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Are You Giving In to #GivingTuesday?

logos of giving tuesday

#GivingTuesday now has six years under its belt. It seems prudent to review its growth and significance, and to see whether it elevates overall giving or just redistributes anticipated giving.

#GivingTuesday is a novel campaign founded by the 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation to remind the nation that the holiday season is about more than consumerism that now surrounds Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Its initial promise aligned well with the rise of social media and online shopping, and takes advantage of people being in a generous spirit while at the same time taking advantage of discounts and deals for gift purchasing. The money the save can be used for supporting worthy causes.

Does It Have Legs?

According to the 92nd Street Y, 2016 donations on Giving Tuesday rose 50 percent to more than $274 million, with 22 percent growth in the number of donations to 2 million. The average gift size also increased 11 percent to $111. Bear in mind these figures include only the digital platforms that report into the 92nd Street Y. The actual numbers were likely much higher since 90 percent of donations in the US are still made by check.

Other reports indicate that some big-name nonprofits saw huge increases in giving following the election in 2016, but last year’s #GivingTuesday results were less than stellar, with a lower rate of growth than in previous years. SEE RESULTS


My review of the literature addressing the effectiveness and participation around #GivingTuesday leaves me with the following observations and questions:

  • The Tuesday following Thanksgiving is right in the middle of the traditional giving season when many nonprofit stakeholder organization are already broadcasting appeals via direct mail, email, social media and personal visits. These appeals are typically customized to upgrade donors and reengage lapsed donors, and use suggested giving amounts.
    Are organizations robbing Peter to pay Paul by participating with #GivingTuesday? This non-personalized campaign environment opens the door for that typical $200 donor to self-downgrade to $100, and then possibly not respond to your year-end appeal.
  • Many small organizations participate with #GivingTuesday to boost their holiday appeal period.
    Results of growth and decline are a mixed bag.
  • A variety of incentives are being used to encourage #GivingTuesday giving that include: matching and challenge gifts; stakeholders making personal appeals to personal networks to contribute through personal giving pages; year-long stewardship of past #GivingTuesday donors; and multi-channel strategies to encourage giving.
    These are all effective fundraising strategies for use year-round, i.e. focused campaigns surrounding radio-thons, tele-thons and public radio appeals.
  • Inboxes and mailboxes have become saturated with #GivingTuesday appeals, adding even more “noise” during the holiday giving season.
    Has a noise tipping point been reached that is now counterproductive?
  • #GivingTuesday has helped smaller organizations secure five-figure gifts from a handful of donors.
    Would these donors have given anyway if approached, or is it the spirit of #GivingTuesday that motivates them?
  • No one reports on how #GivingTuesday has changed their giving trend lines.
    Was the organization’s historic growth in giving, been positively or negatively affected by #GivingTuesday? Has the trend in giving nationally been affected since the advent of #GivingTuesday? Sound analysis on this point would be difficult, but it is possible to do.
  • In a novel use of #GivingTuesday, The Boston Foundation, Massachusetts’s largest community foundation, gave $15,000 in grants of $500 or $1000 to 25 Massachusetts nonprofits which updated their profiles on The Giving Common in the weeks leading up to Giving Tuesday.
    Would this incentive have worked in June, at a time of year when the organizations are less busy, and so they could be updated to receive gifts through fall and the holidays?

What Happens on Wednesday

What happens on Wednesday after #GivingTuesday? Direct marketing firm Rising Tide Direct, Copley Raff’s strategic partner, worked with 92nd Street Y three years ago to make Wednesday – “#ThankYouWednesday” that served as a pivot point to promote a year-end challenge gift campaign, with great success. Make sure there is an encore to #GivingTuesday.

Novel Approaches & Innovations

I am all for trying novel and innovative approaches to fundraising and reaching the public. Think the novel Ice Bucket Challenge and innovations like crowd funding and donor advised funds. The Ice Bucket Challenge caught fire for one year, but then could not repeat its success ( While other innovations like crowd funding and donor advised funds have endured and grown to be significant giving channels.

Trying something new or going with the latest new thing should not be a substitute for the intestinal fortitude needed to stick to a game plan that is working. Understanding and enhancing your organization’s value proposition is centrally important, even in the face of pressure by volunteers or executives to try what may appears to be a novel strategy enhancement. Listen to and understand YOUR donors. Be cautious of letting a one-day-of-the-year giving window usurp your message and other motivations to give.

The fundamental question is, in which fundraising strategies should your organization invest its resources, and on what basis are you making your decision?

Your takes:

1. If you participate in #GivingTuesday do a serious evaluation of its net benefit to your organization.

2. If you think #GivingTuesday has value to your organization, continue to think about, and test ways to maximize its benefit.

3. If #GivingTuesday attracts larger than normal gifts, be sure to meet with those donors to better understand their motivation for giving through #GivingTuesday and the potential for engaging them beyond #GivingTuesday.

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