You Have Unlocked the "Endowed" Achievement: Columbia Fundraising Leaderboard Rakes $7 Million

Whoever expounded the virtue of giving alms in private must not have been a big fan of receiving them. Last October, Columbia University's "The Giving Day" contest raised $6.9 million. Giving Day, a single-day and campus-wide fundraising, event featured an updated leaderboard that gave numbers on how much each of the university's 16 individual schools, pitted against each other, were receiving. The event also featured "hourly competitions in which the schools or programs with the most international donors, the most donors, or the most random donors earn an additional $5,000," according to the Columbia Spectator.

Volunteers promoted Giving Day via Twitter and posted real-time videos and updates on a dedicated Facebook page. Columbia live-streamed a discussion with Eric Kandel, a professor of neuroscience and Nobel Laureate. Donors submitted discussion questions for a panel that included representatives from Columbia's athletics, nursing and business programs.

Coincidentally, the areas of campus most aligned with the spirit of competition ranked most frequently on the leaderboards: the athletics department and the law and business schools. Perhaps fundraising campaigns are wise to cater to the values of target departments. I guess this begs the question of what the analogous campaign focused on getting arts & sciences alums to donate would look like.

Another important takeaway is that Columbia's alumni fund has traditionally relied on word-of-mouth, advertisements and other more archaic forms of promotion for these types of events. This time around, event organizers hoped “[t]he social component...would leverage the day," Columbia alumni fund director CloEve Demmer confided in The Spectator.

But the average 20- and barely-30-something is broke-as-a-joke right now. What's the point of dropping tried-and-true methods of fundraising for social media, which generally caters to a demographic with no money? I don't have a good answer other than that it worked in this particular instance. The success of the campaign exceeded most expectations. The turnout, which consisted 17% of lapsed donors and 23% first timers, also gave a pleasant surprise; these groups were much more highly represented than usual.