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Amplifying School Spirit Through Crusader Day of Giving

Giving & Gabbing is GiveGab’s official podcast, featuring interviews with our philanthropic partners that highlight their unique digital fundraising and engagement stories. By offering this podcast, we strive to educate and inspire fundraising professionals from across the country – and perhaps even provide [a small morsel of] entertainment.

In episode 11 of Giving & Gabbing, our co-hosts Karin and Isaiah chat with the Director of Alumni Engagement and Annual Giving Programs at Brother Rice High School in Chicago, IL. Brother Rice ran their school’s first-ever Crusaders Day of Giving with GiveGab on May 5, 2020, raising $244,247 in just 24 hours.

Matt and his team strategically chose this date for their Giving Day because it is known in the Christian community as The feast day of Blessed Edmund Rice. By selecting a day that resonated with the school’s donor base, it made it easier for them to keep it top of mind leading up to Crusader Day of Giving.

In the Spring of 2020, Matt’s team made challenging decisions regarding how their first Giving Day would look amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Many campaigns during this timeframe were canceled or postponed, but Brother Rice High School forged on with their day knowing that their school’s community would need their support now more than ever.  While they initially planned for an in-person pep rally and senior send-off, they quickly and creatively pivoted to offer engaging content online, including a virtual prayer service.

Coincidentally, May 5, 2020, was the first GivingTuesdayNow campaign. This global giving movement was created by the GivingTuesday team as “an emergency response to the unprecedented need caused by COVID-19.” By having Crusader Giving Day run on the same date, Matt and his team were able to use the momentum they had already generated to capture an even larger audience of donors searching for ways to give back.

Matt and his team were able to amplify the impact made by donors during Crusader Day of Giving through impactful and engaging challenges. This unified donors and gave them the opportunity to come together to unlock additional funds for the school.

Brother Rice saw significant success with their Decade Challenges. With these, Matt was able to secure larger donations from alumni of various decades who pledged their gift if a specific number of alumni in the same graduation decade gave during the event. Donors were able to see in real-time how close a challenge was to be completed, keeping all eyes glued to their screen waiting for the remaining amounts to come in.

To keep current students, faculty, and staff engaged, and add an element of silliness to their day, The Principal offered a challenge of his own. He promised to shave his beard if they reached 100 donations and to shave his head at 200 donations, These challenges were both met and were broadcasted live on Brother Rice TV!

In this episode of Giving & Gabbing, our guest Matt Kelly discusses:

Crusader Day of Giving
  • Why Matt and his team made the decision to run a Giving Day for Brother Rice High School
  • The planning, logistics, and lead time for Crusader Day of Giving
  • Benefits of working with a dedicated Project Manager throughout their first Giving Day
  • The impact that Giving Day challenges had in engaging and incentivizing donors to give
  • Advice to High Schools who may be interested in running a Giving Day of their own

Check out the full interview with Matt Kelly on Amplifying School Spirt Through Giving Day Challenges by:

Reading the interview transcript

Watching the live interview video recording

Listening to our Giving & Gabbing Podcast episode

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Podcast episodes include nonprofit communication and marketing strategies and interviews with fundraising professionals from across the nonprofit and education sectors.

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Interview Transcript

Isaiah: Well today we have Matt Kelly from Brother Rice High School. He’s here today to talk to us about his giving day, Crusader Day of Giving, that happened this past May in 2020 and we’re very happy to have him here!

Matt: Well thank you for having me. Like Isaiah said, my name is Matt Kelly, I’m at Brother Rice High School in Chicago, Illinois. I’m the Director of Alumni Engagement in our Annual Giving Program.

Karin: Wonderful. Well thanks, and welcome to the show! We’re curious to understand a bit about why you decided to host a giving day for Brother Rice High School and what goals you were looking to accomplish through that event.

Matt: Yeah, so we had participated in Giving Tuesday over a couple year period and I had started my position last year. And so when I came in, one of the questions was about, you know, how can we kind of create our own, or have more of a presence on Giving Tuesday?

