No Evidence of #GivingTuesday Success

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 

#GivingTuesday 2013 Infographic by #GivingTuesdayThe good folks at #GivingTuesday even put together an infographic illustrating the day’s success. I’m sharing it in this 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?

30 Responses to “No Evidence of #GivingTuesday Success”

  1. I share your skepticism, Michael – at best, social media giving is just a version of “checkbook charity.” I’m looking for ways to make philanthropy a high-engagement activity for everyone (including planned gifts!). More like a video game with high levels of collaboration and letting donors on the “inside.” What do your readers think? – Laura Waller-Miller

    • Laura, thank you for commenting. “Checkbook charity” or “transactional giving” do charities little long-term good. That’s one reason why nonprofits that engage in social media need to have a follow-up plan in place.

      Many donors want engagement with charities they support, particularly those they support in serious ways. However, “engagement” means different things to different donors. I’d like to learn more about your thinking for letting donors on the inside.

  2. Well said, Michael. I am also curious about how much money goes directly to underwriting the administration/co-ordination of “Giving Tuesday.” National/International efforts such as these are not completely free of cost. Beyond the participants, there is an organizer/coordinator (individual or organization) that is/are providing goods and/or services that have a cost. Someone pays the piper.

    • Gary, thank you for the interesting comment. You’ve raised an interesting issue. It would be interesting to know more about the operational costs of the #GivingTuesday organization and how those expenses are met. I did not see anything addressing this at the official #GivingTuesday website.

      • Thanks Michael. I’ve just been clicking through all sorts of information, websites, articles and blogs about #GivingTuesday (including Michael Beahm and your response). There’s lots to choose from. We had our first #GivingTuesday here in Canada this year and I notice that Australia and probably other countries recognized it as well. There are lots of really interesting “takes” on how it is benefiting (or not) the non-profits both in fundraising and “awareness” raising. One obvious group of beneficiaries of the increasing use and encouragement of online donations through the #GivingTuesay initiative are the companies providing the online funding platforms (Blackbaud, for example, reported a 90% increase in #GivingTuesday donations processed on their platform compared to last year). With all the attention, perhaps there will be a third party analysis of the impact on all sectors.

        Thanks for your blog, Michael. I look forward to reading each and every installment. Gary

      • Gary, thanks again. You’re right. Blackbaud has reported a dramatic increase in online giving this #GivingTuesday compared to last year’s. However, does that mean that we have really seen an increase in online giving or just a shift in when folks make their online gift? Third party analysis would be fantastic. Meantime, I’d be somewhat content if Blackbaud was willing to conduct and share a broader analysis. And, for all those fundraising and nonprofit management graduate students out there, there’s plenty of fertile ground for a thesis project.

  3. Agreed, this is an excellent realistic post. I too am in the boat…I want it to be successful, but I would like to see some real evidence of success. And, I question whether or not this is the thing nonprofits should be focusing on during this season of opportunity. Thanks for a great reflective look!

    • Bridget, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I’m frequently invited to speak at conferences and meetings. Often, those inviting me want me to address the latest, greatest ideas for raising more money. While there is always something new to talk about, the reality is that most organizations would do better to focus on mastering the fundamentals. For some organizations, #GivingTuesday might be a good idea; however, is it the best idea?

  4. Michael, this is why I follow you: HONESTY AT ITS BEST. Thanks.

  5. #GivingTuesday is another channel as far as I can see. Is it an offset or an addition to year-end giving? My experience is that donors earmark a certain amount and to certain charities and how they give may change but not what they give. It seems as if every year there are breathless reports about the increase in online giving–but giving overall is still not up to pre-recession levels. Remove mega-gifts and corporate gifts of product from the equation and overall giving is still down. Channels change, philanthropic intent does not.

    • Jerold, thank you for taking the time to comment. I’m not necessarily opposed to #GivingTuesday. However, I do want to better understand what it has accomplished and what the ROI is, both for individual organizations and the entire nonprofit sector. The reality is that, even with #GivingTuesday, we have a long way to go before philanthropy rebounds to pre-recession levels. Dr. Patrick M. Rooney, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Research at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, asserts that, at current growth rates, it would take at least six years for a return to pre-recession giving when adjusted for inflation. These remain challenging times for the nonprofit sector. I suspect that’s one major reason development professionals are hungry for fresh ideas like #GivingTuesday.

  6. These are all very good points and questions. Here in Arizona we have in addition the Arizona Gives Day, along with a handful of others states. I tend to view these kinds of “call to action” more as a marketing tool for fundraising and an opportunity to talk about our organization and the impact our work has on people’s lives. In regards to #GivingTuesday, I also think it’s important to remember that it was created as a counter narrative to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and serves as a reminder (hopefully) that the season of giving is not just about consumerism. So, to me, the success or failure of a movement like #GivingTuesday is much more comprehensive than just looking at actual money raised or new donors added.

