Giving Tuesday 2016: Our Top 3 Takeaways

We saw some amazing results from the 7 clients who used our Giving Day Platform for Giving Tuesday. In particular, we had 3 clients who used unique strategies to drive their success. Take a look at their results and how to apply these tactics to your next Giving Day initiative:


1. Get Creative With Your Goal

Colorado State University raised nearly $28,000 for their Rams Against Hunger program which provides meals to students facing food insecurity. To amplify the impact of the program, they tied donations to a goal of providing 2,000 meals, each for $7. CSU ended up raising enough to supply almost 4,000 meals, doubling their impact!

Tying your overarching goal to the significance of a gift is a far greater incentive than simply counting donors or dollars.  In addition, it gives donors more information on how to maximize their impact, because it can be directly related to the costs of what they are supporting. Remember: great storytelling is the backbone of any successful platform or campaign, so make sure to emphasize the effect of your fundraising!

2. Create a Major Gift Opportunity

Portland State University found success gamifying a $25,000 matching donor gift to blow past their $50K goal to $57,633. This helped them build momentum in the early part of the day to reach the $25,000 matching threshold, as well as create a stretch goal once the matching gift was incorporated into their total.

Because matching gifts create urgency for smaller donations, they are a great way to incentivize major donors to galvanize others around their passion. As an added bonus, major donors get to showcase their impact to a large online audience and can be acknowledged in any resulting stewardship material. Try featuring an initiative you know will resonate with a major donor, and approach them about the opportunity to increase funding by offering a matching donation.


3. Tie-In a Reward

The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs offered the first 500 donors of $10 or more a pair of limited edition UCCS socks as part of their #RocktheSock Giving Tuesday platform. This was  a critical driver towards a matching $45,000 gift contingent upon contributions by 500 unique donors.

While many institutions offer rewards for crowdfunding campaigns, it’s rare to see rewards tied to Giving Days. However, offering a reward that is a part of all promotional materials for your Giving Day is a great way to create a unique platform brand, increase minimum donation averages, and encourage a larger number of unique donors. Wearable rewards also give you continued brand awareness after the day of, and can be easily coordinated with your campus clothing outlet.


Try incorporating one, or even all, of these strategies for your next Giving Day or even next Giving Tuesday to maximize your results!

How to Create a Killer Giving Day Communications Kit for Your Ambassadors

A key component of any successful Day of Giving is advocacy from organizational champions that help get the word out.

This can be staff, faculty, alumni, or past donors; the important thing is to reach out (ideally more than 3 months in advance) and identify who within these groups is willing to help tell your story and inspire their networks to action.

You can find these members through a variety of tactics: at donor or staff events where you can announce your upcoming initiative, through major gift officers who can ask for support using an existing relationship, through very tailored direct email aimed at your most likely advocates, and (most personally) a call from you or your leadership.

Try to follow this timeline to create your own giving day communications kit:

90 Days before Launch

  • Send your initial announcement to your network to warm up potential supporters.

2 Months before Launch

  • Send a ‘Save the Date.’
  • Use an electronic postcard – you’re hosting a big event!

1 Month before Launch

  • Send weekly or bi-weekly announcements if possible. Don’t fatigue your database, but it’s important to keep things top of mind. Segment and tailor messaging for alumni age groups to have better open and engagement rates.

Once your ambassadors are identified, you need to have a clear plan and documented timeline for what you are asking them to do for your giving day communications.

This includes several elements:

  1. Concise, templated social media posts with a clear call to action.
  2. A distinctive hashtag to collect all social activity.
  3. ‘Pre-launch’ and ‘Day of’ email templates for ambassadors to send to potential supporters.
  4. Image collateral to use in social and email promotion.

If you’re not sure where to start, follow the below template for a killer communications document:

Thank you for supporting [Giving Day Name]! This is an online fundraising initiative lasting 24 hours that encourages alumni, parents, students, faculty, staff and friends to make a difference to [Institution Name]. Before our event and during from [Start Date] to [End Date], we’re counting on loyal and caring [Mascot Name] and their friends to spread the word and make an impact through giving to a wide range of worthy projects! Thanks for your help, we couldn’t do it without you.

