How We Raised Nearly $100k in Donations in One Giving Day

With the 10 strategies below, Ability Tree raised $91,285 in a recent regional giving day.

Keep reading to see exactly how we did it…

Giving Days are on the rise and for good reason.

Both nonprofit-specific giving days and regional giving days (like North Texas Giving Day, Colorado Gives, and NWA Gives) are growing rapidly because they’ve proven to be an effective way to raise money.

I recently had the awesome privilege to lead the marketing and training efforts for the regional giving day, NWA Gives 2019, here in Northwest Arkansas. 

I also had several local organizations join the Branches 60 Day Coaching Program for nonprofit leaders to help them maximize the giving day opportunity.

It was pretty incredible to see the leaders I was coaching with their huge smiles that big day (April 4th)! Especially the two clients who were #1 & #2 on the leaderboard for most of the day.

The nonprofit that was #1 on the leaderboard most of the day was my client, Ability Tree.

Ability Tree is a faith-based nonprofit that comes alongside individuals and families impacted by disability through recreation, education, support and training.

Ability Tree has two staff beyond the two co-founders and annual revenue of less than $1 million.

In the very first conversation I had with Joe Butler, the Founder and leader of Ability Tree, I was immediately impressed. Joe had a big vision, aggressive goals, and wasn’t afraid to take risks and do the hard stuff.

Sixty days later, Joe and I were celebrating their $91K campaign as friends.

Those 60 days of our coaching program were a sprint with dozens of key moments.

But, I’ve outlined here the 10 critical elements that I believe led to the huge success of this giving day campaign.

Below, you’ll find the 10 elements that led to the huge giving day for Ability Tree…

1) Big Vision & An Aggressive Goal

Massive vision is a prerequisite for massive results.

Today’s donors, especially major donors, don’t get inspired to give significant gifts to organizations who don’t have a significant vision for the future.

As Joe talks about Ability Tree, you begin to understand that he doesn’t see this Siloam Springs based nonprofit as a small-town shop. His vision for Ability Tree has already led to 5 total locations across the country and Joe talks about how Ability Tree could become “like the Boys and Girls Club, but for families affected by special needs”.

Pretty quickly, Joe and the team will have you convinced that the new facility they are building will have no rival anywhere in Arkansas, no….THE WORLD.

Along with his ability to cast mega vision, Joe wasn’t afraid to put a mega fundraising goal with it. He hoped to raise $100,000 on April 4th, as a part of the NWA Gives campaign.

How much did they raise last year?

This was their first year doing it…

As a coach who always desires to deliver on expectations, this goal made me more than a little nervous at first. (gulp)

But, without an ambitious and aggressive goal, we wouldn’t have pushed as hard, asked for as much, and the results who have been dramatically different.

I guarantee it. 

Joe and family, along with donors and board members kick off construction with the Ability Tree Groundbreaking ceremony.

2) Tangible Impact

I’ve seen it time and time again, people love to give to

building projects.

Why? Because they can SEE the results of their giving. Buildings are tangible.

Plus, everyone knows that facilities are necessary, and require a lot of money.

Ability Tree was on the tail end of a large capital campaign for their new state-of-the-art facility. This was a huge advantage, as they already had visuals, video, and messaging crafted around why this space was important.

You might ask “What if I’m not building anything?”

Any nonprofit, with any cause, can talk about the tangible impact of giving. It may take a little extra creativity, but it is possible. I’ve never led a successful campaign without it.

Examples of Tangible Impact:

World Vision asks people to “Sponsor a Child”.


Food Banks ask people to

“Give a Meal”.

Homeless Shelters ask people to Provide a Bed”.





These asks are NOT tangible:

  • “Make a Difference”
  • “Give to the Need”
  • “Have a Big Impact”
  • “Donate to Change Lives”
  • “Empower”, “Change”, “Sustainability”, “Support”… you get the idea.

(BTW, there are OK times to use some of these words, but never as your primary ask.)

Here’s the test I like to take:

“Can you take a picture of the impact?”

