URI’s Day of Giving Rises to the Challenge amid COVID-19 Pandemic

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Leslie Lowenstein - Chief Financial Officer, Web and Print Editor, The University of Rhode Island Foundation & Alumni Engagement

What a difference a day makes, especially for the University of Rhode Island (URI) students most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. URI’s Day of Giving 2020 on October 1 was a huge success thanks to a team effort across the entire community of alumni, students, parents, faculty, staff and friends. The event raised more than one million dollars, much of which will go to providing critical, immediate-use support to students whose lives and education have been disrupted by the pandemic.

This is especially remarkable considering the event almost didn’t happen. Normally held in April with fundraising activities on campus and online, the entire 2020 event was in question as the pandemic disrupted campus and foundation operations. We spoke with Leslie Lowenstein, Web and Print Editor, URI Foundation & Alumni Engagement, about how the foundation was able to reimagine the event and unite staff, campus departments, and supporters online with Anthology’s engagement and fundraising platform, Encompass.

Q: How did the pandemic impact plans for URI’s Day of Giving?

A: We were months into our planning for the April event when we had to put everything on hold due to the pandemic. It wasn’t until late summer that we said, “okay, we’re doing this.” We rescheduled the event for October 1.

Q: How much time did that give you to set up and promote the event?

A: About two months. We had some of the work done already. We had a skeleton of the website created, but we couldn’t use much from our preparation prior to April because all the timelines and social media were different. Also, this was going to be 100 percent online, whereas last year we had an on-campus presence, on the quad and in major buildings.

Q: How did you use the Encompass fundraising platform to address these challenges?

A: With Encompass, we could rely on the website, social media, and other digital engagement tools to bring everything and everyone together online. We pushed all the participating teams across campus to the landing page, including volunteers, and students, and sent them a toolkit with graphics they could use to help promote Day of Giving in social media.

Q: What goals did you set for the event?

A: With the event 100 percent online for the first time and uncertainty around people’s capacity to give in the current climate, we didn’t know what to expect. Rather than focusing on reaching a dollar or donor goal, we wanted to focus on raising money for two emergency funds. The RhodyNow Scholarship helps support the many students impacted by COVID who wouldn’t have been able to return to school otherwise. The Students First Fund helps with housing, emergency travel, food, and other critical needs. The pandemic has resulted in a surprising amount of food insecurity on campus.

Q: Did you use leaderboards or other ways to show progress during the event?

A: Absolutely. Although we didn’t have dollar goals this time, we found creative ways to use the leaderboards in Encompass. We prioritized the rankings by donors versus dollars. We also had a leaderboard at the top of the landing page that counted the total of all donations so donors could see how the community coming together was making a difference for students. We used more leaderboards for specific areas, including men’s athletics, women’s athletics, and club sports.

Q: How did you use challenges during this unusual Day of Giving?

A: Challenges were still a key part of our strategy and our development directors lined up about 25 challenges, including a tiered challenge and a bonus dollar challenge tied to our athletics teams. Because the challenges were key, we created a separate web page and used patternized content blocks to easily swap out content. It was easy for people to see the information they were interested in and once clicking on the giving link, reach the giving form with their fund already preselected.

Q: How did you keep participants engaged and motivated during the Day of Giving?

A: The results were record-breaking. We raised a total $1,194,293 through more than 2,500 gifts. The RhodyNow Scholarship and Students First Fund were among the best performing funds, receiving a combined total of $251,251 in support to directly benefit students impacted by the pandemic.

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Leslie Lowenstein - Chief Financial Officer, Web and Print Editor, The University of Rhode Island Foundation & Alumni Engagement