GiveSTL Day is a one-day campaign for St. Louis-area nonprofit organizations. The appeals are generally made through electronic solicitation and social media, but there are no real rules, so organizations can run their campaigns how they wish.
Some of my favorite organizations participate: Spirit of Discovery Park, the Humane Society of Missouri, even the Sierra Club. This is a way to bring the whole community, both organizations and donors, together in a spirit of cooperation and healthy competition.
It’s usually scheduled in the first week of May. I first heard about it in 2018, and this year, 2019, I paid a lot closer attention. I’ve been looking at some 2019 results, and I’ll share a few highlights with some take-aways for those planning to participate next year.
1. Aggregate Results Don’t Really Help Much For Individual Organization Understanding
There were 887 organizations signed up. Of those, 842 received donations, with total donations (including prizes) over $3,000,000. That’s a lot of money, but it’s also not very helpful to individual organizations trying to learn how to make GiveSTL Day a success for them.
For the rest of these analyses, I’m using the GiveSTL Day data that shows results by individual organization, which does not include prizes so the total is only $2.89 million. This is an average of $3,434 per organization. Not bad, but that total is pretty skewed by a few large “winners” and many small “not-so-winners”.
Over 50% of the groups participating in 2019 had under $1,000 of donations. 504 of the 887 received $999 or less. That’s almost not worth it, if you consider the time taken by a staff member to create a campaign, design some artwork, solicit a match, design and produce artwork (or take photographs), plan, write, and publish social media posts and e-mails, set up autoresponder thank-yous, and so on. What’s the return there? I can imagine it might be pretty difficult to justify the same activity for such a low return next year.
However, if you did absolutely nothing, and still got $1,000, it might make sense to participate again. Because, hey, free money.
The point is, it’s hard to look just at aggregates and figure out what’s going on. You need to break results down by organization size and sector to have a good feel for what you could get out of GiveSTL Day. Those will tell you more about how your peers fared, and with some analysis could show you how you did relative to them.
But it probably won’t give you much certainty on what you would get if you participate again next year. Which, to be frank, is what we’re all looking for, right? We all want that secret sauce that turns our GiveSTL Day campaigns into the money trees we dream of.
It’s not that easy.
2. Size Is No Guarantee of Success or Lack Thereof
Organizations are grouped according to size of their budget: Micro (<$250,000), Small (up to $1,000,000), Medium (up to $2,000,000), and Large (everything above $2,000,000).
The fact is, there are small groups that have plenty of success and large groups that struggle. The Small segment this year included 379 organizations. 52 of those received over $3,000 on GiveSTL Day. And 12 of those were over $10,000. Evidently, small-budget organizations can still find the money to create major results in one-day campaigns like this. And remember, $10,000 on a $250,000 budget is a much bigger bump than the same amount on a $1,000,000 budget.
One factor that certainly helps: 10 of those 12 had a match available. Having a match is like free money, in multiple ways. It provides an incentive to give (because that money will be doubled), and it’s a large amount that comes with little effort.
I highly encourage all groups next year to start with a match, as a good way to create additional motivation for giving. (More on that later.)
In the same vein as small is not bad, let me say that being bigger is no guarantee of success, either. Yes, the biggest numbers did come from the largest groups. ThriVe ($181k), Stray Rescue of St. Louis ($136k), Foster and Adoptive Care Coalition ($110k), and St. Louis Priory School ($106k) had big days. But for the rest of the 205 Large groups, just being big was no better indicator of how their day would turn out. Only 58 of them had donations over $3,000 on the day, just past the 52 of the Small groups.
And of all of the 205 Large organizations, only 109 (53%) received $1,000 or more. That means that if you were a Large organization, and participated in GiveSTL Day in 2019, the chances of you walking away with over $1,000 were pretty much a coin flip.
This is an encouragement and a challenge. An encouragement to those small organizations that your results can be better, with appropriate strategy and an effective campaign. And it is a challenge, to those organizations who think that just relying on their name and their current size will be enough to make GiveSTL Day a success. You’re going to have to work for it.
3. A Match Is Not Just Helpful, It Is ESSENTIAL
I said above that having a Match is like free money. It can inspire higher donations, because of the desire to make that donation work even harder. Take a look at the aggregates:
- 735 groups WITHOUT a match received $1.27 million ($1,725 each)
- Average gift of $94
- 107 groups WITH a match received $1.62 million ($15,175 each)
- Average gift of $202
Fewer organizations, received significantly more money, with almost twice as much given per donation. Now, that’s not to say that having a match guarantees you more money. But having a match is more than just inspiring higher-dollar contributions.
Yes, a match is good for your donors, because it gives them something to shoot for, an initial goal that they can accomplish with the right initial effort.
Beyond that, though, a match is a signal that your organization is doing the right things. It shows that you’re planning GiveSTL Day as a campaign, not as an event. It shows that you’re being thoughtful about how you solicit matches throughout the year.
And planning early enough to get a match in place means that you’re more likely to complete the rest of the essential campaign steps in time for success as well: a marketing concept identified, a timeline planned, resources aligned to take advantage of specials like prizes, etc.
A word of caution: be careful how big you set your match. You want the matching dollar amount for GiveSTL Day to be something that’s going to challenge donors, but you don’t want it to be so far out that you don’t get there. That’s actually wasting your match money. For example, Five Acres Animal Shelter received over $30,000 on GiveSTL Day. But they also had over $5,300 of match remaining unused. Essentially, they missed out on over $10,000 of donations ($5,300 that could have been given and $5,300 that would have been matched).
If the Shelter had an indication of how much of that match would be used, then maybe they could have dedicated those matching funds to another campaign later in the year. As it turned out, there seems to be a missed opportunity.
All that to say – be strategic in how you structure your match. You want to make your matching funder happy that you’ve been able to satisfy her desire to inspire donations, and asking for too big a match (or putting too much of it towards GiveSTL Day) may counteract that.
GiveSTL Day is a giving campaign designed to bring the St. Louis region together for a common purpose. Like similar one-day digital campaigns across the country, there are many opportunities. My suggestions: start early (like every campaign) and get a match (like every campaign, if you can). And make sure you don’t let your own internal view of your organization’s size (and how that may make success easier or harder) inhibit your disciplined approach to having a great GiveSTL Day.