Over the course of the various workplace fundraising campaigns that we’ve been involved in, we’ve found a correlation between the most successful campaigns and a number of key factors. Here, we’ve compiled a list of those factors, ranked across 3 tiers from most to least consequential. We strongly encourage anyone organizing a fundraising campaign at their company to include as many of these factors as possible in order to increase the campaign’s impact and effectiveness.
Timing – Giving season
Picking the right timing is essential for the success of the campaign. The end of the year is usually an excellent time (at least in the EU and in the US); after all, there’s a reason it’s called the “giving season”. Check if your company has an official giving period – it could likely be in October, November, or December. If no specific period is defined, December seems to be a good starting point, usually between Giving Tuesday (at the end of November) and the Christmas holidays. Make sure to end your campaign before people leave for the winter holidays instead of at the end of December, otherwise people won’t be around for the final push.
Timing – Liquidity events
Another good opportunity for a campaign is to time it around liquidity events, like salary raises, bonuses, or vesting of shares. If people get a 5% raise, for example, they can still be net positive even if they donate 1% of their income. The most successful events seem to have a combination of giving season and a year-end raise/bonus or vesting of shares. Looking for and capturing such opportunities can multiply the impact of a campaign.
Setting a personal example
We’ve found that campaign organizers’ leading by example strongly determines the total amount of money raised. As a rule of thumb, the more the organizers donate, the more others donate. By their own example, organizers can encourage and inspire other people to donate as well. Moreover, with their donation, the organizers help set the perception of the “normal” donation amount (10 USD, 100 USD, 1000 USD, etc.), make it relatable, and show that it’s possible. The message being sent is, “I’m a regular person just like you and I can make a significant difference through my donation.” That is the organizer’s influential advantage as an insider at the company.
As an example, during a campaign we were part of, all the co-organizers announced that they were donating their entire 3000 USD year-end bonus. One colleague was so inspired that he decided to donate his entire bonus as well. Another colleague, who had not originally planned to donate, said that there was no way that he couldn’t donate after seeing the co-organizers’ commitment, so decided to donate himself as well.
All this goes to show the power you can have by leading by example and setting norms within your company.
Being open about your donations
Related to the point above, it really helps to openly talk about your donations and encourage others to do the same. Some people might be a bit reticent and think that talking about donations is almost like bragging about how good you are. However, studies have shown that being open about your donations can inspire others to donate themselves. Announcing your own donation can set an example and motivate your colleagues to follow suit.
Donation matching can be an effective way to boost the impact of your campaign. It doubles the donation amount and often encourages people to donate more (by about 20% as indicated here). Moreover, company funds raised via donation matching is often counterfactual – i.e., it would not have been donated to effective charities otherwise, which means that your campaign can get up to 140% boost.* If your company does not have donation matching, you can either ask to set it up (which is a longer term project), or ask for a budget specifically for the event. In some cases the organizers have decided to use their yearly donation budget to match donations; and, whereas the matching itself is not counterfactual in this case, it can still boost the total amount raised by the campaign.
Encouraging people to set up recurring donations during your fundraising campaign can also be very effective. The annual recurring amount donated can easily exceed a one-off donation during the event. (E.g., 1000 USD might seem like a big one-off donation, but in most cases, it’s only a few percent of people's annual salary.) This can be set up with payroll giving (discussed more below) or through services like Giving What We Can or One for the World. As an example, the image below shows the money raised in a company over the course of 3 consecutive year-end fundraising campaigns. Note that nearly half of the money raised in 2021 came from recurring donations set up in the previous year, which shows that it’s possible to practically double the impact of your campaign.
Simplicity is key
There seems to be a correlation between how easy it is for people to donate and the number / amount of donations. There are two important considerations here: (1) simplicity in campaign messaging, and (2) ease of use in actually making the donations. In the first case, make sure to select a limited number of effective charities / cause areas to minimize the chance of confusion or “paralysis by analysis” among potential donors. For ease of use, make sure to select a system that requires as few clicks as possible to complete a donation in order to minimize both the time needed and the risk of losing people along the way. A one-click donation process is ideal, although may not always be possible. Also, in most cases, requiring a donor to make a wire transfer (as opposed to paying by credit card, etc.) seems to be asking too much and should be avoided.
