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If you’re a professional fundraiser, every day is giving day. Unfortunately, not all of our donors are themselves professional fundraisers — so creating a special, attention-grabbing Giving Day that gets your audiences excited and engaged can be a big boost during an otherwise quiet time of year. 

Think of it like your organization’s own Giving Tuesday — on your schedule, and on your terms! Competition can be fierce for inbox space and attention during Giving Tuesday and End of Year — typical tentpole campaigns for direct response fundraising programs. Launching a Giving Day can help build a strong, banner campaign, any time of year.

Launching a Giving Day at a cultural institution is particularly special because you can invite your community inside the building to participate in your philanthropic mission. Museums can have a hard time soliciting smaller dollar annual gifts tied to mission, rather than a new exhibit, and this is a great place to turn the focus to why donor support matters. And to unite departments across your organization. 

We’re going to look at two very different Giving Days to show what works!

Getting to the heart of a Giving Day: Museum of Science, Boston’s Pi Day

The Museum of Science, Boston is a cultural icon in Boston with over 700 interactive exhibits, a planetarium, IMAX theater, live shows, and a little known fact: it’s also an accredited zoo!

Pi Day, celebrating math and science, is the Museum’s signature day of giving. When we started working with the Museum, Pi Day was in its fifth year. There was name recognition, and a lot of things that were working well to build on, but also a few ways we thought we could optimize the campaign. 

The multichannel aspects of the campaign weren’t as strong as they could be. In 2021, the Museum sent 10 separate email sends, three Facebook posts, and didn’t do any paid advertising. 

They also felt too focused on Penny Pi, a Pi Day character the Museum had invented that was prominently featured across channels and was even an email signer. We love Penny Pi, but she isn’t clearly tied to the Museum’s mission.

We weren’t sure what messaging angle to take with Pi Day after taking a step back from Penny Pi, so we started with message testing. We tested different angles on how to present the Museum’s mission in the context of Pi Day to see what would resonate most with folks, as well as images and taglines for the campaign. The survey groups were members of the board, Museum donors, and the general public.

We had a clear winning statement: Science starts here and fuels a lifetime of learning. We were also able to see comments from participants about WHY it was such a powerful statement.

We incorporated the results into our creative — into the email content, across the website, and in our paid advertising. By uniting the creative, we built a cohesive campaign. If you saw an ad, and later read an email, you’d know it was the same, just from the language.

The results: in 2023 we ran half the number of email appeals, but raised more than DOUBLE the revenue from email — just from refining the messaging and brand graphics! On the website, a similar story — we doubled our revenue. And we were able to launch Facebook ads, a new channel for the Museum! 

The Museum also had a significant presence day-of in the lobby, facepainting and a photobooth and give-a-ways that helped to amplify their message with visitors. As Pi Day grows, the Museum is seeing folks who seek out the Museum on Pi Day, people who have a birthday on Pi Day, or got married on Pi Day, and are so excited to be part of the big day.

Overall, this was the strongest campaign for the Museum of the year, by a LOT — more than Giving Tuesday and End of Year COMBINED. The changes we made expanding across channels and focusing on the campaign led to great results — a 33% increase in revenue year over year.

Final fun fact: for anyone who gave $100 or more, we sent a free pie as a thank you!

Launching a Giving Day from scratch: California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco’s Academy Day

The California Academy of Sciences is an aquarium, planetarium, rainforest, and natural history museum located in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. The Academy is a powerful voice for biodiversity research and exploration, environmental education, and sustainability across the globe.

So why did we work with the Academy to launch a Giving Day? We had three goals:

  • to talk about the Academy’s new mission to regenerate the natural world and put their philanthropic mission front and center.
  • to bring people into the Academy to celebrate Giving Day with pay-what-you-can ticketing.
  • to bring in new donors, targeting a goal 170 new donors — chosen to align with the 170th anniversary of the Academy.

It takes time to create a Giving Day, and we knew to put our best foot forward. So we started five months in advance, creating an internal memo around what a Giving Day could be to share with the other departments and create buy-in from departments across the Academy.

From there we hosted a cross-departmental brainstorm. We wanted everyone across the organization to feel enthusiastic about what a Giving Day, now called Academy Day, would look like and how their department could help execute that vision.

After the brainstorm, we moved into detailed campaign planning, solidifying that cross-department support, and creating all the components for the inaugural Academy Day. Before we knew it, we were ready to launch!

With the partnership of the web team, we created a page to introduce the giving day and explain how Academy Day tied to the new mission.

To bring people into the Academy we highlighted all the on-site activities, and to bring in new donors we launched a special donation form that looked like a traditional crowdfunding page, with symbolic giving options to make this campaign feel really tangible.

We also ensured the campaign was cohesive across channels — a key way to do that was with premium and match offers. We had branded magnets, Academy Day tote bags, t-shirts, and stickers that were all promoted across channels thanks to our internal partners.

We were also able to support a day of pay-what-you-can admission on Academy Day itself, no small feat! To execute that, the team launched a targeted direct mail appeal to one of their donor circles asking them to become “Founders” of Academy Day. 

This pilot was able to bring in more than 5,000 visitors. The Bay Area is notoriously expensive and the Academy isn’t always accessible to the local community, so this was a big priority for the team. The on-site initiatives were a huge success: Academy Day saw significantly more visitors who were first time visitors, (+19% increase), a significantly more ethnically diverse crowd, and more guests with income under $59k (+8% increase).

The first Academy Day was a really strong start, thanks to all our partners! The team was able to pilot the pay-what you can ticket initiative and create a brand new tradition at the Academy. We exceeded our revenue goal by 16%. Results were stronger than the Giving Tuesday or End of Year campaign with a similar number of gifts, a huge win for a brand new campaign. And half of email revenue came from entirely NEW donors!

Big takeaways:

A Giving Day can become a big day for your community that can generate more and more excitement (and revenue!) every year.

You have to go big to make the day feel truly special. Giving Days work best as multichannel campaigns with exclusive matches and unique premiums.

Launching a Giving Day takes time. You have to secure buy-in, which can take a while, and it can be really difficult to launch all the initiatives you’re excited about in one year. But momentum builds year over year.

It takes some work, but the result is sweet as pi(e): a big tentpole campaign that unites external supporters and even departments within your organization.  

P.S. Were you inspired to support these amazing institutions? Pi Day and Academy Day are both around the corner! We would love to count you as a new donor in our reporting: Pi Day is 3/14 and Academy Day is 4/4.


Emily Tillmawitz is a Senior Account Supervisor at M+R based in Brooklyn.

Johanna Levy is an Account Supervisor at M+R based in New York City, but not in Brooklyn. When she’s not planning fundraising campaigns, you can find her drinking iced coffee at the beach.