And so, kind of doing a little bit of background, a little bit of homework, realized what we need is something unique to ourselves, you know, the nature of the beast of Giving Tuesday is that every not-for-profit all over the world participates in it, and typically people are going to give to something that, in my understanding in looking into it, is something that may…from a medical perspective, cancer, or something along those lines, you know, research in those areas. And so schools, high schools, colleges, kind of trickle-down a little bit further down in the giving back on that day.

So realizing the competition that day, we wanted to do something unique. And so we were looking for a day that would be unique for Brother Rice. And so our feast day of our founder, is Blessed Edmund Rice, which is May 5th, and so looking into it, it’s not ideal in a school calendar to do it at the end of the school year, you know, as a private school we’re trying to make sure that we have the funds and income throughout the year. But looking further and further into it, it just was something that made sense. Brother Rice Christian high schools throughout the country, throughout the world, were doing it on May 5th and so it made sense for us to participate on that day. And so that’s how we ended up picking May 5th and so that on that day we were really only competing with, you know, other Christian high schools throughout the country, but Brother Rice of Chicago is unique for our alumni, so we knew we would do okay with that.

Karin: Thank you, that’s really cool to understand. Can I ask, do you think that doing it on the same day as all the other Brother Rice schools throughout the country…did that seem to strengthen the call to action, the call to donate, from your perspective?

Matt: I think it helped a little bit. You know, those that really were more involved in the Christian Brother, the Brother Rice, Edmund Rice schools, may have had more of an understanding. Some of these schools, like in Michigan, Brother Rice in Michigan, for instance, hosts theirs on May 5th as well. But you know, I think for those that are kind of mixed in the…really deep into the Edmund Rice group, I think there was, but for most of our constituents, they were unaware that Brother Rice in Michigan or a school in New York or California were doing the same on the same day. But I think that at the end, afterwards, we started getting communication from a lot of our Edmund Rice schools throughout the country, and there was, within our circle, a unified front and I think it’ll grow and some of the other schools will start to add that to their calendar as well.

Isaiah: That’s great, yeah, and talking about Giving Tuesday and moving to have your own unique thing on May 5th, that was a Tuesday this year. I know that because, obviously, you know, I worked with you closely, Matt, on the Giving Day, but it was also my birthday, so it was an easy thing for me to remember! But it was like your own Giving Tuesday in a way, so it’s cool to see that and to build on that and continue, to see what the future might look like there. One other thing I’m kind of curious about is the work that it takes to put on a giving day. So of course there’s working with GiveGab and building the site, making sure it’s functional and everything, but there’s a lot more that goes into making a giving day happen that, you know, we don’t always know the finer details of. So if you could, let us know a little bit about the team behind the giving day and what members may have done, and just a little bit about the planning and logistics of your giving day.

Matt: Okay yeah, so we started this, looking into it, in 2019, in the fall of 2019. Had a call with you guys in December 2019, and then early 2020, made the decision that we were going to do our day of giving, you know because we were still going back and forth on whether we were actually going to do this on May 5th because this was our first year. And then when we finally made the decision and we got back in touch with you guys, and you guys really helped us, you know, kind of put together the plan for how we were going to launch it, because like I said, we were new to this. I was brand new, never working in fundraising before, so this was kind of a new concept to myself and my team as well.

So we had our Marketing Director, a part of it, another fundraiser in my office in development helped, and then we had our Vice President overseeing everything that we did. So there were really four major members of the team and three really kind of the most active. And then part of our job was that we also then recruited class captains, so people who really were bought into the Brother Rice community, and kind of leaned on them to help us promote and get the word out. But really there were four of us kind of leading up to the day, along with yourself, kind of making sure that getting everything that we wanted to do and executing all the ideas that we had.

Karin: Wonderful, yeah, thanks for giving us a little bit more information about that. We’re always curious to see and hear what happens on the other end because we only see you interacting with the platform and setting that side up. Now, since this was your first year working with a platform – you had done Giving Tuesday before on your own – can I ask what some of the benefits were that you saw working with our team at GiveGab, and you had Isaiah as your dedicated project manager, having someone there to kind of guide you and help you along, and the difference that made?

