Arts Day of Giving: Test and Learn (Don’t Fear!)

Fear!

Since posting last week about Arts Day of Giving, I’ve had several emails from people in the nonprofit community who are a little anxious about the impact of community-wide giving events. The emergence of these events appeals to me for two big reasons: 1) the potential to create broad awareness and sweep up people who have not been moved by individual nonprofit fundraising campaigns; and 2) the challenge, for small nonprofits, of implementing online technology that meets the expectations of younger potential donors who are accustomed to quick and easy online options for engagement.

That said, online giving events are an experiment. A couple of years back, social media theorist Clay Shirky, author of “Here Comes Everybody – The Power of Organizing without Organizations,” told a group of nonprofit leaders, “Fail informatively,” and “Start small and good, then make it bigger.”

My take on Arts Day of Giving, overall, was that it was good. But in what ways did it fail? By “fail,” I mean: were there unintended consequences? When we figure that out, we can make it better.

I posed some questions and some “please do” and “please don’t’s” in my last post about Arts Day of Giving. Based on the wisdom of the crowd – or at least a few people in my social circle – here are a few more suggestions about how to dig more deeply into the analysis of Arts Day of Giving:

1.  Were there winners and losers when it comes to attracting new donors? As mentioned in my last point, the biggest worry point about an online giving event is that it would attract more existing donors who give less instead of giving additionally through this event. According to Susan Frazier of Give Local Now, 27% of those who participated in the event checked the box indicating that they were a first-time donor. While that’s encouraging, I think it’s important to delve more deeply and ask nonprofits to do some analysis.

The methodology to figure this out is tricky but here are my initial thoughts to get at not only the initial impact but the over-time dimension:

  • Survey participating nonprofits now asking them to determine the percentage of donors that were not previous donors. Ask further if the average donation for the known donors trended bigger, smaller or about the same. Unfortunately, not all nonprofits have the fundraising software that makes answering this question easy. (The unfancy way to do this would be to import the list of the Arts Day of Giving donors in Excel with the ADOG gift, and import or estimate the average gift into the same Excel. The ADOG gift and average gift can be summarized as Y (yes, ADOG gift was bigger) N (ADOG was not as big as average) or ND (no significant difference).
  • Survey participating nonprofits again after Jan. 1 asking them to determine if giving through Arts Day of Giving seemed to substitute for a gift the donor would have made at a later date. I can’t think of an easy way to do this as it requires a system of “coding” the pattern of giving. For example, donors may give monthly, once a quarter, X times a year (according to the appeal cycle of the nonprofit) or only during the holiday period. Someone will have to judge if the individual donor diverged from his or her normal pattern. (Smart people out there – what would you suggest??)

2.  What promotional strategies were used by the nonprofits themselves and how did that affect attraction of new donors? 

  • Ask participating nonprofits for a list of exactly what they did to promote the event to their own constituents, along with the distribution or views of each tactic. It’s important to understand something about the reach of the nonprofit through its own communications channels. It’s possible that nonprofits with large email lists, Facebook or Twitter followers may have been disadvantaged. If they already have their own effective channels to reach people, they may be more likely to experience cannibalization when promoting an online event. Finding out that existing donors gave to this instead of rather than in addition to does not mean that online giving events are a bad idea; it suggests that bigger nonprofits may need to support the event by targeting new likely givers through a direct mail or other channel. 

3.  How much did the availability of matching funds influence donating behavior?  I previously wondered aloud on “Philanthrophile” if the match-kitty would be diluted over a much larger number of charities when the community-wide event rolls around in 2014. Susan Frazier responded by saying, “For starters next year will not just be the arts but the full spectrum of nonprofits.  That gives us a much larger pool of donors to approach for match $$ and we also now have proof of concept that will facilitate that fundraising.  We also have a year to plan so will begin the fundraising right away and be able to get into the 2014 budgets.  Austin has $800,000 in match $$ for a full sector this year– we would like to look like that! However, we will also have a much larger number of nonprofits to split the $$ – hoping for a minimum of 600 with profiles on Giving Edge for next May.  So the ratios are likely to stay sort of the same.”

Still, I think we need to know more about the influence of matching from donors’ perspective, especially if there is concern about cannibalization:

  • An online survey of Arts Day of Giving donors is the only way to learn what motivated people to give through this means. Was it because they were already loyal to a nonprofit and wanted to take advantage of matching funds? Was it because a friend recommended it (and the matching gift had no effect)?

There’s a lot to the design of an online giving event – far more than the technology. To my way of thinking Arts Day of Giving proved the potential, but there is much to be learned as we look forward to the 2014 event. Cannibalization is something to fear, but fear shouldn’t stand in the way of experimentation.

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