Questions? Contact [Designated Support] at [Email and/or Phone Number]

1 Week before Launch

  • Announce [Giving Day and/or Campaign names] on your social channels.
  • Share the [School/University] [Hashtag] and follow us on [Facebook Link] and [Twitter Link] to like and share posts.
  • Tag friends in your posts.
  • Email your personal network. You can also use [Email Template] if you’re not sure where to start.

 2-3 Days before Launch

  • Download the official [Giving Day Name] pictures from [Images Link]
  • Change your Facebook and Twitter profile pictures and cover photos to [Desired Image Link]
  • Continue posting about [Giving Day Name] on your favorite social media channels and tagging friends in your posts.
  • Make your gift early at [Platform Link].

Day of Launch

  • Email your personal network that today’s the day! Again, here is an [Email Template] if you’re not sure what to include.
  • Post/share on social media throughout the day. Here are some templates we’ve created to help [Link to 3-4 Facebook and Twitter Templates]
  • Tag your friends and encourage them to donate and show support on social media.
  • If you know someone who made a gift, send them a personal thank you or social media shout out.

Day after Launch

  • Thank your network for participating via posts or via email.
  • Share the [School/University] [Hashtag] Facebook and Twitter posts

Once you have created this and your champions have helped you reach your goal, make sure to show gratitude. Thank them first and foremost with a personal note acknowledging their impact. They will be there again to help next year with your giving day communications if you do!


To Project or Not to Project


Since CSU launched our crowdfunding platform in 2013, we have had many different individuals and groups approach us about launching their crowdfunding projects.  It became clear early on that we needed strategies to identify serious project creators from those who were just dipping their toes in the crowdfunding waters.

The more we can figure out upfront who is serious, the more efficiently we can use our time to help the project creators who really have what it takes to succeed.

We worry a little about the content of the projects when we’re vetting (for example, we know that raising money for student travel is a tough sell so we try to stay away from those kinds of projects), but ultimately the attitude and intention of the project creators carries more weight in whether or not a project will achieve the goal.

Here are three easy things to screen before you get going:


  1. Does the project creator understand that they are responsible for the success or failure of their project?

This the main thing that we look for. Project creators who are enthusiastic about their project and who want to carry the burden of the project on their own shoulders. We will do everything in our power to help every project succeed, and we expect our project creators to do the same. A good project has a creator who knows that they will tell their story better than anyone else, and they will understand their own networks better than we can. A good project creator is willing to put themselves and their project forward. If they don’t believe in their project enough to promote it actively, why would anyone support it?


  1. Does the project creator understand the essential elements required?

We have a lot of first-time conversations with potential project creators. In the first meeting, we are sure to share that they will need to have a good video, a strong marketing plan, a decent number of pre-committed gifts, and that they will be making personal asks to a large network of individuals. If they come back for a second meeting, we probably have a good project creator on our hands.


  1. Is the project creator willing to spend time to learn how to succeed at crowdfunding?

We want all our project creators to undergo some training on the tactics that work for creating and marketing a project for success. Project creators need to have some skin in the game and dedicating time to learn is a great indicator that they feel this way.


When we can answer unequivocally “YES” to all of the questions above, we know that we have a project that is likely to succeed.


Day of Giving or Day of Pain?


In the interest of full disclosure, I grew up in the world of Advancement Services. You know, the “back office.” The “support staff.” The “we’ll dump more admin stuff on them because they have the time since they aren’t out there raising money.”

Ya, that Advancement Services.

You should remember that if it weren’t for us you would not be able to mail/email prospects.  You wouldn’t have a clue how much money has been given and by whom. You couldn’t issue a legal tax receipt, and you certainly could not follow-up on 3,000 outstanding pledges. Read the 3rd edition of my Advancement Services book series: Enhancing Fundraising Success to learn more.

But I digress.

Here’s the operational issue I have with day of giving campaigns: institutions often forget the “little people.” Let’s pretend that your annual gift volume is 5,000 transactions – now what is your organization staffed at for processing?

Probably 1 person.