Matt: Yeah, you know, when we had our day of giving in December last year, we had put together a plan and really kind of executed it in kind of a week’s period. We launched the promotion about a week out and kind of built up leading up to that day and then when we signed on with GiveGab, and meeting with Isaiah, we introduced…you guys all recommended six weeks out, you know, getting that out. So we created a postcard and we got that out to hit the mail six weeks prior to our day. And so everything, our calendar, was really built off of that six week period. So we met leading up to that six week period, came up with ideas and different things that we could implement and do.

And then, for us, we had this grand idea in February, and then in March, we had to, like, pump the brakes because we hit COVID. We had this idea of…it was going to be an all day event at our school, we were going to have a pep rally, we were going to have a prayer service, we were going to have a senior send-off, we were going to have a taco truck, because it was also Taco Tuesday. And Cinco de Mayo, I mean, it worked out perfect. So there were just so many things we were planning to do that we had to kind of pump our brakes.

But I think the fact that you guys helped us with planning six weeks out allowed us a lot of time to look back into and re-organize and know that really at the end of the day, the online portion was really going to be the main portion. So the GiveGab site, our social media, our emails, that was really the big part of it. The in-person things were all going to be a celebration of Edmund Rice’s life and we were going to televise it on our YouTube channel, we were going to do all these things, but that was really kind of, you know, secondary in some ways, or just something to make the day even more energetic. But really the whole idea of the day of giving was to try to help raise funds for our school and for our students, So you guys really helped us set the platform and gave us guidance and in some ways, we didn’t panic when we had to, like, make a hard left turn because we felt comfortable with where we were at leading up to that point.

Karin: Great, yeah, that’s great, I’m glad that our team was able to help give that guideline of how far out to start reaching out, because I know that is a question that we get frequently, you know, how far out can we start promoting, and how often should we be reaching out to people letting them know that this is happening, so I’m glad that Isaiah and the team was there to help with that. Could you talk a little bit about having to make that hard left, and the decisions that you made and tweaks you made to the day so that it still felt energetic even though you couldn’t meet in person?

Matt: Yeah, so nobody really knew what was really going to happen when we first got the lockdown. It was two weeks, and then, during that two-week period, we realized that this was going to be something that was going to last a little bit longer than two weeks. And so at first, I was extremely nervous, I thought, oh man, we’re done for. Like, this is going to be a disaster of a day. Nobody’s going to want to give, especially with, you know, people out of work and losing…all of these things that were taking place in our communities and throughout the world, and so I really kind of was really nervous about it.

And then, as we were going through the time, you started to see people really coming together and we had the relief packages and people were getting checks, so then all of a sudden you started to say this could turn out…the tax credits and things like that, so you really felt like, well, maybe there’s a chance that this actually will do a little bit better because people will want to help our students. We’re a tuition-based school, our families pay tuition, and so our alumni, seeing the needs of our families, you know, we felt like this is an opportunity to showcase why Brother Rice is such an important, great school, and pulling at the heartstrings of our alumni to help families in need, which is kind of what everybody was doing at that time. So that was how we changed our approach or maybe what we had already planned to do became more evident because of going through the pandemic.

And then, what we did when we were planning on having a pep rally, rather than a pep rally, we had a small prayer service. We televised our, kind of, welcome to our giving day on May 5th on our YouTube channel. We had a prayer service that celebrated the life of Edmund Rice, which is what we were already going to be planning on doing, it was just all virtually. So we had a small group of us here at the school that handled that portion of it. So we kept the reason why it was May 5th as the main factor, with the prayer service and the celebration of Edmund Rice’s life, and then we incorporated our day of giving. So rather than a lot of in-person, you know, kind of, rah-rah…excitement, it was much more virtual, which is what we were used to at that time. And a lot of things that were going to do was going to be via social media and emails anyway, so I guess it made it a little bit easier to do it that way because nobody had any expectations for anything else at the time.

Isaiah:Yeah and I’ll just say from my perspective, you all handled that pivot very well. I couldn’t tell how nervous you were, Matt, so that’s a good thing. But what we were able to do with the site and obviously, what you were able to do in terms of the amount of money that you raised, was just outstanding to see. So…and to say, across the GiveGab platform in general, you all were kind of one of the pioneers in this, one of the first giving days we had during…this new era that we stepped into, and to be so successful was amazing to see, so hats off to you for handling that pivot and that hard left.

