I admit it. The news headlines about the second annual #GivingTuesday have been exuberant:
• “Giving Tuesday Shows Robust Results” — The Chronicle of Philanthropy
• “Growth in Online Giving Tuesday Numbers ‘Inspiring’” — USA Today
• “Giving Tuesday Smashes Records, Spurs 90% Donation Spike” — The Huffington Post
There’s only one problem with all of the enthusiasm: There is not a single shred of hard evidence that #GivingTuesday is good for the entire nonprofit sector.
Fortunately, Forbes contributor Tom Watson is one member of the media not afraid to ask the big question: “Inside The #GivingTuesday Numbers: Will American Philanthropy Grow?”
I share Watson’s healthy skepticism. Like him, I am not yet convinced that #GivingTuesday is a positive force for philanthropy although I certainly hope it is. While #GivingTuesday might have been effective for some individual charities, I wonder if it has been good for the entire nonprofit sector.
The fact that many more charities got involved with #GivingTuesday, compared with last year, does not necessarily mean anything. The fact that millions of people used social media to talk about #GivingTuesday does not necessarily mean anything. The fact that millions of dollars were raised on #GivingTuesday is equally meaningless, by itself.
Here are some questions about #GivingTuesday that the nonprofit sector should answer before rushing to congratulate itself:
1. How many new donors (numbers and growth percentages) did #GivingTuesday participants v. other nonprofits acquire in all of 2013? Ideally, an analysis for this question and the rest would take into account organizational size and subsector.
2. Among #GivingTuesday participants v. other nonprofits, what is the rate of donor upgrade (percentage of those upgrading and the percentage of the upgrade amount) in all of 2013?
3. Among #GivingTuesday participants v. other nonprofits, what is the growth rate in total individual giving in all of 2013 (percentage growth of the amount of donations and the number of donors)?
4. Are #GivingTuesday nonprofit participants simply changing when people give? In other words, are people simply donating on #GivingTuesday instead of Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, etc.?
5. Among 2012 #GivingTuesday nonprofit participants v. other nonprofits, what is the retention rate of donors who gave on that date?
6. Are #GivingTuesday nonprofit participants inspiring new and increased philanthropy or are they simply siphoning money away from other charities? Historically, individual giving has closely correlated to two percent of personal income. As income grows, so has individual philanthropy. Does #GivingTuesday increase the philanthropic pie or just alter how the two-percent-pie is distributed?
7. Could nonprofit organizations, particularly smaller ones, do better by investing the time and financial resources into mastering the fundraising fundamentals rather than diverting those resources to #GivingTuesday promotion? The Fundraising Authority blog asserts just that in the post “Why Your Nonprofit Should Avoid #GivingTuesday Like the Plague.”
Until we have the answers to the above questions, it is simply premature for the nonprofit sector to congratulate itself for a successful #GivingTuesday.
I’m reminded of something my mother once told me when I was a boy:
Don’t pat yourself on the back too hard. You might knock yourself over.”
That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?