Just what the heck is the Advancement Services Office supposed to do when a quarter of those transactions come in ON ONE DAY?  Are you really willing to wait 2-3 months for those gifts to be entered onto donor records – and do you promise not to ask the Director of Gift Entry to keep a daily log of how many gifts have been processed and how many remain?

In order for these days of giving to not be a fad they must serve a purpose in cultivating new donors. These new donors deserve the same immediate recognition that old donors receive, without sacrificing the time it takes to recognize existing donors appropriately.

Immediate electronic tax receipts notwithstanding, they deserve another thank you letter – on paper – within a week of the gift.  And very likely another within 30 days depending on the dollar amount. Not 3 months later.

Therefore, we must consider these campaigns holistically, not just whether we can get more gifts than the other school down the street (oh, the fear I have seen in the eyes of staff at two local schools “competing” against each other).

We must sit down 6, 9, 12 months before launching the campaign, and all come to the table to think about the infrastructure issues and staffing demands doing these right – from a DONOR perspective – will require. That means building seamless interfaces between your online giving platform and your database of record before the first gift comes in.

The key is you need to import both the gift and biographic information directly from one system to the other rather than having to rekey anything.

Okay, nothing is foolproof and suspected duplicate records will need to be triaged.  But the point is, that interface MUST exist, so make sure the platform you are using offers this functionality.

Please stop killing off Advancement Services professionals! If you are considering a day of giving, make sure your systems integrate for seamless gift transactions.

95/5 is No Way to Live

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It was only 10 to 15 years ago institutions followed the Paretto principle closely, securing 80% of their gifts from 20% of their donors. Then things began to shift.

Many institutions now exist in a world where 5% of their gifts come from 95% of their donors.

One reason for this shift has been the increase in mega campaigns and a hyper-focus on transformational gifts. Inspiring seven, eight, and even nine-figure investments can be truly game changing: transforming programs, departments, and even the universities themselves and ushering in enormous positive societal impact. These gifts can enable institutions to fulfill their missions in rich and powerful new ways.

Another reason for the shift is a decline in the engagement of alumni and “friends.” This is mainly due to insufficient resources for annual fund programs and a continued devotion to solicitation methods that generations of alumni no longer respond to. Traditional strategies and tactics for engaging donors continue to lessen in effectiveness, and the population of alumni that engage via phones and direct mail continues to shrink.

Being bound by the conventions of the past is taking a toll on those building major gift pipelines, and it’s spiraling institutions toward a precipice of instability as they lose engaged donors thinking of big investments.  Additionally, a generational gap is building as studies indicate that millennials are becoming a disenfranchised donor population for universities.

All of this is taking place in the shadows of the greatest transfer of wealth from baby boomers to millennials.

The question is: do you really want to risk not engaging the new generation?

The importance of the first gifts on the path to becoming substantial institutional investors should not be taken lightly. Michael Bloomberg fondly recalls his first gift of $5 a year after graduating from John Hopkins, where his total investment now stands at $1.1 billion.

Furthermore, the ability of institutions to develop sound measurements and goals, project revenue, and build quality pools of faithful donors will become a much more difficult proposition without the aid of digital technologies.

Today’s perspective donor is hungry for meaningful communication received in the way they desire. Crowdfunding and a hosted Day of Giving through a centralized platform provides this communication. A centralized hub of fundraising provides numerous ways to grow engagement and build the pipeline:


1. Connecting Younger Generations Through the Appropriate Medium or Channels

Online access, multimedia content, social media engagement, and peer-to-peer asks to give are the primary ways millennials engage. Running a campaign is empowering, increasing volunteerism and deepening affiliation.


2. Demonstrating Impact, Transparency, and Vision for All Generations

A centralized platform has content that is rich. Storytelling is powerful, and seeing and hearing it in real-time through updates, images, and video means delivering impactful messages. Budgets can be clearly provided, and donors see progress and others investing in campaigns, compelling them to participate. This is a personal experience as told through the eyes of campaign creators, and participating in a campaign can be very connective.


3. Empowering Donors to Self-Identify Their Passion

With a centralized platform, donors can view many opportunities for investment. They self-select and invest in specific campaigns demonstrating their passion for specific areas, as opposed to being pigeon-holed into giving to specific funds that might relate to the college they graduated from, but no longer pertain to their relevant interests.


