#GivingTuesday Has NOT Made a “Huge Difference”

Earlier this month, I expressed my concerns about #GivingTuesday. Now, the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University and the Case Foundation have announced the results.

Guess what? Despite all the hype and self-congratulatory headlines, #GivingTuesday did not accomplish much.

The official #GivingTuesday website  proudly displays this message:

#GivingTuesday Thank You

However, are the good, well-intentioned folks at #GivingTuesday correct? Did the occasion really make a “huge difference”?

#GivingTuesday 2014 inspired $45.68 million in charitable giving, according to an infographic prepared by the Case Foundation.  The final tabulation is expected to be even greater. Over 15,000 charities participated, representing 68 countries.

#GivingTuesday Full Infographic-Dec 2014The numbers look great at first glance particularly when recognizing that donations grew by more than 63 percent over #GivingTuesday 2013.

But, let’s look at the numbers a bit more closely.

Last year, total philanthropic giving to the nonprofit sector in the USA totaled $335.17 billion. For our discussion here:

  1. Let’s assume that total giving in 2014 increases by four percent to $348.58 billion.
  2. Let’s assume that the initial reports that were shared were only half of the actual results. This would mean that donations on #GivingTuesday totaled $91.36 million, likely an overly generous estimate.
  3. Let’s assume that 100 percent of the reported donations were made in the USA.
  4. Let’s assume that the more than 15,000 participating charities are all based in the USA.
  5. Let’s assume that no donations would have come in on that day if it were not for #GivingTuesday.

With those assumptions in mind, let’s look more closely at the #GivingTuesday results:

• #GivingTuesday generated 0.026 percent of donations for the year despite the day itself accounting for 0.274 percent of the calendar. In other words, despite the big promotional push, #GivingTuesday produced a disproportionately low volume of giving.

• With more than 15,000 participating organizations, #GivingTuesday generated an average of just $6,091 per organization. While it’s nice to have the $6,091 of income, it’s hardly a transformational amount especially considering that that amount includes money that would have come in anyway.

Beyond the numbers we do know, we do not know how much money would have come in anyway. We do not know how many new donors were inspired to give. We do not know if organizations are able to retain #GivingTuesday donors. We do not know if larger organizations are simply siphoning support from smaller organizations. We do not know if #GivingTuesday simply shifts when people give without inspiring more people to give, more people to give more often, and more people to give more.

Let’s put #GivingTuesday into further perspective. Let’s compare the activity of more than 15,000 charities on #GivingTuesday with just one nonprofit organization, the ALS Association and its multi-week Ice-Bucket Challenge during the summer of 2014.

#GivingTuesday generated 698,600 hashtag mentions on Twitter. By contrast, the ALS Ice-Bucket Challenge was mentioned 2.2 million times on Twitter between July 29 and August 17, according to The New York Times. The ALS Association reports that it received more than $100 million in donations from July 29 through August 29 compared to the $45.68 million (or my inflated estimate of $91.36 million) generated with #GivingTuesday.

Put another way, the ALS Association received $100+ million for its effort while #GivingTuesday participants received an average of just $6,091. In addition, ALS reports that the Ice-Bucket Challenge generated 739,000 new supporters. Furthermore, ALS charities around the world raised millions of dollars more.

In considering which effort generated transformational results, I’d have to give the nod to the ALS Ice-Bucket Challenge over #GivingTuesday. It’s the Ice-Bucket Challenge that truly made a “huge difference.”

Looking through rose-colored glasses, #GivingTuesday might have had some positive impact. However, to suggest that #GivingTuesday made a “huge difference” is simply hyperbolic nonsense.

If we take off the rose-colored glasses, we see that #GivingTuesday has not significantly increased the philanthropic pie. Smaller organizations might actually be harmed by the occasion as organizations with larger budgets, staff, and reach siphon away support.

Furthermore, all organizations might be harmed if they are distracted by #GivingTuesday instead of putting in the effort where it could make a real difference such as a focus on donor retention or planned giving.

In defense of #GivingTuesday, some folks will argue that it’s about more than just raising money on a given day. It’s about inspiring philanthropy throughout the year; it’s about encouraging volunteerism; it’s about getting people to think more philanthropically.

To that defense, I say: Unless #GivingTuesday ultimately expands the philanthropic pie by getting more people to donate, donate more often, and donate more, what’s the point? It’s important to remember that it’s not activity that’s important; it’s results that lead to a positive outcome.

Yes, some charities seem to have benefitted from #GivingTuesday. But, if they did so at the expense of other charities, we cannot think it’s been good for the entire nonprofit sector.

Based on all of the available evidence, the best we can say is that #GivingTuesday has helped the nonprofit sector ever so slightly. However, the reality might be that #GivingTuesday has had a neutral or even negative impact on the nonprofit sector. We need more data over a longer period to know for sure.

Meantime, let’s stop kidding ourselves. #GivingTuesday might one day make a big splash. However, at this point, it has certainly not made a “huge difference.”

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

36 Responses to “#GivingTuesday Has NOT Made a “Huge Difference””

  1. Interesting perspective… And brave.

  2. Thank you for supporting this view as well! For a while, I’ve been a vocal opponent of the effort — not because I’m against a combined awareness (first) and donation (second) effort, but because the day is driven by Blackbaud/Convio who – it just so happens – profits from the fees that are collected through those donations. It raises enormous conflict of interest issues.

