Giving Days, Major Donors, and Building a Culture of Philanthropy

At large institutions and organizations, the online giving day is a cacophony of activity. Annual giving, marketing, donor relations, the major gifts team, corporate relations... giving days are an all hands on deck extravaganza of fundraising activity.

When done well, that means a giving day can have far-reaching impacts on many aspects of a development operation. For the University of Idaho, during the school's first giving day in 2016, the reach of the giving day extended to major gifts, student giving, and across the advancement team as a lightning rod that stimulated team building.

In the video below, Stacy Rauch - Idaho's Associate Director of Development for Engineering - talks about how her team connected with major donors to secure challenges, engaged team members across campus, and led the communication blitz that led to big fundraising bucks.

Groundwork Digital's team members have built many giving days, like the one detailed in the video above. To find out how Groundwork can help you launch your first giving day or expand your current giving day, click the the button below to schedule a FREE giving day consultation. 


Getting Noticed on #GivingTuesday

#GivingTuesday is a powerful swell of support for philanthropy across the world. With over 1.5 million gifts given last year, it's clear donors are paying attention. Make sure your content helps your mission stand out on Giving Tuesday!

Check out our video below for three tips for outstanding #GivingTuesday content, even with the smallest of budgets. And join us for a FREE webinar on Wednesday, June 7th, at 3 PM ET/noon PT. Click the Sign Up button below to register for the conversation!

Get Ready for #GivingTuesday

$168 million raised from hundreds of thousands of donors over just 24 hours - with those 2016 results, #GivingTuesday has become solidified as a fundraising movement. The online giving day event is a tremendous opportunity for nonprofits looking to expand their digital footprint. (Not to mention increase their donor acquisition)

But just like with any online fundraising campaign, #GivingTuesday requires more than sending a single email and waiting for the gifts to roll in. Check out our video below for three areas to focus your attention to ensure #GivingTuesday success.

Then, click the "Learn More" button to sign up for our FREE #GivingTuesday webinar. During the webinar we'll go in depth on the three areas of focus and help your nonprofit realize #GivingTuesday fundraising success.

New Data Enhances Content + Messaging

A few weeks ago, we talked about tracking the right data from your digital donors. But this new data won't help if you don't simultaneously adjust what you do with it. What adjustments should you be making? Great question. 

Once you have the data, visualize it.

Remember that postcard from my vet? Using four data points, the postcard arranged them in a neat package that I was able to consume and process within five seconds. 


Today’s donors want visual stories, not written ones. A 2017 Mighteor video viewership study found 81% of women and 50% of men reported watching a video on their smartphone in just the past week alone. Facebook prioritizes video in its newsfeed, conditioning your constituents to engage more and more with this storytelling channel. And the best part is, it doesn’t have to be overproduced! These can be short videos shot with a smartphone, creating a personal and immediate feel. One of my favorite recent examples is UT Austin’s 40 for 40 giving day campaign this year, putting out short videos from staff to departments and students who won different challenges. Short, sweet, and to the point - with a little fun added in - all in about 10 seconds!

The 2016 Abila Donor Loyalty Study noted that brevity conquers all, with short e-mails with no links and short YouTube videos (under 2 minutes) as 2 of the top 3 preferred content types of donors. But that short content has to be relevant to them, with 72% of respondents saying poor/irrelevant content would affect whether or not they donated. Personalized content is key to our organization's future success.


As fundraisers, we're also inherently storytellers, used to focusing a lot of time and energy on how to best get that message across. The digital age has changed how we tell that story, and thankfully, provided great online tools that can relieve pressure on your internal resources and still create content that resonates with our online communities. We already talked about using a smartphone for video, but if you’re building out graphics and aren’t a master designer, check out Canva or Venngage as tools for creating compelling visual content!

So now you’ve taken the data and visualized it - how do you make sure people see it?

According to the most recent M + R Benchmarks Study, email open rates are down 7% from the past year, hovering at about 15% for nonprofit organizations (M+R), so we can’t rely on that alone. Today, we have to come at it from all angles. For online campaigns, this approach should be three-fold.

  1. With the growth of crowdfunding and giving days used for acquisition, digital stewardship from the unique campaign is critical. Donors want to know the impact of their gift to a specific campaign, particularly if it was their first gift. This part has to come first to build the trust to the institution. Did a group of donors give to a group of students going to do service work over spring break? Take pictures to send to donors of the trip, shoot videos that have participants share their experience and how it helped mold them. Donors need to see the personal impact their gift has made.
  2. No matter what online channel the donor came from, this person is now a donor to your institution - woo hoo! But personalization is a part of every online transaction these days, so whether the gift came through an ambassador or your regular online giving form, the donor needs to feel heard. Adding more personal data points to a donor profile creates more effective segmentation opportunities for e-mail touchpoints, but also helps with enhanced social media engagement. You can use that same data for targeted Facebook advertising, so your donors see you both in their inbox and Newsfeed.
  3. Peer-to-peer is no longer just for acquisition. To make sure donors are seeing the great work you’re doing, it also needs to come from their friends. By building an online ambassador program and having the ambassadors share content throughout the year, your donors are introduced to a variety of unique, transformative things your institution does through word of mouth. This authentic approach to donor engagement and stewardship (via their friends) is a big step toward retaining those supposedly hard to retain online-acquired donors.