4. Integrating Development Efforts and Opportunities

Donors get connected through several levels of communications and many opportunities are laid out in a compelling fabric of amazing stories taking place at the institution. Marketing and awareness of the positive societal impact taking place throughout the institution is brought to the forefront, and in a humanizing way.


5. Harnessing a New Level of Stewardship

Making a direct connection to where the donor invested can keep them engaged throughout the campaign. The ability to thank donors is immediate, it’s online through email or video – in the way they engaged with the campaign and is done by the person or team of people running the campaign.


The bottom line is: embrace crowdfunding as a key avenue for increasing your major gift pipeline, and don’t let your future ‘Michael Bloomberg type’ donors pass you by because of out of touch engagement strategies.

The Top 11 Planning Elements for a Successful Day of Giving

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The technology used to support a successful Day of Giving is only about half of what goes into a day’s fundraising success. People, planning, variety and smart segmentation all play a role, too.

The Knight Foundation’s Day of Giving Playbook is the most comprehensive guide book we have seen. Though it is designed for community foundations to connect, support and empower community fundraising initiatives, the philosophy remains sound in the university fundraising sphere.

Here are some top takeaways:

Start Planning Early

Start planning six months in advance. The biggest difference between success and less than your goals is planning!

Don’t be afraid of too much detail. Targeted segmenting of contacts, specializing your messaging for each affinity group, and writing social media plans (even down to specific posts!) in advance will all help you knock your day out of the park.

Set Measurable Goals

Set explicit goals so you can measure your results. Whether these goals are based on the number of gifts, the number of people who engage with your giving day web page, or the dollars raised, make sure you know what you want to measure.

Select Your Engagement Methods

It can be very helpful to set challenges, identify matching funds opportunities, and collect prizes to award participants on the big day. Remember, prizes don’t have to be tangible: a shout out on your official social media channels could mean a lot to a student or group.

Rally Your Giving Day Team

Crowdfunding can be a lot of work, and having the people you need on your side as you plan, organize and run your Day of Giving is essential to your success. You may want a different person for each of the roles below:

Person Activity
Platform Admin Orchestrate activities for all other team members on the Day of Giving.
Oversee the team leading up to and on the Day of Giving.
Organize on-campus day-of events.
Admin(s) Input offline donations (i.e. donations by telephone, check or cash in person at Day of Giving events). Manage challenges and calculate winners.
Student Ambassadors Rally on social media platforms, run social media tools (i.e. Juicer).
Participate in on-campus events, by handing out information, engaging with the student population, etc.

Build a Work Plan

The work plan included in the Knight Foundation’s resource is an excellent place to start. Below is an example of the configuration in the example:

Category Due Date Action Type Action Purpose Who Notes
Communication to the Campus Community First 2 weeks of December Promotion Promote using official social media channels Get students and organizations involved in promotion. James Lori Make sure to specify how each student can help on the day.
General Planning November Promotion Video contest Begin video contest: get participating fund groups involved in pre-promoting themselves. Campus TV crew

Know Your Budget
You probably have some budget allocated to help cover advertising, staff salaries, and event necessities. You will also likely have a budget for matching funds. We recommend reaching out to businesses in your community, organizations that have a stake in your Day of Giving’s success, and other community stakeholders to gather matching funds.

Consider Incentives for Student, Staff and Community Participation
Prizes, bonuses, social media shout outs, and Day of Giving branded material items, like t-shirts, can help boost community participation. Consider what kind of room is in your budget for these types of items, and how much human power and time it will take to make it work. Include this in your budget planning.

Have a Crisis Action Plan

The web can be an unpredictable place, and things like merchant service outages and other issues may occur. Ensure you are prepared in case of internet gremlins.

Prepare Your Communications

This can help you stay ahead of the game, even months in advance. Remember to consider what makes each particular group care about your Day of Giving. Your messaging should connect each group of potential donors to a) why they care; b) what kind of impact their donation can make; c) how they can see the impact after the Day of Giving and keep up with whichever initiatives they support.