If so, it’s tangible. People give to tangible

3) Matching Incentive with Urgency

There is something magical about matching money that motivates people to give.

Ability Tree has a $400K challenge grant toward their new facility that they are trying to unlock. The challenge grant has a quickly approaching deadline, and if they don’t raise a certain amount, they don’t get the $400K!

You better believe we talked about that throughout the NWA Gives campaign.

Not only does matching money allow givers to “do more with their dollar”, it also brings in an authentic sense of urgency. And urgency is one of the most important elements of any call to action.

These days, people have so many messages, asks, and to-dos competing for their attention, we’ve all learned to filter for the most urgent and start there.

Without urgency in your ask, people tend to think “I can do this later” and then actually never do anything at all.

So, how do I get matching money?

Well, the way-too-simple answer is … ask for it.

Here are a few of the best places to look for matching funds for your next campaign:

  • Ask you board for a matching pool of momentum funds.
  • Ask major donors to give a matching gift to kickoff a campaign.
  • Ask past corporate sponsors for matching gifts to maximize their exposure throughout your campaign (think marketing budgets).
  • Apply for grants from foundations.

Without urgency in your ask, people tend to think “I can do this later” and then actually never do anything at all.

4) Accountability + Consistent Check-Ins to Stay On Track

We all need accountability to stay focused and on track toward our most important goals.

For Joe and Ability Tree, the Branches Coaching Program provided that. Joe and I had a call every week for 8 weeks to provide updates, review strategy, and make an action plan for the coming week. This weekly meeting ensured that Joe didn’t go very long without thinking about or working on the campaign.

When it comes to giving days, you get out what you put in.

If you don’t currently have a professional coach, you can find other ways to stay on track.

Here are a few ideas to stay focused:

  • Plan a weekly “Campaign Huddle” meeting with others on your team.
  • Tell your board you’ll send a weekly or bi-weekly report on the progress of the campaign.
  • Build a timeline with weekly milestones and share that with two or three others who can regularly help you check on progress.
  • Give yourself deadlines and little rewards for hitting them.
  • Join an upcoming Branches Coaching Program and have an expert coach keep you on track AND provide critical advice along the way. (Email me at [email protected] if you are interested)

Joe and I met every week for 8 weeks to give updates, review strategy, and make an action plan for the coming week.

5) Systematically Engage with Your Nonprofit’s Key Relationships:

Your “A-Team”

Your “A-Team” is the group of people and organizations who are critical to the success of your campaign, and that require your personal touch. Actually… multiple touchpoints.

One of the first things Joe and I did in the coaching program was create a spreadsheet for his “A-Team”.

For Ability Tree it ended up being a list of ~40 people, that made up over 60% of the total giving when all was said and done.

Your A-List is made up of:

  • Board Members
  • Your Top 10-20 Donors
  • Your Staff
  • Existing Corporate Partners/Sponsors
  • Potential Major Donors (w/ existing relationships)

The truth is, few nonprofits (unless they have a massive email list or social media audience) are going to ever raise $100,000 in a campaign from $50 gifts.

Once you have your A-List identified and listed, you need to establish a specific plan for each person or organization that includes multiple personalized touch-points: calls, texts, emails, hand-written notes, and coffee meetings.

Whatever is most appropriate for that relationship.

Your A-Team list becomes a weekly, if not daily, reference.

Ask yourself:

  • Are they aware of this campaign?
  • Are they engaged?
  • Do they personally own the campaign results?

It takes multiple touch-points to take someone from “aware” to “ownership” where they are helping you achieve your campaign objectives. But, this is your goal with your A-Team. If you get there, your A-Team will give generously, make introductions for you, and do whatever it takes to help you achieve your aggressive goals.

By the way, you can use the same A-Team spreadsheet that I used with Ability Tree if you’d like.

You can get free access to that by clicking here.

6) Email Marketing Strategy & Calendar

If you asked Joe, he’d probably say that the email marketing plan and strategy we crafted was one of the most impactful elements of the campaign.

Ability Tree had an email list and sent emails from time to time, but like most nonprofits, they weren’t sure how to fully leverage it.

