$3.26 million in 24 hours: How A Big 10 athletics department set fundraising records with help from athlete alumni

How A Major University Raised $3.26 million in 24 hours with help from Student-Athlete Alumni on Twitter.

What’s an athlete-driven tweet worth? Turns out, when the right content is published by the right athlete, in the right channel, at the right time — it can be worth quite a lot.

A Power 5 school learned this first hand during their  Day of Giving. By anchoring an innovative fundraising strategy with a capable social media technology partner, the 24-hour campaign saw 31 student-athlete alumni and coaches publish 34 Tweets and ultimately raise a record-setting $3.26 million.

+ 31 athlete alumni and coaches

+ 34 posts 

+ $3.26 million raised

About Their Day of Giving

This schools Day of Giving is the largest higher-ed single-day online fundraising event in the country, a 24-hour event that draws support from every member of the university community – students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni, and even friends of the aforementioned groups.

The event has proven critical to ensuring their future as one of the world’s leading institutions. The aim is to secure funds for future endowments, programming, scholarships, research, faculty hires and more – all of which makes the school a competitive university among applicants and maintains its relevancy as an academic leader.

The event is led by the University Development Office, which looks to incentivize the campus community by staging a competition. The university is divided into 70 department units and 200 student-organizations that categorically range from student groups to schools to colleges. Each of these units competes against one another in a race to see which unit can raise the most dollars. Among those units vying for the top spot was the athletics department.

The athletics department has its own development team, charged with raising funds for a myriad projects that benefit the university’s 18 different teams. The department relies entirely on philanthropic gifts for its operations. So, development is as critical to athletics as it is to any department on the campus, if not moreso.

The big athlete-driven opportunity

The Athletics department, with a strong social presence of its own, recognized that its fan base was particularly active. But they knew by only leveraging channels proprietary to the department, they were limiting themselves. Unlike an email campaign, whereby marketers are limited to the number of emails they have, social media provides, in this case, endless opportunity. The team needed to think bigger.

+ $3.26 million raised
+ 1.7 thousand total donations
+ 17.2% response rate*
*donations to engagements

Fans are seven times more likely to engage with a post shared by an athlete than one shared by a team or league account.


If you were to ask athletics directors, digital marketing leaders, SIDs, and even head coaches around the country if they would want their most prominent athlete alumni to support their program on social media, the answer would be a resounding yes. But it’s not that easy.

Simply asking athletes to share posts, or making images and videos available in content libraries isn’t enough. Schools that want to help their athletes publish effective content and run strategic, outcome-focused campaigns need the right technology and team in place to make it happen.

For the this Day of Giving campaign, the Athletics Department tackled three specific challenges:

Challenge | Getting Athletes and Coaches to Publish Posts

Simply getting the right content into the participating athletes’ and coaches’ channels was the first hurdle. For the campaign, the department created:

  1. Specific images and videos
  2. Copy intended to speak to donors, and
  3. Custom links that would allow the team to track the success of each post. 

Just getting in touch with that many former athletes and coaches would be a challenge. Asking 30-plus athletes and coaches to share these specific assets accurately, if at all, is a difficult ask with a slim margin for error.

Solution | Network and Publishing Technology


All 31 participating athletes were already active on this schools opendorse roster prior to the campaign kicking off, making it easy to notify each of the request and opportunity.  

Publishing Technology

Once the participants were identified, the team was able to compose posts for each athlete and coach with the exact media, message, and link desired for the campaign. Using opendorse, each athlete and coach received the opportunity directly to their phone, where they were able to approve the post with a single tap.

Once approved, opendorse did the rest —  automatically publishing the post in the participants’ approved channels at the scheduled date and time.

Challenge | Getting the Timing Right

With only 24 hours to earn  Day of Giving gifts, the Athletics Department had to be strategic. They couldn’t rely on the athletes and coaches to publish the posts on their time. Both tend to have rigorous, unpredictable schedules. While publishing a Tweet may only take a couple taps, leaving it to them would leave the campaign’s success up in the air.

Solution | Campaign Scheduling

The department didn’t waste any time getting ahead. On campaign day, nearly every post had already been scheduled via opendorse and approved by the athlete. All the team had to do was wait for posts — and gifts — to begin rolling in.

But they didn’t stop there. As the day wore and opportunities to break university records arose, the team found time to push more posts to athletes. Notably, an All-Pro quarterback who published a Tweet sent via opendorse at 11 p.m, just beating the deadline.

Challenge | Success Measurement and Attribution

The success of the Day of Giving campaign is directly tied to gifts received and dollars raised. But the final tally is made up of the tactics within the push. To meet and beat expectations in future years, the Athletics Department needed to know exactly how every post performed down to the dollar.

Solution | Real-time Analytics and Custom Links

The athletics team tracked the posts’ performance on social — both individually and collectively — using opendorse reporting with Twitter API access. With that, they were able to find the campaign’s reach, post impressions, engagements, and link clicks.

To track clicks and referrals, custom bit.ly links were created for each post. To take it another step further, the team built a custom appeal code for each participant, so they could measure exactly how much money came through each post and participant.

Building a campaign is that easy.

Want to see how?


  • + $3.26 million raised
  • + 1.7 thousand total donations
  • + 17.2% response rate*
    *donations to engagements

In aggregate, the 31 alumni and coaches that participated in the campaign through opendorse shared 34 posts that reached a total of 6.9 million people. The athlete- and coach-driven content that was shared resulted in 1,716 gifts for a total of $3.26 million, ranking second and fourth respectively amongst the 70 department units. For  Athletics Department, that represented their best performance in the six-year history of the event.

In total, 88 percent of the content that school shared with alumni and coaches was ultimately published and earned more than 10,000 engagements worldwide. After the campaign, the university heard from a number of alumni who were not yet using opendorse and asked to be added to their roster. Recognizing the value, the athletics department also decided to be more proactive in adding current athletes to the platform. So, next year’s campaign can expect to feature even more of their current and alumni athletes with the prospect of improving upon 2019’s record-setting performance.



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