Brand Your Messaging

It’s essential in the university environment to put your best branding foot forward. There are likely requirements surrounding what kind of messaging you should use, and details such as color contrast on the web can seem daunting. Keeping your messaging on brand can also help to build trust with potential donors: create messaging that they recognize as affiliated with your organization, and trust is much stronger.

Create a Communications Calendar

Having your communications all planned out is essential for running a successful 30 day crowdfunding campaign. It’s easy to see that it’s all that much more essential to have a plan in place for your Day of Giving.

*Pro tip: segment communications by channel, and then spread each channel’s deployment across several people. This can help keep spirits high and stress low when the day arrives.

Use the example below to get you started. Remember, you’ll have help from multiple team members, so split the work of collecting and segmenting lists and writing posts. These categories are examples only – you will have unique channels.

Know what Metrics you Need to Track

Remember, it’s important to know your goals and your target audiences so that you can accurately track your success.

Here are metrics you should track for you Day of Giving:

  • Total number of donors
  • Total amount raised (both per campaign or area of interest, and overall)
  • Total number of individual gifts
  • Total page views

Your website may be able to track the following metrics, in addition to the above:

  • Visit duration
  • Pages per visit
  • Bounce rate
  • New or return donor totals
  • Age group of donors
  • Number of alumni and active students

With well-tracked metrics, you’ll be able to see things like the number of returning donors on following Days of Giving; how much engagement raised for millennials; the preferences of your donors; and much more.

Cheatsheet for Getting Crowdfunding Buy-In from On-Campus Stakeholders

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Integrating crowdfunding as a centralized storytelling platform into your organization begins from within. To this end, getting buy-in from the internal stakeholders that will be critical to your long-term success is an important first step.

The goals of stakeholder buy-in are:

  • Building awareness/excitement for the platform
  • Developing a platform launch team
  • Locating your first campaign teams
  • Promoting the platform & campaigns ahead of public launch events

On-Campus Stakeholder Cheatsheet





Responsible for integration, ongoing support. •     Email

•     Scheduled meetings

•     Stakeholder Presentation

Annual Giving Team

Evangelists for the platform and will likely have some responsibility in execution and ongoing oversight. •     Conversation

•     Email/Bulletins

•     Scheduled meetings

•     Stakeholder Presentation

All Development / Advancement Officers

Evangelists for the platform and may have some responsibility in execution. They can also be responsible for creating internal development campaigns, funds and programs. •     Conversation

•     Email/Bulletins

•     Scheduled meetings

•     Stakeholder Presentation

Foundation Staff

Evangelists for the platform and may have some responsibility in execution. •     Conversation

•     Email/Bulletins

•     Scheduled meetings

•     Stakeholder Presentation

Student Clubs / Orgs

Encourage them to create campaigns and programs each semester to support funding needs. •     Email/Bulletins

•     Meetups

•     Student Org Leadership Events, Workshops

•     Invitation to Creator Training Events

Deans of Colleges

Evangelists for the platform and may have some responsibility in execution as platform administrators. •     Conversation

•     Email/Bulletins

•     Scheduled meetings

•     Stakeholder Presentation


This is a significant source of campaigns, you can encourage them to set up programs for each varsity sport. •     Conversation

•     Email/Bulletins

•     Scheduled meetings

•     Stakeholder Presentation

Marketing Department

They must work in concert with platform marketing, promoting and sharing as needed through various university channels. •     Conversation

•     Email/Bulletins

•     Scheduled meetings

•     Stakeholder Presentation

Alumni Office

Evangelists for the platform; encourage them to create campaigns and programs. •     Conversation

•     Email/Bulletins

•     Scheduled meetings

•     Stakeholder Presentation

Office of the President

Ambassador for the platform. •     In-person meetings

Student Government

Evangelists for the platform. Encourage them to create campaigns and programs. •     Email/Bulletins

•     Social Media

•     Meetups

•     Class visits

•     Invitation to Creator Training Events

All internal media channels such as campus radio, newspaper, blogs, etc.

