Giving Days are the culmination of hard work, partnerships between a number of stakeholders and a big, coordinated outreach effort.

This playbook is Knight Foundation's effort to support all community foundations interested in planning a Giving Day. It includes best practices, examples and templates from Giving Day organizers across the country in one easy-to-use guide.

The playbook is divided into four sections: Planning, Outreach, Day-Of Logistics, and Follow-Up and Assessment.

The Planning section helps you set goals, define a target audience, and create a timeline, staffing plan and budget.

The Outreach section lays out, step-by-step, what you will need to do to promote the Giving Day among nonprofits, donors, matching funders, community partners, and the media.

The Day-Of Logistics section walks you through what to expect on the big day and how to spend your time during those critical 24 hours.

The Follow-Up and Assessment section provides a blueprint for collecting qualitative and quantitative data to assess your impact and learn from your experience.

We hope you find this information useful when planning your Giving Day. Also, be sure to join our Giving Day Exchange to learn from your peers hosting Giving Days across the country.

Good luck!


This section lays out in detail what your community foundation needs to do to begin planning for your Giving Day. We recommend that you start the process six months in advance.

Giving Days require detailed planning upfront. The greatest difference between successful and unsuccessful Giving Days is the time and thought that goes into planning. Everyone and everything moving in concert on the big day is more likely with detailed strategic planning at the outset.

What is a Giving Day?

A Giving Day is a powerful 24-hour online fundraising competition that unites a community around local causes. Hosted by the area’s community foundation, the Giving Day raises money through a single online donation platform. A Giving Day is a great way to build community, connect donors to local nonprofits, teach organizations to use digital tools and generate excitement about your community foundation.

Here are the eight most important things you need to do well to ensure a successful Giving Day:

  1. Set explicit, measurable goals and define your target audience(s), so you know what success looks like.
  2. Select a donation platform that is secure and user-friendly.
  3. Create prize and match opportunities to build excitement and incentivize desired actions by donors and nonprofits.
  4. Reach out to nonprofits to explain the Giving Day, assist them in signing up, and train them on social media, online fundraising, media outreach and other Giving Day elements.
  5. Reach out to potential donors directly, through participating nonprofits and through the media to encourage them to contribute.
  6. Create a Giving Day “headquarters” to manage the big day.
  7. Follow up with nonprofits, donors, sponsors and other community partners after the Giving Day to say thank you and evaluate their experience.
  8. Write down key takeaways from your experience and incorporate what you learned into your planning for the following year!

For an in-depth look at how to run a successful Giving Day, check out this Case Foundation report on “How Giving Contests Can Strengthen Nonprofits and Communities.”

Setting Goals


The most important first step is to articulate your goals for the Giving Day. Explicit, measurable goals provide strategic clarity about what you are trying to achieve. Goal setting will also enable you to determine whether your Giving Day is meeting your expectations.

1. What do you want to accomplish?

Goal setting should be tailored to your community foundation’s circumstances and align with the strategic vision of your foundation. The money raised from a Giving Day is important, but it should not be the only goal you set for yourself. Below are five sample goal frameworks to consider, depending on your overall Giving Day objectives.

If your general goal is to:

An explicit, measurable goal might be:

Grow community giving

Increase total amount donated on Giving Day by 25%

Democratize community giving

Engage 500+ donors to make a contribution
on the Giving Day

Grow endowment giving in your community

Open five new nonprofit endowment funds at the community
foundation that raise at least $1,000 on the Giving Day

Engage a donor segment that is new to the community foundation

Engage 500+ donors to make a contribution on the Giving Day of $50 or less.

Expand public profile of community foundation

Generate 25+ media mentions about the community foundation

Support nonprofit capacity-building

75% of participating nonprofits reporting that they built capacity
through Giving Day trainings and experience

Some community foundations that set a public dollar goal keep it private the first year so they don’t set unrealistic expectations. To get an idea of how much you might raise in your first year, look what at similar community foundation-led giving days raised when they first started. For the second year, base your goal off of your first year numbers and a realistic growth amount that you would like to see. If you do choose to make your dollar goal public, be sure to use it in your messaging to encourage donors to help you meet the goal. Here’s a great example from Wichita Community Foundation’s Facebook page in 2014.

