciting the help of those ambassadors, 3) continually and consistently stewards those ambassadors through good content and exclusive access to fundraising-focused webinars, and 4) includes those ambassadors in campaign communication plans.

Trust me. We’ve done this with clients and heard other orgs talk about similar projects. It works better than anything else we’ve seen when it comes to boosting online giving.

Redo your online giving infrastructure: Most organizations have room to improve when it comes to their online giving infrastructure, a.k.a. your online giving websites and forms. First and foremost, ease of use is critical in this area. Do you have any idea what your Giving Completion Rate or GCR is? Have you heard of a GCR before? If not, you might want to talk with my colleauge, Heather Greig, but I digress…

There’s a fine line between what makes for a good online giving form and a not-so good form, but I would suggest your first concern should be ease of use, both for new donors and returning donors. We work with a lot of higher ed and healthcare clients, but I believe many of the best examples exist outside of these industries. If you work in higher ed or healthcare, you might consider stepping away from your peers and looking at nonprofit industry leaders like charity: water for the best examples in online giving pages. After all, you’re competing against other nonprofits like charity: water for your donors’ dollars – not other higher ed or healthcare organizations, in most cases.


Regardless of the nonprofit sector you work in, you’re competing for your donors’ dollars with organizations like charity: water. So you better have an online giving presence that’s competitive with those organizations.

Invest in a Social Media Manager: After you’ve built an online ambassador program, you’re going to need someone to manage and engage all those peer-to-peer fundraisers working on behalf of your organization. And when you have a seven-figure increase in your online giving, you should have no problem justifying a $60,000 per year salary + benefits, right? This is part of a change in mentality when it comes to online giving and social media – IT IS NOT FREE JUST BECAUSE A FACEBOOK ACCOUNT IS FREE. Just like most things, investments are needed in staff and online infrastructure if you’re serious about increasing fundraising – both online and off – for your nonprofit.

With the right mindset and an increased investment in online and social media constituent engagement, 2013 could be your best year yet. Good luck!

Justin Ware is a fundraising consultant who specializes in online and social media engagement at Bentz Whaley Flessner. To contact Justin, click here.

How to Think Strategically About Social Media for Fundraising

Gone are the days of simply opening a Facebook page and Twitter account without a clear plan. At least those days should be gone. When it comes to social media, we now know what we’re doing and what works, because we’re seeing a lot of smart campaigns delivering extraordinary results. In most cases, these tales of success are no accident. They’re the result of smart communicators learning from the best practices of other organizations, combining them with sound scientific statistics, and applying it all to their organizations. In other words, they’re thinking strategically about social media. But what exactly does that mean? The following are a few examples…

Gamifying Your Campaigns — Few things drive Internet participation more than competition. The UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital discovered this after their “Challenge for the Children” campaign during the 2010 holiday season brought in more than a $1 million. The campaign revolved around social media users  creating online teams with the winner determined by which team brought in the most donors. Despite the fact that some big names got involved (Ashton Kutcher managed a team), the winning team belonged to Zynga – the video game development company behind Facebook’s wildly popular and equally annoying “Farmville.” Why did Zynga win? They sold digital candy cane seeds that Farmville players could plant. The proceeds from the candy cane sales went to Benioff Children’s hospital. In a little over a week, more than 162,000 candy canes were sold raising upwards of $800,000.

How is it strategic? Online competition (a.k.a “gamification”) drives activity, especially in social media. If you can, try connecting with pop culture or whatever might be culturally revenant at the time (holidays are a great partners for online campaigns). With that in mind, selling digital candy canes during the holidays is absolutely strategic.

Build a Campaign That Begs to Be Shared — With the end of the fiscal year fast approaching, Carleton College was in need of shot in the annual giving arm in order to achieve 50 percent alumni participation. With only six weeks to go until the June 30th deadline, Carleton’s annual giving team turned to social media as a quick way to acquire new donors. Specifically, they built an online giving campaign called “Calling All Carls“. Via email and social networks like Facebook, Carleton sent out an image of the Carleton mascot projected on the night sky that bared a striking resemblance to what Commissioner Gordon uses to summon Batman.

The idea was simple, but it was loads of fun. A donor gives their gift, then receives a confirmation asking for their help in “Calling All Carls” to the giving process. Or, a supporter follows the Facebook page, sees they’re being summoned, makes a gift, and/or shares the news about “Calling All Carls” with their friends and followers. The campaign was a huge success, with the message about “Calling All Carls” shared more than 600 times on Facebook alone. And, Carleton easily surpassed their 50 percent participation goal.

