Thursday, 07 May 2015 23:10

How Purdue University Raised Nearly $14 million in Just 24 Hours Featured

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Anya SamekPurdue University held its second annual “Day of Giving” last week, breaking the record for the biggest single-day fundraising campaign in higher education. Purdue raised nearly $14 million dollars from over 9,500 gifts in just 24 hours. That’s nearly $60,000 every hour. I’m proud to call Purdue my alma mater!

How did they do it? Purdue used a number of proven approaches to both increase donations and make giving fun. You can see their results at

Directed Giving Opportunities: When you give on Purdue’s Day of Giving, you can easily direct your gift to any number of different recipients. Your gift can go to a college, the Purdue scholarship fund, student organizations, or athletics. According to a recent research paper by SPI friends Catherine Eckel, David Herberich and Jonathan Meer, allowing higher education donors to direct their gift significantly increases donation amounts. We saw this at play at Purdue this week as well.

Reducing Hassle Costs: The interface to give was straightforward, and donors had the ability to select one or multiple units to send their gift. In a recent paper my colleague David Reiley and I have been working on, reducing hassle costs is key for increasing the number of people who give (there, we reduce hassle costs by offering payroll deduction, but the idea is similar).

Leaderboard: The Leaderboard is also important. Not only could donors direct their gift, but each participating unit at Purdue was ranked on the website in real-time based on total donations and number of donors. Units were ranked based on overall donations and on participation, creating a sense of competition among donors. We know from research in the lab that competition between teams generates increased effort – in this case, the competition starts with the Leaderboard and the increased effort is greater giving.

Matching Gifts: The Leaderboard didn’t just come with a prestige factor – Purdue put money behind each ranking. Units with the highest overall donations split a total of $100,000 in bonus gifts, depending on the share of donations; while units with the highest number of donors split a total of $50,000 in bonus gifts. Moreover, certain units offered additional matches – the Purdue Scholarship Fund was matching donations $1 for $1. SPI research shows that matches both increase overall donations and the number of donors, regardless of the size of the match. Related research by Steffen Huck and Imran Rasul suggests that the power of matches comes from signaling the value of the gift, and that some matches may actually crowd out donations. This is why bonus gifts combined with a Leaderboard might work quite well – since the final level of match is based on number/total number of donations, crowd out should be minimized. Read our summary of matches here.

Social Media: Social media was used before and during the event. Prior to the Day of Giving, Purdue, and each organization who participates contacted their alumni base for maximal exposure through e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. For example, I learned about the Day of Giving both from Purdue directly and from the Krannert School of Management, where I received my degrees. Spreading the word is important, but what came next is even more meaningful. After making their gift, donors were encouraged to share the fact that they gave, with a request for others to give, on their Facebook wall or Twitter feed. As SPI friends Ragan Petrie, Marco Castillo and Clarence Wardell will tell you, “Two main reasons why people donate to charity are that they have been asked and asked by someone they care about.” Ragan, Marco and Clarence’s paper provides some interesting data on how to maximize the power of friends asking friends, and you can read about it here.

I’m delighted to see all of these strategies used in combination. And looking forward to what Purdue comes up with for 2016!

Last modified on Thursday, 07 May 2015 23:30
Anya Samek

Anya Samek is an Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, currently a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Economics Department at the University of Chicago. Anya received her Ph.D. in Economics from Purdue University in 2010 and was a Griffin Postdoctoral Scholar at the University of Chicago in 2010-2012.

Anya is an applied microeconomist and primarily uses the methodology of experimental economics to answer research questions. Anya has training and experience in both laboratory and field experiment approaches, and believes that the two are complementary. She also believes in the value of interdisciplinary research for advancing the science of economics. Anya's main research fields are in Experimental and Behavioral Economics, Public Economics, Applied Economics, and Health Economics.