    • Shawn, thank you for sharing your concerns about #GivingTuesday. It might make you feel a bit better to know that #GivingTuesday was conceived/popularized by the 92nd Street Y and the UN Foundation, both nonprofit organizations. Yes, Blackbaud and other for-profit companies are benefitting from #GivingTuesday while they are helping to promote it. However, I have no reason to believe that their motives are dishonorable. Ultimately, if #GivingTuesday is successful, those companies will benefit; if #GivingTuesday fails, they won’t.

  3. I agree. The hyperbole about the financial success of Giving Tuesday is unwarranted, and in my opinion, counter-productive. Giving Tuesday is a young phenomenon, and I think we need to let it play out for another several years and see what it morphs into before we declare success of failure. At the Addison-Penzak Jewish Community Center of Silicon Valley where I work, we used Giving Tuesday as a platform to involve people in live, volunteer projects going on in our lobby all day during Giving Tuesday. And we did it by having in the lobby four other agencies, Jewish and non-Jewish, besides ourselves. We view ourselves as being part of a larger community seeking to do good for others. The vibrancy of having 150 people participate in a volunteer project of one or another of the agencies in our lobby during Giving Tuesday created a sense of community spirit that can’t be measured, but it is palpable And, we think it will grow into a time-honored tradition by repeating our approach to Giving Tuesday in years to come. Traditions, by definition, take root and sprout in time. Let’s see what we and others who may be testing different approaches to Giving Tuesday learn and accomplish over the next several years before we look to declare success or failure for Giving Tuesday.

    • Jon, thank you for commenting. I agree with you that we’ll learn more about the value of #GivingTuesday over time. However, as William D. Kuenning suggested in his comment, we need to make sure we’re asking the right questions and looking at the right data.

  4. Michael:
    This is a subject that always needs to see more daylight. Thank you for the “dredge”.

    The short of it is that when one needs to carefully scrutinize a fundraising initiative to actively search for, dig for, clear impact -much less “transformational impact”, it is a classic case of a critical “tell”, indicating inefficiency of effort for any fundraising R.O.I. in the charitable and philanthropic sectors. Bringing out those indicators in statistics and fair evaluations is healthy for any good that could potentially come out of such a campaign, in this case reaching to be a “tradition”. Aside from the facts, which you touch upon, that participation in such “Giving Days” is not an equal playing field for small charities, there are many reasons to remain vigilant in even considering participating in such events –from both sides of the charitable support fence.

    Certainly, most charities, which participate in such events, may be less than well informed about what to expect as far as revenue generated, as a result of the campaign. Revenue may not be their only motivation for participation but for expenditure of talent and resources to participate, it must be part of the relevant-use-of-resources equation –either intentionally or not. The calculus that you describe indeed still does not indicate how many charities had to receive no funding increases to their coffers in order to drive the overall averages for the giving day toward the lower numbers you indicate for the big winners of the drive. If most charities knew the reality of their funding increase expectations in these “Giving Days”, they might not participate. I am not saying that participation is a bad thing but I am agreeing that a very public and realistic look into the marketing for event participation and post-event spin is healthy and will probably initially scare off many small charities, when they realize their R.O.I. for any level of participation.

    All “Giving Days” have their well-intentioned proponents and participants but traditionally lack in singular impact on overall giving and certainly continue to risk actually reducing sustained giving levels and periodicity. Averages are telling but distribution recipients and proportions are the primary key to who benefits from their invested resources. Comparing the giving day to any other day is important but truly secondary to the R.O.I. of any charity for the participation. A highly marketed campaign, as these “Days of Giving” are poster children for, is exactly that –a highly focused and concentrated effort of exposure. It matters not what one calls it, when comparing return on effort, hope and investment.

    These “Giving Days” hover around the same marketing model, encouraging great effort on the part of the charities to use their resources for the concerted leveraging of their contacts to promote the day as special. The “Giving Day” organizations do not promote charities but rather the day. That means that for a charitable entity to gain value from the day, funding or exposure, they are on their own for resources, with only the promise of that “Giving Day’s” momentum and their association with it take into battle.

    For even the average charity, simply stating to their supporters that they are now associated with a single day of giving is not very powerful persuasion to a donor because as you are indicating, there are not clear impacts associated with the day –other than touting the cumulative affect of just raising funds. There have to be reasons, rationale, for participation of a supporter –such as multipliers like matching funding, to differentiate this day from any other day. Most charities cannot find those reasons and work to spin the “Giving Day” as a special reason to give, when in reality, they are entering a marketing fight for which they have no real ammunition –no rationale for making it any different in impact for the donor. Larger charities clearly have more resources and contacts to leverage and to work to convince that this day is a great time to give. The “Giving Day” marketing model relies on the larger charities for funding numbers and the smaller charities for participation numbers. There is an argument that the value added from these organized-would-be traditions, is more vacuous than supportive.

    As you indicate, it is likely that if “Giving Days” were to vanish, the revenue yearly averages would probably not change at all. In fact, there are growing indicators that having “Giving Days” so close to the year end may actually reduce a small charity’s leverage with its supporters because, for example, if a supporter chooses to ignore a very specific entreatment for a “Giving Day”, they have actually thus experienced saying “no” under heavy marketing, which breeds indifference and a lack of perceived urgency to respond to urgent entreatments. In other words, choosing to concentrate on a given day for reasons other than concentrating on a specific impact for that specific charity is like asking someone to give you money because everyone else if giving everyone else money –it simply looks like an investment in someone else’s tradition, and it tends not to work on forward thinking philanthropy.

