Why ‘Serve STL Day’ is better than ‘Give STL Day’

Why 'Serve STL Day' is better than 'Give STL Day'The purpose of this post isn’t to provide petty or unfair criticism of creativity or innovation in fundraising in the nonprofit sector. But when some trends appear, the campaigns often generate an idea for improvement:

Instead of conducting “give” days, maybe we should call them “serve” days.

More than 900 nonprofits in the St. Louis area and thousands throughout the nation will conduct a coordinated campaign to solicit donations on Tuesday, May 3. Throughout the St. Louis metropolitan area, it’s known as Give STL Day.

As my Facebook news feed and email box fills with warm-up messages to donate and the Give STL Day logo appears on the long-range weather forecast for Tuesday on a television newscast, something in the subconscious suggests a more effective message.

Everyone needs encouragement to give. The needs in the nonprofit community are great and don’t seem to be declining. There are dedicated volunteers and staff members who spend countless hours in service to organizations. That’s where the word, “serve,” might be more accurate and effective than, “give.”

A few years ago, a representative of an organization assisting the poor in Central and South America came raise funds at Union Avenue Christian Church. Photographs of the people who benefitted from the work of the organization were shown during the Sunday School hour. Several personal stories were shared of how individuals and communities were transformed by the organization’s efforts. Later during the worship service, there were more stories and photographs—all different than those told during the first hour.

The presentation concluded with two short and simple sentences:

  • Your past support was appreciated.
  • If you want to start—or continue—helping us, there’s information in your worship bulletin.

The representative probably could have stopped short of saying those sentences as people were already writing checks and found the envelopes for themselves in the bulletins. The story of the organization’s service was so powerful, there really wasn’t a need to ask the people to give.

Even though the people in Central and South America were thousands of miles away from Union Avenue, the photographs and the story touched the hearts and minds of the people in the congregation. People will make donations when they experience an emotional connection to the organization’s mission, or to the people they serve.

InfographicLast year, Give STL Day raised $2.1 million from 20,260 donors—an average of $78.67 per gift. Perhaps the most significant accomplishment was 26 percent (5,200) of gifts were from new donors. St. Louis continues to be one of the most charitable cities in America. It was ranked 16th out of 30 major markets in a 2015 national study by Charity Navigator.

Instead of focusing on “Give” days next week and on Giving Tuesday—the Tuesday after Thanksgiving and Black Friday—perhaps time and resources would be better devoted to developing relationships with donors. An orchestrated call for everyone in a community to join in serving those assisted by the nonprofit sector would be a powerful and engaging challenge.

“Fundraising is never easy,” wrote Jeff Brooks in the post, “The Sad News About Magical Fundraising,”  on the Future Fundraising Now blog. “It always involved getting into the hearts and minds of donors and connecting with them on their terms. Sometimes lightning strikes and you connect with a lot of people in a deeper way than you’re used to. That’s great! But it only happens in the context of the hard work of paying attention to donors.”

Although no one new the name of the person who came to raise funds that day at Union Avenue Christian Church, the stories created meaningful connections with the audience.

“Fundraising is the result of strategic thinking, hard work, creativity and a genuine concern for donor interests and creating community change,” according to Fundraising Yoda in the post, “The Pursuit of Stardust Solutions,” on the 101Fundraising blog. “You succeed because of many reasons. When you go for the easy win, when you go for the quick sale, when you underestimate the effort required to engage donors, you do a disservice to the profession.”


There are powerful stories of your staff, volunteers and clients overcoming obstacles or meeting challenges as they walked down the path to success. Your stakeholders need to know those stories.

They compel people to give, serve and advocate.

They provide enthusiasm, determination and focus.

Contact Joe Mueller (Cell: 636.232.7730) for a free consultation on how your organization can identify and effectively tell your stories.

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One response

  1. […] week, the concept and messaging of “Give” days was reviewed (Why ‘Serve STL Day’ is better than ‘Give STL Day’) in this space. This week, we’ll review some ways to recover from a technological collapse […]

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