Putting the give (and gratitude) in #GivingTuesday | Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation

December 4, 2014

Ever since its introduction a few years ago, I’ve struggled with the concept of #GivingTuesday, the national movement founded to create a national day of giving to kick off the giving season  (and counteract Black Friday and Cyber Monday). On the one hand, the thinking behind the created holiday is lovely. On the other hand, too many nonprofits are too caught up in nickel and dime fundraising and busy work – and #GivingTuesday represents yet another distraction.

Your time is limited (especially now at year-end), and my focus – and yours – should be on long-term funding success, not gimmicks.

After sharing my thoughts on #GivingTuesday, Felice Mancini, Executive Director of the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, wrote in: “I read your post about GT and agree about not participating. So I met with my staff about it and we decided to do it, but with a twist. Instead of MHOF asking for donations on that day, we want to be the donor and give to schools. So our campaign is called #watch MHOF put the GIVE in Giving Tuesday. On that day we’re announcing 10 schools across the country we’re awarding with instruments – all a surprise to the schools and to those following our campaign. The principals at the schools know but will keep the secret until that day. They all plan to post from their schools as we announce hourly.”

I loved their results!

You will too. Read on to learn how Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, an organization founded to keep music alive in our schools by donating musical instruments to under-funded music programs, turned #GivingTuesday on its head.  Special thanks to Felice Mancini, Executive Director of Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation.

Although our social network sites are regularly filled with great content and we’re responsive to input, we haven’t made a concerted effort to actively and strategically build our fan/friend base. We just don’t have the time and the staff for it and have considered it secondary to our daily development and program efforts. We didn’t think we could mount a successful campaign with our small following.

But in the last few months, because of our work with a new corporate partner with a tech focus, we thought we’d better get on that bandwagon and reach out to our schools, donors and vendors to request their participation on our social sites. We put a volunteer on it.

We had already started building this when the Giving Tuesday conversation started among our staff. We made a small effort last year to participate but found it intrusive and a distraction at a time when our year-end appeal and email blast campaign were being planned. I didn’t want to approach my donors with an additional request, so we just posted on Facebook and as a tag to one of our email blasts.


This year, the staff was open to trying but cautious. I had just personally signed 1,100 appeal letters and my head was spinning with the year-end push. I was not going to make another ask. Then my program director Tricia said “Hey, maybe we should turn it around and we will do the giving on that day. Let’s pick five schools and give instrument to them and make that our campaign.” We got excited about this twist. We weren’t asking for anything – we were giving. We’ll call it – Watch MHOF put the GIVE in Giving Tuesday.


But we had never done a social media campaign. How would we get people into it, have them share and spread it around. Well, what if we asked some of our board members and celebrity friends to help us announce the schools. We went crazy with ideas and immediately got on the phone to as many people as we could asking if they would send us a photo of them holding a plain white sign that we would digitally fill in with the name of a school. Five schools? Not enough – let’s make it 13 and do a longer campaign building to the big “reveal.” These were schools that we were nearly ready to award with just a bit more vetting, which was now fast-tracked for the campaign.


We mapped out each day, each hour – told our board and friends to support it and got as much advice as we could from people with experience in social media. We asked a long-time supporter Felicia Day who had a huge Youtube and Twitter following if she would be our host for the campaign to hook her people in and get the ball rolling. She and I made a video introducing the campaign and even got her dog Cubby involved. We created our own logo with the “Tuesday” upside down to show how we turned GT on its head.


I thought we made the campaign too long – we started on November 24, but we seemed to have fun and engaging posts sprinkled with regular content so there was plenty. On the big reveal day, December 2, our post reach went from 3,000 to 35,500 in the first four hours and as I write this we’re at 1 million and counting. Our average Twitter reach is 440 and we’re now at 240,000. This, of course, was because we asked our celebrities to repost to their networks. Do you have any idea how many people follow Alice Cooper, Kristin Chenowith and Kesha? Shows the power of celebrity, however fleeting.

Lessons learned:

This took way more staff time than we imagined, preparing posts for all platforms, getting photos ready and planning. It also got confusing with all staff working on the project and getting wires crossed several times.

Writing for Facebook and Twitter is an art – very different from writing grants and newsletters. And it’s hard getting people to respond to questions and make comments. There was no defined call to action, purposely, other than to share.

People want to help. Every person we asked to pose for a photo with their sign said yes. And they were happy to share and retweet for us on the big day. It’s okay to leverage friendships and partnerships for a good result that makes everyone happy.

For a first effort, we’re very proud of the campaign. It brought out the creativity and hidden talents in our staff and gave us a challenging project to work on together. It was no “ice-bucket challenge” but for us, a complete success. Giving instruments worth $300,000 to 13 schools on one day was amazing.We did GIVE BIG on Giving Tuesday. And all the better if we gained some new fans.

There will be the predictable slowdown and attrition within the week. The post-campaign strategy is very important and we’re scrambling to keep some momentum while we’ve got the audience. We didn’t plan for this as we should have.

Will we do it next year? Probably not. But at least we know what’s possible if we give it a try. People that were bombarded with Giving Tuesday messages were impressed that we didn’t ask for anything – we just wanted to delight them.

Follow Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation on Twitter and Facebook.

Felice Mancini

For the past 25 years, Ms. Mancini has worked in the non-profit sector, primarily in development, management and as a board volunteer. She completed the certificate program in Fundraising and Non-Profit Management at UCLA before joining The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation in 1998. Felice began singing professionally at age 15 and studied music at the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver. For five years, Felice was involved with the production of Disney’s Young Musician’s Symphony Orchestra and managed their summer music camp in Los Angeles. A current member of ASCAP, Felice co-manages the vast catalogue of music created by her father, composer Henry Mancini. In 2002, Felice received the Partnership of Professionals Award for her leadership in music education advocacy by the National Association of Music Education, and in 2006 received the Music for Life Award from NAMM, the National Association of Music Merchants. In 2007, Felice was commended for outstanding community service for the benefit of citizens of Los Angeles County and in 2010 she received the Don Johnson Music Industry Service Award from the publishers of Musical Merchandise Review.

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