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  • Writer's pictureChris Strub

Gainesville's The Amazing Give Offers Promise For Autumn 2020 Giving Days

The ongoing economic downturn has had devastating consequences on the nonprofit sector across the United States -- but one of the first giving days of the late-summer-into-fall 2020 season displayed reasons for optimism for the future.

2020 was the fifth annual installment of The Amazing Give, a 24-hour online giving day run by the Community Foundation of North Central Florida. The day, powered by GiveGab, was initially scheduled for April 24-25, but like many other springtime events, was postponed by several months.

One major source of concern about the fundraising potential of The Amazing Give was the 'Emergency Relief Platform' that resided on the website through much of the summer. In lieu of the 24-hour fundraising day, donors could use the platform on a rolling basis to discover nonprofits to support during the height of the pandemic.

The Emergency Relief Platform, which has been used by numerous GiveGab-run giving days, allowed nonprofits in North Central Florida to fundraise more than $360,000 over the course of several months -- but left many questions about whether donor fatigue would diminish the impact of The Amazing Give's big day last week.

The answer? It didn't.

The CFNCF made the decision early on to 'count' the funds raised via the Emergency Relief Platform in the end-of-day total for The Amazing Give. While no public goal was stated, the internal hope was that, with the massive economic struggles, The Amazing Give 2020 -- including those relief funds -- would at least surpass the $1M raised mark again this year, as it did in the closing minutes of the giving day in 2019.

One consistent trend I've seen at every giving day I've worked is that early returns are generally a pretty strong harbinger of what's to come during the full 24 hours -- and early on, the donations were coming in strong across the board. The Amazing Give also allows early giving, and by Wednesday night, the leaderboard already showed more than $580,000.

The Social Media Strategy

Every giving day I've ever worked takes a different approach to its live social media strategy. In addition to regularly scheduled updates and prize alerts shared to Facebook, we used Facebook Live extensively to connect in real-time with donors, nonprofits and sponsors.

The Amazing Give is different from most giving days in that it runs a 24-hour period from 6pm on Wednesday to 6pm on Thursday. This generally allows for both kickoff and countdown events, and helps the giving day span across two local news cycles.

This year, a majority -- though not all -- of the local events were held virtually. Other events took a creative tact on social distancing, including several drive-through events (who wouldn't want to pick up a pizza and a case of locally brewed beer during a pandemic, right?). The common thread for every event, and every nonprofit? The shared value of social media amplification.

Not every nonprofit either feels comfortable or capable of creating a Facebook Live broadcast -- and so with two full days to work with, on Day 1, the team at the CFNCF decided we would pour resources into helping the nonprofits themselves do just that.

Day 1

I was set up in a socially distanced solo 'stage' at the CFNCF office, in front of a step-and-repeat. The backdrop was a nice touch, but other than that and the ring lights, all the tech pictured above travels with me.

With the very small CFNCF team scattered safely across the conference room, I used Switcher Studio to virtually connect in with 30 different North Central Florida nonprofits. Traditionally, the approach would've been to create a massive quantity of video on the CFNCF Facebook page -- but for The Amazing Give, we went a different direction.

All 30 nonprofits granted me either Admin or Editor access to their respective Facebook pages. Despite a bit of a bug with the tool, I was able to use Switcher Studio's scheduling feature to create events that the nonprofits could promote in advance.

We started broadcasting at 8:30 a.m., and went live every 15 minutes, with a few brief breaks during the day, until 5 p.m.

When the dust settled, we had created 3.28 hours of Facebook Live content featuring dozens of guests from around North Central Florida, all with a consistent look and feel -- the step-and-repeat background; an 8-second animated 'drop' that featured the Amazing Give logo; and me as the host.

Controlling the dashboard of Switcher Studio live while hosting, I had custom nameplates built for every guest. I also was able to display on screen the content that the nonprofits had sent to us in advance of the conversation. One musical nonprofit, the Shabbatones FL, even sent in an audio clip of a performance that I was able to play live on the stream.

