Columbia Giving Day and the Trifecta of Love, Belonging, and Generosity

Love was a central theme at this year’s AMA Higher Ed symposium. Examining the role of love in branding, storytelling, and internal collaboration, speakers emphasized that love is integral to a college or university’s identity. Deborah Maue writes in her reflection on the symposium,

If there’s any doubt about the power of emotion in college choice, think back to your own experience. What do you remember about your visit to the school you ultimately chose? The number of books in the library? The average SAT score? If you’re like me, you remember a feeling. A feeling of belonging.

We want to use this as a backdrop as we examine Columbia Giving Day. Two-year-old Columbia Giving Day is a 24-hour rush of giving, content, and online ambassadorship each October. In 2012, Columbia Giving Day raised $6.8 million from 5,000 donors in fifty states and thirty-nine countries. This year, Columbia raised $7.8 million from nearly 10,000 donors in fifty states and fifty-three countries.

Columbia Giving Day’s success is due to not only top-notch online ambassadors, reminders about the event embedded everywhere in the online Columbia ecosystem, and a flood of earned advertising, but to the love, belonging, and generosity that the campaign cultivated.

The Columbia Giving Day campaign video highlights the accomplishments of Columbia students, how Columbia uses alumni donations, and the shared experience of students and alumni. The video isn’t an advertisement; it’s a call to action, and a reminder that Columbians share a connection, that they belong.

By creating a single day for alumni, students, parents, staff, and faculty to donate to the university, Columbia made giving a collective, social experience. When donors made their contribution, they had a chance to think not just about their own connections to Columbia, but about their connections to other Columbians who were doing the same thing. Columbia also hosted Giving Day events on campus to make that communal experience tangible.

In doing so, Columbia was able to attract a broader base of donors and engage important demographics, like young alumni:

An impressive 40% of donors on the first Columbia Giving Day had never given to Columbia before. For those first-time-donors, Columbia Giving Day is now a tradition.

That returns us to where we began: the trifecta of love, giving, and generosity. Columbia founded Giving Day only two years ago, and the results are already astounding. If colleges can start cultivating a culture of love, belonging, and generosity while students are in school as well as after they’ve graduated, their communities will only get stronger.