Jennifer Remmes, Manager of Digital Resource Development at United Way of Rhode Island, shared her team’s experience planning for a state-wide event and what it was like to work with GiveGab for their inaugural 401Gives.
On the evening of April 1, 2020, the 401Gives Giving Day team watched in great anticipation as the stats bar on the home page of their website continued to tick closer to their fundraising goal of 1 Million dollars. This was their first-ever Giving Day supporting 366 nonprofits statewide, and every dollar raised went to nonprofits in great need during the COVID-19 crisis.
United Way of Rhode Island had closed their doors while stay-at-home orders were in place during the pandemic. But while their team watched the Giving Day progress from individual laptops at home, they still felt united in the celebration of philanthropy for their community. They even connected face-to-face by joining a Zoom call whenever they were about to reach a milestone so the whole team could watch the stats bar cross a threshold live or select prize winners together!
The 401Gives team focused a lot of attention on prizes to incentivize nonprofits to engage their audiences throughout the day. In response to COVID-19, they changed their prize strategy by adjusting most competitive prizes to be random selection. This was an equitable way for nonprofits of any size to be included in the drawings. Prizes ranged from $1,000 to $1,250 and any organization that had received 10 unique donations by the time of the prize drawing, was entered into the random selection.
Prizes are a great way to engage businesses in the community. Representatives of the businesses that sponsored the prizes for 401Gives created videos of themselves announcing the winners throughout the day on social media. Next year, when the day can expand beyond being 100% virtual, their plan is to go all out and surprise the winning nonprofits at their offices with large checks!
In addition to prizes, United Way of Rhode Island secured $55k in matching funds for a “match-hour.” Anytime someone made a donation during the match-hour, their gift was matched by this fund, doubling the impact! The $55k was depleted in the first 27 minutes of the match-hour, which started at 6am and generated almost $80k in online donations in the first 30 minutes as donors made gifts hoping to get funds matched for their favorite nonprofits. Coordinating a match-hour was an effective way to engage large donors and businesses who wanted to support the Giving Day, and give all participating organizations an equitable way to win more funds. $5k of the total matching funds even came in unsolicited at the last minute in the spirit of lifting up nonprofits during a time of crisis. Rhode Island’s community at large was ready to show up (virtually) and support their nonprofit community when they needed it most!
“Nonprofits were seeking the guidance from United Way of Rhode Island as a philanthropic leader in their community when their board and staff were divided on if they should move forward with their regular fundraising initiatives during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jennifer Remmes, Manager of Digital Resource Development at United Way of Rhode Island. “The organizations that kept up with their regular marketing, email newsletters, and social media, did really well!”
To further support participating nonprofits with their marketing efforts, a unique collaboration was set up with a local Newport, RI community college, Salve Regina University. Students in Salve’s Marketing and Fundraising for Nonprofits class worked with some of the nonprofits participating in 401Gives on their marketing strategies and implementation. This was an awesome opportunity for students to work with nonprofits and for the nonprofits who needed the extra marketing help. United Way of Rhode Island hopes to expand this opportunity to other local universities and colleges in the future.
The 401Gives team stayed creative throughout their months of planning, pivoting during the time of crisis, and event execution, while the GiveGab team supported them with a streamlined process.
GiveGab’s project manager, Laryssa Hebert, said “It was a great experience working with the 401Gives team! They are a forward-thinking group that just works with such momentum and energy. We feel so fortunate that GiveGab’s Giving Day platform was the innovative solution that matched their mindset for how to launch this new initiative for Rhode Island.”
GiveGab’s Giving Day platform offers the flexibility for hosting organizations to make it the right fit for their community and overall strategy. For example, a Giving Day doesn’t have to be strictly 24-hours. 401Gives took place on April 1, 2020, but the team had donations open up a week early. This provided peer-to-peer fundraisings to gain momentum leading up to the big day. Likewise, donations were left open on April 2nd so anyone who arrived late to the game could still give!
The week leading up to April 1st accounted for 8% of overall donations. Leaving donations up on April 2nd accounted for 10% of overall donations.
United Way of Rhode Island planned for their first Giving Day almost a year in advance and their efforts paid off in a million-dollar way.
“I can’t thank the GiveGab team enough! This was an amazing experience and our team felt well attended to throughout the whole process hosting our very first Giving Day. GiveGab provided us a clear outline with expectations during our onboarding process, so we were able to stay on track and get creative every step of the way,” said Jennifer Remmes.
Covid-19 Response Fund
401Gives 2021 Update
In 2021, United Way of Rhode Island, led by Jennifer Remmes, dove headfirst into year 2 of their Giving Day, 401Gives, ready to make a splash; they blew it out of the water. Since marketing played such a significant role in their 2020 success, strategy for 2021 focused on expanding and strengthening their communications.
While both years involved marketing tasks performed by outside agencies, the utilization and coordination of those efforts differed greatly. In 2020, an advertising agency was primarily responsible for 401Gives marketing efforts, including coordinating local media outlets. 2021 looked a bit different. United Way decided to still utilize certain outside agencies, such as Cerio Communications, for radio, TV, digital, and print. One notable partner for their second year was The Nunez Co., which handled 401Gives' social media. The main difference here was that coordination and management was in-house in 2021.
Jenn and her team saw tremendous results from working with The Nuñez Co for their social media efforts. In the 28 days leading up to 401 Gives, their Facebook account organically saw over 3,000 page views, and over 6,000 visited their Twitter page. In general, there were 3,436 mentions of the hashtag #401Gives. Through a paid social budget of $2,000, their Facebook and Instagram ads reached 55,154 people, which led to 279 link clicks to the 401Gives page.
To create more engagement throughout the day, Jenn's team also launched the "What's Your Why" video series. For this initiative, participating organizations submitted videos to the 401Gives team highlighting their work and most urgent needs. “It encourages organizations to create their own original content, but also pushes them to clearly define their ask.”
Adapting their engagement strategies in 2021 really paid off! 401Gives saw a record-breaking year in 2021 with $2,291,467 raised (a 75% increase from 2020), by 12,088 donors (a 60% increase).
Following their most recent Giving Day, United Way has released their 2021 401Gives Community Impact Report. Check it out to learn more about their ground-breaking Giving Day.