Here are four examples of Giving Days that were successful at achieving diverse goals:

  • The Seattle Foundation’s GiveBIG campaign grew community giving to $11.1 million in 2013, up 50% from the $7.4 million raised by GiveBIG in 2012.
  • The 2011 Greater Washington Give to the Max Day successfully built nonprofit capacity, with 84% of nonprofit survey respondents reporting that the trainings increased their ability to interact and fundraise online.
  • The Miami Foundation’s 2012 Give Miami Day raised awareness about its new Nonprofit Central platform in the nonprofit community, with more than 260 organizations now registered on the site.
  • The Park City Community Foundation's Live PC Give PC campaign has created ongoing engagement between the foundation and the community by participating in local events and remaining active on social media.

2. What structure makes the most sense given your goal?

Giving Days can have a variety of structures. Some are not single days but are multi-day, -week or -month campaigns. Here are other ways in which Giving Day structures often differ:

  • Some are “stand-alone” efforts, while others are connected to statewide or national campaigns.
  • Some are open to the entire nonprofit community, while others are intended for a certain segment of nonprofits, such as those with funds at the community foundation or working in the arts.
  • Some charge nonprofits to sign up, while others allow nonprofits to participate for free.
  • Most focus on online profiles of nonprofits, while others integrate printed giving guides such as this guide from the Good Giving Guide Challenge, hosted by the Blue Grass Community Foundation.
  • Some solicit contributions from a broad cross-section of donors, while others focus on specific donor segments.
  • While some community foundations start off covering donation processing fees, most pass those costs on to the nonprofits or donors.

There is no single ideal structure for a Giving Day. Rather, the proper structure is a function of your goals. For instance:

If your goal is to:

You might:

Increase the total number of Giving Day donors

Choose a structure that provides few barriers to nonprofit or donor participation

Support nonprofit capacity-building

Limit participation to nonprofits that most need the help and/or place a large emphasis on training and support

Expand the community foundation’s profile by maximizing media attention

Want the buzz of a one day campaign rather than a longer campaign – and prefer to benefit from the broader awareness of a statewide or national campaign



3. Who is your target audience?

You may think that your target audience is “everyone.” However, many Giving Days smartly narrow the focus to certain nonprofit and/or donor segments. Nonprofit segments might include organizations with budgets under a certain size, groups working on certain issues or groups located in a particular part of your community. Donor segments might include young donors, donors with a certain capacity level or donors with a history of supporting a particular issue.

Even if your Giving Day is open to everyone, fundraising and marketing research demonstrates that specifically targeting who you are going after – and tailoring your messaging to those audiences – is generally more effective at motivating desired behaviors than mass communications and outreach. Again, your target audience(s) should be dictated by your Giving Day’s goals. For instance:

If your goal is to:

You might:

Increase giving to nonprofits from new donors

Encourage nonprofit participants to focus their outreach on donors who have not previously given to them

Raise money for basic social services in the community

Narrow your nonprofit participants to organizations that provide such services

Click here to learn more about targeting nonprofits. Click here to learn more about targeting donors.


Giving Days are exciting events that can significantly benefit the community, but executing them requires considerable time and resources. When planning your Giving Day, it is important to take into consideration the long-term sustainability of your campaign; in addition to focusing your energy on supporting local nonprofits, look for ways to create benefits for your community foundation and reduce Giving Day costs.

Here are some possible approaches:

Do not cover credit card processing fees. Though many community foundations cover fees in the first year of their campaigns, experience demonstrates that nonprofit participation does not drop when the community foundation stops covering the fees. Be strategic in your communications around fees, relaying to nonprofits that they are part of the cost of fundraising and bringing new donors to their institutions. You may also want to talk to your donation platform provider about prompting donors to add the fees to their donation!

Use the Giving Day to raise money for your community foundation. To do this, you can:

  • List the community foundation as a potential donation recipient on the Giving Day site
  • Prompt donors to add a small donation (a “tip”) to the community foundation upon checkout
  • Charge a participation fee

Some community foundations do not want to compete with nonprofits for donors on the Giving Day, in which case you should opt for a tipping function or charging a participation fee. This fee should be small enough not to deter organizations from participating, yet large enough to increase nonprofit buy-in and engagement with the program.