    The other side of the coin is that expecting a “Giving Day” to stimulate a national awareness toward philanthropy is probably at severe crossed purposes with trying to get the public to see that sustained support is far more effective and less wasteful than once-a-year giving.

    Of course, the philanthropic sector is not responding with supporting the smaller charities in other ways; so, charities in general are trying everything they can to find more market leverage to get recalcitrant donors to respond. “Giving Days” market to this dilemma and search on the part of the majority of charities. The ironic reality of participation here is that the larger charities, with their huge down-lines and locked tradition donors, can benefit and leverage a “Giving Day”, as just another part of their spectrum of marketing campaigns. In proportion, the smaller charity has more need for the campaign to generate support and exposure than the larger charity but cannot realize the outcome with limited resources and contacts available for the campaign. Neither net resources nor net contacts are increased by such a campaign for the average charity. Again, the smaller charity is hopeful of a good outcome and may not realize that the “Giving Day” offers no more likely value added than its own perpetuation. These affects on the wellbeing of any charity are the results of un-scrutinized value added for any initiative and marketing campaign. The net result here is always a well kept marketing secret that needs the real light of day through statistics, polling, feedback and education from those who care to support all charities instead of use them for building a tradition at all costs.

    As long as that “Giving Day” model remains status quo, little will change for affecting meaningful ripples of impact for a small charity (being most of the participants) from a single “Giving Day”, national or local. As you well indicate, any benefits from a “Giving Day” may ultimately turn out to be at levels, which could easily be stimulated with similar concerted efforts outside of any “Giving Day”. Poll the charities to see who received nothing, or as you indicated the average of their normal daily support taken in all year for focused periods of fundraising marketing. You should observe, from a metric point of view, that for these charities’, resources were used instead of gained for the period –low or non-existent net. Exposure is not tied to the income; so, if exposure was the goal, then each charity must develop its own barometer to success for the expenditures of time, effort and resources. “Giving Days” always imply, before, during and after, a campaign that this exposure impact is present but I believe that this metric, as seductive as it is, is yet to be quantified.

    Metrics are a great key to studying the causes and effects of a focused “Giving Day”; however, metrics cannot tell the whole story -good and less good. As you certainly know, for instance, there is always the promise of the compound marketing affect that “a national day of giving” implies -smaller charities could ride the wave of the cumulative PR, in which they would not otherwise be able to participate. Yet, in reality, it is generally only each charity’s present sphere of media influence that is proportional to the exposure gained or funds raised as a result of such focused efforts of the charity’s campaign.

    In other words for an innovative or smaller outreach, the implied hope for greater exposure to, and stimulation of, giving is unlikely to ever happen. The anthropologic data will show what we already observe on every other day of the year -when it comes to leveraging the media in all forms, size is critical and gauging impact is subjective. You are exploring the R.O.I. of “Giving Tuesday” but you might as well examine how all philanthropy is manipulated by all periodic contrivances like “Giving Days” and how most charities simply do not have the clout and investable resources to force donors on a particular day to do anything more than they are going to do already. Larger charities always get the lion’s share at the table. Until the philanthropic sector demands differently, and intentionally and preferentially support smaller charitable entities, this disproportionate division of the pie will remain without whisper percentage fluctuation.

    Large charities hurt small charities but we all know that. They do not do it intentionally but rather because they have very large appetites, capabilities, and many do some extraordinary work. Nevertheless, as long as we continue to throw similar models of charitable giving at philanthropists and treat them as if they must be manipulated and are not capable to take a different path toward a more equitable distribution of their good will, we will continue to favor the “haves” it the charitable world and insult the potential legacy of enduring innovative impacts for the philanthropic sectors. In other words, treat the supporters like they need to be manipulated, and they will learn to require it. In fact, this is what has happened.

    I would also hesitate to compare “Giving Tuesday” to the fluke that was the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. That comparison is not fair to virtually any other fundraising effort, including “Giving Tuesday” because the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge had too many anomalies that formed a “perfect storm” of manipulation and participation to be anything more than a curious side note in a “You Just Can’t Make This Stuff Up” TED talk. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is not a fundraising goal, model, litmus or a comparator. It does indicate human behavior and unfortunately seduces the needy and greedy toward formulaic dreams of fundraisers. On some levels it is a sad commentary on how we accidentally raise support through inane personal-centric actions of false sacrifice because we simply cannot market empathy to action.

    As in all marketing, simply look at the return on the invested resources and the goal of the campaign. “Giving Days” have not matured to the point where they offer any real value added to the average charity but they must engage the average charity to show numbers of participation. This need for participation and justification is their marketing challenge. That lack of value added to the average charity from a “Giving Day” and the severe need for the “Giving Days” to report participation is a potentially destructive combination for the average charities’ marketing programs because it is likely to change nothing for the better –in real, measurable terms. Of course any “Giving Day” heavily markets the potential value and not the value.

    The cause and destructive effects of any marketing campaign on the whole picture of support is important here but hard to measure, and I see nothing which would motivate a “Giving Day” campaign to explore and elucidate such causes and effects. You bring up some excellent points about starting to look realistically at what building such “Traditions” actually causes and whom this approach actually benefits.

