South Dakota State students making a difference for nonprofits

SDSU Marketing & Communications
Posted 1/4/24

BROOKINGS — National Day of Giving can be the nonprofit equivalent of retailer’s Black Friday. However, many smaller agencies don’t have the manpower to engage in a robust social media campaign.

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South Dakota State students making a difference for nonprofits


BROOKINGS — National Day of Giving can be the nonprofit equivalent of retailer’s Black Friday. However, many smaller agencies don’t have the manpower to engage in a robust social media campaign.

For five area nonprofits, that need was addressed by students in the Fundraising and Resource Development course at South Dakota State University. The efforts helped the nonprofits raise more than $10,000 on National Day of Giving, Nov. 28, according to Kim Gustafson, coordinator of the leadership and management of nonprofit organization’s major at SDSU.

The nonprofits were the Ty Eschenbaum Foundation, Brookings County Youth Mentoring Program, Brookings Regional Humane Society, Brookings Arts Council and the South Dakota FFA Foundation.

Ali Teesdale, executive director of Brookings County Youth Mentoring Program, said the efforts of Shelby Cochran, a senior from Oxford, Iowa, were vital to the giving appeal.

“She saved us on staff time, led Day of Giving updates and meetings, gave us a game plan, and we enjoyed having her as a part of the BCYMP team,” Teesdale said.

Cochran said her efforts on Nov. 28, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving were rather minimal, but like with many major projects, the heavy lifting was done in advance.

Details come together for youth mentoring

“I was very fortunate because Ali (Teesdale) allowed me to contribute and learn in all aspects of the campaign. I helped create a social media outline that aligned with each Day of Giving Challenge, such as creating Facebook and Instagram posts.

“These included video content that had past and current board members and Ali talking about why you should donate and the impact Brookings County Youth Mentoring Program has, with additional posts highlighting the wonderful pair that BCYMP has,” Cochran said.

She said she tried hard to create unique ways to engage with donors, such as creating video content from current and past board member and voiceovers from Ali.

Such creativity helped Brookings County Youth Mentoring supporters to respond in impressive fashion. Dollarwise, the giving grew by one-third ($5,125 in 2023 vs. $3,845 in 2022). In addition, 10 people gave who didn’t give in 2022 and seven of those were first-time donors.

Cochran adds, “We also had a $500 match from a local company and even won a Day of Giving prize.” South Dakota Day of Giving is a coalition of foundations and businesses that encourage participation in Giving Tuesday. It awarded numerous prizes before and after Nov. 28 to participants that responded to a South Dakota Day of Giving challenge.

With the Day of Giving prize, Brookings County Youth Mentoring Program raised just over $7,000 through Giving Tuesday efforts, Teesdale said.

Lessons learned regardless of results

Of course, not all campaigns went that well, but Lynn Bren, a senior from Harrisburg, found there were lessons learned there as well.

Bren, who worked with Brookings Regional Humane Society, said, “It was challenging getting higher (donor) engagement at a time when all the other nonprofits are also vying for the same bandwidth and attention of donors. Also, you have be prepared to adapt to ever-changing atmospheres and understand that life happens.

“Even though our specific Day of Giving was not as successful as we had hoped, we were able to talk about some additional opportunities for other fundraisers and campaigns that may be utilized throughout the year. Also, I enjoyed working with people who share some of the same passions that I have.”

Hadley Stiefvater, a senior from Salem who worked with South Dakota FFA Foundation, said, “The most challenging aspect was that most of our target audience is paper based. They respond very well to paper requests and personal conversations, so social media asks were more difficult to get a response. We also majorly battled Facebook algorithms … This made it hard to reach viewers and obtain engagement.”

Nonetheless, she did learn “that people respond better to testimonials than general asks. This was most evident in the engagement data on our posts.”

Second year for class project

The course, which is offered every other year, is taught by Dan McColley, adjunct instructor for the leadership and management of nonprofit organizations major and executive director of Brookings Area Habitat for Humanity.

The National Day of Giving class project was first undertaken in 2021. McColley said, “My resource staff struggles to incorporate Day of Giving with our annual giving appeal and we have a dedicated giving strategy. It’s even more difficult for charities without a staff that focuses on resource development. I was trying to figure out a good Day of Giving project and this is a great way for students to apply what they learned.”

Students had to have selected a charity by Sept. 15 and spent the rest of the semester getting to know their agency and figuring out an engagement strategy, filming giving appeals and determining how to measure the effectiveness of the strategy.

Other participants were Elizabeth Ross, of Milford, Iowa, and Janae Hassman, of Spencer, Iowa.

Project matched students with their passion

McColley said, “I think it is a meaningful experience for the students to partner with organizations that appreciate the help. It’s a nice way for students to apply what they learned and for me to evaluate them. This is something they can do in a semester, yet it contains all the elements as if they were doing a long-term capital campaign.”

Cochran said of her work with Brookings County Youth Mentoring, “I thoroughly enjoyed collaborating with Ali (Teesdale) and Mikayla (Bottelberghe, volunteer and family coordinator) and gaining hands-on experience with the fundraising techniques we were learning in class.

“This experience not only allowed me to acquire valuable skills but also allowed me to contribute to an organization that significantly impacts people’s lives. Exploring their organization and learning about its history was the icing on the cake, making the entire experience even more enriching.”

Teesdale added, “We exist to make a difference in the lives of young people. Like most nonprofits, we count on donors to make that happen. Committed, passionate volunteers like Shelby are why we’re able to be successful.