Giving Tuesday: Big donations pour in to help colleges, students

Several institutions report receiving more than $1 million and 2,000 individual gifts from alumni and donors.
By: | December 2, 2021
Adobe Stock

From early returns, Giving Tuesday was again a resounding success again for higher education.

According to data released by Anthology, one of the many doing tabulations of the Thanksgiving week event, the total dollars raised by colleges and universities alone that use the platform Encompass eclipsed more than $9.5 million. From small to large institutions, there were 37,000-plus individual donations for an average gift of $260. Overall, $2.7 billion was gifted to various missions throughout the U.S., including those unrelated to higher ed.

Though its total monetary number was down a bit from 2020, Anthology officials noted that was not unexpected given the outpouring of support that occurred during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last fall. A year later, with need still paramount, those amounts still surpassed 2019 numbers by more than $2 million.

“I think it was a really good day, the second-highest we’ve ever seen,” said Dr. Mirko Widenhorn, Senior Director of Engagement Strategy at Anthology. “There were six institutions that had over 1,000 donations, with the largest having almost 2,500. If we were to take this, plus all of those individual Days of Giving we see throughout the year, the amount of funds raised for higher education is incredible.”

Individual campuses had their own amazing stories of giving to share:

  • Kent State University brought in an astonishing $7.7 million, including $6.25 million from legacy gifts and $1.3 million from outright gifts and matches. “Kent State donors have been raising the bar on Giving Tuesday donations for years, but this year is truly remarkable,” said Valoree Vargo, vice president for philanthropy and alumni engagement.
  • Eastern Michigan University hauled in an impressive $2.2 million during its Giving Trueday from 800 donors, thanks to a huge push to promote 50 different campaigns on its site.
  • The University of Central Florida saw a transformational gift from an alumnus of $1 million that will benefit first-generation students in its College of Business. All told, it received $1.16 million.
  • The University of Scranton saw close to $50,000 in donations come in from its community that will be largely targeted to THR1VE, a program tailored to first-gen students.
  • One of the most pressing needs affecting students, food insecurity, was tackled by a number of campus groups across the country. The Rutgers University Foundation reported that it received more than $54,000 from nearly 800 donors that will go toward its system’s multiple food pantries.
  • Boston University raised more than $400,000 from 2,000-plus donors that will benefit numerous campaigns, including its general scholarship fund.
  • LaSalle University saw 570 donors give more than $350,000, including more than $100 apiece to its annual fun and honors program.
  • Pace University got more than $130,000 from nearly 1,000 donors in its Give Tue Pace campaign, surpassing the projected total by 127%.

“You do see those tremendously large gifts, sometimes of a million dollars plus, but it’s also all of the small gifts together that really end up making a difference for the institution,” Widenhorn said. “Student-oriented initiatives were still a focus. It wasn’t the student emergency fund that we saw certainly last May, but areas like student scholarship support were still at the forefront. And then general annual funds did come back up a little bit more.”

How they did it

Colleges and universities employed a multitude of strategies to get the word out and drive interest in their campaigns. Widenhorn said there is increasingly “more omnichannel communication, certainly social media posts, including videos of students talking about their needs and how support helps them. Those are also used in email communications.” An astonishing 21 million were filtered through Anthology’s platform on Tuesday, which is more than they saw last year.

Once launched, one of their best tools to drive interest from alums and other donors continues to be leaderboards posted on websites. Eastern Michigan and BU were among a number of institutions showing overall numbers and donors in real time and delineating them by individual campaign on one refined, easy-to-navigate page.

“That’s what builds that excitement. That’s what gets others to jump on the bandwagon,” Widenhorn says. “If you’re seeing a social media post that drives you to the landing page or even the giving form but you don’t have a sense that others are giving with you, I would argue that you’re less likely to give on a Giving Tuesday.”

The impact of launching a campaign can be transformational but must be done and done well.

“I think most institutions at this point have a day of giving or do participate in Giving Tuesday, but there are likely still some that don’t,” Widenhorn says. “To me, that is really a miss. These events lead to new individuals supporting the institution, especially if there’s gamification involved and excitement beyond just a link saying, ‘Give to student scholarships.’ When you see that so many other people are also giving with you, that’s the real power of Giving Tuesday.”