How is it strategic? Carleton’s giving teams came up with a creative campaign that tied in to a pop culture event (The Dark Knight Rises was only a month away from release) to drive donor participation.

Using Your Online Ambassadors — Florida State’s annual giving team didn’t raise $186,000 in 36 hours online by accident. Leading up to the “Great Give” campaign, FSU’s fund raisers were in close connection with their “online ambassadors” – a group of influential Internet users who they knew could drive participation in the campaign. But FSU’s annual giving team didn’t just sit back and hope their ambassadors would drive interest in the campaign. Prior to the Great Give, the annual giving team connected with their ambassadors, verified the ambassadors’ email addresses, and let them know they would need their help during the campaign. Then, throughout the Great Give, FSU sent out pre-packaged social network updates that made things easy for the ambassadors – all they had to do was copy the prepackaged updates and paste them into their social networks. The end result was the viral spread of messages from FSU’s annual giving team that found their audience in a very natural way – from the social networks of friends and family members.

How is it strategic? Building strong relationships with influential Internet users is one of the best things your can do from an online communications standpoint. FSU did that AND found a way to leverage that support that led to fundraising success.

For more on how online and social media can be used strategically to impact fundraising, visit

Tell a Story With Your Online Giving Site

Include videos, pictures, and other media on your giving sites to keep donor’s going through the process.

An increasing number of nonprofit organizations are beefing up their online and social media strategies for fundraising. As well they should be, since a growing mountain of evidence tells us that online donors have more money and give bigger gifts than offline donors. We see brilliantly designed Facebook pages, clever Twitter campaigns, beautiful blogs, and a host of other attractive websites. So why then, do we also see so many bland online giving forms? The online giving form or process is one of your most important websites. So build it to be beautiful and effective!

Tell a story with your online giving website – Step one is envisioning your online giving pages not as the end of the trip, but a part of the journey. After all, you’ve done so much to get the donor to this point, don’t lose them now. One way to avoid “buyer’s remorse” among donors is by providing quality content on all your giving pages. Videos, pictures, links to success stories, and testimonials from the recipients of your work all help keep the donor engaged and moving through the giving process.

Forget “giving” make a “gaming” pageAutism Speaks has turned their online giving page into an interactive game or puzzle, to be more specific. At the Autism Speaks giving site, users can “buy” a puzzle piece for $10 with that money going to support the organization. Users are also invited to upload their pictures to create a puzzle of their own. Oh, and it’s easy to join* … just sign in using your Facebook account.

*For any online community, allow users to login with the social media accounts they already have. Creating a new account can be a major hurdle, but nearly every donor has either a Facebook, Twitter, or Google account – let them use it to connect with you!

Make your giving site “social” – Another clever way of engaging donors through your giving website is by making it look nothing like a traditional giving website. Have a look at the online giving site/social network “MiddSTART” run by Middlebury College. MiddSTART looks more like a social network than a giving site and it operates like one too. For each fund, a student or volunteer is in charge of raising awareness and gaining support for their fund by way of sharing news about the fund online. Once a donor makes a gift, they can add their name to the donor roll for each fund and connect with other donors, many of whom they might already know. Then, of course, it’s easy to share the news of your gift via the various social networks. MiddSTART is fun, interactive, puts the donor in control, and – most importantly – is highly effective. In the first couple months alone, MiddSTART brought in six-figure online fundraising totals for Middlebury.

No matter it’s purpose, if you have control over a digital space use it to tell your nonprofit’s story. This applies to email, websites, e-newsletters, online giving forms, and every other digit tool your donor might come across. Like every member of your staff, these electronic media are representing your organization. Help them help you tell your story.

For more on how you might improve your online giving process, visit

Make Your Online Fundraising Awesome

Online giving – especially as it relates to the annual fund – often works best when the process is “fun”. A fine example of this comes from a Harvard grad who started the microfund organization known as the Awesome Foundation for the Arts and Sciences. Long story short (for the full story click here), the Awesome Foundation takes quirky projects, like adding swing sets in Los Angeles or a giant hammock in Boston, and funds them using $100 gifts from 10-person “giving circles” who, each month, select a fund to support. To apply, individuals or groups submit an application online.

A giant hammock, courtesy of the Awesome Foundation’s Facebook page.