For example, the Sacramento Region Community Foundation used a tiered fee structure based on nonprofit budget size for their 2015 Big Day of Giving, and the San Antonio Area Foundation charged a 1% fee, taken out of nonprofit disbursements, for the Big Give S.A.

If you do charge a participation fee, be sure to reinforce all of the benefits that come with Giving Day participation, such as trainings, marketing, and exposure to new donors, so nonprofits can clearly see what they are receiving in exchange for the cost.

Take advantage of large Giving Day audiences to promote the community foundation’s other services to nonprofits and donors. For example, in 2014 Miami Foundation opened every call fielded on Give Miami Day with a short pitch about the community foundation and what it offers nonprofits and donors in the community. After the campaign, 40% of surveyed donors expressed interest in working with the community foundation and 65% were more likely to support the community foundation in the future.

Use the Giving Day to open and raise money for nonprofit endowment funds held at the community foundation. This can be done by offering special incentive prizes for nonprofit endowments and encouraging organizations to set up funds in advance of the Giving Day. The Blue Grass Community Foundation held two challenges that focused on endowment funds during its six-week 2014 Good Giving Guide Challenge. The first was a $75,000 Quick Start Endowment Challenge, which offered matching endowment fund grants to participating nonprofits. Later in the competition, the community foundation held an Endow the Bluegrass Challenge, which matched funds for new and existing nonprofit endowments at the Blue Grass Community Foundation at $0.50 to the dollar.

Use the Giving Day to engage existing Donor Advised Fund holders and market DAFs to potential new fund holders. Many Giving Days have created opportunities for DAF holders to contribute through their funds to the Giving Day. Some Giving Days have created the ability for DAF holders to give directly to nonprofits through their funds. Others have primarily engaged DAFs by asking them to contribute to their incentive funds. For more details on how to engage DAFs on your Giving Day, see the Donor Advised Funds section of the Playbook.

To incentivize donors to open new DAFs, consider offering a match or prize for DAF donations made through funds opened during the month leading up to your campaign. For more ideas on how to use incentives to drive new DAFs, see the Incentives section of the Playbook.

You can also find prospective new donor advised fund holders by following up with donors who demonstrate the needed capacity on the Giving Day (i.e. if your DAF minimum is $5,000, reach out to donors who give a total of $5,000 or more on the Giving Day).

Internal Operations


Giving Days require significant staff time and energy. How you staff your Giving Day, however, will depend a great deal on the size and scope of what you are planning. You should expect two-five staff members to each devote about 10-15 hours per week to Giving Day preparation in the six months leading up to the big day, with that number doubling to 20-30 hours per week about two weeks out. In the final two-three days before the Giving Day and on the day itself, you should expect these staff members to devote all of their time to the Giving Day. We have created this Staffing Plan Template to help you plan appropriately.

Your board members can also be valuable resources by getting the word out, recruiting donors or doing TV and radio interviews on the Giving Day.


Creating a timeline will help you stay on track with the major tasks that need to be completed for the Giving Day. Here is a Sample Six-Month Planning Timelineto help you get started. You can also use these checklists for what to do six months outfive months out, four months out, three months out, two months out, one month out, and one week out from the Giving Day.


Creating a detailed workplan can help you align your staffing plan with your timeline. Here is a Sample Workplan from GiveMN that you can use as an example. 


Establish a budget early in the planning process to understand how much the Giving Day will cost and how you will allocate your resources. Your budget will likely range from approximately $12,000 on the low end to $75,000 on the high end, not including staff salaries or credit card fees (which some community foundations choose to cover). The biggest variable will be your prize and match pool, which can be as little as $5,000 or as high as $50,000 (or more). This Sample Budget Template provides a more detailed expense breakdown and can be used as a template to start your Giving Day budget.

In running your Giving Day you will incur expenses that will likely make the campaign a net loss from a pure dollars and cents perspective. While we think there are strong benefits to the Giving Day beyond just the money, there are a few things you might do to ensure that the Giving Day is revenue-neutral or -positive for future years (aside from the staff time you invest). For example, you can:

  • Charge a nominal participation fee to nonprofits that is small enough not to deter organizations from participating, yet large enough to increase nonprofit buy-in and engagement with the program. The fee could vary by organizational size or the amount each organization raised in their previous Giving Day experience.
  • Secure sponsors, like local banks and companies, to help cover the costs of donation processing fees.
  • Ask donors, when they are making their donations online, to consider adding a few more dollars to cover the costs of donation processing fees.
  • Designate your community foundation as a potential Giving Day recipient and implement a campaign to raise funds through your Giving Day.


