The Future of Giving Days: Louisville, San Antonio Build 'Hybrid' Live-Streaming Model
In 2016, I first learned of the concept of a 'giving day' from Cara Baribeau, at the time the head of Give for Good Louisville. At the time -- doesn't it sound like a century ago? -- their giving day revolved around an enormous, 90-minute mid-day rally, where hundreds of nonprofits packed out downtown Louisville's 4th Street Live! shoulder-to-shoulder, creating a frenzied party-like atmosphere that lit up the community with enthusiasm, energy and, in turn, generosity.
Just four years later, in the midst of a broadly depressing global pandemic, even the idea of a massive, socially-not-at-all-distanced rally -- even outdoors -- seems completely illogical. But while Louisville's in-person nonprofit celebrations are gone, its seventh annual giving day jumped in both total donations ($6.8M to $7.6M+), and total donors (19,955 to 22,000+).
The hybrid model.
The crazy days of the mid-day nonprofit rally in Louisville are in the past, but that doesn't mean the team in Louisville didn't capture the energy of its giving day through live video again in 2020. (Photo from Give for Good Louisville 2017)
Give for Good Louisville actually scrapped its mid-day rally concept after its successful 2018 giving day. In 2019, the marketing team of Jan Walther, Molly Melia and Katie Hagan (nee Laughlin) devised a brilliant new approach that exponentially multiplied its live-streaming efforts by working directly with nonprofits out of its office (don't miss the full blog post on that impressive effort here). Heading into 2020 -- pre-coronavirus -- my advice to the team was that we build upon that clever strategy.
Of course, all good plans went to the wayside in March 2020. In the deepest depths of the shutdown, springtime giving days in 2020, like Give Local York, Midlands Gives and Give STL Day went almost exclusively virtual (don't miss the full blog post here). I was unable to travel to Pennsylvania or Missouri, and while I did visit the team in Columbia, the approach there was still very much in the height of the lockdowns.
But as the summer ground by, and the U.S. -- for better or for worse -- gradually began to re-open up, a new landscape in the nonprofit space was revealed. Certainly not a better landscape, by any stretch of the imagination, as many nonprofits have been forced to cut staff and/or services, or shut down altogether. This has been the most painful, frightening and uncertain era of our generation, and the time-tested resiliency of the nonprofit sector faced its biggest test yet.
Thankfully, the team in Louisville allowed me to travel north to join their skeleton crew, masked and socially distanced, in the office for Give for Good Louisville 2020. But obviously, there needed to be, for a third consecutive year, a completely new approach to broadcasting and publicizing the mission and messages of the giving day.
What did we come up with?
The hybrid model.
Here's a look at the Give for Good Louisville 2020 live stage -- home of the hybrid model. Selfie-ing is Molly Melia, along with co-hosts Deja Jackson and Emory Williamson, and goofy live producer me.
On the surface, the hybrid model resembles a traditional stage, with a few extra feet measured between the anchors. Whereas in years past we've relied heavily on steadicam equipment like the DJI Osmo, or the less expensive iOgrapher, to demonstrate motion and activity, this year, we were stationed much more like news anchors than field reporters.
Switcher Studio, the same platform we've used for years to live broadcast Give for Good Louisville -- as well as its innovative companion series, 'Getting to Know the Good' -- worked well for our purposes in 2020. In 2019, the mobile livestreaming application introduced a versatile 'Video Chat' feature, not realizing just how crucial such an addition would be in 2020. I relied *incredibly* heavily on Switcher's video chat feature, which serves more or less the same purpose as a Zoom room, or a Streamyard setup. (FYI: Zoom, Streamyard and Switcher Studio, in that order, represent, to me, the good-better-best approach to interactive virtual live-streaming.)
As was the case for the spring giving days I worked, we had set up a purposefully exhaustive live-streaming schedule from morning through night, with a diverse and deep lineup of nonprofit guests all day long. Whereas in 2017 and 2018, we would have sent myself, Katie, etc., to go visit these nonprofits at their locations (in person); and in 2019, we invited them to come to the office to take part (in person); in 2020, we now were able to coalesce with dozens of nonprofit thought leaders in a row, each from a location of their choice.
Thus was born what I'm calling the hybrid model: instead of interviewing all these influential nonprofit leaders from their kitchen, many of them were able to be at their own office spaces, either alone and/or with a limited group of socially distanced participants. Molly Melia -- who deserves credit on the national stage for being one of the most forward-thinking giving day leaders in the genre -- masterfully positioned the nonprofits in places to be able to display their strengths through video, with which myself and the phalanx of other co-hosts in-house were able to engage.
Kids' Hour included some fun ballet moves with Louisville Ballet and our high-spirited crew of co-hosts, including Katie Hagan (top left) and Ramona Lindsey (top right).
In one live-stream, the guests and co-hosts were engaged in a few minutes of interpretive ballet. In another video, the audience at home were invited to join in for a few minutes of relaxing yoga. In the 11:05 AM hour, the Kentucky Science Center was among the featured nonprofits in what Melia deemed Kids' Hour, a precursor to similarly themed hours about Mindfulness and Social Justice later in the evening.
