Spotlight on Saskatchewan: campaign to increase giving gets Gold Quill

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Spotlight on Saskatchewan: campaign to increase giving gets Gold Quill

12-May-2016

IABC announced the winners of the 2016 Gold Quill Awards program on April 6, and among them was a project aimed at breathing new life into a campaign that encourages students, faculty and staff at the University of Regina to donate in support of students requiring financial assistance.

Shanan Sorochynski, Digital Outreach Strategist with the University, was the communication lead on the project, which earned a Merit Award in the Nonprofit Campaigns category.

“I’m very proud of this award,” says Sorochynski. “It recognizes that small teams with small budgets can accomplish great things for their communities. It doesn’t matter if you work for a Fortune 500 company in a major centre or a not-for-profit in a small town. Solid strategy and support from leadership can move mountains.”

In 2014 the University ran its initial campaign, using an established global movement as a springboard: Giving Tuesday. Giving Tuesday seeks to join charities, companies and individuals from around the world together to rally for favourite causes. It is held each year on the first Tuesday following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, at the start of the holiday giving season.

While the University’s 2014 Giving Tuesday campaign succeeded in raising some money, it was clear that there was the potential to do more.

The 2014 campaign revolved around a pledge by Dr. Vianne Timmons, the University’s President and Vice-Chancellor, to contribute a dollar for each Facebook “like”, “share”, and Twitter re-tweet the University’s Giving Tuesday messages received, up to $14,000 (an amount equal to the number of students enrolled that semester). However, very little promotion was done other than a few social media posts during the week leading up to Giving Tuesday. Post-campaign, some students remarked that they didn’t know about the initiative, in part because Giving Tuesday occurred just before final exams. And while students responded well to Dr. Timmons’ pledge (391 Facebook likes, 656 shares and 510 re-tweets), none of them actually contributed any of their own money. In all the campaign raised $5,172, including Dr. Timmons’ contribution.

So the team went back to the drawing board in 2015. They decided to focus on two groups: current students and University faculty and staff.

Students represented an untapped source of potential contributions, both now and in the future. As noted, no current students donated to the 2014 campaign. And less than one per cent of all annual donations to the University come from alumni.

This fact was not surprising: a survey of all 2009-10 post-secondary graduates conducted in 2012 by the Ministry of Advanced Education clearly showed that most students didn’t have a lot of time or money to give. Eight in 10 university graduates were most likely to work during their program, with respondents from the University of Regina working 26.3 hours per week on average. And those with debt owed an average of $18,986.

So the messaging to current students focused on how even small donations, such as one or two dollars, makes a real difference to a student in need. They also made a point to begin promoting the campaign earlier in order to avoid end-of-semester exams, and focused on engaging students through social media. And, last but not least, Dr. Timmons once again pledged support, this time by matching all personal donations up to $14,300 (again, an amount equal to the number of students enrolled that semester).

To win support from the more than 400 members of the faculty, the Donor Relations team made it an option – and Sorochynski made it clear in the messaging – that donors could direct their money to a bursary available exclusively to graduate students. A survey conducted in September 2014 revealed that researchers and professors see these graduate students as being vital to their professional success, as they are integral to the work in researchers’ labs and in collecting the data they need to publish.

The promotion of the campaign began in early November – well in advance of final exams – primarily via social media (the students’ preferred medium) and email, supported by highly-visible peripherals in key locations around campus.

The result was that total donations to the Giving Tuesday campaign increased by 369 per cent compared to the previous year, totalling $19,085.80. The campaign also attracted donations from 34 students, whereas none had donated the year before.

“While we are pleased with the results of this year’s campaign it left us with as many questions as it did answers,” says Sorochynski. “We gained some valuable insights about our audience but we still have a ways to go in determining all the barriers to both faculty and student giving. Fundraising is about relationship building. The more we know about our potential donors’ communication preferences, motivations and needs the greater our chances of building a lasting relationship with them”.