I Love Holy Cross: Lessons From a Data-Driven, Record-Breaking Email and Social Media Campaign #MCS1

Love was in the air on February 14, 2017 at the College of the Holy Cross – 1.8 million dollars worth of it – when the school established a new donor participation record for a 24-hour giving day.

On Valentine’s Day 2017, 6111 people gave online to support Holy Cross, thus breaking the previous record set at 5683 donors by Colgate College in 2013.

In their presentation, “‘I Love Holy Cross’: Lessons From a Data-Driven, Record-Breaking Email and Social Media Campaign,” Christian Santillo and Amy Kotsopoulos explained how they pulled off one of the most successful 24-hour fundraising campaigns in terms of participation.

Behind the campaign, a team with a plan

This wasn’t exactly love at first sight, since the cross-unit team (advancement, alum office, college and athletics) started to work on the campaign in October 2016.

During the initial brainstorming session, they discussed several options for dates and themes before choosing Valentine’s Day. In 2012, Holy Cross had already run a Valentine’s Day campaign, so it was a natural fit for the 2017 campaign.

Planning ahead of time, 4 months in advance, made it easier to identify the talent and expertise necessary to make this campaign a success. By filling most of these needs in-house, Holy Cross saved close to $50000.

While they used a third-party giving platform, GiveCampus, for their campaign, Christian and Amy mentioned that Facebook would have been a great free option. So, if you are tasked to work on a 24-hour giving challenge without a budget, you should definitely give a look at what Facebook offers.

Since they started to plan early, they were able to look at the data from previous fundraising campaigns.

With an average open rate of 32% for their email sent to alums, the team realized that this community proved to be very receptive to email.

A closer look at social media data also taught them that a high social media frequency was correlated with decreasing organic reach and engagement. This led them to set a budget for paid advertising to compensate the decrease in reach.

By analyzing data on previous videos, the team figured out the best strategy to use videos for this campaign.

So, how did they make it work?

Proper planning made all the difference.

The team used a comprehensive communication schedule on spreadsheet to keep track of everything.

They prepared videos ahead of time to build momentum and nurture engagement at the launch of the campaign, for each milestone and the campaign goal.

The same kind of planning was used for email, a very important channel to reach the alum population. Email messages were crafted to cover all the important stages of the campaign: launch, milestones and goal reached. A week before the challenge an email containing a video was also sent at 6AM ET to build excitement and anticipation around the upcoming campaign.

Identifying and training advocates to support and amplify the campaign was also instrumental in the success of this campaign.

From 0 to 6111 donors in 24 hours

On V Day, the challenge started at midnight with a breakfast on campus with all the students. Activities were scheduled all day long and milestones were shared by the hour, helping build momentum.

The team chose to post a single Facebook post at 12:01 AM to maximize engagement and reach while also boosting it. Every time a milestone was reach during the day, the team shared the video created just for this milestone to thank donors and incite more to give.

When the goal of 4000 donors was reached at 4PM that day, the team had to react fast and came up with a new goal of 5000 donors. A short thank-you video was recorded in less than an hour to share the excitement, thank all the donors and share the new goal.

Using all the momentum built on the East Coast, the team decided to boost the Facebook post to rally alums on the West Coast – which led the campaign to this record-breaking result.

Golden nugget for 24-hour giving challenges

Plan early, plan well and plan with the help of data!