Matt: Yeah, I remember you actually asked us if we wanted to continue with it, because you had had a number of other organizations say they were going to cancel it, because of the same reasons I was nervous at the time. And, you know, we had to talk about it with the team and just said no, we’re going to forge ahead and see where it goes, and I think we benefitted a little bit too by it not being maybe in early April, we were early May, so we were kind of into it a little bit further, and so everybody sort of had time to, you know, acclimate and get used to this “stay at home” lifestyle.

In some ways, I think it benefits because nobody had anything to do, so everybody was looking at our Facebook posts, our Instagram, our Twitter, our emails. We just had an event last weekend and it was 75 degrees all weekend. Our Facebook presence wasn’t nearly as strong as it tends to be, and it’s because everyone was outside golfing or cutting the lawn or doing anything else, especially in November in Chicago it’s unheard of, so the timing was just…I think it just worked out great for us.

Isaiah: Yeah, so speaking of timing, we talked a little bit about, you know, May 5th, there were other Brother Rice institutions around that were also celebrating their giving days as well, and maybe not, like, direct competition, but you know, the way they coincided is something to talk about. One other thing that date coincided with this year was Giving Tuesday Now, which came about this year, and what we’re wondering around that is, did you leverage, or how did you leverage any of the movement around Giving Tuesday Now, and do you think that also had any impact in your giving day?

Matt: You know, I remember when that first came out. You know…I asked a coworker, have you ever heard of it before? Because I was like, man, I’ve never heard of this, and I know it was new because of COVID and one of the things is that I felt really good about it, because we were already ahead of marketing it, we were already promoting our day well in advance of this Giving Tuesday Now which I think was launched like a week prior to the day. So I thought we were in great shape to be kind of leading the charge of that, and actually having less…maybe bringing more traffic to us because of that, rather than the giving day in late November/early December, which people always know, they have it on their calendar, and you’re competing with thousands of other not-for-profits, whereas, I don’t know how many people really put together a campaign to really go after that giving day Now as well as we were because we already had it set up. So it just coincidentally worked out in our favor in some ways. We didn’t have to scramble to try to get anything done, we were already moving forward. Did we lose a couple of people? Maybe, but I think we gained more than we lost because of our presence out there ahead of time.

Karin: I love that you decided not to go with Giving Tuesday and then Giving Tuesday found you again.


Matt: Exactly, yeah!

Karin: Actually, no, we’re going to jump back on your day…

Matt: They saw how well we were doing, and how well it looked like it was going to do and they wanted to get some of that, so…

Karin: Yeah exactly, jump in on that. Now I understand that you offered challenges during your giving day. I’m curious to learn about how those incentivized your supporters to give, and the type of marketing and promotions you did around those.

Matt: Yeah so we actually…to kick it off, we actually had a $20,000 match and we launched our page 21 days out, as you guys recommend, but we went live with it in showing the number – you could keep it private or you could open it up – and we opened it up, and we showed…so our $20,000 was actually gone two weeks before we actually had our day of giving. So I think that really catapulted…I think that was the game-changer for us.

We weren’t sure what kind of feedback or how much participation we were going to get in the whole thing, and then when the $20,000 match came up and it was gone within about a week, we had people jumping at opportunities to do decade matches. So we had found…we started in 1956, but we have graduates from 1960 all the way through 2020. So we found representatives from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, all the way through, that would give $2,500 or $5,000 if we got, you know, 20 donors or 30 donors from the decade of the 60s.

And we weren’t sure what number to set it at, so we kind of set it at one we thought was pretty realistic, and before we knew it, that was gone super fast as well. So we kept having to re-up. And we had people reaching out to us. We had an alum early on from the 2000’s who said hey, I saw that the challenge for the donor giving in the 2000s was already gone, I’d like to, you know, up and give $2,500 to do it again. And so, we had people reaching out to us the day of the event, like 9:00 at night we had a graduate from 1995 reach out to me and say hey, I see that 1995 doesn’t have a lot of donors, I’m going to donate $1,995 if we get our dollar for dollar match. And his thing was gone in, like, 30 minutes.