    There is no reason to believe that the driving forces behind “Giving Days” have anything but the best intentions for the charitable sector. However, if that is the case, then the scrutiny and evaluations you encourage should be welcomed, and there should be open minds there to re-evaluate and perhaps demonstrably change where the value really sits for all the stakeholders.

    For my part, I hope the best and most forward thinking philanthropists demand and actively search out better.

    Best regards,

    William D. Kuenning
    Military Family Voices

    • William, thank you for taking the time to share your detailed thoughts. You’ve made several excellent points. While I hope my readers will review and consider all of your points, I would like to highlight four in particular:

      “The ‘Giving Day’ marketing model relies on the larger charities for funding numbers and the smaller charities for participation numbers.”

      You make an excellent point that underscores why #GivingTuesday might not be good for the nonprofit sector as a whole while it is effective for some.

      “In other words, choosing to concentrate on a given day for reasons other than concentrating on a specific impact for that specific charity is like asking someone to give you money because everyone else if giving everyone else money –it simply looks like an investment in someone else’s tradition, and it tends not to work on forward thinking philanthropy.”

      You’ve struck on something important here. #GivingTuesday is organization-focused rather than donor-centered. While organizations can implement #GivingTuesday in a more donor-centered way, the reality is that encouraging people to give on our schedule rather than their’s is fundamentally organization-focused. Fundraising should involve inspiring prospective donors to give by demonstrating effectiveness and by showing the prospect how s/he can make a difference when they are ready to do so.

      “In other words, treat the supporters like they need to be manipulated, and they will learn to require it. In fact, this is what has happened.”

      Ah, the Law of Unintended Consequences.

      “There is no reason to believe that the driving forces behind ‘Giving Days’ have anything but the best intentions for the charitable sector. However, if that is the case, then the scrutiny and evaluations you encourage should be welcomed, and there should be open minds there to re-evaluate and perhaps demonstrably change where the value really sits for all the stakeholders.”

      I share your belief that the promoters of #GivingTuesday are well-intentioned. So, I also share your hope that they will carefully evaluate the effort and listen to a variety of voices in the marketplace. Serious questions remain to be answered. #GivingTuesday promoters should look at all the data and not just the numbers that seem to support their effort.

      Again, thank you for taking the time to analyze the situation and share your thoughts.

  5. Thanks, Michael. I know my personal experience from within an organization last year was that it took a fair amount of energy, and the returns were small. I spent more time trying to create awareness of the day – time that could have been spent on the organization’s messaging. So I haven’t been too enthused about it all.

    I do hope it works well for some. But I think it might be better suited to organizations who are already doing everything else well and have time to play with this.

    • Mary, thank you for sharing your experience. I agree with you that #GivingTuesday might work very well for organizations that are well-established and “doing everything else well.” Unfortunately, those organizations are very few in number. And even if they do well on #GivingTuesday, it is likely at the expense of other organizations rather than through the expansion of the philanthropic pie. While #GivingTuesday might work for some, I doubt it is working for the nonprofit sector as a whole.

  6. Thank you for that, Michael, a light shone through the hyperbole that surrounds this completely false and actually very odd notion, that on one day in the year you should consider giving a donation to charity. In the UK, we had charities jumping on the band-wagon and you can hardly blame the big ones for supporting it, if there might be a bit more cash available. But as a return on the investment in energy made…I’m not sure it could be seen as anything other than a failure. Your astute analysis, Michael, is refreshingly straight. Over here, we don’t even celebrate Thanksgiving so the whole notion of a “giving day” linked to it is daft.

    But traditional Christmas campaigns have been going a storm this year in the UK and I suspect the same will be seen in the States. A happy Christmas to you all.

    • Stephen, thank you for providing some international perspective. I’ve wondered how #GivingTuesday would fit in when there’s no Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. I like the way you summed it up: “daft.”

      Year-end is already a busy time for charity appeals. Adding #GivingTuesday to the mix just adds more noise and competition. Over the years, I’ve encouraged clients to do a first-of-the-year fundraising push rather than year-end, unless there’s a real reason to make a year-end appeal (i.e.: the Salvation Army). Without as much competition, both commercial and charitable, my clients have usually been more successful raising funds at the start of the year than at the end.

      (Now, before folks start criticizing me for what I’ve just said, let me just add that I do recognize that certain year-end efforts make sense. For example, in the USA, encouraging past IRA Rollover donors to do so once again, now that the legislation has finally been passed, makes sense. But it also might make sense for organizations to test year-end v. beginning-of-the-year appeals.)

      Stephen, I wish you and yours a very Happy Christmas!

  7. I saw an analysis that pointed out that nonprofits that participated in #givingtuesday had significantly higher December returns than those that didn’t. Apologies for not recalling the source. Does make me wonder if it does serve a holiday giving “warm-up” role. This observation is not intended to diminish your well-taken points… But to offer another area of data exploration.

    Thank you to you and others who commented… I particularly liked the point that the #givingtuesday concept is inherently organization-centered vs donor-centered.

    is the juice worth the squeeze?
    We’ll see.

    • Diane, thank you for commenting and sharing an additional perspective. I haven’t seen the data you referenced. However, I’m not surprised to hear that some organizations believe they’ve benefitted from #GivingTuesday. And some of them might have, both on #GivingTuesday itself as well as throughout December.

