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 Cal State San Marcos to learn about the success of their 2018 GivingTuesday campaign. Learn tactical strategies and how they used toolkits, challenges, and mobilized the Student Philanthropy Council to run a successful GivingTuesday campaign.

What were your campaign goals, how did you choose these goals, what is your typical campaign timeline and how do you go about campaign planning?

Our goal is always dollars raised. We have met this goal every year; however, there will likely be a point where that streak ends. We have a number of goals each year – one could make the case for any one of them being the #1 goal. Those goals are to Increase number of gifts, unique donors, first-time donors, average gift amount, involvement of campus areas (colleges/departments/scholarships/etc.) and matching gifts/challenge gifts. Our Giving Day goals are certainly not unique compared to our higher education peers!

In terms of timeline, we typically present to our Development Directors on June 1 and identify donors for matching gifts/challenge gifts. In mid-September we hold our first campus communications and social media managers workshop to emphasize storytelling, explain how the platform will work, and the prep required. At the beginning of November in the lead up to GivingTuesday, we host our second meeting on how to use the social media toolkit and platforms. The Office of Annual Giving and Office of Communications (both part of the University Advancement division) are the main drivers of Giving Day. Both areas spend time analyzing Giving Day a week or two after. Annual Giving and Communications then come together, typically June 1, to start planning the specifics. We also solicit feedback from Advancement Services/Gift Processing, Campus Communicators/Social Media Managers, and Development Directors. We have yet to survey donors.

Did your campaign engage any matching gifts/challenges?

Our Foundation Board Chair generously gave a dollar for dollar match for every gift (up to $1,000) on CSUSM Giving Day. His match followed the designation of the donor. For example, a $25 gift to the Food Insecurity Fund was matched by the donor, thus $50 to the FIF.

We had a few other “unit of college based” matching gifts. For example, the Library had a $5,000 match for all gifts to the Library, up to $5,000 total.

We also had several Challenges, 13 to be exact. Here are two examples:

The fund that received the most alumni gifts received a $1,000 challenge bonus. The winner was the Alumni Association Endowed Scholarship.

The fund that received the most gifts before 6:00am won the $1,500 Early Bird Special challenge. The winner was ACE Scholars Services.

Did your campaign mobilize students in anyway? Or alumni?

We have not yet mobilized alumni, or other external donors, with an Ambassadors toolkit, etc., mostly because we do not currently have the platform to do so. That’s on our radar though.

Student mobilization was executed by the Student Philanthropy Council. From 8:00am-5:00pm at a central campus location on CSUSM Giving Day, Student Philanthropy Council members hosted a Giving Day exhibit. They talked to students (as well as faculty/staff), gave away coffee and snacks, helped students navigate the website to make a gift, answered questions, emphasized the dollar for dollar match, and just made it a fun place to be. Their goal was to double the number of students gifts made the prior year (85) – so 190 was the goal. We ended up with 332 student gifts.

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

Campaign communications dramatically improved last year due to a simple to use, easy to access Social Media Toolkit. We hosted two training sessions for campus “social media/communications managers,” basically any campus employee who has those duties in their job description, representing colleges such as the College of Business Administration, departments such as Athletics, or a specific fund such as the Alumni Association Endowed Scholarship. All had the tools to take broad Giving Day language that would be tailored to their specific areas.

The lesson – if you can identify all social mediums that are utilized throughout campus (good luck with that because there’s way more out there than you probably think) and get those social media/communications managers to promote via their own platforms and followers, you could hit a home run.

Creating this same type of toolkit for alumni and other external constituents is our obvious next step – we need the Giving Day platform to properly execute that.

What did you use to measure your campaign goals and benchmarking?

Increases in the main numbers! Dollars. Gifts. Donors. New Donors. We have managed to increase in all four areas all four years, but that’s not sustainable. So you have to determine how you define success.

For example, here are some of those numbers from 2018:

  • $448,955 raised (+76% increase vs. 2017)
  • 1,261 unique donors (+112%)
  • 710 first-time donors (+155%)

Are we successful if we raise less in 2019 but have 850 first-time donors?

Are we successful if we raise $450,000 but have only 900 unique donors?

It is about the money, but it can’t always be!

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

I think what makes our campaign unique is that we emphasize impact. It’s more than just about a gift. It’s about the impact the gift will make. That comes through in the language in our messaging.

Lessons Learned and Goals for 2019

  • Storytelling is key. The funding areas that participate in Giving Day and communicate via their specific social mediums are learning that storytelling is key to motivating prospective donors. It is much more than stating there is need for funding. Its articulating who will be impacted and how.
  • We need to offer a more donor friendly platform. Example: Donors currently cannot split a gift. If they intend to give to three areas, they have to make three gifts.
  • We are missing an external Ambassadors program. Many institutions are already doing a great job with this. Providing them the social media tools to help us promote our Giving Day and motivating them to assist is a priority this year.

Bigger picture goals/changes:

  • Implementation of a platform unique for Giving Days.
  • Development of an external Ambassadors program.
  • Grow our numbers.

Want to know more about Cal State San Marco’s GivingTuesday success? Feel free to contact Sean Briner, Director of Annual Giving Programs at California State University San Marcos at