You know, leading up to it there was a ton of energy and then the day of, just…we ran out of challenges, we ran out of matches. And our alumni got on board, you could see the competitiveness, we’re an all-boys high school, so you could see the competitiveness of classes. I would get text messages or emails, like hey, I saw that 1985 jumped ahead of us in total dollars so I gave a little bit more to get ahead of them. So it was just a lot of fun, the guys, our alumni, got really into it. We, as a team, it was like a drug. I was addicted to the site to see who was going to donate and how much more they were going to donate, but it was definitely an energetic day, and that $20,000 match really got it going. We promoted it through social media, emails, class captains…yeah, that was what springboarded everything for us.

Isaiah: Yeah, it was definitely a game-changer. I remember when you would get those because I was helping you manage those matches and challenges and getting them up on the site so folks could start seeing them. It was so exciting for me to go and check, well, I just set this up, like, 10 minutes ago, I’m going to come back and check and see how it’s doing and it’s like halfway done, I’m like….this is amazing. It was blowing my mind on May 5th to watch that happen, because yeah, I would come back a few hours later, you maybe even had another challenge for me to set up but the one I just set up would already be gone and it was amazing to see that.

One other thing I will talk about or bring up, or just ask about, was the challenges that your principal came up with to get current students and faculty and staff members involved. I think it was something like…the challenge was to get 200 donors from either current students or faculty and staff. And once you reached one level, he was going to shave his head, or his beard, I don’t know which one went first, and then once they reached the highest number, he shaved the other thing, his head or his beard. And I saw the video on social media after the fact, a very bald man after that. It was awesome to see.


Matt: Yeah that was one we weren’t sure if we were going to hit it. We had planned to have a dress down day for our student involvement. And so they would donate, and then they could…you know, we wear a collared shirt and polo pants or khaki pants daily, and so we offer different things for them to dress down and this was one of them. So when that was gone I was like, oh man, how are we going to get our students involved? Our students bought in, their families bought in, our faculty bought in, and so yeah, we hit the number for him to shave his beard and we hit the number for him to shave his head, and he did it live on our YouTube channel right after the prayer service, and I think that was another thing that sort of got people’s energy going because there was some fun, you know, participation, not just about getting a prize but somebody doing something kind of that drastic or that bought in to it, was great. He kind of got that going for our students to want to see him get his head shaved, so that was cool.

Isaiah: Definitely, yeah. It’s amazing the ways you can incentivize donors. It’s awesome. I’m curious now to hear…so, you know, this year, the Crusader Day of Giving was an absolute success, so looking forward into the future, what kind of strategies for similar or greater engagement do you have in mind, or that maybe you’re starting to research a little bit, or are curious about for implementing in those Crusader Day of Giving’s in the future?

Matt: Yeah, well I mean, one of the things is…I don’t know what the next couple months is going to hold for us, but after that last May 5th we thought, oh, well this is great, because next May 5th is going to be our second one but it’s going to be like our first one again because we didn’t get to do everything that we planned initially to do. And now it looks like it might be the same as last year where it’s going to be a little bit more virtual, but, you know, I think some of the things we’re excited about is the text-to-give that you guys have brought out or launched, you know, so that we can get a little bit more peer to peer interaction or getting our students a little bit more involved in some of that.

The other thing is that we didn’t build any teams, like peer to peer…we didn’t ask our community leaders to form a team and to kind of do fundraising on their own, we kind of handled it all within ourselves. We recruited class captains but they really just sent emails, to get people to send them to the site, versus, you know, forming a team and then having that team total rise up which I know is something that is available, and then just getting our students a little bit more involved. Because we went into this COVID restrictions we weren’t able to get as much of the student involvement as we intended to have. So those are just some of the things that we’re looking forward to enhancing it and making a little bit better. Now that we’re going into year two with it, is kind of implementing some of those things that were really successful for us and getting a little bit more buy in and a little bit more involvement from our leaders in our community to help us with the promotion and help us with recruiting people rather than it all falling on us.

Karin: Yeah, you already sound like you had amazing competition going on. I can’t imagine, you know, next year when you have teams organized and, you know, you’re playing it out in those ways that you just kind of specified and walked through. I just can imagine it being so much more intense and stronger. I’m really excited to see what the next giving day looks like.

