Thursday, May 10, 2012

Skidmore College’s 24-Hour Young Alumni Challenges Nets Over 1,000 Donors

The following is a great story from Jen Castellani at Skidmore College about a recent annual giving campaign that turned out to be a HUGE success! I hope you enjoy the example of creativity and flexibility of a wonderful development staff. Congratulations to all at Skidmore!
In late March, my director of development emailed some colleagues an article about DePauw University’s recent 24-hour challenge where they secured 866 donors in a single day. Given that we were bleeding donors, I suddenly found myself scurrying to implement a similar effort with only one month to plan, market, and execute it.
Skidmore had never attempted a 24-hour challenge before, so we had no framework or benchmark. I had to start from scratch.
As a staff, we decided to focus our efforts on our most recent 20 classes. As such, all of our marketing consisted of email, social media, and word-of-mouth, beginning just a week prior to the Challenge day. Our message was simple: 501 donors on 5/01 meant $50,000 for Skidmore. (A group of committed donors pledged the $50,000 should we reach our goal). Little did we know what we were in for.
When 5/01 rolled around, we were prepared logistically. We had a Challenge website with a count-down clock and graphics to display Challenge progress. We had emailed a series of messages to our target constituents. Facebook and Twitter also helped us spread the word. Email templates had already been created to use for Challenge updates. Our social media guru had a plan for Facebook and Twitter. Additionally, our alumni annual fund volunteers contacted their classmates to inform them of the Challenge. On campus, Advancement staff was ready to make our own prospect phone calls. We were set.
Partnering with Alumni Affairs, we also arranged regional Pub Nights in NYC, Boston, and Saratoga Springs for the evening of 5/01 so that alumni could gather together to receive Challenge updates, mix and mingle, and hopefully have a great time.
By 8:00am, we already had over 40 online gifts and were astounded as the number of gifts continued to increase throughout the morning. Cow bells literally clanged with each milestone: 100 gifts, 200 gifts, 300. At noon we realized we would reach 501 donors by the end of the workday. Luckily, another challenger stepped forward, and the stakes were raised. By midnight, we needed 750 donors for $75,000. More email updates were sent. Our volunteers were energized and communicated with fellow alumni that the bar was set higher.
Internally, Advancement staff was thrilled. We were so elated as we watched our young alumni step up to the Challenge that everyone in the division participated. Even staff who were not front-line fundraisers wanted to pitch in and make some phone calls. And the cow bell continued ring each time we reached another one hundred gifts.
At 8:00pm we surpassed 750 donors. Jaws dropped when the goal then became 1,000 for $100,000. Could we really secure another 250 donors in four hours!?
Within the next few hours, alumni streamed into our Pub Night venues with cash and credit cards in hand to give—no doubt thanks to another donor who promised to match all gifts made at the events themselves.
Every few minutes I was texting volunteers and staff at each venue with an update, and they provided me with a count of gifts. Donor numbers soared!
The cow bell rang one last time shortly before midnight when the 1,000th donor gave. In the end, 1,044 donors supported Skidmore in 24 hours—the most gifts the College has every received in a day.
 If you are interested in learning more about how we marketed and/or implemented the Challenge, please contact me at


  1. Great story...congrats on your success!

  2. It always makes sense to add a sense of urgency to an appeal, yet I didn't catch
    1) the objective or theme of this appeal - the why?
    2) how did you know these were young recent alumni?
    3) and if this was a "full court" press - were regular mail or mobile channels considered?

    1. Scott-
      Jen would be happy to take your questions here:

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