This article originally appeared in npEngage. By Justin Ware – Co-Founder and President, Groundwork Digital
“What’s next?” is becoming a common question for digital fundraising strategists.
We’re hearing it about online giving days, about crowdfunding, about email – and now we’re starting to field the same question about peer-to-peer or online ambassador programs.
One of those organizations is the University of Minnesota. In 2016, they added an online ambassador program to their giving day and saw great results. Their ambassadors then helped to celebrate the public launch of Driven: The University of Minnesota’s Campaign in September 2017, aiming to raise $4 billion.
But then they asked, “What’s next?” The answer was a combination of a more sophisticated ambassador program and the launch of a new initiative around digital major donor engagement. These efforts led to the institution’s biggest ever online giving day and a robust volunteer opportunity for the University’s most fervent online advocates.
Give to the Max Day
In 2016, in preparation for the University of Minnesota’s giving day – held on Give to the Max Day, Minnesota’s statewide day of giving held every November – the digital fundraising team sought out social media users who demonstrated affinity for the institution. The digital team then engaged this organically-grown group of ambassadors and asked them to share content during Give to the Max Day.
The effort paid off. The U’s 2016 Give to the Max Day was a tremendous success, significantly outperforming their past giving days. And there is little doubt the early ambassador effort was a key contributor to the U of M’s success on Give to the Max Day.
In 2017, the University wanted to expand on the strong ambassador foundation built in 2016 for Give to the Max Day.
“On Give to the Max Day 2016 and for our Driven launch, we saw the power of U supporters helping share messages about the impact of giving, helping us trend in social media and drive an increase in traffic to our website,” said Robyn White, Associate Director of Digital Marketing at the U of M Foundation.
First, came a partnership with Groundwork Digital to craft a strategy for expanding the ambassador program.
Next, came technology. The University partnered with Blackbaud and used Attentive.ly to scan nearly 100,000 email addresses for those in the database who have a strong social media presence.
“This tool provided an efficient way to gain extra insight to which U supporters are publicly talking about us and have a great online network for sharing,” said White.
The results were powerful. The influencer scan of nearly 100,000 records returned influencer results on more than 40,000 individual social media users.
In addition to the technology and consulting firm, the same U of M Foundation staff person dedicated to the effort in 2016 took the lead on refining the ambassador list for the 2017 Give to the Max Day.
Digital marketing specialist Karina Carlson worked alongside the Groundwork team to implement an engagement plan to activate ambassadors throughout the fall and especially during Give to the Max Day, partnering with key constituent groups across the U system.
“It was fun to see our supporters celebrate the U in a more grassroots way,” said Carlson. “And to have a new way to engage passionate supporters on our biggest giving day of the year.”
The results speak for themselves – 109 individuals from the U of M’s “UMN Influencers” group were talking about Give to the Max Day on social media. This activity boosted the University’s total reach on Give to the Max Day to 174,119 social media users. That represented a +99.4 percent gain from 2016.
More importantly, the fundraising during the giving day saw a tremendous lift. In 2017, the final fundraising numbers were:
- 3,300+ donors
The 2016 numbers were:
- 2,900+ donors
Sophisticated technology coupled with an innovative strategy around their “UMN Influencers” helped the University of Minnesota achieve a roughly 36 percent boost in dollars and approximately 400 more donors from one giving day to the next.
Where to next?
In 2018 and beyond, the University of Minnesota will be focused on growing the ambassador program, Give to the Max Day, and digital fundraising overall – more involved management of ambassadors and major donor engagement.
For the ambassadors, having that authentic, personal touch appears to be increasingly critical. A more personal connection will grow between the staff person tasked with managing the volunteer “UMN Influencers” and the ambassadors themselves.
For major gifts, an enhanced digital major donor engagement strategy for the U of M’s Give to the Max Day is key. The University did enjoy some big major donor contributions during the 2017 Give to the Max Day. Donors gave gifts of $75,000 and $100,000 to support the effort while many more offered thousands of dollars for matching gifts.
While that activity is impressive, the U is excited about 2018 efforts as the new digital donor engagement strategy gains steam and Attentive.ly is used in partnership with the U’s digital marketing and prospect development teams. Beyond Give to the Max Day, the University will be pursuing targeted major gift crowdfunding campaigns and other personal fundraising efforts for the institution’s most capable supporters in 2018. Stay tuned for exciting results soon…
Justin Ware – Co-Founder and President, Groundwork Digital
With work spanning nonprofits, higher education, and media, Justin is a fundraising and content marketing expert as well as a thought leader in the digital donor engagement industry. In 2009, Justin was the executive producer on one of the first ever YouTube videos to win an Emmy. The “Science of Watchmen” video has been viewed nearly 2 million times and was also nominated for a Webby. Justin began his career in television before joining the University of Minnesota and then Bentz Whaley Flessner. After this, Justin worked at Ruffalo Noel Levitz leading digital fundraising strategy as well as product management for Annual Giving. Justin has spoken at numerous conferences, and led consulting engagements for universities and non-profits around the world. In his spare time, Justin can be found rooting for the Minnesota Vikings and Gophers, skiing.