Why Giving Tuesday was a smashing success for higher ed

Solutions provider Anthology says smart, targeted and heartfelt strategies helped generous donations pour in during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the challenges of campaigning during a pandemic, Giving Tuesday proved to be a boon for causes around higher education, with a large spike this year in the number of donations received.

Officials from solutions provider Anthology said more than $10.5 million was raised by its member colleges and universities during the annual day of giving, a 37% increase over last year. In total, Giving Tuesday reported an amazing $2.47 billion was donated to various causes across the United States on Dec. 1.

Anthology, with 700-plus institutions on its Encompass platform, said there were nearly 47,000 gifts in total on its Encompass platform, a 48% increase over the previous year, showing the support alumni and others have for colleges, and in particular, the students they serve.

“Seeing the wave of generosity benefiting our institutional partners this Giving Tuesday has been truly gratifying,” said Jim Milton, CEO of Anthology. “We’re proud that our Encompass platform could play such an integral role in supporting students and campus communities through these difficult times and continuing into the future.”

Some 23 institutions raised more than $100,000 during the event, which ran Dec. 1. Their flexibility not only in crafting unique and dynamic donation pages online but also in their follow up with potential donors made a difference this year, according to Anthology officials. Encompass helped streamline the process by “personalizing online experiences and auto-populating information.”

Though the average donation dropped slightly from 2019 ($242 to $238), the number of donations to colleges and universities far exceeded expectations. It was helped by that ability to get the word out – with more than 23 million emails hitting potential donors, which was a nearly 10% increase from 2019.

Anthology reported from its Alumni Engagement Survey done at the start of the pandemic that more 33% of those who responded would still support higher education, especially to student emergency funds. That trend followed suit on Giving Tuesday, with individual institutions seeing donations around a number of those causes.

Many college and university teams who wanted to plan ahead leaned on guidance from Anthology in their approach to Giving Tuesday. Anthology offered them a series of strategies that really can be used in similar campaigns but work especially well during crisis moments:

  1. Focus on students and impact. This has a been a year like no other, so any campaign should focus on the impact the pandemic has had on students. Those donors are more likely to give to an emergency fund for students or any initiative related to COVID-19.
  2. Don’t complicate giving. As mentioned above, removing barriers or steps to donations is key to sealing the deal.
  3. Add splash but avoid targets. Putting in charts and maps that show donations coming in can add splash to any web page, but be careful about setting goals that can’t be hit.
  4. Review communications. Being sensitive during times of giving is important, particularly during a pandemic. Asking for “any donation amount” in a crisis is always a smarter strategy than asking others to hit a specific target or benchmark. Be wary of sending too many emails … but don’t be afraid to push campaigns on social media.
  5. Assess data and adjust. Track open rates and clicks on social media and emails and be nimble enough to use follow up communications with those demographics that are responding.
  6. Lean on others for help. Look to alumni and other peers to support these initiatives and can help spread the word, particularly through social media channels and their spheres of influence.
  7. Plan ahead. No successful campaign starts late or has infrequent meetings scheduled. Get ahead so you can be prepared for any changes that need to be made during the campaign. Launch the initiative early enough to get a buzz going.
Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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