The Awesome Foundation is exploding in popularity for a few reasons. One, they’ve so far been able to avoid a lot of the bureaucracy that hampers larger, more established nonprofits. That aspect helped get the Awesome Foundation off the ground, but another factor for its success – and one that will likely help it stick around through the growing pains – is simply the approach the Foundation takes. For a fund to be selected, it has to be “awesome” – and that makes the whole process a lot more fun and engaging for donors. We know that for a growing number of donors, innovation is the key to fundraising success. Quirky ideas that work is one of the best ways to excite that group of donors that places creativity high on their priority list when selecting a cause or organization to support.

Give the gift of “fun” to bring more gifts in to your organization

Creativity in the giving process does more than create buzz and attract tech-savvy donors – it boosts interest and participation from all donor groups and brings new donors into your organization. For example, look at what Middlebury College did with their online giving program MiddSTART. MiddSTART is a social network where donors can select from any number of funds which are managed by students and volunteers. It makes participation easy, gives donors the power to choose where their money goes, tells the story of philanthropy at Middlebury, gets younger donors involved, etc. What if Middlebury also threw a few projects into the mix that had a touch of “awesome” associated with them? Maybe a giant hammock in the school’s quad or bicycle rental stations set up around campus? Whatever the quirky tactic, the key is giving the donor something that’s a heck of a lot of fun to be involved with (while still maintaining some meaning to your overall cause).

It all comes back to providing donors with “value” via your online channels and social networks. Remember, a fun experience is what most of us are seeking when spending time online. Smart nonprofits can capitalize on that desire to have fun, by adding a little levity to the online giving experience.

For more info on integrating online media and philanthropy, visit

3 Tips for Email Fundraising

It might not be the most sexy tool in your online arsenal, but recent success stories suggest email is still a very powerful component of any online fundraising strategy. So how do you take the standard email and turn it into an extraordinary tool for online philanthropy? Below are three tips to consider when building your email solicitation strategy.

  1. A stripped down online giving form makes it easy for donors to support your organization from their smart phones.

    Make it Easy: The same is true for any aspect of online giving – to generate gifts electronically, you have to make the process easy to navigate for your supporters. The general rule of thumb for online giving is to set up a process that requires no more than two steps (clicks) to get to your online giving information form where the donor enters their name, address, credit card info, etc. Is the same true of your email solicitations?

    Also, don’t forget about mobile – do you have an stripped down mobile giving site that makes it easy to make a gift from a smart phone? A lot of your donors will be reading your email from their mobile phone. If you don’t have an easy-to-use mobile giving process set up, you could be losing gifts.

  2. Give Them Something for Opening Your Email: An over-arching theme for your online/social media strategy should be the attempt at delivering value to your supporters through everything you post/share/send. All too often, that focus on value can be lost when an email is sent out. This doesn’t mean you should overcrowd an email with too much content, but make your supporters happy they opened you message by giving them something interesting or “valuable” for their time.
    When we talk about “value,” we’re not necessarily saying you need to give something away (tickets or merchandise, for example). Instead, “value” means something your supporters would find interesting, funny, or moving that relates to your organization. As is often the case, the Humane Society of the United States gives us a great example of providing value in an email with this message containinig a link to their clever infographic on the Canadian seal slaughter…The Humane Society of the United States gives supporters "value" via email with clever infographicsGood content is “valuable” because it reinforces a donor’s decision to support your organization. Can you embed a video into your emails that details how past gifts have helped your further your cause? How about a thank you from your CEO? Every ask online is also an opportunity to share your message about why giving matters. The same is true of your email solicitations.
  3. Build Smart Lists: During a campaign, your email supporters can become your biggest fundraisers either through their own email accounts or on social networks. When developing email lists, separate one for “most frequent donors” or, better yet, “highest Klout scores” (Klout is a method of measuring a person’s influence online). Then, during the campaign, send pre-written text, email, and social network messages to those lists, asking them to copy and paste the messages into texts, emails, and social network updates to their friends. It’s an easy way to build a grassroots campaign, because it takes little effort on your supporters’ parts (they don’t even have to give to boost your fundraising!).

For more tips on email fundraising, check out Blackbaud’s “Raise more money by avoiding “one-size-fits-all” email appeals” and “Click-through rates, compelling links and your end-of-year fundraising appeal“.

And for info on how BWF can help you build a strategy for online fundraising, visit