Why Even a Pandemic Can’t Stop Our Employee Giving Campaign

December 16, 2020 Alex Seblatnigg

Since 2001, Shepherd Center has run an employee giving campaign. This annual campaign has been increasingly successful each year, regularly exceeding financial goals during the 5-week period and cumulatively raising more than $2.1 million. We began our annual planning in February 2020 as we always do, preparing for an August start date. 

And then the pandemic hit. While we were fortunate that we didn’t experience layoffs or furloughs, many employees were dealing with loss of other incomes at home and the new burden of supporting others financially and emotionally. It made the challenge of raising $175,000, with 85% staff participation, in 5 weeks a scary one.  

(Spoiler Alert: We did it. We actually blew our financial goal out of the water. That’s why I was asked to write this blog post.) 

Laying the Groundwork 

My advisory team of 10 had been planning the campaign since February. Our theme, “Full House,” aligned with our housing program, which would be this year’s beneficiary. The beneficiary has always been something that would be used widely across the hospital: equipment for our spinal cord and brain injury patients to use during rehabilitation, a van for our adolescent patients to use on outings, or new power and manual wheelchairs to be used by inpatients. 

As the kickoff date in late August drew closer, I was assured that whatever funds we raised would be gratefully accepted, and it was okay if we didn’t hit our goal this year. While it was nice to know that leadership supported our campaign team, we’re competitive. The thought of not meeting – or even exceeding our goal – wasn’t something we wanted to happen. 

Everything was in place. We had seven senior leaders who would serve as honorary ambassadors and would dress up as the characters from the TV show to add a fun element to the campaign. We had great prizes for weekly drawings to help incentivize staff, including a month of reserved parking in a prime spot and 16 hours of paid time off. We had 60 ambassadors across the hospital who were ready to encourage their co-workers to support the campaign. We had an incredible $105,000 in challenge grants from donors who wanted to support something positive and were already experiencing some pandemic fatigue. And we had senior leaders ready to lead the charge as our “Pacesetters,” collectively promising to pledge 10% of our goal in the month leading up to the campaign. Everything was ready. And then we went live and kept our fingers crossed. 

Download 8 Tips to Surpass Your Employee Giving Goal 

It’s Go Time 

If you’ve ever run a campaign and you’re anything like me, you can be a little obsessive about your tracking. I can usually tell you at any given time during that period how much money we’ve raised and how many pledges we have. (And by the way, I don’t do that. I hold that information close to the vest which drives my boss crazy. I tell her that it’s more exciting for her if she finds out at the end along with everyone else. Not sure she’s convinced, but so far it’s worked.) I was nervous when we went live but had assured the team that whatever happened would be appreciated and celebrated. 

And then magic happened. 

We always have good activity on the first day, but we were ahead in pledges and dollars from the year before. The same thing happened the next day. And by the end of the first week, we had raised more money than we’d ever raised at that point. Even better, we had more pledges in hand than usual. I was cautiously optimistic and quietly had a little moment of celebration, but knew we still had four weeks to go. 

See how technology can simplify tracking for your employee giving program 

The second week of the campaign we hosted our usual kickoff events. We typically have a large barbecue lunch in our garden but thanks to restrictions, employees dropped by the auditorium to pick up a box lunch – they couldn’t even stay and eat together like we normally would. My amazing ambassadors, who helped hand out lunches, took it upon themselves to turn the event into a giant pep rally. They cheered everyone who came in, danced to music, and made it a party for everyone. Every single person left that room with a grin on his or her face, excited about this campaign. And numbers continued to climb.  

We usually hit a lull at the third and fourth weeks. We raffle off a big prize at the kickoff luncheon – this year it was 16 hours of PTO – so it helps get those pledges in. We were on track for dollars but the participation number is what keeps me up at night. I continued to encourage the team, and assured them that this was normal. Things would pick back up in the final week.  

As we entered that last week, employees approached me nervously in the hall. They were watching the thermometer and doing math in their heads, wondering if we’d hit our goals. I told them that we’d done it every other year, and I had every confidence that we’d do it again this year. And true to form, our staff answered the call. 

At noon on the last day of the campaign, we hosted our “Big Reveal.” The ambassadors and I, along with our CEO and other senior leaders, gathered in the auditorium for a Teams meeting. We hosted watch parties across the Center and invited our challenge grant donors to join us. And when it came time to announce our results, they were exceptional. Our generous employees exceeded our participation goal, hitting 88%, and blew our financial goal out of the water, raising $231,825! That was $56,000 over our $175,000 goal! 

Looking Back 

So how did it happen? What was the reason we had such great success? We regularly hit 85% participation and each year exceed our financial goals by 10-20%, but this was different. More employees at all levels increased their pledge amounts than we usually see, and many who hadn’t pledged in several years supported this year’s campaign.    

One word: gratitude. In what has been a difficult year for all of us, we’d managed to keep everyone employed. We’d maintained the strong culture at Shepherd Center that brings comparisons to Disney. Despite everything we’d faced, we’d done it together and maintained the excellent level of care we offer each day to our patients. Our staff worked harder than ever, but they were willing to do it because they knew that it was appreciated – by leadership, by patients, and the families of those patients. They felt supported and giving to this campaign was a way they could say “thank you” to this organization.  

In case you’re wondering, yes – I’m already thinking about next year’s campaign. My advisory committee will be selected in January and we’ll start meeting in February.  

Think we can recreate that magic? I’m confident the answer is a resounding YES. 

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