By using a mix of pre-built Canva art and Switcher's robust in-app graphic abilities, we were able to orchestrate a high-quality blend of content throughout the day that helped contribute to the overall buzz of the seventh annual Give for Good Louisville and, perhaps more importantly, inspired nonprofits around Kentuckiana to also think creatively and passionately about how they could best translate their talents and voices to a virtual feel.
The results were indisputable. Certainly the most important data points were the aforementioned surges in donors and donations, jumps supported by sharp increases in attention to the work the Community Foundation was cranking on its Facebook page all day.
At day's end, CF Louisville had live-streamed more than 5 hours and 20 minutes of content to its Facebook page. These videos included real-time production value, an assortment of voices including multiple taped and live appearances by new CF Louisville CEO Ron Gallo, and a strategically diverse mix of voices from all around the Kentuckiana nonprofit community. Collectively the live-streams earned an average view time of ~20 seconds apiece, a 78% increase from the same data point in 2019. The content accumulated more than 66 hours of view time during the giving day and 24-hour period following, with more than 3,700 unique 100% organic views and over 11,000 organic impressions.
But the hybrid model wasn't born in Louisville.
Scott McAninch, CEO of The Nonprofit Council, is pictured at top right speaking with sponsor Armstrong, Vaughn & Associates during The Big Give 2020.
Give for Good Louisville 2020 was my 11th career giving day and sixth giving day of the year, following the aforementioned trio in the spring, then the rescheduled The Amazing Give in Gainesville. But right before I headed to Kentucky, I was fortunate enough to fly to San Antonio for the rescheduled The Big Give 2020, where we piloted a live video mission very similar to Louisville.
Scott McAninch, CEO of The Nonprofit Council, has referred to Louisville as its 'sister city' in the giving day space, and so it was fitting that The Big Give and Give for Good Louisville now found themselves adjacent to one another on the September calendar. (In fact, The Big Give will permanently move to September beginning in 2021.)
Jerry Moore and I worked as co-hosts of The Big Give 2020 live-stream on YouTube and www.TheBigGiveSA.org, speaking with nonprofit influencers all day long.
There were two major factors that were very different in San Antonio than they would be a week later in Louisville:
1 - San Antonio chose to embed its live-streamed content on TheBigGiveSA.org through YouTube, rather than its traditional usage of Facebook, and
2 - The Nonprofit Council's offices have an enormous quasi-outdoor foyer in their offices, which made for a rather ideal staging area for our live-stream setup.
We'll revisit the YouTube-vs.-Facebook results in a minute, but the physical setup of the stage in San Antonio did allow us a bit more flexibility in working with live, IRL guests.
While we orchestrated the vast majority of our live content during the day through virtual means -- similar to Louisville, bringing in a parade of influential nonprofit guests throughout the day -- we were able to leverage the additional space to bring in a couple of special nonprofit guests, as well as several sponsor representatives.
With the help of John Largent from Gameday Media, TNC's Jerry Moore and I held down the live-streaming stage in San Antonio from early morning until midnight. streaming more than 10 hours and 40 minutes of live video directly onto TheBigGiveSA.org , with the idea of both increasing time on site and giving the audience a reason to tune directly to the website where they could immediately donate.
Giving day leaders should carefully consider their options in 2021 and beyond as to where they should host their live-streamed content. While there are mechanisms through which you can stream to multiple platforms at once, like Restream, it is my recommendation that giving day leaders choose one spot or another, to simplify the focus for the audience. While streaming to Facebook has the benefit of seemingly reaching a larger audience, much of that appears to be a product of how Facebook categorizes a view -- a data point most apparent when we compare both the year-over-year results for The Big Give, and put side-by-side the adjacent giving day in Louisville.
Without question, I found that the average watch time on YouTube is astronomically higher -- the average cumulative watch time for all 14 of our YouTube videos was 4 minutes, 51 seconds, with our 4PM broadcast exceeding a 9-minute (!!!) average watch time. That, by any measure, is a stunning figure.
However, these higher watch times come with corresponding lower total views, which may seem less appealing to decision-makers -- we reached 992 total views on YouTube during the day, less than 10% of the total "views" we saw in 2019. The total view time was about 36 hours, 45 minutes -- less than what we saw in Louisville the following week, and less than half of the total view time we saw during The Big Give 2020. My conclusion on this specific point? Unless YouTube allows auto-play on embedded videos -- something I doubt they'll do -- I will recommend to my clients that we not exclusively stream to YouTube for the purpose of embedding in 2021. Using a tool like Restream to create multiple simultaneous streams also likely deserves stronger consideration, despite its drawbacks.
The so-called hybrid model of live-streaming a giving day should see a renaissance in 2021. On GivingDayGuy.com I've written the case studies now for all six giving days I worked with in 2020, and will continue to look out for creative ways that other giving days have used live video to promote their giving days in 2020. Missoula Gives, in Montana, is another outstanding example of how a community foundation can purposefully utilize live video to drive results during their giving day -- check out the insightful case study from GiveGab. Stay tuned to GivingDayGuy.com for more analysis in advance of the 2021 giving day season.
Chris Strub is the Giving Day Guy, and he's looking for more giving days to work with in 2020. Contact him via email: chrisstrub < at > gmail < dot > com, and read more about his giving day work at www.givingdayguy.com.