My latest post on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog is now up.
You can read it and join the conversation on the SSIR blog, or read the copy below.

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In 2011, Washington, DC, became one of the first major metropolitan regions to host a multimillion-dollar local giving day: Give to the Max Day: Greater Washington. Nearly 18,000 people participated in the 24-hour, online fundraising event, raising more than $2 million to benefit 1,200 local nonprofits. Seen as a success for the participating nonprofits, the organizers wanted to know more about what worked and whether giving days as a form of regional nonprofit development could be a new trend for the sector. In the report “How Giving Contests Can Strengthen Nonprofits and Communities,” sponsored by the Case Foundation and released today, Geoff Livingston analyzes the impact of Give to the Max Day: Greater Washington and the repercussions for other regions and nonprofit communities.

Training

Just as organizations (usually!) don’t embark on fundraising without a plan for using the funds, we can’t adopt a new fundraising approach without proper training. Organizations I’ve talked to that have participated in giving days in other cities have consistently raised the issue of training and education, saying that to do well during the one-day fundraiser was one thing, but they knew they didn’t have the internal know-how and skills to succeed with online fundraising year-round. I am very glad to see that the Greater Washington event incorporates training into the planning process to boost the capacity of all participating organizations. In the report, Geoff describes the training this way:

The training program treated the giving day as an exercise in best practices. Core elements included using the Razoo giving platform, content best practices, online storytelling, social media strategy, and donor cultivation. Live events included a training conference with nonprofit social media expert Beth Kanter as the keynote, and a series of seven simplified half-day training “boot camps” in Prince William County, Arlington County, Prince George’s County, and Montgomery County. The in-person events were complemented by a free, comprehensive online nonprofit toolkit. Components included video tutorials, suggested calendars of activity, sample materials, frequently asked questions, logos, and a Twibbon for Facebook and Twitter use.

From my experience participating in training events and courses as a speaker and trainer, I see much better results when coupling online and offline learning and resources. While you can learn a lot during a workshop, there is no replacement for really putting what you learn into practice; when you are back in the office trying something out, it is incredibly helpful to have online resources to support your work.

In the report, Geoff also shares these results:

The training program achieved its overarching goals. Eighty-eight percent of nonprofit survey respondents felt the training program helped, and 84 percent reported that the training increased their ability to interact and fundraise online. The training did reveal a social media and online fundraising knowledge division in the Washington nonprofit community, between those who are experienced and comfortable with related tools, and those still learning basic social media outreach.

I am curious to hear what topics or questions organizations will bring up when they participate for a second year, and whether they will inform online fundraising and engagement training provided by other groups.

Benefits

The benefits of something like Give to the Max Day: Greater Washington are really three-fold, according to the report. First, there’s the actual amount of donations—more than $2 million in just 24 hours is certainly no small feat! With 1,200 organizations participating, the report states: “Forty-one percent of nonprofit respondents said their best prior online fundraiser was $2,500 or greater, showing the event rivaled most nonprofits’ prior efforts.” Even though online fundraising is still a small portion of the overall dollars raised by most organizations, it is growing—check out the 2011 Online Giving Report from Blackbaud for data.

Second, the report states that participating organizations benefit from establishing relationships with new donors that they can maintain long-term. This touches back on the need for training—it is important to train participants on how to use online tools and platforms, as well as on understanding donor engagement.

And finally, the 24-hour fundraising drive supported the local nonprofit community as a whole by increasing awareness of all the programs and services contributing to the region. The long-term relationship building that comes from this big one-day event is valuable to both the organizations and donors. This is a chance to contribute to something big while exploring the organizations that are working locally to improve the region. Donors who are familiar with only a specific organization or two before the event have a chance to better understand the entire ecosystem of organizations, and even find additional programs or services to support in the future.

For me, the key to this report is that we can’t determine the success of a major fundraising initiative solely by the amount of funds it raises. We should also measure success according to the increased capacity in the organizations participating and a long-term benefit to the community as a whole.

New on SSIR: Can Giving Days Strengthen Your Community?
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