Major promoters of the platform. Encourage them to create campaigns and programs, but also share relevant stories. •     Email

•     Phone

•     Meet 1:1

Faculty / Staff

Key players in discovering and submitting ideas in which they care deeply and great partners for eliciting interest from others. •     Conversation

•     Email/Bulletins

•     Scheduled meetings

•     Stakeholder Presentation
(for interested parties)

Alumni Contacts

This is a source of potential ambassador campaigns, as well as voluntary evangelists. •     Conversation

•     Email/Bulletins

•     Social Media

•     Inclusion in direct mailers

•     Inclusion in phonebank scripts

Remember, these are just guidelines. A good rule of thumb is to look through your campus directory well before your outreach efforts to establish which departments would be the biggest value add to the platform. Keep in mind how active departments are in campus fundraising, personal connections you or others in advancement might have, and the available resources each department has on hand.

Crowdfunding Stakeholder Meeting
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Once you have your list of desired participants, we encourage a formal stakeholder meeting that gathers as many of the interested parties as possible. Stakeholder meetings are a great way to share the vision for the platform, answer questions, and build awareness for the opportunities the platform presents.

A stakeholder meeting will typically include:

  • Presenting the vision for the platform
  • Basics of crowd fundraising and its value to different stakeholders
  • Facilitating conversation and discovering potential team members
    • Overview of goals & timelines
  • Q&A / Discussion

If you do this correctly, not only will you find willing allies, but you’ll inspire excitement and interest for the impact the platform can make on campus and in the world!

Best Practices to Steward Crowdfunding and Day of Giving Donors

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What a relief! You just wrapped up a successful crowdfunding campaign or your day of giving was a smashing success. Well friend, take a moment, celebrate your victories and then get back to work! You have some stewardship to do.

Hopefully, as a part of your marketing plan, you thought ahead of time about how you can best steward these donors. Many of them have just made their first gift to you! Stewardship is a key component to transitioning these folks from a one-time donor to a consistent giver.

The best kinds of stewardship are intentional, donor-centered, and timely.


Before You Launch

  1. Make a plan: You should know exactly who you want to thank and how will thank them far before your first donor makes a gift. 
  1. Prepare: You can design and write and maybe even record all of your stewardship pieces well in advance of when you need to send them. If you are updating on results, the only X factors are your final numbers. Get these pieces done in advance so that the day after, when you are tired (and let’s be honest, maybe a little over it) all that needs to happen is updating a couple numbers or words to reflect your results.


Day of/During Campaign

  1. Get Social: Many of your donors learned of your efforts through their social media channels and you can thank people right away with social. For CSU’s day of giving, if someone tweeted at us that they made a gift, we tweeted a thank you right back at them.
    CSU Dog Twitter
  1. Get personal: Lynne Wester, Donor Relations Guru shared two personalized videos from Whitworth and Purdue that she received via twitter for gifts made on their giving days. They are great; one is very personal, the other is a bit more general, and both made her feel special. Think she’ll give again to those universities? I bet she will.
  1. Update supporters regularly: Show progress, say thanks, and give some action items for your supporters. Actions can be: share our project/day, give again, recruit other supporters, whatever. Just be sure to let your gratitude shine.


Following Up with Your Donors

  1. Share your success: People want to know they were part of a successful endeavor. Don’t ask them to participate and then leave them hanging about the results. At a very minimum, the day after you wrap up, use social, send an e-mail, communicate as pro-actively as you can that you met your goals and you couldn’t have done it without your donors. One important note about this: Who met the goal? Did you? Or did your donors? Be careful not to use too many “we” statements in your stewardship pieces. Your donors are the ones who did it. Your team worked hard to get them there, but let your donors own the accomplishment.
  1. Wrap it Up: Once all your gifts have been processed and you know your final results, share again. Thank again. Send new content, maybe a video with footage from on-campus events that day, or more in-depth impact of the difference their gift is making.
  1. Treat ‘em right: I’ve heard of an institution or two (I won’t name names) that pulls their crowdfunding only donors out of other University communications or stewardship efforts. Don’t do that. Treat your crowdfunding donors to all the communications and outreach that you can. They’ll tell you if they hate it. Most will appreciate it. Make sure they hear from you outside of more solicitations.
  1. Ask Smarter: Asking is part of the stewardship cycle. What’s lucky for you is you have additional information now. You know more about what your donor cares about and what they want to support. Give them the courtesy of being sure that when you do come back for another gift, you paid attention to what they told you.