Each video lasted roughly 6 to 8 minutes, and then we were quickly on to the next organization. For some nonprofits, the video we created was a small piece of the social media puzzle -- for others, it was the focal point of their social media strategy for the entire giving day. Each video included prominent calls to action on my part for viewers to go to to donate, along with images on the screen driving that CTA home.

Switcher Studio proved incredibly easy to use for the nonprofits. While I had a minor audio issue in the first couple streams of the day, that was a problem on my end, not theirs -- and once I figured out the right button to push in the app, the entire rest of the day went incredibly smoothly. We had live viewers watching the broadcasts throughout the day and using Switcher Studio, I was also able to put viewers' comments on the broadcast in real time.

Prior to The Amazing Give, I'd held a Zoom call with the participating organizations to show them how simple it was to join the Switcher 'green room.' We also directed the nonprofit to watch this video I made, about 'How to be a Great Virtual Live Guest,' which many of them said was very helpful.

Some of the nonprofits were a bit hesitant about the plan at the outset, but between the Zoom call, the tips video and some encouraging messaging from the Community Foundation, we put on a full day of Facebook Live broadcasts that reached a rather significant portion of the nonprofit community in and around Gainesville.

Day 2

The second day of The Amazing Give, we took a bit more of a 'traditional' live-streaming approach to the day. That is to say, the broadcasts we created on this day were all hosted on the Community Foundation of North Central Florida Facebook page.

Rather than focusing on the nonprofits, Day 2 emphasized many of the community partners that helped make The Amazing Give possible. On Day 2, back on the CFNCF Facebook page, Lesley Banis, the foundation's Director of Programs, took on a more visible role, co-hosting many of the broadcasts with me from a separate room and camera.

We started at 9 a.m. with a pledge to the audience to broadcast on the top of each hour, through until a celebratory end-of-day stream that would straddle the 6pm hour. Traditionally, The Amazing Give concludes with a variety of end-of-day parties, but again constricted by pandemic conditions, the goal was to pivot and create a virtual experience that still reflected the strong energy of the giving day.

That commitment to consistency, on the one Facebook page, led to a sharp increase in average view time of each stream. In fact, the average view time of all the streams was about double what we'd achieved the day before with the across-the-board approach. The average view time of all the videos we created on Day 2 was nearly 32 seconds, boosted by an average view time of over a full minute on the end-of-day stream we hosted at 5:45 p.m.

Throughout all the streams, I leaned heavily on Switcher Studio to create an interactive video with real-time production quality that would be more 'watchable' than a standard, one-camera video, or a simulcast of a Zoom that has the same drab look and feel the whole time. By using active transitions between shots, highlighting the real-time data on the website and shifting guests' video while recording, the end result is a video production that brings value beyond simply speaking to a camera.

This directorial spirit was most in play during the finale stream, which was by far our longest live-stream of the day. CFNCF CEO Barzella Papa and Board Chair Carrie Lee were the first guests featured, and they helped put a bow on the day with their thoughts, as well as a valuable 'surprise prize' that nonprofits could win unexpectedly. Their appearances were followed by an a cappella performance by local live-stream host and performing artists Elio Piedra -- and then a few closing announcements and sentiments of gratitude from Lesley.

What made the finale stream feel particularly special was the consistent stream of live comments pouring in from the community, who seemed universally thrilled with how the day had turned out. Many of the commenters who were contributing were now-familiar faces (to me) from Day 1, a tribute to the tight-knit nonprofit community in Gainesville.

As the final hour ticked down, The Amazing Give surpassed a big, quiet stretch goal: more than $1 million raised for the giving day, *not* including that $360,000 from the Emergency Relief Platform. By all accounts, The Amazing Give 2020 was an astounding success.

