Carnegie Mellon University: Giving Tuesday Case Study

One day. 4,995 donors. $1,164,487 raised to fund programs, teams, student organizations, scholarships, fellowships, and research. These are the results of Carnegie Mellon University’s impressive 2019 Giving Tuesday, or Giving CMUDay, as they have branded it.

Since CMU initiated its first Giving Tuesday program in 2016, their numbers have grown exponentially. We spoke with Mary Ann McCullough, Director of Annual Giving at Carnegie Mellon, about the approach, energy and elbow grease that went into driving the day’s success.

“It’s all about the donors – creating opportunities to donate – honoring the donor intent.”  ~ Mary Ann McCollough, Director of Annual Giving, Carnegie Mellon University

This is the philosophy behind Giving CMUDay.  It’s a spirited 24 hours of challenges, events, and social media that brings together leadership, students, and alumni on campus and around the globe for a University-wide fundraiser and celebration, all woven together with a Scotty dog and tartan plaid.

In 2016, the first year CMU approached Giving Tuesday with a coordinated effort, they raised $333,000 from 1,300 donors. In 2018, after all gifts were finally credited, the total attributable to Giving Tuesday stood at $1.7 million from nearly 4,600 donors – a staggering 410% increase in dollars and 254% increase in donors.Instagram graphic

Extraordinarily, that growth has been mainly driven by giving from parents and current students. This year is the first that undergraduate alumni donors will also be a primary constituency for the day. CMU has used Giving Tuesday as an exceptionally smart tactic to broaden the base of its annual giving support.

How do they do it?

Planning begins at least six months in advance, with a review of the previous year’s results, to evaluate which initiatives succeeded and which did not. Early-stage conversations are held with potential donors to secure the matching challenges that are so integral to the success of the effort. The annual giving team coordinates conversations with its campus partners around messaging and designs that compel school spirit and motivate and excite their donor constituencies. Giving CMUDay is a cross-campus effort. Central Advancement has built a strong framework of collaboration with the university’s four advancement teams to ensure their efforts reflect the overarching goals of the day.

Giving CMUDay’s visual identity has had strong core consistency over the last four years. The reworking of the Giving Tuesday heart logo to incorporate CMU’s trademark plaid was instantly successful, and is a brand element that has remained a constant since the beginning.  The team has latitude to play with CMU’s brand, which allows the university to “let its hair down” for the day.


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