      On the other hand, when organizations saw better results in December, is that because giving shifted to December or because giving for the year increased? Furthermore, does the increase in December giving benefit just a handful of charities or the sector as a whole?

      In January, more results data will be released. I’ll be sure to report on the new information. Perhaps it will answer some of the questions I’ve posed in this and previous posts.

      I’m only slightly interested in how individual charities have benefitted from #GivingTuesday. My primary concern is whether or not #GivingTuesday benefits the entire nonprofit sector. That will remain my particular orientation as I continue to report on #GivingTuesday.

      Thanks again for the additional food for thought.

      • Michael & Diane:

        Just an opinion on “Giving Day” donation calculations in reference to Diane’s comment about increased donations, if a charity participated in such an event.

        First, there is a basic marketing razor; if an entity puts more time and resources in on marketing in a given period of time, it is usually more likely that they will experience an increase in activity. If they do not experience such, then it was a poor or inappropriate expenditure of resources and efforts. Any “Giving Day” is simply concentrated marketing –nothing more. It is traditional to imply that the results show many charities gained because of the effort for a “Giving Day” of any type.

        It is always curious how, in the name of hope and optimism, we negate the actual cause of any real increase –because of our own efforts instead of the arbitrary day. I say “arbitrary” because it is not tied to any specific impact value other than raising money, and that is an unlikely motivator for most charitable supporters.

        In my opinion, indeed the salient point -from which there are many distractions like the above, is; does such a contrived “tradition” benefit the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors or just a few charities? Here, average numbers do not work because each participant in the sectors is a member and for whom a benefit is as important as any other. Benefiting the sectors is important but not at the expense of its members. Equitability is paramount. Following that answer comes: what are the enduring benefits, for whom and how are they sustained?

        As the old saying goes, “Life feeds on life”. Traditions are usually built at someone’s expense and fueled on their needs and hopes. As in the previous comments, when one analyzes at least the three main critical elements needed to fuel the building of this “tradition”, then “how many benefit” is also ultimately and fundamentally irrelevant, when regardless, the fuel must be fed to the process. The number of charities participating serves one purpose, the positive donation numbers in a specific time frame for some (usually large) charities serves another, and the third is to attract more participants by giving all of them hope that they also have potential to benefit. With these three paramount elements, it really matters very little who benefits and by what, and I suspect the perpetuation of the “Giving Day” type events proves the point. There is no accountability, when potential to raise more money is the only goal. That is until you start asking questions.

        For instance, the event may stimulate or even diminish year-end giving, or giving at any time for different charities. Those results will fluctuate. However, what will not fluctuate, and will only increase with time and “tradition”, is the need to continuously satisfy the insatiable need for those three critical elements. That continuous need is what feeds the motivation and tambour of the event’s marketing –publicity and analysis of the event. All this risk of optimistic spin and justification is arguably at dangerously crossed purposes for limiting the unintended consequences of a well-intentioned idea, bunged into reality, regardless of the collateral damage.

        Again, when an event is designed to perpetuate itself, it strives to find every possible way to justify its value to continue to build, and there is little or no thought for honestly using its own motivation to analyze whether it should exist in that form at all.

        As Michael has indicated, the integrated factors and contexts contributing to any charity benefiting from any activity are complicated and hard to analyze. “Giving Tuesday” is no different. Whether the event helps or hinders is not really knowable easily on a great scale. In this case, there are clearly R.O.I. winners and losers. The participants underscore that every year. On the average, “Giving Days” win because their donation numbers in no way reflect the individual losers; and therefore, spinning the results helps to perpetuate the yearly activity and augment the hope of potential charitable participants.

        I contend that we are chasing our hopeful tails to explore whether “Giving Days” are good for charities because to do this exercise in evaluation is to ignore the fundamental reason we are trying to find and to partner with forward thinking philanthropists. That reason is that we can change the stakeholder sectors for a better more sustainable and impactful future, if we encourage transformation partnerships instead of transactional relationships. “Giving Days” are all by definition purposed to be transactional. To miss that point is to say there are winners and losers, and that is okay -when that attitude is why we have the need for charitable entities in the first place.

        Let’s stop chasing ourselves in circles and begin to better resist being encouraged and guided to do so. I suggest we do something meaningful for the sectors –stop talking and manipulating charities or the best philanthropists for funding, and start engaging them for the Quality, and not the quantity, of impact. That would be a true legacy!

        Spin, spin, spin -we just cannot seem to get off of the wheel. There are probably countless “wrenches”, as Jill put it, out there.

        It all begs the question; where are all of the truly forward thinking philanthropists who want to partner to do better and want to stop all the contrivances and then take the easier and more effective, transformational path to enduring impact?

        Best regards to all for the New Year,

        William D. Kuenning
        Military Family Voices

      • William, thank you for the additional, excellent points. I share your concern that #GivingTuesday encourages “transactional” behavior rather than true, meaningful engagement. Now, having said that, some charities have leveraged #GivingTuesday in creative ways that build relationships; however, they tend to be the exception rather than the rule. In those cases, I’m not sure what the value-add is from #GivingTuesday itself, if any; I suspect those creative charities would have done just as well on their own without #GivingTuesday.

        There are fundamental things we can do to expand the philanthropic pie. Gimmicky giving days or clever slogans are not high up on my list. In 2015, I’ll share a variety of things we can and should be doing that will be far more effective at positively changing the philanthropic landscape for individual charities and the nonprofit sector as a whole.