Having one or more co-organizers can help at every stage of the process, from defining the strategy and messaging to organizing and running the actual event. It provides greater division of labor, as well as more perspectives and ideas. It can also boost your confidence when pitching ideas to your colleagues since you’ll have a co-organizer(s) supporting you. It increases the strengths of the leading-by-example factor, and it enables you to leverage a larger network of personal connections. As it also decreases the workload per person and increases the chances of success, finding one or more co-organizers is something you should definitely consider.
Fundraising campaign vs. one-off event
In our experience, donations trickle in over time, either because it takes time for the idea to grow in donors’ heads or because people are just plain busy. The image below shows the pace of donations during a particular campaign. Note that the donations come in over time rather than all at once. For this reason, it seems more promising to have a campaign that lasts 2–3 weeks rather than a single event.
Outreach activity generates donations
The image above also reveals another interesting fact: donations come in in a stepwise fashion and each step roughly corresponds to an outreach activity, like a friendly reminder email, communicating the passing of a fundraising milestone, or a call for action in the final push for donations. (Note, for example, the spike in donations near the end of the campaign in the image above, which could result from well-timed messaging.) The bottom line is, people might need a few reminders before they actually donate. By maintaining an active messaging presence, you can help people that want to donate to actually do it.
Proximity effects and extended network
There is some evidence that the closer people are to you (e.g., your teammates, your department, your work location, etc.), the more likely they are to donate. This seems to be related to the personal example we discussed above and the credibility and trust given to the event by someone who knows you are organizing it. If you have multiple organizers from different teams, departments, and locations, you can leverage this to make the event more appealing and relatable to more people.
It often seems that bigger is better. For example, if we assume that 10%–20% of people donate to the campaign and there are 10 people in the company, we will have 1–2 donors vs. 10–20 donors at a 100-person company.
However, it seems that company size really does matter after a certain point. When a company’s size is >100 people, the number of donors does not seem to grow all that much. For example, even with a 100,000-person company, typically only people that are somehow connected to the campaign organizer will participate. This seems to be related to the proximity effect mentioned above.
This has a couple implications in a larger (i.e., >100-person) company context. First, it might be more effective to focus on your close network (e.g., your team, department, or office), adding a more personal touch rather than going wider and more impersonal. Second, there could be an advantage to running multiple “local” (geographical or organizational) campaigns across a larger company.
Set up payroll giving
Related to the point above, working with your company to set up payroll giving, where donations come right out of employees’ paychecks, is one of the easiest ways for your colleagues to donate. Moreover, depending on how it is set up, it can come with additional benefits, like being tax free. Various platforms exist to support this and other aspects of what we’ve discussed in this guide – for example, a lot of people use benevity.
Setting fundraising targets
Setting and publicizing fundraising targets can help boost donations and create a sense of shared mission around reaching the milestone together. However, targets can be a double-edged sword, because donations usually slow or even stop completely when the goal is reached. So, if the goal you set is too low, you are inadvertently limiting the campaign’s potential.
A possible solution is to set milestones (e.g., number of lives saved) but make it open ended. That way, there will always be a bigger goal to shoot for.
Include only effective charities (if possible)
If at all possible, focus your campaign on effective charities only. That way, people can’t go wrong. For example, it is well known in Effective Altruism that you can have a bigger impact if you think globally; however, people are usually more drawn to local causes that they can more easily relate to. In fact, in the past, we’ve seen cases of more donations going to local charities than to top effective charities, like Against Malaria Fund.
Follow up is important
It is important to follow up with people and make sure they follow through with their donations. Of course, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach here, and the amount and type of follow up depends on the system used.
* On the other hand, the money used for donation matching campaigns done by charities would have gone to the charity anyway, so it only generates a 20% increase in counterfactual donations. So, setting up donation matching yourself within your organization maximizes the donation boost.