Most often, nonprofits with a list make one of two mistakes:

1) They don’t send enough email.
2) The emails they send aren’t engaging.

For those nonprofits have an effective strategy, email marketing continues to be the strategy with the highest ROI.

There is a lot to be said about effective email marketing, but for now I’ll leave you with these key principles:

  • Make your emails personal, even if they are going to large lists. 
  • Make your emails audience-centric. What do they care about?
  • You need to send multiple emails with the same message, written in fresh ways.
  • Segment whenever possible.
  • Create an email schedule and stick to it consistently.

For Joe, we planned out at least one emails for the 6 weeks leading up to the Giving Day and then a few extra for the week of the giving day.

The most effective emails we sent were actually the simplest. In fact, this super-simple, super effective email is one of my “secret weapons” I regularly recommend to my nonprofit clients.

If you want the step-by-step guide to sending the same kind of email, you can download that by clicking here.

Check out the texts Joe sent me the day he sent that email…

You gotta love texts like these…

this super-simple email strategy really works.

As a coach, I love seeing texts like:

  • “It’s working!”
  • “I’ve never had this much success from an email!”
  • and “good-sized gifts” 

7) An Evolving Call to Action

A giving day provides a unique challenge for crafting your call to action.

You can’t wait until the big day to start sharing about your campaign, obviously. But, what are you asking people to do during the weeks leading up to the giving day?

For Ability Tree, we had three phases for the call to action (CTA). 

Phase 1 was all about building awareness. Because most of the audience and donors were not sure what NWA Gives was all about, some education was required. The CTAs during the first phase of the campaign were simply about getting people engaged.

They sounded like, “Let’s grab coffee”. “Watch this video”. “Check out this Facebook Post.”

Phase 2 was critical. During the 2-3 weeks leading up to the giving day, we asked A-Team members, email recipients, and social media followers to “Sign Up for a Text Reminder to Give”. Joe created a simple form for people to sign up and if they told him in person they were interested, he could pull out his phone and sign them up on the spot.

A generic “mark this day on your calendar” is much less actionable and less likely to happen. Instead, this CTA (sign up for a text reminder) allowed people to commit to give well before the giving day. Joe had nearly 100 people on his text list once the big day arrived.

Phase 3 is obvious. On the giving day, we asked people to give now. There was some communication around key hours to give for potential prize money. But, we didn’t want to complicate things or make the donors jump through hoops.

Joe spent most of the day sending reminders with this call to action: 4 emails on the giving day. Several social media posts.

And hundreds of texts… SOOO many texts, we called it a text-a-thon. (see #9 below)


8) Creative Social Media Strategy + Social Media Ad Budget

Craft a Creative Social Media Strategy and Plan

I’ve found that many nonprofits focus most of their giving day promotional efforts on social media. Even though we had a well-planned and creative strategy, by my estimation, it probably contributed the least of all of these 10 factors. But then again, it can be difficult to measure the full impact of all those “impressions” and “likes”.

More than anything, social media helps connect people with your story, keep you top of mind, and serve as a reminder when the big day arrives.

It’s important to get creative on social media to earn people’s attention and engagement.

So, take some time and brainstorm with your team about fun, unique, and unexpected ways to share. Ask yourself: “what does my audience care about?” and communicate in an audience-centric way. This is the first step toward getting their attention.

    Here are a few creative ideas from the Ability Tree campaign:

    • Live video (Joe went live nearly every hour on the giving day)
    • Raw video from around the office
    • Professional, edited video and stories
    • Polished, custom graphics with giving day info
    • Photos, videos and stories of people impacted by your mission, in this case families who were raving fans of Ability Tree
    • Quotes and videos from board members
    • Funny videos with local influencers
    • Personal notes from the founders, staff ,and board
    • Renderings of the new building
    • Quotes from families and students
    • Polls and questions
    • Thank you messages to donors and advocates
    • Event invitations
    • Live Q&A

    ^ A few snapshots from the Ability Facebook Campaign – all Posted on the actual giving day (April 4th)

      Ability Tree posted 4 times on the day before the giving day and 21 times on the actual giving day.

