Giving Tuesday: Your Opinions, Please


December 1, 2015;

At NPQ, we feel that we often are consciously waiting out heavily promoted or evangelized fads. Is this nonprofit/philanthropic sector more rife with them than others? Probably not, but over time we have noted that although some advances are real, leading to new practice, some new ideas just cycle through, eventually losing steam because their results have not lived up to their loudly heralded promises. In the worst cases, inadequate or even regressive concepts stick around for years—well marketed but underperforming—because no one wants to challenge them.

If we were less annoyed by true believers and by the fact that they often dismiss the proven practice of others as old and unenlightened, we might look at most short cycles as experimental iterations toward a future practice. But, alas, this is not the case with many well-capitalized, bright ideas. They often seem to consume sectoral resources and airtime at a literally astounding rate, entirely disproportionate to their eventually disappointing worth.

So this brings us to Giving Tuesday. Yesterday, we noted a tweet from a colleague calling for an analysis of the value—in the end—of Giving Tuesday. This is hard to formally discern without a thorough longitudinal analysis of the befores-and-afters of thousands of agencies across the country to determine the pros and cons, gains and losses of the event. But we are going to do our best using multiple sources after this year’s event.

We admit to being just a little allergic to the whole lineup of after-Thanksgiving events, starting with Black Friday—but excluding “Small Business Saturday,” which we loved in concept, although it now appears to maybe be “owned” in some way by American Express.

That said, we have some questions we want to put to the organizations that actually participate. Our assumption is that most of you already had year-end fundraising campaigns, so in the context of that:

  • Does Giving Tuesday, in your opinion, add to or detract from your end of year campaign?
  • Has your annual take improved because of your participation in Giving Tuesday? (We realize this may be hard to discern post-recession, but do your best.)
  • Is your participation aimed primarily at gaining new donors or money?
  • Have you had internal organization discussion about the pros and cons of participation? If so, what, if any, concerns were expressed?

Your answers will help us figure out where to look when trying to make critical sense of the event.—Ruth McCambridge

  • MadelineJMartin

    We’ve had mixed success with GivingTuesday. This year it seems more competitive than ever to reach people’s inboxes with so many Black Friday, SBS, and Cyber Monday emails from online retailers.
    Social media hypes GivingTuesday tremendously, but the ROI is difficult to measure over time staff spend on social media. I think it does distract from the annual campaign as typically we are asking over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season. Could it be too many asks?

  • Ryan Ginard

    We decided to give #GivingTuesday a miss this year. I work for an educational nonprofit (budget $800k).

    1. (and what I feel is the most important) it dilutes the size of our gifts. We have found that people will indeed participate in Giving Tuesday but will give a smaller gift than they usually do at years end, and ultimately they don’t give twice. Frankly, “Haven’t I given already?” is not what a fundraiser wants to hear for the year end push!

    2. The extra pressures on staff (Development staff or not) to make it successful – the campaigns need to provide a good ROI, so instead of jumping on the bandwagon we are prioritizing a $30k matching campaign in collaboration with a local foundation.

    3. Quality over quantity. Today we are finalizing a grant proposal and making calls to previous donors. Its a much better use of time, and is important for our donor experience expectations (even though I’m sure ill use #GivingTuesday as an icebreaker or a way to shift gears in the conversation).

    While I like the concept I don’t see #GivingTuesday as the oracle of online fundraising especially for those
    organizations with a small development staff. We are big on data and work within a constant evaluation loop – in the end #GivingTuesday just didn’t stack up for us.

  • SandiG

    We find that people will give what they are planning to give. Some people prefer to give online as a part of a promotion.

    If we heavily promote “Give to the Max”, we get a decent return. We have a number of other year-end priorities (our major fund-raising event is the first weekend in December), so providing this kind of promotion is difficult with a small staff (2.2 FTEs).

    Because some of our donors expect us to participate, we do. They feel good about being a part of a larger effort.

    In Minnesota, Give to the Max has had its own website, and prizes/additional donations which our donors love.

    However, fees for online participation have increased to around 4%–which isn’t widely publicized. On a small donation the impact is minor. On a larger donation, it’s significant.

    All that said, we participate quietly, to give donors the opportunity to participate, but we try to minimize the staff time spent on this.

  • Andrea Robertson

    We limited our participation to social media, largely because I feel that the emails are lost in a blur of email from loads of organizations, but also because we are transitioning systems and I felt that we could not do an effective job of segmenting lists for appropriate customized messaging.

    The dollar results were minimal (some of the gifts we counted were postmarked on 12/1 but were really responses to the SYBUNT appeal that landed in mailboxes around Thanksgiving. But, what it did do for us, was generate a lot of page views and engagement with our social media content, so in that regard, as an engagement and community-building vehicle, I think there is a benefit to participating, though I would not rush to allocate loads of our limited resources to it.

  • Kebo Drew

    #givingtuesday is one of the 2 days a year that we make a wide public ask for donations, the other is #giveOUT day. we do year end, but it’s a much more subtle thing. for us, it adds to the EOY campaign, but overall, it’s a real drag.

    these giving days get us in front of new, usually one-time donors, but some of our major donors see it as a time to give, increasing their gifts or giving an additional gift, or lapsed donors come back. this year, one donor offered a matching challenge, which encouraged some others to give.

    our annual fundraising has not improved because of our participation. nor has it raised our profile among our community, but it is an opportunity for our donors/supporters to reach out to their networks and tell them about our work. we’re like the best kept secret in down, we’re not good at communicating about our work, which is ironic, given what our organization does.

    our giving days are focused mainly on a certain goal. as a hybrid arts & social justice organization that serves an extremely marginalized community, these giving days are more like a popularity contest. and as we know, when it’s about equity or certain societal “outcasts,” we’re never going to win these kinds of contests. so the prize money that is offered isn’t much of an incentive for us.

    the cons for us are about the popularity contest aspect of giving days, or voting on who gets a grant. that never, ever works for us. sort of like the X factor or american idol or dancing with the stars: it’s never just about the good work, or the talent, or the dedication. It is about how likeable, or important, or valued we are by people in proximity to how close we are to mainstream standards. Which means that when it comes down to it, serving people on the margins, perceived as a niche community, devalued by most, means that it’s rare that we will win anything or be recognized for our impact. That’s why we can’t vote on civil rights issues or equity or injustice, because it will just fall along the lines of the status quo.

    we do better when there is a justice framework or a strong artistic practice/high quality art framework (acknowledging that our art is devalued too) and we’re not in direct competition with others.

    so we’re thinking about whether these giving days are worth the effort, the stress & frustration and the heartbreak, as well as the benefits of letting people know who we are.