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The 8 Steps Muhlenberg College Took to Exceed 910 Donors on 11-12-13
The 8 Steps Muhlenberg College Took to Exceed 910 Donors on 11-12-13

Thinking about a Day of Giving campaign? Here’s how to do it.

By Kim Anderson , Stacey Prohaska


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Muhlenberg College’s mascot, the Mule, poses with a student during #MuleMentum, the institution’s first Day of Giving campaign. (Photo credit: Muhlenberg College)



Muhlenberg College's first Day of Giving campaign, #MuleMentum, was NOT about the money. Really.

Yes, yes, we absolutely wanted donors to make a gift to the Muhlenberg Fund, but participation was the priority when we set out to inspire 910 donors to make an annual gift on 11/12/13. Incredibly, a record-setting 1,430 donors—alumni, parents, students, faculty, and staff—gave during that 24-hour period. Additionally, the #MuleMentum campaign created the most activity Muhlenberg's alumni Facebook page and Twitter handle have ever seen in a single day and earned our second-highest YouTube viewership.

Giving day was new ground for our small, 2,400-student liberal arts college, so we researched what our peers (actual and aspirational) were doing and conducted a benchmarking analysis. We decided to depart from the traditional crowdfunding campaign and create our day of giving, Muhlenberg-style. Despite some doubtful feedback (Focus on participation to unrestricted annual fund giving? Not sexy enough! Produce your own videos? Not professional enough! Forgo challenge grants? Could spell disaster!), we're pleased to report that the campaign exceeded all expectations.

But what truly surprised us was the emotional connection people felt that inspired them to give back that day:

  • Young alumni posted and tweeted messages like "May be broke, but I can skip out on a latte to make a gift to my beloved alma mater."
  • A stream of students, faculty members, and local alumni stopped by #MuleMentum headquarters at the student union asking how they could make a gift.
  • The head of housekeeping dropped off an envelope with cash gifts and checks from 15 housekeeping staff members.
  • Parents included heartfelt comments with their gifts, such as "In gratitude for the wonderful experience our daughter is having."
  • Everyone from the development and alumni relations staff to President Randy Helm was frantically and repeatedly refreshing the #MuleMentum web page on their phones and computers, reading the comments and watching the donor count rise steadily—even after we hit the goal at 4:17 p.m.

And OK, you got us … the money turned out to be pretty nice too. The final gift tally came to $212,617—again, a record at Muhlenberg for a single day's annual fund gifts. More important, the community spirit that day—on campus and off—was palpable and contagious.

Here's how you can create a successful giving day.

1. Set a Realistic yet Creative Goal

"The purpose of #MuleMentum is to educate constituents about annual support and to increase participation in annual giving to The Muhlenberg Fund."—#MuleMentum Marketing Plan

Most institutions that our six-member planning committee spoke with during the benchmarking phase raised money for projects like athletic trips and community service initiatives. Such priorities did not jibe with our primary goal (or theirs, as we learned), and we realized that there could be hard feelings on campus no matter what programs we chose. After much discussion, we reaffirmed that alumni participation was the goal—period.

We deliberately did not establish a dollar goal; instead, we focused on a donor goal. Settling on a specific number of participants was challenging since we had not hosted a day of giving campaign before. We started with 580 donors to financial aid, representing one donor for every member of the incoming Class of 2017. We set our sights on 910 to playfully capitalize on the date of 11/12/13.

We set our threshold for individual gifts as low as possible: $5. (Anything lower costs more for us to process.) We also identified two unrestricted areas to which donors could direct their gifts: the Muhlenberg Fund and general financial aid.

