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What we learned at the 2019 GAgives Kickoff, Part Two: Ready, set, go

Last month, we brought together more than 200 nonprofit pros from across Metro Atlanta for the 2019 GAgives Kickoff & Summit at the Woodruff Arts Center. Following a rousing pep talk from Channel 2 News Anchor Fred Blankenship and a collective cheer in support of GAgives on #GivingTuesday – caught by WSB-TV cameras – two panels of GAgives veterans took the stage.

Representing 10 nonprofits that achieved big results during GAgives 2018, these panelists tackled #GivingTuesday campaigns from start to finish.

In Part Two, below, we present a range of advice for telling your story, holding an event, and making the most of the day itself. To discover their tips for campaign planning, check out Part One.

Note: Quotes have been lightly edited and reordered for clarity. 

Our two panels of GAgives veterans featured:

Telling your story

Fiona Freeman, International Rescue Committee: Focus on authenticity, letting people share their "why." Empower them to speak from the heart: That's what's most compelling. Don’t worry too much about scripts or talking points. We went live with our deputy director when we were getting close to the end of the day: I asked him what it means to see all these donations come in, and it was really emotional. We got donations from that post, people were sharing it, people were thanking him for his leadership.

Samantha Shelton, Furkids: We can do a wonderful job as an organization telling our story, but it's really most effective when it comes from your volunteers, your board members, your constituents. When our adopters tell their stories, it speaks volumes.

Sarah Flake, Decatur Cooperative Ministry: Last year we didn't use stories in our campaigns, instead we focused a lot on statistics – and they weren't necessarily happy statistics. That kind of brought people down. However, I did chat with a bunch of the kids in our emergency shelter late on #GivingTuesday, and – after I got permission from their parents – used their stories in our thank-yous. That was a huge deal to donors. This year we're going to focus on stories and statistics of our impact.

Monica Oliveira, Tommy Nobis Center: I'm a believer in the power of video. Last year we had a video testimonial from one of our program participants to kick off the morning – someone who is actually employed by the Tommy Nobis Center. It was by far the highest performing post of last year.

Susan Bonds McCullough, Dress For Success: I start each board meeting with an "inspiration minute" to share something from our work that's really touched me, or one of our volunteers or staff members. They use snippets of those stories in their Instagram posts and emails.

Nancy Gaddy, New American Pathways: We used a statistic – "Did you know that one in three seniors suffers from food insecurity?" – along with a tiny bit of verbiage about how donations are being used to address it, and a very powerful photo. I can't tell you how many of the exact same emails I get starting mid-October. The difference is the photographs and visuals you use.

Shelton: We do a before-and-after, side-by-side photograph. The animal in a cage suffering at Animal Control, and then coming to Furkids where they're nurtured and loved. If you can show the impact, that's going to resonate with your donors.

Flake: If you haven't heard of Unsplash, that's where you can get access to thousands of photos for free. A lot of times I get a really effective picture there, and use [free design software] Canva to add our logo and a little bit of text. That comprised probably 100 percent of what we sent out last year.

Freeman: Follow other nonprofits on Instagram and Facebook. You're going to see all these #GivingTuesday and GAgives campaigns there. I've stolen ideas from so many people. We're all doing good work – learn from others and share!

Holding an event

Shelton: We have had our Paws for Cocktail parties on two GAgives days in the past, and that was really successful for us. Even throwing something small works: Bring people together people and set up your giving station there.

Oliveira: We did a pep rally on our campaign kickoff day and another on the day of. That got them really motivated. At the day-of rally, the entire staff took time to sit together in a room and send out emails and make last-minute calls to push for donations. 

Gaddy: We hosted our annual fundraising lunch on the same day. We brought tablets, set out donation cards, and asked folks right then and there, "If you want to make a contribution this year, we would love if you did it online." We raised about $11,000 in 15 minutes just from that.

On the day of

McCullough: What we did was very basic. We reached out to our volunteers via email to get them involved. We had a little get-together for those in the office with donuts to get them excited. I stayed in constant contact with my board members to keep them revved up. Our treasurer sent out "keep it going" updates each time we hit another level. We just tried to keep everybody as motivated as possible.

Laura Coates, Pro Bono Partnership: We're sending a lot of emails, and tweaking them for each audience. For instance, we have a lot of work addresses for our clients and volunteers, so we make sure they have an email sitting in their inbox when they get to work in the morning, and receive another around 4 pm, right before they leave work.

Kate Kennedy, The Ansley School: People love those matching donations. If you word it, "Every dollar you donate is doubled," people get excited. We would update people, saying, "We're $700 away from our goal: The next $700 we receive gets doubled to $1,400."

Freeman: One thing we've done in the past is a "dine-out night." If you’ve partnered with any restaurants in the past, ask them if they can donate a percentage of their proceeds from dinner to you for GAgives. It's a fun way to bring people together on #GivingTuesday and raise awareness, and it's also good for the restaurant if you help them bring in customers.

Gaddy: The day before, we sent out a "12 hours to go!" email. On the day of, we scheduled email blasts to hit five minutes ahead of the “Power Hour” for our cause, saying, "For the next hour, from 12 to 1pm, your gift will help us win a special prize.” We also did something toward the end of the day saying "One more hour to go" that included a special thank-you.

Need more tips? Read Part One of this story (if you haven’t already) and check out the full range of resources we’ve gathered together in the GAgives Nonprofit Toolkit.

Marc Schultz is communications editor at GCN.

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