        Happy New Year to you and all of my readers!

  8. I have to admit that I worry about the GivingTuesday effort from many of the same perspectives as have been expressed. If it increases the number of people engaged in philanthropy overall, I think that would be a wonderful result.

    I do worry, however, that it could take a personal appeal moment away from our organization with our established donors if they give in response to the “day” before we have a chance to make personal contact. I’m wondering how far up we should move our year-end appeals calendar to take this into account. I feel like this giving day is intruding so far rather than supporting our efforts. And I have to wonder if we’re looking at a phenomenon like singing Santas on shopping shelves before Halloween? I do like to think there’s some grace in how we do things. Maybe that’s naive. But we do try.

    It could be a good-spirited effort. Time will tell I suppose what the fallout will be. But I do worry about the wrench it could throw in donor-centered fundraising.

    • Jill, thank you for sharing the challenges you’re facing involving #GivingTuesday. While this giving day has the potential to do good, it also has the potential to do harm in a variety of ways. As more data is collected, and over time, we should start to get a more clear picture of the impact that #GivingTuesday is having.

  9. Michael:

    Let’s hope that 2015 is a year of doing something about the problems that charitable entities turning to, or being vulnerable to, contrivances like “Giving Days” underscores.

    Simply talking about it all does nothing to actually help cutting edge charities to meaningfully engage with philanthropic like minds. We must actively facilitate the coupling of these entities or another year of well intentioned, but ineffective, tail chasing and risk will follow. The “coupling” is unlikely. The “ineffective” is likely. Let’s go for the unlikely this time.

    The constant action-less rhetoric is in my opinion why charities and philanthropists remain vulnerable to every conceivable manipulation of hope and intent. It is as if we want to find a talking work-around to the problems instead of actual solutions to that which exists as the vogue in discussion -transactional relationships in donor relational clothing.

    So many consider themselves to be change agents but in actuality simply re-dress status quo. I think we need to constantly call for better, and then if we cannot come together to do something about it, other than talk, we should stop talking.

    Periodically, I challenge forums, readers and pundits to come together with us to do something about these ancillary and integrated issues. At those points, the rhetoric stops and both sectors go silent. That speaks volumes for who perpetuates the norm.

    We should be ashamed that a right path of supporting enduring impact of practical innovation for social change and wellbeing is so difficult to develop and to support. It is unconscionable to place the recalcitrant hurdles we do between charitable innovation and true transformational relationships with those who could easily help sustain and grow those solutions in a legacy manner.

    Philanthropists should thrive on closing the gap between singular ideas and their sustainable reality for social impact, and charities should spend their time and resources on those innovations and the direct services they make possible. In fact, the more difficult our funding support approaches make this dynamic discovery and coupling of philanthropy to the cutting edge solutions, the more vulnerable our charitable and philanthropic sectors become to desiring and relying on the quantity of impact and not the quality –a dilemma I spoke of in an earlier comment here.

    We live in a time where the support of charities is a vicious dilution of innovation simply because charities are more than willing to manipulate philanthropic intent to increase transactions. Philanthropic entities are generally not aware this is happening and of their direct hand in the play.

    For one instance, there is a new, highly lethal-to-innovation trend in funding occurring without the slightest acknowledgement in the sectors. Many funders are moving rapidly toward limiting funding requests to a percentage of a charity’s annual budget (generally 10-15%). This is justified in the name of risk. Single funders do not wish to be a significant source of any charity’s critical income. Therefore, these funding entitles choose to under-fund rather than appropriately fund. There are many reasons why this problem exists, and there is no time to analyze it here.

    The salient point is that funding request strictures like these actually strangle small charities and favor the larger charities. In example; a creative charity with and annual budget of $150k can only ask for $15K from a funder, whereas, a charity with a budget of $3.5M can ask for $350K. $15k is not enough to fund a significant module in any program, in any charity of any size. However, $350k is enough to make a direct services module healthy for a useful period of time. This practice regularly underfunds small charities in a very debilitating way and funds useful modules for large charities. The large charities put in the same amount of effort for the funding proposals and are rewarded disproportionately in useful support. The large charities understand this and support the practice with regular reporting of the funded modules’ successes. The small charity struggles to show how their $15k increased their survival quotient.

    For fundamental reasons like these and similar, the impact of funding dollars requested is not proportional to the annual budget but funding sources act as though it is exactly proportional and indeed require such justifications for any support dollars. Critical thresholds of funding levels are only poorly addressed with inappropriate application document questions like, “What would happen if you do not receive this funding?” One true question should be, “What is the critical path funding level, which we can support to sustain and scale this impact?” –a question which is never asked. If foundational questions like this were asked, small charities would be funded with priority at meaningful levels, and larger charities would have to better justify their annual takes.

    For all types of funding sources and activities, from Foundations to “Giving Days”, as it is, there are no reasons for large charities to change any system that favors their method of growth and sustained stasis. Small charities are not just “smaller large charities” –an axiom missed by the philanthropic sector behavior because there is a fundamentally un-level playing field, and the flagship charities with the most voice will never rock the boat. As I have said before, large charities are not evil and highly predatory. Nevertheless, their encouragement of any system or event, which disproportionately favors them, is very real, in play every day and clearly understandable –from their perception of what it takes for their survival.