2. Choose a Date That's Easy to Remember

"The date of #MuleMentum is easy to remember: 11/12/13."—#MuleMentum Marketing Plan

The planning committee, which convened four months earlier, considered a variety of options for the date. Were there annual or upcoming events, anniversaries, or dates of significance in the academic year that could propel our campaign? A fall date was preferable to a spring one for a number of reasons:

  • If the campaign proved unsuccessful, we'd have time to build our donor count throughout the remainder of the fiscal year.
  • National Philanthropy Day, held annually in mid-November, gave us an opportunity to focus on philanthropy to the college. It was also close to Thanksgiving and the season of giving.
  • Each fall, Muhlenberg hosts Reunion and Homecoming Weekend, an alumni board meeting, a board of trustees meeting, and Family Weekend—great occasions to spread the word about #MuleMentum among our volunteers.
3. Hire Help

"Gifts will be made online through a dedicated web page and payment platform."—#MuleMentum Marketing Plan

For #MuleMentum to be successful, giving had to be fun, easy, and FAST. Without a dedicated webmaster in the development office, we weren't set up to report real-time results. During a test-drive, staff members manually tallied online gifts and posted results on the web every few minutes—neither efficient nor effective. So we hired web page and payment processing vendors. Benefits of this approach included:

  • The #MuleMentum web page offered one-stop viewing of the results, the campaign's launch and progress videos, and comments people posted. Additionally, it was simple to navigate.
  • Progress and results could be shared instantaneously on the web page and through social media.
  • Each donor received a distinct URL to share with friends and classmates during #MuleMentum.
4. Appoint Ambassadors

"Each volunteer will serve as a liaison between The Muhlenberg Fund and his or her network."—#MuleMentum Marketing Plan

Trustees, as well as alumni board, parents council, and senior class committee members were among those we recruited to be #MuleMentum ambassadors. Their duties were simple:

  • Make your annual gift at the #MuleMentum web page and tell us why you gave. (At our request, more than 200 people who had given prior to 11/12/13 made an additional gift during #MuleMentum.)
  • Share your unique referral link on your social media networks and through email. (We provided an email template.)
  • If possible, photograph or record a video of yourself to share via email, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. (We provided a sign and the campaign logo to use.)
5. Add Incentives

"Volunteers will be asked to use their unique referral link to encourage at least 10 other Muhlenberg alumni, parents, or friends to make a gift."—#MuleMentum Marketing Plan

Traditional crowdfunding utilizes a leaderboard to highlight individuals who make the largest gifts. As our goal was participation, we took a different approach:

  • We gave small gifts based on the donor's number in conjunction with our goals. Donors No. 1 (thanks for getting the party started), No. 330 (the number of gifts we wanted for the Muhlenberg Fund), No. 580 (our target for gifts to financial aid), and No. 910 (we made our goal!) received small tokens (T-shirts, hats, flash drives), as did others throughout the day—spontaneously announced—as enthusiasm for #MuleMentum either waxed or waned.
  • Our leaderboard also listed anyone who inspired 10 people they knew to make a gift from their unique referral link—a tougher challenge. Eight people achieved this goal and received an insulated tumbler.
  • One incentive we skipped: the challenge grant. While matching gifts have helped propel giving at numerous institutions, we were concerned large challenge grants would be a turnoff for donors making smaller gifts—would they still feel a gift of $5 mattered if, say, $50,000 was on the line? We were thrilled to learn that a challenge grant was not necessary for success.
6. Spread the Word, Then Spread It More

"Through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., volunteers/staff will be asked to keep the momentum going."—#MuleMentum Marketing Plan

Here's the scene: At the dawn of a new day (literally, the sun is coming up), President Helm jumps out of bed, straightens his signature red bowtie, and walks his dog Calypso down Academic Row. As he strolls to the tune of "Eye of the Tiger," an increasing crowd forms and follows to demonstrate growing momentum—er, MuleMentum. With this lighthearted video, Helm announces that #MuleMentum is coming but doesn't give too much away.

It's one of several videos and other communication materials we prepared to launch and maintain the campaign. To encourage gifts to financial aid, we posted on the #MuleMentum web page interviews with two students who share their Muhlenberg experience and explain that financial assistance was crucial for them. In another video, students talk about how the annual fund supports their areas of interest, such as sustainable living and multiculturalism. With prewritten copy for our emails, posts, and tweets, we were ready to address a variety of potential outcomes as they were happening. We're making steady progress, one email says. We're so close we can see the finish line, reads another.