Want help updating your online content strategy and execution? 

Online Ambassadors Exponentially Increase a Nonprofit's Reach

During a recent conference, our friends at Texas Christian University shared an incredible stat - 1 in 4 emails from online ambassadors led to a fundraising gift. That is compared to 1 in 1,250 when the email comes from the organization.

To put it another way, online ambassador emails have a staggering 25 percent gift conversion rate while institutional emails have a paltry .08 percent conversion rate.

So yeah, you need a strong ambassador program if you want to compete for your donors' dollars. 

In the video below, Groundwork Co-Founder Justin Ware breaks down the basic elements of effective ambassador programs:

Great content, a strategy and technology to find your most effective ambassadors, an incentives plan to keep those ambassadors engaged and sharing ... there is a lot to consider when it comes to building online ambassador programs. Here are a few tips:

  • Dedicate resources to the effort - An online ambassador program is a volunteer program. You want a person to dedicate a substantial amount of time to building relationships with the ambassadors. This person should also know how to track and analyze data to improve the ambassador program over time. Basically, you need an experienced social media manager with volunteer management experience to run your program.
  • Consider technology - For increasingly reasonable amounts of money (roughly $1500), you can find technology that will scan your entire email database and tell you who the ambassadors are within that list. This saves valuable staff time and is almost always far more fruitful than manually scouring a list and searching against LinkedIn and Twitter. Considering the impact ambassadors have, it could end up being the best $1500 you spend all year.
  • Give them great content to share! With today's online-driven landscape, great content is imperative. It, too, requires resources, but ambassadors are going to be far more likely to share content that inspires them. And if you can, go with video. A Google study found that 57 percent of people who watch a YouTube video from a nonprofit will go on to eventually make a gift to that same nonprofit. That, combined with the ambassador email conversion rate, and you basically have an impossible-to-ignore fundraising solicitation.

Are you ready to build or expand an online ambassador program? No one has more experience helping fundraising organizations develop effective ambassador strategies than Groundwork Digital. Email us at to learn how we can help.

Data-driven Online Fundraising at the University of Houston

Social media offers fundraisers a treasure trove of information on donors and prospects. Known as the “social graph,” this fire hose of data can do everything from help annual giving create far more targeted and successful solicitations to greatly enrich the profiles of major donors and prospects.

There are a growing number of technology platforms to help fundraisers leverage the data in the social graph, but as we’ve learned from the University of Houston, technology is not a requirement to get started.

In the video below, Houston’s Associate Director of Annual Giving, Jonathan Brooks, talks about how his team assembled a sophisticated approach to leveraging online information with almost no technology at all:

Does your organization have an online data strategy? If not, you’re probably leaving donors and dollars on the table. If you’d like to explore how an online strategy can boost your donor engagement and fundraising, email me at 

Online Ambassador Incentives that Work

Most organizations and institutions recognize the impact online ambassadors have on fundraising. I mean, how couldn’t they? Whether it’s a new donor acquisition drive, ensuring online giving day success, or engaging major donors, a well-run online ambassador program is one of the most effective tactics fundraisers can deploy.

Of course, the devil is often in the details.

While many ambassador program achieve amazing results, others flounder. There are many factors behind online ambassador program success and one key component is determining what inspires your ambassadors to frequently and enthusiastically share your message.

During their 2016 online giving day, fundraisers at Texas Christian University discovered something interesting about what drove their ambassadors to share. While a significant number of valuable prizes were offered, it was the knowledge that their sharing activity was making a impact that seemed to provide the most incentive for online ambassadors.

TCU’s Director of Constituent Engagement Elyse Menger has more in the video below:

To be clear, different tactics often drive different results for different fundraising organizations. That said, if impact messaging inspires donors then the same is likely true of ambassadors. It certainly was for TCU during their giving day.

And to be clear, this is a crucially important issue. According to a Blackbaud review of their peer-to-peer fundraising software, 1 in 4 ambassador solicitations lead a gift. That’s compared to 1 in 1,250 official emails from an organization that lead to a gift.

That’s a 25 percent conversion rate for ambassadors compared with a .08 conversion rate for institutional email.

How are you inspiring your donors to share your message enthusiastically? (You do have ambassadors, right?) If you would like to explore building or expanding an online ambassador program, email me at

Dogs & Data in Digital Giving Stewardship

No spoiler alert here - dogs always make good content. If you can add puppies to your digital giving stewardship, always do it. But more on digital stewardship content on another day...

Today I want to talk about getting to the heart of the digital donor, and how we as non-profit fundraisers can take that information to build long-term relationships and increase retention rates in the digital age. My story, and the heart of this digital donor, starts with puppies...

