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Is Day of Giving Really a Strong Fundraising Model for Higher Ed?

A successful day of giving makes the news: The 2018 Purdue Day of Giving brought in a record $37 million in 24 hours. When a high-profile giving day smashes participation and dollar goals, annual giving teams across the country double down on strategies for engineering their own success.   

However, for as many giving days that are splashy and successful, there are many more that struggle to deliver the dollars and donors the giving day trend promises. Giving days rely on a team’s ability to insert sophisticated social media and marketing plays into their existing annual giving programs. Pulling this off is incredibly challenging.   

With all the effort and expectations around giving day, we wanted to know if the giving day model works with the resources that most schools possess. We looked to the college and universities who make up the Reeher Community to find out. Here’s what we learned:  

Most giving days will raise only a small portion of your annual fund for the year  

When done correctly, giving days create a buzz that draws alumni, friends, and family out to interact with each other and donate. The amount of social engagement you generate online is a great indicator of your campaign’s success, but dollars and donors are the bottom line.  

According to Reeher research, annual giving days tend to bring in only a small portion of annual fund goals for the year. At the same time, giving days are tremendously time-consuming for staff.   

Tip: Before you do another giving day, do your own resource assessment and a cost/benefit analysis. There may be compelling reasons to change how you practice your day of giving, adjust your goals, or to try a new strategy all together.  

Surprisingly, average donor age isn’t affected 

Many annual giving teams structure their day of giving to appeal to younger demographics. However, our research suggests that the average age of giving day donors tracks closely with the average age of annual giving donors overall. Both groups average out to be 54 years old. Day of giving donors are also most commonly alumni.  

Tip: Enhance the power of your giving day messaging by tailoring it to the middle-aged alumni who are already some of your strongest annual fund donors. Be sure to connect nostalgia and fun social sharing activities with messaging that demonstrates the impact of their gift on students today.   

With the right strategies in play, day of giving can enhance retention, renewal, acquisition 

It’s a mistake to measure the impact of a giving day based on what happens on that day alone. If donors are giving a small gimmick gift in response to your day of giving, but not re-engaging, is your giving day really contributing to the vitality of your program? The bottom line is that your giving day is a truly valuable part of your annual giving strategy if it’s able to contribute to year-over-year increases in dollars and donors. 

Giving days can be designed as tools to target retention or acquisition rates. A great giving day experience gets donors through the door, but stewardship activities are more important. Any successful giving day should have a post-campaign strategy so that your day-of efforts aren’t wasted.  

Tip: Your giving day is the midway point of your strategy, not the end. Follow up with a campaign to let your donors know the impact of their gift and the importance of their participation. Intentionally engaging with giving day donors helps you retain their support for the coming years.   

Day of giving changes the size of donor gifts  

While day of giving days increase donor participation, this larger group of donors makes smaller contributions. We found that newly acquired donors gave an average of $49 on giving day compared to the average gift size of $208 through other annual giving initiatives. Renewed and retained donors were also making substantially smaller gifts. This means that annual giving days are an excellent tool for shoring up your participation rates. But, for annual fund directors looking to substantially boost fundraising dollars, this type of event is less productive.  

Tip: Even though giving day donors tend to give smaller gifts, our research shows that they are more likely than other annual fund donors to upgrade the value of subsequent gifts. Donors who experience good stewardship and understand their value to your institution are often willing to increase their support.  

Giving days do work for schools of all sizes and budgets, but they need to be contextualized within your other annual giving efforts. Schools who create manageable goals and follow through with donor stewardship after the event are the most successful.  

Make sure your giving day has a strong ROI. Tether your strategy and avoid common pitfalls with Your Best Giving Day: Before, During & After 


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