    Great relationships between innovative charities and forward thinking philanthropic entitles should not be rare and dependent on special connections, size and manipulations of relationships, as it is resplendently today. If it were not rare and was indeed actively sought out and recognized by the philanthropic community, I would guess we would never have a conversation about a “Giving Day” in the first place because its (and other offerings’) impact value and R.O.I. would be obvious, when held up to compare it to the more effective template of support and innovation possible.

    My point is that “Giving Days” and other contrivances are irrelevant, when compared to the disproportionate skew of preferential catering to the large charities of virtually everything. That is “everything” that bridges the gap between extraordinary impact solutions and their realization. That is what small charities do. They innovate for social change and implement those solutions and impacts. Large charities implement their services and proportionally innovate less. They are not equal, and they are not similar. Transactional funding, no matter how you dress it up or reflect it with smoke and mirrors tries to make all charities equal, which harms timelines and scales appropriate to the innovation. It is becoming more politically correct today to say that we are building donor-centric or transformational relationships with philanthropists but in reality, we are being training toward a cleverness of transaction, and nothing more. The philanthropic sector has the power to stop this trend.

    These are the unintended consequences of rewarding size of anything with funding that is operationally proportional and for squandering the time and resources of the small, trying to compete. “Giving Tuesday” is a microcosm for all that is happening out there as a gaining momentum to favor the connected and the large –a very clear suffocation of front line innovation. If that is the legacy intent of the philanthropic sector, then we should all stop complaining. However, I believe large charities have been forced into this posture and therefore have in turn encouraged the philanthropic sector to lose sight of what it really takes to develop front-line social solutions and not to just sustain the blunt instrument of size.

    Again, I say, “Where are all the true innovators in the philanthropic community? With them on board, we could collaboratively put a stop to the slow choke hold on creative social solution innovation in a heartbeat -but not until then.”

    I imagine if Mark Twain could let us know what he thinks about all this, he would say something like; There are two kinds of people in the world, those who love change and those who hate change, and if we could bring them all together, they would simply cancel out –leaving the world to the rest of us.

    May 2015 be truly and stunningly filled with excellent change, with our own hands dirty in it from day one!

    Best regards,

    William D. Kuenning
    Military Family Voices

    • William, I agree that many in the nonprofit sector embrace transactional practices, either consciously or not. Sadly, the reward structure within nonprofit organizations does not favor innovation. Furthermore, change of any kind comes slowly to nonprofit organizations. Bernard Ross, a consultant from the UK, wrote the book Breakthrough Thinking for Nonprofit Organizations. In his book, Ross encourages organizations to think beyond incrementalism. He also reviews the conditions that must be in place for organizations to embrace the kind of change that leads to innovation and transformational results. He also provides recommendations for managing change.

      One of the reasons we see the growth in social-entrepreneurship is the fact that nonprofit organizations have been slow to innovate. We live in interesting times.

  10. Michael,

    I appreciate this prospective, it is well thought out, logical and grounded in facts. I have always been surprised that #GivingTuesday, nothing more than a nationalized mass appeal, has so many “experts” so excited. It seems there are quite a few folks looking to make a buck over the illusion of knowing what they’re talking about. We should team up on the topic of donor retention, another area where traditional mindsets are holding us back. Wishing you a wonderful New Year.

    • Jay, thank you for your comment. In a LinkedIn discussion group, a well-known consultant took me to task for criticizing #GivingTuesday based on preliminary data. He said that I should reserve judgment until the final tabulations are released in January. Interestingly, having only the preliminary numbers did not stop him or the folks at #GivingTuesday from declaring the day a great success. I suspect that no matter what the numbers show in January, the #GivingTuesday cheerleaders will continue to claim success.

      What the nonprofit sector needs is a sober analysis of the data in order to objectively evaluate the value of #GivingTuesday to the entire nonprofit sector. When the final tabulations are released, I’ll be sure to report on it. And I promise you and all of my readers that I will objectively consider what those numbers mean, good or bad.

      • Actually, I suspect Giving Tuesday to never release relevant data. How many people renewed from the year before? Unfortunately you can’t dress something up and pass it off as something new. Mass appeals at the end of the day is an old idea. I suspect the consultant you reference has a vested interest in the status quo. This sector will not accelerate with stale rehashed ideas. The market demands and is demonstrating it is tired and wants something else. Why else would we be completely incapable of renewing 2nd gifts. It is time for a new model. Wishing you and your readers a truly innovative 2015.

      • Jay, I have a special guest blog post about donor retention that is coming up in January. I hope it gets a good discussion going. It’s an issue the sector desperately needs to address.

        Happy New Year!

  11. I promoted “Giving Tuesday” very heavily for a personal fundraiser for my partner’s lung transplant fund via HelpHOPELive for a good week in advance through various social media channels. Not a single donation came in. Lots of hard work. Very frustrating.


    • Jeanne, thank you for sharing your experience. I’m sorry to hear that things did not work well despite your hard work. One of the challenges that charities have during #GivingTuesday is getting their voices heard. With so many worthy charities seeking public support on #GivingTuesday and with the holiday shopping season in full swing, it can be very difficult for some organizations to secure the support they seek. Now that we are in a new year and things have become a bit more quiet, you might find it a bit easier to attract donations. I wish you the best!

