• Chris Strub

Spring Virtual Giving Days Offer Blueprint For Interactive Fundraisers Nationwide


At the end of Midlands Gives 2020, Central Carolina Community Foundation staff members Jamesha Shackerford, JoAnn Turnquist, Elizabeth Houck and Erin E. Johnson counted down the final seconds together on Facebook Live, with supporters watching and cheering on in the comments.


As Memorial Day approaches in the U.S., the springtime giving day season is winding down, concluding a turbulent few months of cancellations, postponements and virtual pivots caused by COVID-19.


Of the five giving days that I was set to work with this season, none were canceled, but two -- The Big Give (San Antonio) and The Amazing Give (Gainesville, Fla.) have been postponed until Sept. 10 and Aug. 19-20, respectively.

Philip Given co-hosted Give Local York 2020 with me and Meagan Given on May 1. Using Switcher Studio I was able to dynamically display the live GiveLocalYork.org website, and a movable lower third with the GLY color scheme, on the screen along with him.


The remaining three days -- Give Local York, York, Pa., May 1; Midlands Gives, Columbia, S.C., May 5; and Give STL Day, St. Louis, May 7 -- each opted to press forward with a virtual approach. Rather than hopping from plane to plane, my role as the 'Giving Day Guy' shifted to a full-on virtual producer and co-host.

By the time Give STL Day concluded on May 7, between the three giving days, we had live-streamed 2,200+ minutes -- or 36.66 HOURS -- of live content. Subtracting the videos I wasn't part of -- a few late-night streams by the Give Local York team, a four-hour GLY benefit concert and the Give STL Day Happy Hour -- I streamed 30.85 of those, in High Definition, through my iPad Pro, using Switcher Studio.


As for viewership? The three giving days' videos combined for 621.65 hours of watch time. The videos totaled 57,597 impressions and 17,318 unique viewers -- all 100% organic. The most important metric, though? $11,375,000+ raised, from 72,148 donors -- with all three giving days significantly surpassing their donation and donor goals -- several months into a global pandemic.


(Side note: if you would like to see the full video reports I built for these three days, let me know -- chrisstrub <at > gmail -- and I'll send them your way.)


As you might imagine, the quick turnaround between these three days made it tough for me to really appreciate the total impact each day made. In the midst of this three-in-seven giving day maelstrom, I was brought to tears by this article in the York Daily Record, headlined 'Give Local York success during pandemic could rank among pivotal moments in York history.'

On May 7, I served as both remote live producer and host of Give STL Day 2020, remotely interviewing nonprofit leaders like Chyna Bowen all day and into the evening.


It's been three weeks since Give Local York, and there's no doubt in my mind that I could write all day and night about just how moved I was by the people I 'met' virtually that day alone. I've known for years that I have a pretty cool job as the 'Giving Day Guy,' but I never could've imagined what it's like to fundraise through a global pandemic. (I'd love to do a podcast interview about this, if anyone would like to talk through it with me. Tweet me.)


But right now, instead of reflecting on the emotional gravity of the work, I think it's extremely critical to outline the specific lessons I learned during each of these three days. Nonprofits around the country having to cancel events need creative, effective virtual solutions. I'm available to help you build a new strategy, but even without me I hope the following ideas can help your organization survive this crisis.

Meagan Given, right, speaks with Ashley Flower from Giant Markets, the presenting sponsor of Give Local York 2020, on a livestream to kick off the giving day on May 1. Continue reading to learn more about how the giving days I worked with this spring incorporated sponsors into their content.


  • Giving days are the best possible solution for this crisis. I'm not going to harp on this for too long, but a big part of the reason Give Local York, Midlands Gives and Give STL Day far exceeded their fundraising goals this year was because most nonprofits in their respective communities didn't have great alternatives. Nonprofits that are canceling events that they would ordinarily rely upon repeatedly expressed their gratitude for the giving days proceeding because it gave their supporters a specific, pointed reason to give. Obviously I've been a proponent of giving days in general for a while, and this phrase has become clichè, but now more than ever a giving day is an invaluable asset to a community. So what action would I take? EVERY community in America should have a giving day of some kind. Typically these days take 6-12 months to get off the ground. If I had the means to launch a giving day for *this fall,* right now, I would do it. Your community needs it. I can get you in touch with the right people to start those conversations if you're interested.

