Knight Foundation: Giving Day Initiative

What was the challenge?

Short-term online fundraising campaigns hosted by community foundations have been on the rise since 2009. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation recognized the growing trend of community-wide Giving Days, as well as the creative ways that Giving Days opened up philanthropy and increased the visibility and credibility of the community foundations that hosted them. Despite these successes, community foundations struggled with developing the capacity to raise funds and engage a broader set of donors online.

The Knight Foundation launched the Giving Day Initiative in 2012, a pilot program to grow the network and capacity of community foundations to create short-term, online fundraising campaigns that would empower local nonprofits to raise money over a 24-hour period. While the amount of money raised was important, these short-term online fundraising campaigns were about much more than dollars raised. The model remained unproven on a large scale.

How did we address it?

Between 2012 and 2016, Third Plateau conducted yearly evaluations of the effectiveness of the Giving Day Initiative. During the evaluation process, Third Plateau and the Knight Foundation quickly identified the need for information sharing across communities to help streamline the way community foundations designed, planned, and executed their campaigns. Alongside the evaluation, Third Plateau developed and launched the Knight Foundation’s Peer Learning Exchange as well as the online Giving Day Playbook. The Exchange was comprised of a peer learning community of community foundation staff running Giving Days across the country. The Giving Day Playbook is an online guide that provides tips, tools, and strategies that community foundations and others can use to run effective Giving Days.


As Giving Days evolved, so too did the Peer Learning Exchange. Third Plateau continued to update the Playbook with best practices and emerging issues – ranging from how to make campaigns sustainable for community foundations to how best to prepare for a technology failure. This became a hot topic when a massive technology failure impacted the annual campaign in 2016. It also continued to nurture the peer learning community, providing an outlet for staff to share best practices, and learning from across the country.

What is the impact?

What began as a small pilot program evolved into a multifaceted Giving Day Initiative in which the Knight Foundation supported 18 giving day organizers to run 49 campaigns. Over the four-year period, the initiative raised almost $116.3 million, engaged 367,495 donors, and mobilized 20,297 organizations to participate. Giving Days have turned into a nationally recognized forum for nonprofit capacity building. They have mobilized a diverse set of individual donors and have led to incredible displays of unity in communities both large and small.

Through the production of blog posts, giving day lessons, and webinars, Third Plateau has become a leading voice in the national conversation bringing together community foundations and other leaders to help redefine the next phase of community philanthropy.