Giving Tuesday, In Its Fourth Year, Is Now Officially a “Thing”

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Giving Tuesday / Howard Lake

November 7, 2015;

The United States has always had a unique tradition of philanthropy. According to a study from the Giving USA Foundation, charitable giving in the United States rose to a record $358.38 billion last year, the fifth straight year of growth. The largest portion of that comes from individual donors.

Good fundraising ideas have a way of taking on a life of their own and becoming embedded into the collective consciousness (think Ice Bucket Challenge). In 2012, the 92nd Street Y in New York City, in partnership with the United Nations Foundation and influencers from the worlds of nonprofits, foundations and business, asked a simple question: Could a day devoted to giving back compete effectively with the likes of Black Friday and Cyber Monday? Four years later, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

A campaign like Giving Tuesday is the perfect embodiment of Americans’ willingness to come together in the spirit of generosity. According to the Giving Tuesday website, since its initiation, there have been more than 30,000 partners across 68 countries participating in the day and a nearly 500 percent increase in online charitable donations on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

Bill Strathmann and Roger Dooley looked at the ways in which retailers promote themselves in preparation for the biggest shopping day of the year and offer some lessons for nonprofits. Among them:

  • Create a sense of urgency. Time limits drive sales. Strathmann and Dooley cite a study conducted by WhichTestWon, which found that compared to using the generic “offer ends soon,” specific timeframes can triple sales amounts. Their translation for nonprofits? “A 24-hour window can nudge your well-intentioned but procrastinating supporters to make a contribution.”
  • Scarcity drives action. If a challenge grant or matching gift has been pledged and is good only through a set deadline, donors will be much more compelled to make donations within that timeframe.
  • Social norms hold sway, even in the field of charitable giving. Much as we follow trends in food, media and fashion, so too are we influenced by the “champions,” those who are stepping up and pledging their support early on in the campaign. On Black Friday, social proof reveals itself as crowds line up outside retailers and big box stores. “On Giving Tuesday, a nonprofit may generate social proof by displaying the number of donors or even a list of names of donors throughout the day.”
  • “Mobilize” your giving. As nonprofit fundraisers and marketers are coming to realize, mobile sites are no long optional if the goal is to attract and retain donors. In response to the new reality that people tend to be online more frequently on smartphones than at their desktops, Google now gives priority to mobile-optimized sites, putting them at the top of mobile search results. If your giving page is not mobile friendly, even the most well-intentioned prospective donors will lose their enthusiasm if they can’t act immediately.
  • Take a long hard look at your organization’s giving page and make sure that it mirrors the look and feel of your organization’s brand. According to Network for Good, charities that have a resonant brand presence on their giving pages raise an average 138 percent more on Giving Tuesday than those using generic donation pages.

Strathmann and Dooley also recommend planning ahead to prepare donors for the day, “counting down to midnight” to retain excitement, using tickers or thermometer-style icons to let donors see progress toward the goal, and using social media to highlight benchmarks, post photos and videos, and remind donors of the organization’s mission.

While Giving Tuesday relies on individuals’ generosity leading up to the giving season (and the end of the tax year), it’s still a “tough crowd” out there, as Tom Watson wrote last year in Forbes. Sometimes donors are bombarded by so many appeals across so many platforms that they begin to take a jaded view. Watson suggests countering that with storytelling, a suggestion backed up by a sophisticated strategic roadmap for doing so created by the Rockefeller Foundation. The premise is a simple one: An organization offers content and opportunities for action, supporters are inspired to spread the word, and an engaged community offers ideas, resources, and energy to the organization.

Turning the focus of storytelling on the donors themselves, this year Giving Tuesday is launching #MyGivingStory, spearheaded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. While six nonprofit organizations will receive grants of up to $5,000, #MyGivingStory is more a vehicle for engaging donors on the most personal of levels, encouraging them to share their reasons for becoming involved with and supporting those causes nearest to their hearts. Between now and November 24th, individuals can visit #MyGivingStory on Facebook and submit a story of a time they made a gift to a nonprofit organization they gave to and why. Fifteen organizations that receive the most “Likes” will be reviewed by a panel of judges, who will select the final six winning nonprofits.

While the winners will undoubtedly be the larger organizations with an extensive social media presence, the concept offers nonprofits of all sizes and stripes the opportunity to engage their supporters and ask them to think about their personal motivations for giving. And hopefully, in the process, those individuals will click on to the organizations’ own well-branded, mobile-friendly donations page and take part in what is fast becoming a new American tradition.—Patricia Schaefer

  • Is there any data that proves that the extra effort put into #GivingTuesday results in a corresponding increase in donations, decoupled from the “normal” year-end fundraising lift that many organizations already see? Don’t get me wrong, I like the concept, but I wonder if it’s truly making a difference.

  • I have the same questions/doubts as Marc. There are corporate sponsors as well as non-profit brands (such as donation processors) that benefit from Giving Tuesday, but that it is a benefit to all individual charities is far from clear (and most or all the data and analysis comes from those who stand to benefit from the perception that Giving Tuesday is in fact a benefit).

    I have a pretty big network of non-profit colleagues (most of whom would be in the small to middle category) and of those who participate in Giving Tuesday they have all told me that the benefits are slim to none. I see they are already dutifully profiling Giving Tuesday in their e-news and followed all the steps outlined in this article, but chances are good that they will once again experience negligible returns. I would love to be proven wrong because I am also dutifully trucking along because one clear success Giving Tuesday has achieved is that to NOT participate will raise an eyebrow.

    Of those that do report Giving Tuesday success, it seems to me only a little bit of tunnel-down is required to figure out that they arranged those wins – I think it’s likely that nobody new came out of the woodwork to offer them $ because of Giving Tuesday, rather it is my observation they tapped into an existing relationship and created a win. This is great, but that’s not the same as the message that Giving Tuesday will somehow attract new donors. And from what I could ascertain, a similar win could have been organized on a different day of the year. So the work of building that relationship prior to Giving Tuesday is where the real win is coming from.

    It’s not a negative of course that an organization would take advantage of Giving Tuesday to build a win around the concept. But for those who don’t have those types of major sponsor and donor relationships they should not go around feeling inadequate or worthless because they only got $43.00 or because Richard Branson didn’t throw money at them from a helicopter. It’s not going to happen just because you branded a moving story about your work with a Giving Tuesday logo.

    Much of the Giving Tuesday logic really doesn’t make all that much sense if you think about it – on a day when the entire charity world is being encouraged to seek out donations, this is a very unlikely moment to break through with new donors – at best most charities can expect some shifting around of their existing donor base (they might donate on December 1 instead of a different day in December). One might be able to make the case that almost any other day of the year would have strategic advantages.

    Thinking of Giving Tuesday as a universally beneficial non-profit opportunity is a bit like a small family business getting excited about Black Friday – that’s great for the big box stores but probably not for the local boutique.

  • Patricia Schaefer

    That’s a great question, Marc. I didn’t see any hard data on that.

  • I love this Mary (Giving Back Tuesday). Our organization has an annual Festive Family Feast right around the same time as Giving Tuesday (December 4 this year) and it’s not a fundraiser or an ask “just” getting together to celebrate community. I think your allusions to “Big Philanthropy” are accurate as far as the pros/cons of Giving Tuesday for the more grassroots among us, and your local twist is an inspires me!