There are a variety of online donation platforms you can use to support your Giving Day including CiviCoreClick&PledgeKimbia and Razoo. Each of them varies in their user interface, pricing, capabilities and customer service. The Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits created this comparison of five online Giving Day platforms to help you weigh your options. However, keep in mind that the platforms are constantly changing and making improvements

You should consider putting out a competitive Request for Proposal (RFP) to donation platforms in advance of your Giving Day in order to see which company will best suite your needs. Here is a sample RFP for Give OUT Day 2015, a Giving Day organized by Bolder Giving.

Whichever platform you choose, be sure it provides the capabilities you need for your Giving Day. Here are some important features you may want to request:

  • Server capacity to process very large quantities of donations at one time
  • Live updated leaderboard
  • Prize winner determination on the day-of
  • Multi-donation checkout option 
  • Donor Advised Fund transfers
  • ACH Transfers (checks)
  • Offline donation integration (cash and non-cash, such as appreciated stock)
  • Donation frequency option (one time, weekly, monthly, annually)
  • Link for live events page
  • Day-of support in-house
  • Crisis contingency plan
  • Ability to secure donor demographic information (age, first-time donors, etc.)
  • Year-round access to online fundraising pages
  • Opt-out option for receiving solicitations from community foundations


Every donation platform will charge a fee for processing donations. This fee ranges from about 3-7%, depending on the platform and the terms of your contract. Some community foundations have opted to cover these fees out of a concern that donors and nonprofits would not participate otherwise. While subsidizing donation processing fees may be important in your giving day’s inaugural year, community foundations have found that not covering fees in subsequent years does not result in a significant decrease in nonprofit or donor participation.

Here are some tips to minimize pushback on your Giving Day fees:

  • Clearly communicate fees to your nonprofit and donor participants up front, but try not to get too in the weeds. Remind them that there is a cost to fundraising, and try and keep the focus on creating a culture of philanthropy! 
  • Remind nonprofits and donors of the benefits they are receiving through the Giving Day, rather than the costs (think trainings, exposure, economies of scale, bonus pools & prizes). 
  • Negotiate fees with your donation platform provider and credit card merchandisers to get the lowest rate possible. You may be able to secure better rates.
  • Talk to your donation platform provider about giving donors the option to add the processing fees to their contributions.

Crisis Planning

Regardless of the donation platform you use, certain technology issues are common on Giving Days due to the nature of working online. Recognizing them in advance and discussing them with your donation platform provider and internal technology management team will help you prevent some issues and better prepare to deal with those that arise. This Crisis Prevention & Management Template will help get you started.

A number of Giving Days have experienced high-profile site crashes on the day-of. This is often due to heavy web traffic overwhelming servers. Talk to your donation platform provider ahead of time about what they can do to prevent a site crash on your Giving Day, such as ensuring sufficient server capacity based on projected Giving Day participation, and about a contingency plan in case the site does go down. These are necessary questions to ask when you are selecting your donation platform provider.

Other technology issues you may encounter include:

  • Payment processing failures: Donations sometimes fail or do not seem to go through.
  • Long load times: Giving Day web pages may be slow to load due to heavy traffic and/or donations may take longer than expected to go through
  • Bad hyperlinks: Given the number of links on a website, some are bound to be broken or take people to the wrong pages.
  • Leaderboard delays: Donations do not always show up immediately in leaderboard calculations.
  • Registration bugs: On platforms where donors can or must create an account, they sometimes have issues registering on the site. Nonprofits also frequently have difficulty registering in the lead-up to the Giving Day.
  • Systems failures: A variety of systems failures can affect your Giving Day, including community foundation servers, email, or phone lines going down, or your computers breaking or being attacked by viruses.

The Crisis Prevention & Management Template includes tips on how to prevent and prepare for these issues.