      And, it wasn’t too much. It was exciting and engaging, building anticipation for their audience as Joe gave live updates on the progress throughout the day.

      ALSO, plan to spend at least a small amount on social media ads.

      Facebook is one of the most powerful and effective advertising platforms, in history.

      Facebook is also one of the easiest ways to waste advertising budget, in history.

      Believe me, I’ve seen plenty of both.

      These days, you basically have to “pay to play” with Facebook. If you don’t spend at least a little on ads or “boosting posts”, Facebook just won’t show your content to very many people.

      In my career I’ve spent over $200,000 in Facebook and Instagram Ads and am still learning every day. Facebook makes it really easy to spend money, but without a proper understanding of your audience segments and targeting techniques, you should be careful.

      Without an expert on your team or a coach to help, I’d recommend keeping your ad budget pretty low. Maybe $100 to $1,000.  If you do have an expert helping out, you might be able to achieve a good ROI on your spend and scale your investment and your results.

      With Ability Tree, Joe boosted a few video posts and spent a few hundred dollars to help build awareness of their campaign.

      9) Plan a Text-a-Thon with Your Team

      Joe did such a great job recruiting people who wanted reminders on the day of giving, that he needed help actually sending all

      those texts.

      This list of nearly 100 potential donors was too important to ignore. They had essentially all made a soft commitment to give on the giving day, and had given Joe permission to text them a reminder.

      So, on the big day he had a small team (himself and 2-3 others) going through the list and sending short text reminders to people who asked for one.

      Often you’ll have board members, staff and volunteers who want to do more than just give, and a text-a-thon is a perfect way to get them involved. And if they are comfortable with it, they can text close friends and family members who haven’t signed up for the reminder, and attract even more support.

      Average email open rates are around 25%, but text messages are opened 85% to 95% of the time! (depending on if it’s a marketing message).

      So, a text message reminder is a great opportunity to make sure your key donors don’t get too busy and totally forget to participate on your big day.

      A text message reminder is a great opportunity to make sure your key donors don’t get too busy and totally forget to participate on your big day.

      10) Plan Ahead for Great Follow Up and a Thank You Campaign

      What happens AFTER your giving day may be the most important (and most often neglected) part of your entire campaign.

      You will be incredibly busy planning for the big day and it may be difficult to look beyond it. But, you can’t make the giving day your ‘finish line’ or you’ll run out of gas before the final leg.

      Instead, take some time a few weeks before the giving day to start brainstorming and planning creative ways to follow up and say thank you.

      There are two primary reasons why your campaign doesn’t end when the giving day is over:

      1. People continue to give after the giving day.
      2. Your follow up may determine if these donors ever give again.

      Let’s unpack both of these a little more and look at what Ability Tree did.

      Since they didn’t quite hit their goal of $100,000 on the day of giving, they continued to leave the campaign open and share the link in the next couple of email campaigns and social media messages.

      The language shifted to “Wow! Look what God did!” and “THANK YOU!”… but, a secondary message was “If you missed out on the giving day, it’s not too late to help us finish our goal”.

      In the few days following the giving day, Ability Tree raised over $12,000 more in giving!

      If they would have shut the campaign down and stopped sending the links out, they would have missed out on over 13% of the total giving.

      No matter how many emails, texts and Facebook posts you send out, someone will miss it or forget to give. A couple subtle reminders, over the next few days, is a great way to round out your campaign.

      Last, but not least, your “thank you” campaign is SO. INCREDIBLY. IMPORTANT.

      I put that in all caps, because way too many nonprofits are bad about moving on after a campaign without effectively expressing their gratitude and the impact of the giving.

      The average donor retention rate across US nonprofits was 45.5% in 2017, according to Giving USA. We can do better than that!

      I recommend making a 1-2 touch-points in the 48 hours after your giving day. And another 2-3 touch points in the following 3 months.