Matt: Yeah, I hope so, I hope that is something that is a positive and can grow. I mean, I was getting texts and emails and messages on Facebook and all these things about looking at the years and how many…initially we weren’t even going to put that on there, I think, Isaiah, and then we talked about it…no, let’s put every year down and see what we can do, because we weren’t sure if we were going to get a lot of donors to be honest, we weren’t sure how much we were going to raise. Our goal was $50,000 and we raised $250,000, so you know, I mean, so there was a lot of hesitancy on us for a lot of little things and then our alumni, our community, just blew us away with their support. So now we feel confident or we feel comfortable with maybe doing some of the things that maybe in our back of our mind we may have wanted to do but we were hesitant on doing. Yeah, so it’s going to be fun to see how this May turns out.

Karin: I’m definitely going to follow along and it sounds like you and your team and Isaiah are coming up with some pretty cool ideas, so I’ll follow along with that. And do you have any advice for any high schools that are maybe considering running their own giving day and perhaps they have some hesitations like you had, do you have any words of wisdom or suggestions to share with them?

Matt: You know, I think one of the things is just go for it, especially when it’s your own unique day, there’s not a lot of competition. We looked into the May 5th and there’s a handful of things, but not a lot. So within your community, make it personal. We utilized the idea of an Edmund Rice Christian Brother education and there’s seven elements to an Edmund Rice education, and so that was like our focal point to the day. We shared historical information about Edmund Rice, the Christian Brothers, about Brother Rice High School. So we made it personal, we brought back memories, we told people the “why” of why it was important. You know, and so, what we were looking to get after was new donors…donors, alumni who maybe hadn’t given in a while or had never given, and that’s what we got, because, you know, we were out there.

One of the things, too, is how much do you post, how many emails, and we just were like, just keep going, you know, there’s not…if someone doesn’t want to look at it, they just scroll right past it. That’s the nice thing about social media is that it doesn’t have to, like, bombard them with it. So we made it personal, we told our story, and I think that compelled our donors to want to give. It brought up memories about what they love about Brother Rice or what they loved about being taught at Brother Rice, why our parents love their sons going to Brother Rice, and so that story being told was really what I think got our donors excited.

Plus, we offered some pretty nice prizes, or giveaways, if you gave $50 or $250 you got some sweet socks and you got a really nice pullover, so we incentivized people. I had a lot of people telling me, you know, they gave $250 because they wanted the pullover. So I think we increased our…the socks were a big draw, you know, we offered these argyle socks for $50 donors and I think those same people may have gave $25 but they went up a little bit higher. So don’t be afraid to come up with a creative prize or a giveaway, you know, as a thank you. People are supporting your school and it’s a good way to say thank you for that. So yeah, just go for it, is my advice.

Karin: Thanks, that’s wonderful advice, and yeah, I mean, it’s funny when you throw in some socks…I would give a little bit more so I could get some cool argyle socks, you’re totally right. Your team is very good with the incentives!


Matt: That was, I think the…the argyle socks went way…we had to order, like, three or four different sizes. The sock company actually ran out of thread, so we were delayed, like, weeks, getting these socks in. So we had to keep sending people emails like, we’re sorry, and I know this sounds crazy, but there is a shortage of thread. So it was kind of funny to send that email and give that explanation to our supporters on the delay.

Isaiah: I do remember “sock day” was a big deal, because I think that was the day we kind of met after the fact to do our follow up meeting and one of your other teammates was like, I’m waiting on the call, it’s sock day, we’re getting these socks in, and it was an exciting time.

Matt: Yeah, we were actually sitting in our front foyer, you know, passing out socks as we were on one of our follow up calls with Isaiah, so we were, like, half in with the melting and half thanking people for coming in. We were placing another order and doing everything so it was just kind of crazy.

Karin: It sounds a little crazy. That’s funny, though. Some good stories. Well, wonderful! Thank you so much for joining us today, thanks for sharing your story and how you navigated this giving day and all the suggestions and wonderful ideas you have.

Matt: Thanks for having me!