Our multichannel marketing efforts included:

Pre-#MuleMentum

  • A web page with a countdown clock and Helm's video launched a month before #MuleMentum.
  • Fall letters from our class fund chairs, alumni class liaisons dedicated to fundraising, gave classmates a head's up.
  • A week before #MuleMentum, a postcard announcing the campaign went out to those for whom we had no email address.
  • We advertised the upcoming campaign in the student newspaper.
  • "Coming soon" posts on Facebook and Twitter and a robocall directing alumni to the #MuleMentum web page were placed on 11/11/13.

On #MuleMentum

  • An email announcement with video link went out at midnight.
  • Phonathon callers tweaked their scripts to incorporate a day of giving message.
  • The college's full online presence—our main homepage and our alumni community homepage—was devoted to the campaign.
  • We located #MuleMentum headquarters in Seegers Union, where students and staff could make gifts at giving stations and take photos with the Mule (our mascot).
  • Using photos and video shot throughout the day, we frequently updated alumni and friends through Facebook posts, tweets, and emails. When giving lulled, our social media maven sent out messages such as "It's cold outside, but #MuleMentum is heating up!"
  • Muhlenberg's radio station, 91.7 WMUH, and our daily campus update, the 'Berg Bulletin, included announcements about the day of giving.
7. Share Your Success

#MuleMentum surpassed the donor goal by 57 percent.

The following day we posted a 30-second thank-you video online featuring the students who starred in the videos for financial aid and the Muhlenberg Fund. We shared the results in the same way we promoted the campaign: on the #MuleMentum web page and the college home page, as well as through email and social media. Volunteers spread the good news on their social networks.

Of the 1,430 donors, 778 had given before but not recently, and 353 were first-timers. Among the new donors were 97 students. Alumni from all decades beginning with the 1940s were represented, as was every cohort from the Class of 1960 through the newest set of graduates. Gifts of less than $100 represented 77 percent of all gifts received on #MuleMentum. The average gift by young alumni from the class years 2004–2013 was $30.56.

8. Assess, Refine, Repeat

Was the campaign worth it? We think so! We spent nearly $30,000 to raise $212,617, for a return on investment of 716 percent, or 7 to 1. Our costs included web and credit card vendors ($13,044 for both), postcard mailing ($11,032 for design, print, and mail), our class fund chair letter ($4,800 to print and mail—this is standard outreach for us, so we would have spent this anyway), and miscellaneous expenses ($809 for stickers, logo design, signs, robocall, and photography). Faculty members and students made the videos for free.

  • We attribute our success to:
  • Focusing solely on donors. The staff never reported on or mentioned the dollars, even when the dollar amount grew to an impressive number. People felt like their $5 gift made a difference.
  • A strong cadre of volunteers.
  • Our video presence pre-#MuleMentum and man-on-the-street reports throughout the day, which kept things interesting.
  • Setting up headquarters in our student union. As we got closer to our goal, then met it, the excitement and ensuing celebration in the heart of campus allowed everyone to participate.

For this year's campaign on Nov. 12, we plan to engage more faculty, older alumni, and local companies that employ large numbers of alumni. Engaging a broader portion of constituents, we hope, will build exponentially on last year's success.

So, did #MuleMentum move the needle on alumni participation for fund year 2013–2014? The answer is yes … and no.

Overall, we closed the fund year about even with last year at 22 percent (the final percentage is still being tallied). Day of giving campaigns can generate a fast increase in donors and dollars, but attracting and retaining new donors to the annual fund continues to be a struggle. That said, we cannot stress enough the impact of the goodwill and community spirit that #MuleMentum generated.

And we made real progress with young alumni, parents and students—groups that have been challenging for us in the past. "Proud to be part of the Berg Family" … "Wish we could give more this year, but every little bit counts" … "First time giving! Great work on this!" Reading these comments from those who made gifts that day continues to inspire and motivate us to gain even more #MuleMentum this year.

About the Authors Kim Anderson

Kim Anderson is director of the Muhlenberg Fund.

Stacey Prohaska

Stacey Prohaska is former director of communication and donor relations at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania.

 

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