#GivingTuesday: Hype or Hope?

A headline at Bloomberg excitedly gushed, “Why GivingTuesday is the Social Innovation Idea of the Year. 

We’ve had Black Friday immediately following Thanksgiving. We’ve had Cyber Monday on the Monday immediately following Thanksgiving. Now, on the heels of those two days dedicated to consumerism, we have Giving Tuesday, as a way to promote philanthropy on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving.

It’s certainly a seemingly good idea. But, is the Bloomberg headline true? Does #GivingTuesday offer the nonprofit sector great hope, or is it just well-intentioned hype?

#GivingTuesday is an initiative created by New York’s 92nd Street Y which has served as the catalyst and incubator for #GivingTuesday. Early on, the United Nations Foundation joined as a partner, bringing its strategic and communications expertise to the project. Eventually, over 2,000 additional partners were attracted. The initiative’s official mission statement is:

#GivingTuesday™ is a campaign to create a national day of giving at the start of the annual holiday season. It celebrates and encourages charitable activities that support nonprofit organizations.”

But, so what? While it’s nice that #GivingTuesday “celebrates and encourages charitable activities,” what has the first #GivingTuesday really accomplished?

On the #GivingTuesday website, Rob Reich, Co-Director of the Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society at Stanford University is quoted as saying:

#GivingTuesday has a simple aim: to establish a national day of giving during the holiday season of gratitude and generosity of spirit that will inspire Americans young and old, online and offline, red and blue, urban and rural. I joined #GivingTuesday because the aim is simple and the mission undeniably good: to increase charitable giving by all Americans.”

While time will tell if #GivingTuesday helps “increase charitable giving by all Americans,” I contacted The Associate: Jewish Community Federation of Greater Baltimore to gain some insight regarding the impact of #GivingTuesday.

According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, The Associated was #GivingTuesday’s “most successful charity,” having raised over $1 million.

MoneyLeslie Pomerantz, Senior Vice President of Development at The Associated, told me she learned about #GivingTuesday and was immediately intrigued. The Associated, at the height of its campaign season, was looking for ways to excite donors, and was looking for fresh reasons to involve people. #GivingTuesday presented a great marketing opportunity for The Associated to remind its community of its philanthropic values.

Through email and advertisements, The Associated promoted #GivingTuesday. In addition, it scheduled a massive phonathon for November 27. The effort attracted over 100 volunteers and engaged 30 staff members. While not as large as its autumn Super-Sunday phonathon that involves hundreds of volunteers, the #GivingTuesday outreach contacted previous donors who had yet to renew their support. The effort also reached out to some non-donors who had some type of connection to the organization.

The daylong calling effort generated 407 pledges totaling $1.03 million and acquired the first-time support of 27 individuals. While this result is certainly impressive, Pomerantz acknowledges that it may not represent an increase in giving to The Associated. More likely, the effort accelerated the campaign and got folks to give sooner than they otherwise would have. So, the big outcome might be simply improved cash flow which, for a social service agency, certainly has value.

Pomerantz also told me that #GivingTuesday helped to generate some excitement, create a sense of community built around shared values, provide a marketing hook, and offer a good opportunity to build community.

While some nonprofit organizations simply promoted #GivingTuesday, The Associated leveraged the promotion and implemented a new fundraising program to generate donations. On the Tuesday following Thanksgiving  2011, The Associated received only $81,000 in contributions. However, its success in 2012 is due more to its own enhanced fundraising activity than the #GivingTuesday promotion alone. But, again, it’s not likely to ultimately result in an increase in giving for the year.

Let me be perfectly clear. #GivingTuesday is not a bad thing. I’m in favor of anything that gets folks thinking about philanthropy. I also particularly like the idea of trying to inspire philanthropy rather than just consumerism during the Thanksgiving, Hanukah, Christmas period. However, as a method to move the philanthropy needle that has been fixed at around two percent of Gross Domestic Product since figures have been tallied, I have serious doubts.

It may be too early but, so far, I have not seen any evidence that #GivingTuesday has increased overall philanthropy as Reich thought it might.

What do you think? Did your organization promote #GivingTuesday? If so, do you think it will result in an increase of giving to your organization? Do you think it will result in an increase in overall charitable giving to the nonprofit sector? Please share your thoughts below and also vote in the following polls:

 

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

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10 Comments to “#GivingTuesday: Hype or Hope?”

  1. It may be an opportunity for the less philanthropic (or those who may have been more philanthropic) to check the box and say, it’s done.

    • “No Thank You,” thank you for commenting. If #GivingTuesday gets more folks to give and give more before they “check the box,” then that would be a good thing. However, if folks just do what they would have done anyway just to get it out of the way, then nothing much changes.

  2. To be quite candid, I never heard about it until I read your post and my first reaction was, “Oh no, not another ‘Hallmark’ holiday.”

  3. Hype or Hope? How about Hopeful Hype?

  4. I had heard about it because of my involvement on Twitter and other social media, but for me, it is too soon to say one way or another. Since it was hyped so much on Twitter, I think it may have reached the “Millenial” donor pretty well, but one will have to see if this is repeated. Will those organizations that benefited follow up and engage the donors for further charitable activity, or will they simply send an acknowledgement and expect the same next year? It may have opened some doors, but will the charities step through the threshold?

    • Richard, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I agree with you. If #GivingTuesday is to be meaningful, charities need to actively seize upon the opportunities it creates. Passively sloganeering will likely be of little long-term value. On the other hand, leveraging #GivingTuesday, as The Associated did, might do so some good. I also suspect that we have yet to see the full potential of #GivingTuesday. It will be interesting to see the impact it has or does not have after a few years. If it encourages more people to give more, it will be a success. If not, it will be just another anemic slogan like “Give Five” or “Leave a Legacy” that slowly fades away.

  5. Michael,

    I agree with you. What’s involved is a systems change — from getting more people who do not donate to nonprofits to make a contribution. They have to know about it, want to do it, and then do it. That’s going to require a five-year or longer effort to see impact.

    If we are trying to build the next generation of philanthropists, we have to recognize that affordability, knowledge and impact are barriers to giving for many NextGen donors. They are passionate about improving our world, but many have never really thought about our giving and don’t know where to start. System wide collective philanthropy movements like #givingtuesday and others can help us get to the first level – awareness. Then we need to educate and inspire these donors to give.

    It will take more than one or two campaigns over several years.

    Unfortunately, with the desire to “ROI” right away and a scarcity mentality – big picture ideas like #givingtuesday have more challenges to succeed.

    • Beth, thank you for sharing your thoughts. Asking charities to take money away from mission fulfillment today to invest in “research and development” and to invest in the future is always going to be a challenge. Larger organizations are often in a stronger position to make such investments. So, if larger organizations can demonstrate the effectiveness of a tactic like #GivingTuesday, then small and mid-size organizations can invest downstream with greater confidence.

      For readers who have not yet read The Fundraising Authority’s take on #GivingTuesday, check out: .

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