  • Everybody is a creator now. Again, another sentence I could've written a few years ago, but now it's even more true: nonprofits that might've been hesitant to experiment with live-streaming video, and/or other social media efforts, are definitely in the game now. As the 'Giving Day Guy' the vision has always been to create a centralized leading voice for the community foundation, where sponsors/nonprofits/donors can tune in throughout the day. One reason we didn't see a super sharp rise in time watched this year was because seemingly every single nonprofit we talked to was also executing on its own live video plan that day.

So what action would I take? For the giving days I'm working with this fall I will propose that we collect information about what live-streams other organizations are doing and offer to promote them all throughout the day, almost like a TV Guide-type approach. Let viewers know we will inform them about what's on "other channels" through the day and into the night. I will also propose that we be more proactive in seeing if we (either me and/or the CF staffs) can appear on *their* live-streams during the day, particularly those with larger audiences. This may lead to less content creation on our own channels but deeper penetration with the organizations that have build their own communities.

  • Make your sponsors the star. Give Local York's title sponsor is Giant Markets. When I was working on our day-long broadcast schedule with Meagan Given in the weeks before GLY, I mentioned that we should bring on someone from Giant -- which we were able to do in one of the first segments of the day. We were also able to play a commercial video from Giant that reiterated their support. It was important and valuable for Meagan to express her gratitude directly to Ashley Flower from Giant on a live video that could be shown to everyone at Giant, reinforcing that message of thanks and hopefully helping keep that bond strong for years to come. In Columbia, the team at the Central Carolina Community Foundation took sponsor involvement several steps further, inviting on representatives from their Corporate Philanthropy Champions to both chat with CCCF staff and announce their brand-specific prizes.

The 'Presenting Plus' sponsor, Dominion Energy, had four timeslots during the day to have their corporate leadership speak on camera, in addition to numerous other appearances on a step-and-repeat stationed behind CCCF staffers during other live-streams. BB&T Now Truist, BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina and FreeTimes voices also appeared throughout the day -- an incredibly strong visual representation of the vital sponsorship dollars that make Midlands Gives possible. I used custom lower thirds built in Canva to display the prize descriptions and CPC logos on the screen for significant amounts of time, which helped drive very significant amounts of live, universally positive (!) engagement that celebrated the sponsors' support. So what action would I take? When building a live-stream strategy for your giving day or other event, make the sponsors if not the centerpiece, then pretty close. Incorporate graphics that have the sponsor logo built in, which make for great screenshots that can be passed up the chain at corporations that have the money needed to keep these events going. For my set of fall giving days I will strongly emphasize the value in doing this, even taking it a step further and possibly having a sponsor conduct some portion of an interview. Creating a lot of live videos means you're creating a lot of sponsorship opportunities -- don't be shy to use and even sell them in advance.

  • Pre-event training matters a lot. I used Switcher Studio to beam in more than 100 total guests between the three giving days, including having Meagan and Philip Given as the primary hosts all day long for Give Local York. With Give STL Day, I interviewed 22 nonprofits in a 12-hour span, several of which had numerous representatives joining in the broadcast from different places. While this sounds on the surface like a logistical nightmare, I can tell you the smartest decision we made in planning each of these days was offering the nonprofits a group Zoom call where I walked them through the exact process of joining the broadcast. I also created this video titled 'How to be a Great Virtual Live Guest,' which was sent to all the nonprofits and sponsors before the trainings, and I would estimate at least 75% of the nonprofits watched that before doing their live spot as well. Many of them expressed gratitude when they joined me for the guidance. In Columbia, Elizabeth Houck of CCCF did a marvelous job of giving very specific instructions to all the nonprofits that joined in live throughout the day, leading to a seamless and incredibly smooth live set of content that actually blew me away in its sophistication. Over the course of three days, only *one* time did I have a minor guest-related issue that wasn't purely internet-connection related (which happens to everyone and is relatively unavoidable). So what action would I take? If you work with me I will definitely hold a group call with all the live-stream participants to show them how simple the process is. I think that even when we do get back to in-real-life giving day events, I will still want to hold a Zoom call with everyone that we expect to interview to get that introductory first impression out of the way. If you don't work with me, I'd highly recommend you do a mandatory group call to answer all the questions that participants will have. In Columbia, we added an extra call for the representatives from Dominion Energy, just to make sure they had things fully set, and it went a long way with their team to demonstrate we cared deeply about that relationship and how they would look on camera.