      Your goals with these touch-points are:

      • Make your donor feel noticed (on an individual level).
      • Express sincere gratitude for their generosity.
      • Demonstrate impact and transformation from their giving.
      • Connect them in with your ‘tribe’ or community of others who care about your cause.

      Here are a few ideas for your thank you campaign:

      • Go Live on Facebook or Instagram to celebrate the total giving, say thank you, and reinforce the impact that will result.
      • Make a super short (30-60 second ) thank you video that you text or email out to your A-Team who participated and any other major donors or advocates.
      • Schedule coffee and lunch meetings with any significant new donors. Bring a gift and ask them why they gave.
      • Send an email the day after the giving day with an update and thank you message and reminding the audience of the impact of their giving.
      • Update your website messaging with a “thank you” banner, total giving figure, and a photo representing the impact that will follow.
      • Send hand-written thank you notes and ask your board to help.
      • Make personal phone calls to say thanks or leave voicemails and ask your board to help.
      • Send out an email two to three weeks later showing progress (i.e. “Look what is already happening because of your giving!”)
      • Send out at least quarterly emails for the next 12 months to those who gave to that campaign, with updates and saying thanks again.
      • Throw a celebration party.
      • Host a new donor conference call, and use it as a focus group.
      • Do a ‘surprise’ presentation at a corporate partner’s office with a plaque and balloons and live stream it on Facebook or Instagram. (Probably let at least one person there know that you are coming…)
      • Record a video on your phone of a family or individual impacted by your organization, saying ‘thank you’ and send that out individually to your A-Team (one by one) and post on social media (with permission).

      Each and every one of these touchpoints is making it much more likely for these donors to give again and give at greater levels. Remember, a $1,000 donation on your giving day may be a “trial” gift. They may have the capacity to give $10,000 or $100,000 during your next campaign.

      But, that larger second gift is only happening if you make them feel like the first gift was impactful, noticed, and truly appreciated.

      The Ability Tree thank you campaign consisted of several of these touch-points and is still underway!


        Ok, there you have it.

        Our team at Branches is currently building an online course based on our comprehensive marketing framework, designed specifically for nonprofits and ministries. In the course we go much deeper into several of these strategies, including email marketing and social media strategy.

        Course participants will get access to step-by-step instructions, video guides, email templates, case studies, worksheets, ‘office hours’ where they can ask me questions directly and a private Facebook Group for all nonprofits taking the course.

        Participants will walk away with a rock-solid marketing plan and feeling confident.

        Even better, the course is guaranteed. If you follow the advice and aren’t happy with your results, we’ll give you a 100% refund.

        And… because the course isn’t ready quite yet, we’re offering a pre-sale discount for anyone who purchases it by July 15th.

        To be one of the first to find out when the course opens up, join our good-makers email list.

        Oh and here are those free resources again, to help you with your next fundraising campaign:

        About Ability Tree:

        Ability Tree is a non-profit organization that provides support to families impacted by disabilities. Ability Tree is focused on recreational events and programs for kids with special needs so that everyone can participate and feel included in activities such as sports leagues.

        There is also a “training and awareness component” to Ability Tree’s programs: “we do training and awareness—how to interact with participants” with special needs. This training is available all across the board: from businesses to non-profits, to churches, to high schools. Their purpose in these training sessions is to enforce “the value that people with disabilities are people first.”

        Learn more at

        About Branches Mission Lab & Jesse Lane:

        Branches Mission Lab accelerates the good work of nonprofits and ministries through digital strategy.

        It’s not easy to change the world when you are too busy trying to figure out how to do marketing and fundraising.

        Branches comes alongside leader to provide simple and effective strategies to help nonprofits:

        • multiply awareness of your cause
        • accelerate your audience growth
        • raise more money

        Why? So the GOOD GROWS.

        Jesse Lane, author of this article, is zealous about helping nonprofits and ministries grow.

        Jesse has worked with over 100 nonprofits in his career, launching dozens of effective marketing campaigns and raising over $100 million.

        Join the good-makers tribe.

        Be the first to get game-changing ideas that will grow your nonprofit and multiply your impact.

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