Communications, Fundraising, Nonprofits

What To Do When Your Giving Day Goes Wrong

Man stepping in gumOn May 3rd, nonprofit staff members across the country cried out in frustration as their giving day platforms shut down during Give Local America, a single day of giving across 54 communities. The failure came after weeks (or months) of nonprofits communicating with their donors to build momentum for this fundraising blitz. And on the day, around 10am EST, it all crashed.

The software platform behind the donation processing, Kimbia, was ultimately the one responsible for the crash, and while they have posted a detailed description of what actually caused the malfunction, it did little to assuage the frustration of nonprofits.

As someone who was with nonprofit staff during two problem-ridden giving days (at both Seattle’s GiveBIG and a Washington, D.C.’s 2013 Do More 24), I can safely say that a failing giving day is more or less a worst-case scenario. You have been imploring everyone on your e-mails lists and social channels for weeks, and now the donors who are actively trying to support you are frustrated. So what do you do?

Here are a few tips to guide you through the mayhem.

Step 0-6. Communicate frequently and truthfully on social media and your website

Throughout the process, at every step, communicate with your donors in a public way. You want them to know you are working on it and feel their pain. However, notice that I specifically do not mention e-mail here. Donors in your community are getting one billion e-mails during this day, so save your e-mails for big announcements to encourage donations, as opposed to “We hear you and we’re working on it!” announcements.

Step 1. Communicate with your giving day host.

All giving days are hosted by a local organization. It’s usually your community foundation, but it could be a nonprofit association or a United Way. Get in touch with them and see what’s happening. They may not have an answer (technical slow-downs often take time to diagnose), but there’s a chance they do. It’s at least worth a phone call.

In addition, sometimes the host will honor donations made through your own website/giving platform if theirs is malfunctioning. See if this is an option, which gives you an immediate solution for donors. But if they say they won’t honor those donations for the giving day, then you’ll need another solution.

Aside: The 2016 Give Local America glitches were caused by the software, so the hosts could not fix the platform itself. Despite this, one foundation stepped up to solve the problem. They provided volunteers around the city to collect checks, a phone bank (at their own expense), and a way for folks to donate through their own website. This was the Bozeman Area Community Foundation, and I swear I get teary-eyed just thinking about it. I donated to them that day, to a community I have never been to. Dear Bozeman: I love you. Sorry if that’s weird.

Step 2. Come up with a solution for eager donors to qualify for giving day donations.

For GiveBIG, donations through their platform qualify for matching donations and other prizes. Our solution to still get our donations to qualify as GiveBIG contributions was to have our donors call us so we could take their credit card and donation info to enter in when the system was up and running again. However, our goals were small (under $10k) and this is probably not a viable solution if you’re going to get hundreds of donor calls.

But come up with some solution that you can:

Step 3. Come up with deadline to change your call to action (i.e. Devise Plan B)

Both times I have been involved in a failing giving day, they platform was not up and running until late at night or the next day (because the deadline was extended). If we had decided “By noon, we will direct everyone to our website for donations, regardless of the giving day match,” we would have been able to harness that energy we had spent so much time building.

Step 4. Before that deadline, devise a new, sexy incentive.

Woodland Park Zoo (yes, I am a member, and no, they have never accepted my baby animal names) did this expertly well. At 1:30, they announced an anonymous donor would match all donations, up to $10,000, made on their website.

Zoo announces giving day match of 10,000

Many donors give during giving days because their donation gets stretched. By offering to stretch donations themselves, the Zoo was able to incentivize donors who were waiting for the platform to get back up and running.

Try reaching out to board members or other donors you are close to, and see if they would be willing to help in this last-minute, 911 way. It’s a good fit for some donors, but not for everyone, so be careful when you ask! Another option is to reach out to some businesses to get coupons, discount codes, or some other incentive to get people to donate.

Step 5. E-mail all the people with your new call to action and incentive.

If you reach your deadline and the site is not up and running, it’s time to enact Plan B. You have the new call to action, and you have the sexy, new incentive. However! It is vital you come up with a snappy subject line. Do NOT waste this moment to write another “Give today to support kids/puppies/seahorse scientists” e-mail. It will get deleted. Full stop. Hell, you could write, “This e-mail sucks,” and get better opens than you would get with that nonsense.

….Don’t use that either, though. Trust me, I have a master’s degree in this stuff.

Instead, write a subject line that’s interesting and off beat. And for the love of all that is holy, do not use any of the following words: give, donate, support, or help.

Step 6. You’re still doing Step 0-6, right?

Because you should be.

And that’s it! Now, these steps may not guarantee you the best results possible, but it will focus your energies and prevent you from completely losing your mind (perhaps). And it will make sure that during the whole day, even if things aren’t going as planned, you are able to achieve some goals.

Good luck out there, folks!

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