Getting Creative With Giving Days

July 2018

Catherine Hegarty 

Concordia College New York and Gustavus Adolphus College have both proven that higher education institutions can be on the cutting edge of philanthropic trends. As recipients of the 2017 and 2018 ALDE Creativity Awards, these organizations have taken their annual Giving Days to a new level while increasing both donors and dollars raised.  

The ALDE Creativity Award recognizes excellence in inventive, inspiring work. Nominations are received from ALDE members and awards are presented at the IGNITE International Conference.  

In 2016, Concordia College New York decided to change up their plan for Giving Tuesday, a global day of giving. The Concordia team chose to celebrate Thanksgiving Tuesday instead, making use of the day to find creative ways to thank their constituents. Not only did they thank donors, but also students, campus neighbors, parents, partner organizations, and members of their faculty and staff. 

Planning started in September of that year and involved all academic departments, plus student life, athletics, admissions, and even the President’s office. The day was full of opportunities to say thank you. Starting with a midnight breakfast for students served by campus leadership. The day continued with a prayer walk, emails to donors, personal visits to partner organizations, and thank you grams delivered by students. It ended with an all-campus rally, each department participating by displaying signs and showing videos to express their thankfulness for the university and its supporters. President John Nunes even got into the act by sitting at the welcome desk that day to thank campus visitors. “One of the most meaningful outcomes of the day is that it brings everyone together and helps them feel valued for their role in our mission. That’s how lasting relationships are formed and that’s how missions move forward,” said Heather McGinness, CNM, CFRE, Vice President for Advancement.

The day was supported with social media posts, thank you emails, and a video on the school’s website featuring 20 students from the different ethnic backgrounds represented on campus saying thank you in their native languages. At the end of the day and that year’s giving season, Concordia experienced both an increase in donor retention and total giving. View the video and read more about the campaign.

Gustavus Adolphus College stepped things up by running a 12-hour livestream of their Giving Day on November 2, 2017. To pull this off, the team leveraged technology, equipment, and skills already available on campus and enlisted input from many campus departments.  According to Katie Schroeder, Director of the Gustavus Adolphus Fund, the day would not have been possible without the involvement and buy-in of everyone on campus. While a “painting the rock” video (a campus tradition) was featured during the 2018 ALDE Annual Banquet and Awards Ceremony at IGNITE, there were many other components to this Giving Day. Postcards featuring the rock were sent to alumni, asking them to write about their college experience and post their response on social media using the hashtag #Fireuptherouser. Giving Day T-shirts were provided to 250 event champions to help promote the day, and an alum served that day as a roving reporter, highlighting what was happening on campus.

A unique landing page of the Gustavus Adolphus website was created, and gift challenges based on department, athletics, extracurricular activities, or home state encouraged a friendly rivalry to see which group would meet their challenge first. A student phonathon and targeted emails helped encourage donations for specific challenges. As each challenge was met, a tile was flipped on the website so that progress could be seen and celebrated by all. 

The additional activities and promotions during the day resulted in an increase in total giving of close to 100 percent and a 33 percent increase in number of donors, with minimal additional expense.

Both creative initiatives are great examples of how to engage others in the planning and execution of Giving Days, making them an institution-wide event rather than a project of the development staff alone. Get everyone excited about giving!

Now, you can show your creativity: nominations for the 2019 Creativity Award are now being accepted at

Catherine Hegarty is Director of Development at Walther Christian Academy in Melrose Park, Illinois.

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