How to knock your first Giving Day out of the park

Giving Day plan

Tips + advice from Grand Canyon University + Carroll College

If you’ve never run a Giving Day, you may feel intimidated by the task ahead. This case study explores how two different schools launched their first-ever Giving Days using the Advance from Gravyty platform. Neither school had previously run a Giving Day and were operating on limited staff and resources, yet both succeeded in executing very successful Giving Days in a relatively tight timeframe. 

Read on to learn helpful tips + advice on running your own successful Giving Day. 

Get the full case study

How to knock your first Giving Day out of the park

Meet the schools

Grand Canyon University (GCU)

GCU is a private Christian university located in Phoenix, Arizona. GCU is dedicated to helping students change their lives for the better through education. GCU welcomes students from all backgrounds and denominations.

Number of students:

  • 25,000 (on campus)
  • 90,000 (online)

Carroll College (Carroll)

Carroll College is a private, four-year Catholic college in Montana’s state capital, Helena. The academic experience at Carroll emphasizes small class sizes and facilities that foster state-of-the-art experiential learning.

Number of students:

  • 1,099

Prior to Giving Day


Existing fundraising infrastructure—Prior to this Giving Day, GCU had no infrastructure and no dedicated fundraising staff—they didn’t even have a database! Aside from a few fundraising tactics performed by the director of alumni relations, GCU had no formalized fundraising strategy. 

Staff assigned—One staff member ran the entire project.

Goals for Giving Day—GCU wanted to use Giving Day as a springboard to increase awareness of and support for causes that lie at the heart of the school’s mission. 

They also hoped to build mutually-supportive relationships with different school faculties, educating them about the importance of establishing a culture of philanthropy and getting them on board with future fundraising efforts.


Existing fundraising infrastructure—As a small school with limited resources and staff, Carroll had talked about running a Giving Day for three years but found the prospect daunting and never got around to it. This was the year that changed all that. 

Staff assigned—Three staff members each worked part-time with their collective hours spent on Giving Day, amounting to fewer hours than one full-time staff member.

Goals for Giving Day—Rather than focusing on the total amount they wanted to raise, Carroll aimed to use Giving Day to attract new donors, build stronger relationships with cause leaders across campus and drive more people from the wider alumni community to donate online.

Top tips for your Giving Day

Get buy-in from leadership

For your school’s first Giving Day, you will need to lay some groundwork. Carroll’s Giving Day team started by talking to the Leadership and Advancement teams about the idea of a Giving Day. Their goal was to get support from the top and brainstorm how to encourage others to onboard. 

Rally your troops

If you plan on conducting a Giving Day with a one-person or very limited development team, you’ll need to cooperate with other stakeholders. Whether it’s the school’s marketing department, deans or different department heads, student or staff volunteers or faculty from other departments (e.g., alumni relations), work out who may be in a good position to help you achieve your goals and garner their support. 

Use support

When establishing your support network, don’t forget about the support Advance offers to clients. Reach out to your representative for more information on how our team can help support your Giving Day initiatives. Your rep can also help you tweak the platform to best suit your needs and purposes.

Identify your causes

Giving Day is about getting your wider community excited and impassioned about your school. It’s important to be intentional about the causes you want to showcase—this was one of GCU’s biggest challenges. To help them select the best causes, they met with the deans of each department and asked about their most important fundraising goals.

Carroll, by contrast, sent out a simple application form to all students, faculty and staff requesting fundraising causes important to them. They decided to accept any request that reflected Carroll’s values meaningfully versus capping the number of causes.

Get the full case study

How to knock your first Giving Day out of the park

Set realistic expectations from the get-go

The different stakeholders in your school will be excited at the possibility of raising funds for their departments, but you must set realistic expectations to avoid disappointment. Make sure they understand the development department is not raising funds for them but that they need to be actively involved in spreading the message.

Emphasize that a Giving Day is just 24 hours and therefore they should be realistic about what sum can be raised. Of course, this is partly up to them—the more effort they make to get the word out, the better their chances of raising a larger sum. 

Communicate across departments

When fielding fundraising requests from many different departments, it’s a good idea to appoint someone as a liaison between the departments seeking funding and those organizing Giving Day.

Carroll did this and enjoyed the added benefit of enhanced relationships between development staff and the various departments within the school. 

Start where you are

Don’t feel you have to wait until your development department is fully fledged to run your first Giving Day. GCU didn’t even have a database before they kicked off their first Giving Day, but they were able to use Advance to populate their database and run their Giving Day simultaneously. Now, they have a fully-populated database ready to be used for future fundraising efforts and Giving Days

Want to see the rest of the top tips for crafting your Giving Day plan? Get the full case study.

Running a Giving Day for the first time is a lot of work but with the right tools and the right mindset, it isn’t that hard. Now our deans have been through one Giving Day and understand its power, they are excited about next year. I fully expect fiercer competition between departments and even better results next year.

Cherylann Galdi, Director of Annual Giving, GCU

Learn how Advance from Gravyty gamifies the digital fundraising experience to power your Giving Days (and annual giving) campaigns. Get started.

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