                            Maggie                                                              Whiskey

                            Maggie                                                              Whiskey

Last year, I was on the search for a new veterinarian for my two pups after moving to Oceanside, California. So of course, I whip out my phone and pull up Yelp. After a few minutes of searching, I found the one with the best customer service reviews (for both animal & human) and made an appointment. And boy - were the reviews right! These doctors treated my furbabies like their own, were transparent about procedures and cost, and created tailored plans for my high energy golden and my 100 lb lap-dog shepherd, alike.

These tactics acquired my business, but what keeps me loyal is their two-pronged approach to stewardship of customers that is both personal and data-driven.

After every appointment - no matter how small - they call the next day to check on the dogs and make sure everyone was doing OK. A small gesture that takes maybe 2 minutes time, but gives a feeling of commitment to the well-being of my dogs, which continues to inspire my loyalty to their business.

But what happens when I haven’t been there in a while and I am less connected? How do they continue to ensure that personal relationship? By taking the data that pulls hardest on my heartstrings, the things I care about the most, and sending direct follow up communication and calls to action around those data points.

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 11.55.52 AM.png

In this case, the data that pulls at my heart is as simple as my dog’s name and a picture of her breed, alongside a call to action that she needs preventative shots. Four data points. Two personal and two informational, visualized on a postcard that reminds me in 5 seconds that they know who I am as a customer and that they care about what I care about. With the wealth of data they have about me and my pups, they could send a variety of things -- but they've identified and executed the ones that push through the noise quickest. These postcards continue to remind me of the simple power of the right data (and of course how cute my dog is). 

Personalization based on donor data is not a new idea to fundraising. Affiliation to an institution or giving history, for example, have long been effective ways to create calls to action, governing stewardship and second-ask strategies. But advances in technology that let us see almost everything in real-time, combined with a cause-based generation have changed the way donors engage with and react to organizations, non-profit and corporate alike. 

So that begs (or barks) the question, what data should we be tracking to improve our retention strategies in non-profit fundraising, that we aren't capturing now?


An umbrella over funds, themes assigned to different campaigns provide affinity-based segmentation points, allowing your follow up communications and solicitations to target a wider group of donors, while still showing that you know the kinds of things they care about. Think of Netflix - because I watch The West Wing, their algorithm suggests a variety of shows produced by Aaron Sorkin or political related shows for me to watch. It's the same concept!

Say you have a crowdfunding project out of your college museum, raising money to put on an art exhibit on early American History for high school students. You would solicit the museum's donors, but if you tracked a theme of student development, you could also easily find a new pool of donors that would be interested in the education of high school students and access to higher education. The museum may not pull at their hearts, but the educational opportunity would. And this project has both! You then also have a built-in touch point to those "student development" donors, showing them the diverse programs your organization provides that align with their affinities. 

Referral Source

In the digital era, referral goes one step farther than channel. Understanding what gets donors to your online campaigns will help create your most efficient marketing strategy. For example, during a giving day, you want to know what percentage of donors came from Facebook advertising, who was inspired because an ambassador reached out, and who responded from an email. This allows you to optimize your resource spend on the pieces that your community reacts best to. 

Social Data 

"Social media is an new avenue to do an old kind of fundraising..[it's] key in driving new marketing strategies on a personal level" - Johnathan Brooks, University of Houston 

Connecting with your constituents online is a low-cost, time effective way to steward donors of all levels. It gives you a communication tool, but also an ability to track other areas of your institution they may care about, but didn't know they could give to. By harvesting user data and themes from social media content - then using that data to produce more content - you can add more themes of interest to a donor profile, and connect those donors to new giving opportunities in that space.

All of these areas are enhanced when we also apply our traditional demographic data, but until we track the psychographic and demographic alongside one another, and create stewardship programs that tailor more to psychographics (affinity data), we miss the mark, and risk losing donors. 

You have the tools at your fingertips, let's talk about how to make them work for you! Shoot me an email at to talk about more informed data-driven retention strategy. 


Setting Your Philanthropic Crowdfunding Campaign Goal

It's Spring fundraiser time for my local public radio station. Every hour, a new goal to hit. And I continue to be impressed by the role fundraising goals play in exciting and inspiring donors to give. "60 seconds left and we still need $1,000 to hit this hourly challenge"...and all of a sudden, they've reached it! It is a powerful tool. 

But its power has two sides - if your goal is set too high and you never pick up the momentum you need, it can hurt the campaign with the same might. So how do we set the appropriate goal in philanthropic crowdfunding? 

What tactics do you find helpful in advising project teams who are setting their campaign goal? Leave a comment or shoot us an email at - we'd love to hear your stories! 

Online Ambassadors Lead to Major Donor Fundraising

The bigger the purchase, the more our peers influence our decision.

A 2014 Word of Mouth Marketing Association study found that "higher consideration purchases" - like buying a home or a car - are influenced by peer recommendation more than "lower consideration purchases" such as clothing or food.

Would you agree that a major gift is more of a big or "higher consideration" purchase than a "lower consideration" purchase? Of course that's true. Learn more about how this translates into major gifts fundraising in the video below:

Is your organization or institution uncovering new major gift prospects with online ambassadors? Are your digitally savvy major donors leading seven-figure online fundraising campaigns? If not, email me at to learn about Groundwork Digital's major donor engagement strategies.