An Interview With Colorado State University

Colleges and universities all over the world inspire students, alumni, and supporters to rally together on GivingTuesday. We recently spoke to one of our GivingTuesday leaders working at Colorado State University to learn about the success of their 2018 GivingTuesday campaign. Learn tactical strategies and how they used storytelling to inspire giving.

What were your campaign goals? And how do you go about campaign planning?

We had a few internal and external campaign goals. Internally, our goals were 1,800 donors (the previous year was 1,618) and of that, have 174 young alumni donors, and 293 faculty & staff donors. We ended up getting 1,958 total donors, 214 young alumni donors, and 299 faculty & staff donors. There wasn’t a ton of science behind how we chose these—just a hunch of what we thought would be reasonable using our growth from previous years as a factor. Externally, we wanted to use up 100% of our matching challenge of $25k and raise enough to feed 170 students on the waitlist of our Rams Against Hunger program. To reach these goals, we use the four weeks leading to GivingTuesday (throughout November). We send out weekly, segmented emails, along with other segmented marketing including postcards, campus marketing, text messaging, and social media advertising.

We start planning about 6-8 months ahead of Giving Tuesday and start with a theme. From there, we work with a graphic designer to create a suite of branded assets. In addition, this past year, we focused on storytelling which required quite a bit of lead time of identifying students, conducting interviews, creating videos, etc. We then work with our web folks to build landing pages, online giving pages, etc. All of these things are initially built into a production timeline based off of drop dates.

Did your campaign engage any matching gifts/challenges?

Yes! We were fortunate to identify a donor last year that provided us with a $25k matching gift and thanks to good stewardship with the donor, they’ve agreed to provide this match each year for five years.

What did you focus on in your campaign communications? Did you engage social media ambassadors?

We focused on storytelling. We identified four different students—one to feature each week—and told their story beyond quotes, which typically happens in other campaigns that we do. We wanted to paint a picture for donors where they learned more about what led students to dealing with food insecurity, how food insecurity impacted their day-to-day lives, and how the program improved their experience as students. Our students had some really emotional stories about things like growing up in foster care and we didn’t want to hold back when articulating their experiences. We also wanted to share the impact of the program in ways that may not be as obvious to donors, like not feeling shame around hunger because you were able to get meals on campus.

We produced these stories through video and writing. The stories were sent via email and then hosted on a landing page. We also pushed some out on social media.

What did you use to measure your campaign goals and bench-marking?

We used our platform and our internal donor database to track all of our goals and identify performance of our different segments. We primarily benchmark against ourselves from year to year.

What made your campaign unique? Did you focus on something new this year? How did your campaign compare to previous years?

I think our campaign is unique because we focus on one university fund targeted at a broad audience. Also, focusing on food insecurity in a university setting is something that can be a touchy subject. I think we were one of the first universities to do something like this on a broad scale and in recent years, more schools are turning their attention to this subject when it comes to giving days.

Our storytelling focus also made this year unique. A lot of times annual giving campaigns or direct mail pieces feature high level profiles or quotes of students, but we took this to a new level where we weren’t afraid to talk about some of what makes food insecurity an uncomfortable topic. We want to break that barrier down and let people know that it is indeed a real issue and students shouldn’t feel shame for being food insecure.

In addition, our giving day platform is very unique in that it allows us to count our fundraising using algorithms beyond donors and dollars. In previous years we’ve counted meals raised in real time which let’s donors feel that tangibility and impact of their gift, no matter the size. This year, we took a bit of a gamble and switched our counting to students fed. Since our campaign was focused around the embodiment of the food insecure student’s experience, we wanted donors to feel the tangibility of “adding” another student helped to the counter on our platform. It also coincided with our goal of feeding 170 students. It ended up working really well.

As far as performance from previous years, our campaign exceeded in donors across multiple segments and total donors. Our dollars raised was only a bit more than last year—TOTAL—but last year, we had a surprise $25k gift (in addition to the $25k match) that we did not secure again this year. With that in mind, minus that “missing” $25k gift, our dollars raised from annual donors was up from last year and basically able to make up for the missing $25k gift.

Lessons Learned

Due to budgetary constraints, the video production for the student interviews was done by me. For an amateur, the videos aren’t bad, but they’re not as high of quality as we would have preferred. Ideally, it would be great to get enough budget next year to cover more video production, but if we end up not being able to pay for that, we’ve learned several things that can improve DIY video production. Looking to next year, we would like to find a way to engage leadership level and/or major gift level donors more in the future.

Want to know more about Colorado State University's GivingTuesday success? Feel free to contact Thea M. Rounsaville, Assistant Director of Annual Giving, Colorado State University,