 If you treat donors who give to special projects, be it a crowdfunding campaign or a day of giving right, you increase your odds of getting them back. Stewardship is a key part of any campaign. Don’t forget it when you are making your plans!


Understanding Crowdfunding Regulations: 3 Key Legal Takeaways

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The information and opinions expressed in this blog are for educational purposes only. This information does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for legal advice. John Taylor is not an attorney nor does he play one on TV. 

My previous article discussed how I have come to embrace crowdfunding as an enhancement to the fundraising activities of an organization.  However, I also cautioned that implementation requires full integration with the advancement/development office.  I listed a few reasons why I feel this is important.

One reason I omitted – because it deserves its own discussion – is that if you approach crowdfunding the wrong way, you could get into legal trouble.

Fundraising activities must be conducted under the jurisdiction of federal and state law.  If you represent a nonprofit organization and want your participants to be able to claim a tax-deduction for their contributions, there are strict IRS regulations and state laws you must adhere to.

If the advancement office is not involved in helping campaign groups understand these rules, not only can fines be levied, but you stand the chance of losing your tax-exempt status.  I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade, but this is the reality.

Crowdfunding, just like direct mail, phonathons, and personal solicitations, needs to be implemented by the legal book.

While I’m not going to go into the various state regulations here, it’s important to note that some 3 dozen plus states have their own solicitation registration requirements you must follow before you ask for a penny from donors in those states. To check the applicable laws in your area, visit the National Association of State Charity Officials.

What I am going to cover are the three key legal considerations you should be aware of to crowdfund without consequence.

1. Don’t Give Away the Farm.

Lots of organizations like to give incentives to folks encouraging them to give: t-shirts, bumper stickers, coffee mugs, etc.  And that’s just fine.  But the IRS has actually imposed limits on what you can give if you want to protect the full deductibility of the gift.  In 2016 (yes, that’s right – the IRS changes the limits every single year) you can only provide these tchotchkes if the donor makes a minimum gift of $53, and the combined value of all benefits is under $10.60. Key takeaway: make sure to check-in with any crowdfunding teams who have product-based campaigns or plan to incentivize with rewards to make sure they meet these criteria.

2. If You Do Give Away the Farm, Know the Hurdles.

Yes, you can technically give donors benefits/incentives that exceed these limits and still offer some deductibility.  But know it gets complicated.  In order to be in compliance, you must issue receipts that reflect not only the total amount paid, but describe in detail the benefits that were provided, what their values were (itemized), and the net tax-deductible amount (or at least a statement telling the donor to do the math and calculate their deduction – but that’s not very donor-centric). So, while it’s possible to navigate around my first recommendation, know the work involved and plan accordingly.

3. What Happens in Vegas Should Happen in Vegas.

Don’t turn your crowdfunding site into a gambling venue.  I know, I know: you would never do that. But keep in mind if your organization has ever made a statement along the lines of “All donors are entered into a drawing for an iPad – pre-loaded with Pokémon Go,” you already have.  Put into IRS terms, that’s a “game of chance.”

Consider these two important points before you attempt any kind of raffle strategy:

  • Any payment that results in some form of drawing entry – regardless of the amount paid and the value of the prize – 100% negates the tax-deductibility of the payment.
  • Even if you don’t care about tax-deductibility, every state has its own laws pertaining to “gaming.” Some do not allow it at all.  Others have interstate gaming restrictions.  Others have limits on the number of these activities an organization can conduct each year if not their primary business.  And others could cause a nonprofit organization to lose its tax-exempt status.

Bottom line: leave gambling to the dice-throwers in Vegas.

The laws governing fundraising activities may seem intense, but as crowdfunders it is simply a matter of being informed. All the more reason to seek advice from your advancement office before you launch – just make sure those t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted!

Community Funded ( provides powerful yet easy-to-use digital fundraising solutions including Crowdfunding and Day of Giving products and services that help higher education, healthcare, and nonprofit organizations exceed their fundraising goals.