A behind-the-scenes look at how I had my devices set up for Give Local York and Give STL Day 2020.

  • Systems matter. Another great thing we did for Give Local York and Give STL Day was offer all nonprofits a form to fill out to express their interest in participating in our live-stream production. By making this a detailed form we were able to filter out those who might not have cared as much about it. To be considered for a live-stream slot, each nonprofit had to fill out all questions on the form; this also gave both me and the other co-hosts some additional info that we could use to conduct the interview. (It was particularly valuable to me in the co-host role, because I had such limited local knowledge about each organization.) By asking nonprofits both their overall time availability and their preferred timeslot, we were able to arrange a kaleidoscopic look at the nonprofit space in these communities. Of the two giving days where I helped arrange the schedule (Elizabeth created the Midlands Gives schedule), only one organization ended up needing to ask to switch times, which we were able to do with ease. So what action would I take? If you're not working with me, totally steal the form questions from the link above. (Don't forget to check the box to collect email addresses from respondents -- that wasn't a fun mistake to fix.) Make all fields in the form mandatory, and don't give nonprofits too much time to respond to the form. (In York, we only gave them a couple days -- definitely keep it under a week.) Make them agree on the form that they must be available for the training call, and even if you're not working with me, feel free to have them check out that tips video.

  • Don't forget to eat. It sounds simplistic, but if you don't specifically block out time for yourself to eat as you are live-streaming throughout the day, you will fade, fast, and you will make mistakes that will be seen by a lot of people. In Columbia, CCCF President JoAnn Turnquist provided super-healthy options for the skeleton crew that was on hand -- I can assure you, having salmon for dinner absolutely helped me produce an error-free evening of live-streams throughout the night (thank you, JoAnn!). So what action would I take? Plan a lunch hour to relax. Since you're likely to be up very late, and you likely want to be live during the traditional lunch hour, plan to eat in the early afternoon, which will give you space to eat again around 8:00pm, after your dinner-hour streams.

  • Be creative! The cliche of 'we're all in this together' holds true here -- nobody is happy to be locked in at home. As we near possibly 40 million unemployed Americans this summer, people are looking to social media for respite even more than they always already did. The bottom line is, to make your virtual event work, you need energy. I watched a (great) webinar yesterday from the Southwest Florida Community Foundation with numerous speakers and, without exception, the phrase each one kept going back to was "get them excited." I purposefully avoid that specific phrase whenever possible, but the mantra still represents the core of what I do -- bringing energy through the screen, whether it needs to be done from my apartment here in South Carolina or (preferably, someday) back on the ground at a giving day around the country. We experimented with a bright, fun, super-interactive hour of Give STL Day Trivia in the middle of dozens of nonprofit-themed videos, and it was our best performing video of our 24 streams. I also bought a small wheel and taped St. Louis-specific questions to each slot, giving me a fun way to end all 22 nonprofit spotlight-type videos, and drive conversations with all the people I was meeting for the first time. So what action would I take? If you're wondering how to get your giving day off the ground virtually, the answer isn't necessarily in 'more content' -- it's in 'more energy.' You can either identify it within your organization; find an intrepid, enthusiastic community influencer like Judi Gatson of WIS-TV or Philip Given in York to voice it for you; or hire me. Whatever route you take, your presentation to the public must be rife with charisma. How can your giving day or other fundraising event deliver that je ne sais quoi?


Let me know if you're interested in working with me for your giving day or other virtual event in 2020. I also offer webinars; I put more info on that in this file:

Chris Strub 2020 Flyer
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you can check out. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this article via email -- chrisstrub <at> gmail -- or on Twitter, @ChrisStrub.