January 11, 2013

Nearly $7-Million Raised in One-Day Online Contest

Columbia University raised $6.9-million, most of it online and in 24 hours, by running a contest to see which of its 16 schools could produce the most money for the institution's annual fund.

Giving Day, held in October, was the brainchild of CloEve Demmer, director of Columbia's annual fund. Ms. Demmer says she got the idea from a daylong online drive in Minnesota called Give to the Max day, which started in 2009.

The university recruited 14 alumni volunteers to train as leaders and assigned them to work with specific schools to help promote the contest.

The volunteers and Columbia staff member drummed up interest by asking people to start giving early to show their support for Giving Day and get some buzz about the event started in alumni and donor circles. By the time Giving Day officially started, it had raised $1-million and recruited about 100 volunteers.

They sent out e-mails, made phone calls, and reached out to alumni on social-media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to publicize the daylong campaign. They also encouraged donors to visit the contest's Web site, where university officials posted videos and real-time updates about fundraising returns.

University board members also got into the game, providing $400,000 in donations to match contributions made on Giving Day.

Schools got a percentage of that matching money based on how much their donors contributed, with additional incentives for the schools that attracted the biggest share of alumni to give and those with the largest number of international donors.

It's not yet clear whether Columbia, which is midway into its fiscal year, will lift its annual-fund result for 2013 because of the competition, but Ms. Demmer says Giving Day has already proven its value on one important measure: recruiting new donors. About 23 percent of the people who gave to the contest were first-time donors to Columbia. Another 17 percent were people who had not given in a long time.

"In all of our direct marketing," Ms. Demmer says. "this kind of acquisition and reactivation success is unprecedented."

Dig deeper: Read a Chronicle article about how to create giving days.

Send an e-mail to Holly Hall.