In mid-2011, Blackbaud released a report declaring that social fundraising—or social media driven online fundraising—was nearing the $1 billion mark in the United States. The report also predicted that this trend would increase as technology adoption increases. With social media adoption reaching 86 percent in the United States (Forrester Research, North American Technographics Online Benchmark Survey, Q3, 2011), and 80 percent of U.S. nonprofits viewing Facebook as important, the data correlates to increases in peer-to-peer giving. Giving days like Give to the Max are on the forefront of the emerging trends in online giving.
There are no recent benchmark surveys for Greater Washington’s adoption of social media by the population, or by its local nonprofits to effectively judge performance beyond anecdote. However, more than 1,200 nonprofits signed on to the Razoo platform for the first time to participate in the event. Fifty-nine percent of donors were 45 years or older, demonstrating a very strong performance from the demographic that is the slowest to adopt social media and online giving.
Give to the Max Day successfully bolstered nonprofit capacity, provided nonprofits a successful fundraising platform, and heightened awareness of the needs of the local nonprofit sector. Given the fractured nature of the greater Washington, DC, region, the event overwhelmingly proved that city-based giving days can work.
At the same time, given the wealth in the city and its outlying suburbs, there is a significant opportunity to expand local giving in the metro area. The region is home to four of the ten wealthiest counties in the country according to Forbes, including Falls Church City, Loudoun County, Fairfax County, and Fairfax City. Washington’s population of 5.6 million exceeds Minnesota, which is home to 5.3 million.
In comparison to other more mature giving days, Give to the Max Day: DC is relatively small, though still one of the few that has grossed more than $2 million. Washington as a region has not yet been mobilized to the same degree as Minnesota, for example, but this may be due to the nature of the region, its mobile urban population, and local fragmentation between DC, Maryland, and Virginia.
Additionally, as the giving day matures, lessons learned will be applied, more time will be invested in the organization of the event, and the nonprofit community will adapt Give to the Max as a part of its annual fundraising calendar. The success of Give to the Max Day is expected to increase, in line with the trajectory of other giving days.
The primary strategy of gamification of the awards proved to be very successful. In comparison to larger most mature giving days, Washington, DC, participants donated more per award or matching grant dollar available in the contest.
As for the marketing of Give to the Max Day: Greater Washington, the consumer outreach initiated by program organizers worked well. This allowed two-thirds of nonprofits to simply run Give to the Max Day fundraisers using the event’s umbrella messaging instead of creating their own unique stories for the event.
Overall, a majority of surveyed nonprofits found the event to be the same or better than their prior best online fundraiser. Furthermore, half of donations were triggered by word-of-mouth via email or Facebook. Organizers in other cities would be advised to actively market their giving day using multiple channels, including public relations, social media, and transportation, and donated public service and social network ads.
Moving forward, there were a few lessons and challenges learned from the giving day. While the event was successful from a fundraising perspective, more thinking is needed to find ways that a giving day can work to support nonprofits in their overall campaigns.
Furthermore, giving day organizers should find ways to incentivize larger nonprofits to participate. Addressing their lack of participation—whether because of internal approval issues, competition with other fundraisers, or the size of the award pool—is crucial to expanding participation.
Another core aspect that must be addressed is building capacity. Given the different levels of sophistication among nonprofits with social media, fundraising, and time and project management skills, it makes sense to tier training materials and activities for a variety of organizations.
Given the increasingly widespread successes and maturation of giving days nationally, and the success of Give to the Max Day: Greater Washington, would-be organizers should feel that giving days offer them a new source of fundraising potential.
Finally, event organizers for Give to the Max Day: Greater Washington recommend a longer planning cycle for Give to the Max Day: Greater Washington 2012. Expectations for the next iteration of the giving day are higher given more expected planning time and increased participation from the region’s grant makers and corporations. Six to eight months are recommended to plan a successful regional giving day. Planning should include notifying nonprofits at least three months prior to the giving day.
Planning for Give to the Max Day: Greater Washington 2012 is already underway. The three event organizers are excited by their initial results, and see the giving day as an important programmatic vehicle to further strengthen the Greater Washington nonprofit community. Overall, the event demonstrates that giving days are not a phenomena limited to select cities and states in the middle of the country, and that they not only create a great fundraising moment, but can also achieve larger philanthropic goals.