    • Petra, thanks for commenting. My favorite part about #GivingTuesday is that it serves as a counter-weight to the commercialism of Gray Thursday, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. When we look at the ROI for #GivingTuesday, we must certainly look at money spent and money raised. In addition, as you’ve suggested, we need to look at the broader marketing impact. However, the point of a broader marketing impact should be greater philanthropy, more money and/or volunteerism. This is one reason why we need answers about the impact of #GivingTuesday for the year and not just on a particular date.

  7. I share the skepticism expressed here. I also like the idea of shining a light on giving “help” and “service” rather than “stuff,” but philanthropy cannot be forced or button-holed into a specific day. I do wonder if #GivingTuesday encourages token, one-time transactions or small gifts that might have become larger gifts if solicited another way. We keep trying these universal marketing initiatives on for size (“National Philanthropy Day” and “Leave a Legacy” come to mind), yet I’ve seen no evidence that these efforts are directly responsible for more philanthropy flowing to individual nonprofits.

    That being said, it’s a nice idea to find opportunities to give back to our supporters. I like using #GivingTuesday for that purpose. We ask our donors to give a lot. We don’t thank them enough.

    • Claire, thank you for sharing your thoughts. In addition to the questions I have about #GivingTuesday, I’m also concerned that it encourages transactional giving instead of sustainable philanthropy. On the other hand, I do recognize that transactional giving can add up to a great deal of money; for example, The Salvation Army red bucket effort raises an enormous amount of money every year. However, for most organizations, focusing on sustainable support will make more sense. One of the problems with universal marketing initiatives is that they can address the specifics that would inspire sustainable support for individual organizations. Another problem with such efforts has been that they have often been just plain bad marketing.

      I’m not sure yet whether or not #GivingTuesday is bad marketing or not. However, I am concerned that it seems to be rather organization focused rather than donor focused. I like your idea to use #GivingTuesday to “give back” to our supporters; that is donor centered.

      In time, I hope we’ll get some answers to my questions. Then, we’ll be better positioned to evaluate #GivingTuesday.

  8. Michael, thanks for your post and comments. It has been great to read along with your followers’ comments. I “discovered” #GivingTuesday this year (new to fundraising in Australia), and found it interesting to see which Australian charities were on board and wether I would hear much about it on social media channels. I didn’t; I was expecting to, but didn’t. I heard more about Cyber Monday from some American brands I follow!!!

    I am keen to follow up with some of my buddies at these charities and ask what the result was and whether they thought it was worth the effort.

    I appreciate your honesty and healthy critique of these initiatives. It helps develop my fresh fundraising mind.

    • Philipa, thank you for commenting and for providing some insights from Australia. #GivingTuesday is new. This is only the second year of the #GivingTuesday promotion in the US. In Australia, this might have been the first year. So, I’m not surprised that there has been only limited buzz about #GivingTuesday. In the US, there was much greater participation, social media awareness, and general media coverage than there was last year. I suspect that the buzz will continue to grow in coming years as the effort becomes more established and better known.

      There are two levels of impact that we need to understand about #GivingTuesday. We need to understand the real impact on individual charities and the impact on the entire charity sector. I look forward to hearing of any news about the Australian #GivingTuesday effort. If you discover anything interesting with your contacts, please let me know.

  9. I fear things like #GivingTuesday in the nonprofit sector and the Small Business Saturday movement both threaten to give people a pass, with a sense of having done their part. It would be great if it heightened people’s awareness and helped them catch the giving bug, but I think it makes giving more finite and does more harm than good.

    • DesignTramp, thanks for commenting. You make an interesting point. I’ve been under the assumption that the worst result of #GivingTuesday would be a neutral impact. However, you’re quite possibly correct. While #GivingTuesday might stimulate greater giving on that particular day, it might actually reduce overall philanthropy for year. This possibility makes it even more essential to measure the impact of #GivingTuesday. We need to know the real outcomes.

  10. Michael – please know that NONE of the money raised is for #GivingTuesday administrative costs. The estimates are all about what nonprofits raised. #GivingTuesday isn’t the cause – it’s the movement that amplifies others’ causes. As for whether giving was simply done earlier and borrows from year-end, my colleagues at Blackbaud will be looking at exactly that and reporting on that after the year closes. We are excited about the way #GivingTuesday is bringing a broad message of the importance of engaging and giving to the world – that’s what it’s about…and what you — as a person, a nonprofit, a business, a community — make of the opportunity.

    • Rachel, thank you for your comments. I’m glad to know that Blackbaud will be taking a closer look at the data and that some of my questions might begin to get answers. As for money raised not going to #GivingTuesday central administrative costs, I think folks understand that. Nevertheless, #GivingTuesday does have central administrative costs. Whatever resources are absorbed by #GivingTuesday central administrative costs are resources that could have been invested elsewhere in the nonprofit sector. So, it’s important to understand those expenses and the ROI from that perspective. I look forward to hearing about Blackbaud’s additional analysis in the new year. I’ll also look forward to sharing the findings with my readers.


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