The Conclusions

Compared strictly to the other giving days I've partnered with around the country, The Amazing Give is on the smaller side, with 112 participating nonprofits. That more than 25% of them immediately raised their hand wanting to participate in our live-stream approach on Day 1 was remarkable -- and much higher, relatively speaking, than the other giving days I've partnered with. This is a strong testament to the affability and respect of Lesley Banis and the Community Foundation's leadership in Gainesville -- the nonprofits trusted Lesley's invitation to, as she put it to me at the end of Day 2, "try something new" -- and the results were there.

This is a frightening time to work in the nonprofit sector in America. Things were extremely challenging during my spring trio of giving days back in early May -- and the climate has not improved since. Nonprofits traditionally run on slim margins and with limited staff to begin with, so to translate forward positivity and enthusiasm during a pandemic and economic slump is particularly challenging.

I think The Amazing Give provided strong evidence that the communities around nonprofits in America understand the value of the work that nonprofits are doing these days, and want that avenue to give back, with the added benefit of being part of something bigger than themselves, inherent to a giving day. The Amazing Give also showed me that communities right now are very, very interested in an uplifting and fun experience. Giving days fill that void even during normal times, but -- cliche alert -- they are needed moreso in the fall of 2020 than ever. I'm very encouraged and heartened by the potential of giving days coming up later in 2020, including GivingTuesday.

As I do for each giving day I work, I've prepared a full stream-by-stream data report for the CFNCF team (modified at right to conceal certain data). The biggest takeaways weren't terribly surprising: the most-watched stream we did was the finale -- it was also, by a significant margin, the longest video we did. Another video that performed particularly well was our 9am stream -- unfortunately, there was a technical hiccup with it, which caused us to actually pivot to a different location mid-day with stronger WiFi -- but the views and live interactions as everyone started their day were high. If you're only going to stream twice during your giving day, it should be first thing in the morning and as you count down to the very end.

We created significantly *more* content on Day 1, on the nonprofits' pages, which led to more overall views -- but the average watch time on Day 2 was higher. My instinct always leans more toward creating more content on a giving day -- it's only 24 hours, so if you've got the capacity, step on it -- but you may see slightly 'better' viewership figures by taking a somewhat-less-is-more approach.

One final conclusion? People LOVE cats and dogs. Like, really love them. The videos we created for the Humane Society and Operation Catnip were, by quite a wide margin, the best performing videos of Day 1. I wouldn't even consider sketching out a live-stream strategy without including as many pet-related pages as possible. (It's a miracle Margot and/or Melissa didn't end up sending home a cat with me back to Greenville.)

The data bears out that taking an all-out approach to live-streaming during your giving day continues to deliver results. Although I constantly struggle with the correlation-vs.-causation conclusion of social media -- don't we all? -- I've now seen exceptionally, almost unexpectedly strong donation and participation results in all four giving days that I've worked so far in 2020. I once again found myself hearing people saying "there just seemed to be this extra energy around the day this year," and that's always been my number one goal.

I've been live-streaming giving days since 2017 -- I don't believe live-streaming should be a shift that giving days should make during the pandemic. I think live-streaming needs to be an absolutely essential piece of the puzzle, even as (if?) we start to return to more traditional congregations in the future. Standardized, scheduled social media posts are great, but they can only do so much -- using video allows you to put a voice, a face and most importantly, a stamp of energy onto your giving day. I can help, and I deliver results.

If you enjoyed this blog post, please take a second to share it on your social media channels and tag me, @ChrisStrub. Thanks!

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Chris Strub is the Giving Day Guy. He has two giving days left on his 2020 slate: The Big Give, San Antonio (Sept. 10), and Give for Good Louisville (Sept. 17). He sure would love to work with your giving day later this fall and/or next spring. Email Chris at chrisstrub < at > gmail. If you run a giving day and would like to see the full live-streaming data report from The Amazing Give or any of the other giving days Chris has worked, just let him know via email.

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