One way to be prepared in the event of a technology issue is to enlist tech-savvy volunteers to help out on the Giving Day. For example, the Wichita Community Foundation reached out to a local technology group, Tech Alliance, to recruit volunteers to be on-site to communicate with its donation platform provider. The community foundation had at least one volunteer come out for each of the four allotted time slots throughout the day. Click here to see a copy of the email Wichita used to recruit Tech Alliance volunteers.

Other issues that may arise on your Giving Day include:

  • Staffing changes: For a variety of reasons certain staff members may not be available to work the Giving Day as planned.
  • Merchant service failures: The merchant service site may go down, or money might not get to the bank.
  • Physical disasters: There could be a power outage (local or citywide), fire, flood, bomb, blizzard, intruder, shooting, or a national emergency.
  • Media crises: Your event could be met with fraud allegations or public concern regarding the trustworthiness of the site.

Assign staff members to be in charge of dealing with each potential issue that arises and work with them in advance of the Giving Day to develop a prevention and management plan. Again, this Crisis Prevention & Management Template will help get you started.

See the Crisis Management and Communications section in the Day-Of Logistics chapter of the Playbook for more details on how to manage a crisis.


Incentives are funds that can be used during your Giving Day to build excitement and to encourage particular actions by donors and nonprofits. There are two types of incentives: prizes and bonus or match pools. Prizes are one-time monetary awards to organizations for specific achievements throughout the Giving Day, such as most dollars raised or most donations in a specific hour. Many Giving Days categorize prizes by nonprofit budget size to level the playing field for small, medium, and large organizations. Bonus or match pools are additional funds offered to organizations at various times throughout the day (e.g. from 2pm-3pm) or at the end of the day to increase their total amount raised. The funds can be awarded directly (e.g. $1 match for every $1 raised) or proportionally (i.e. funds awarded to participating nonprofits based on the percentage of total Giving Day funds they raise). This Incentive Options Table explains different prize and bonus or match pool options, their pros and cons and how they align with different Giving Day goals.

Here is a sample awards structure used by the Communities Foundation of Texas for the 2013 North Texas Giving Day.

Many communities have avoided using the word “match” to refer to a proportional incentive, as it has created some confusion and consternation.

Also, be aware that collecting real-time data to make prize determinations on the day-of can be challenging. Talk to your donation platform provider in advance about the data you will need to determine the winners for each prize.

To help you identify potential sponsors of incentive funds, use this Finding Incentive Funders Template. In addition to finding sponsors, consider adding an option to your Giving Day website to enable anyone to donate to your incentive fund. For example, in 2013 Give Miami Day raised $36,812 through a “Just Give” button on the Giving Day website that gave individuals the opportunity to contribute to the bonus pool. Talk to your technology provider about incorporating a “Just Give” option to grow the match or bonus pool on your Giving Day!

Communications and Branding

Effective communications will drive donor and nonprofit participation in the campaign. Start your communications planning early so that you are able to attract attention and build excitement around your Giving Day. Below are some questions you will want to address while planning.

  • Who are the target audiences for your communications?
  • What are your key messages?
  • What communications channels will you use?
  • What communications assets do you currently have (e.g. media relationships, existing collateral, etc.)?
  • Do you plan to hire a public relations firm, communications consultant or ad agency to assist with media outreach, messaging or branding?
  • What is the timeline for your communications?

We have created this Communications Calendar Template to help you strategically prepare and schedule your Giving Day communications. Here are two examples of communications calendars from other Giving Days:

Effective branding will communicate to Giving Day participants that your community foundation is coordinating the campaign. Many individuals recognize a Giving Day brand but not the community foundation’s, which is a missed opportunity for organizers. Take advantage of the large Giving Day audience to promote your foundation, starting by using consistent branding between your community foundation and your Giving Day. Here is an example of effective branding across campaigns. This was highlighted in Knight Foundation’s webinar on Building Your Foundation’s Brand, which explored how your Giving Day can advance your community foundation’s fundraising and programs.


Tracking metrics will enable you to judge the success of your Giving Day. Determine what metrics you will track – and how – during the planning phase so that your evaluation plan is built into your Giving Day from the start. Use this Metrics Tracking Overview to determine which metrics your community foundation should track on the Giving Day. Analyze these metrics in the context of your goals and target audience(s) to understand how successful your Giving Day was.