      • Michael & Jeanne:

        Further opinion: I do believe what Michael is saying is true as far as possibly “hearing” is concerned. However, as far as “giving” is concerned, I suspect you, with all your great efforts, have experienced the “state of the art”. There was nothing more you could do other than to not participate in the first place, recognizing the likelihood of no return on your investment of heart, hope, time and resources. In fact, for instance, “Giving Tuesday” never gives up and is still encouraging further entreatment of your contacts to extend the entreatments. They are pushing the hope further down the line with still no added value from their end, and charities that have worked so hard to participate feel inclined to continue, when there really is no reason to throw good effort after non-affective effort. “Giving Days” are marketing efforts, and make no mistake about it, you the participating charities are the targets, not potential donors.

        The “State of the art” of giving is not to give easily or thoughtfully in general but to believe one is doing exactly the opposite. “Giving Days” do nothing to address this problem, and as previously mentioned, may in fact exacerbate the problem by giving potential donors yet one more experience at hearing an urgency and not responding. In these cases we risk training the potential supporters into learning that time-related response is not necessary. Yes, there really is no justifiable reason to give on these specific “Giving Days”, and that has been discussed. However, there are deeper reasons why your contacts do not give, and it likely has nothing to do with merit of the cause or their ability to help. They simply have learned not to help, a very bad skill indeed. Even warriors with missing limbs, homeless dogs and puppies have a harder time but holidays make those plights more poignant and can, with enough concerted marketing effort and resources shake support out of a hesitant or even giving weary tree. A very small percentage of a large tree can still be useful. A small percentage of a small tree is a burden with rarely a useful R.O.I. on the investment. Small charities have no large tree to shake and no resources to build one. “Giving Days” do not advertise this fact.

        In actual practice, and there are few exceptions that I can find in our direct experience and in charities of which I am aware, “Giving days” promote the hope of great exposure and entreatment to action with a cumulative wave of momentum but can only deliver more enthusiasm and action on the participating charities’ parts and not from anyone else. Charities expect that value will be added from the “Giving Day” but sadly, there really is no value there other than to inspire an individual like yourself and their charity to have a time-related and title-related set of goals.

        Your experience is not a-typical, and you should be aware of such. There is no motivating factor to have “Giving Tuesday”, for instance, to now show you that is the case. Yet, it is in fact the case for most participating charities I know, and the ones that did well are not small, heart-felt, champion-driven causes like yours. Unfortunately, that is the dirty little secret –you are drawn in by promise of cumulative market momentum and association, when in practice there is no augmentation to your efforts at all. Left with only your efforts, statistically, it is unlikely that a campaign whose goals for impact are only to raise more money on a given day will work unless extra marketing efforts work for their supporters in the first place, and that should work on any given day they decide to extraordinarily press their fundraising issues.

        The promise of crossing over and exposing your charity to many new potential supporters simply is never fulfilled unless your own marketing accomplishes such exposure. Leveraging your own supporters for such a vacuous goal as giving more on an arbitrary day, close to the Holidays, is generally a false promise, never to be fulfilled for most.

        The organizers I believe mean well but they offer nothing to help you and in fact when most, like yourself, experience a negative net from the efforts, there is actually harm done for the hope implied. Even medium charities experience poor results, if they do not have a huge down-line of mailing list supporters and volunteers to be leveraged and rally around the goals of the day. Regardless of your incredible sacrifice and efforts, you simply cannot compete with the larger marketing efforts, and they deal in sheer numbers and not in simply “Giving Tuesday” specifics.

        Why hash and re-hash these subjects at all? I believe we should until the majority of the charities realize that the operational methods of marketing in our sector have evolved to favor the larger charities with their huge spheres of influence. “Giving Days” can be spun as working because large charities can experience upticks in donations any time they are willing to expend large amounts of resources to leverage their contacts and exposure. These expenditures and resultant donations are not an option for the average charity. Worse than that, if a smaller charity puts out an extraordinary amount of effort for a “Giving Day” and experiences some return, they may be tempted to do the same thing again the next year, and wonder, as many have, why they failed in subsequent campaigns.

        We really should change our vulnerability to schemes that, well intentioned or not, seek to convince us to try to compete in a large charity marketing driven world. We need to gain attention to innovation and merit in other ways that the large charities cannot gain an advantage. There is nothing inherently bad about the large charities, It is just that they perpetuate a system that favors their causes. Why wouldn’t they? However, that is the status quo. Every time we operate in that status quo, we are subject to that “status quo” and need to better understand and recognize that to unhitch ourselves from that diversity and innovation-killing train. Philanthropy has not yet caught up to this fact but there is hope that its best and most forward thinkers will do so.

        I can only encourage you and others to come together to think differently and less vulnerably. Being the champion of a cause and working hard as you do for that cause is the best society could ever hope to generate in heart and help for positive and enduring change. We simply must stop and change a system that burns out folks like you by continuously promising “equal hope” in an unequal marketing world and thereby delivering endless strings of the futility and waste of effort. When we waste our greatest resource, folks like you working for a great cause, we need to change. When we do it so efficiently and so across the boards often, we need to change it now, and when we do not see this, even though it is illustrated virtually every day, we are in dire need to change or the injury to society will be irreparable in our lifetimes. We simply cannot afford to lose the industry and heart of folks like you because we fail to even the playing field.

        Of course just endlessly talking about it will not change the system or the philanthropic atmosphere. Doing something about it is the call. I do think that a great solution will not actually harm the large charities but I suspect it will take a concerted effort on the part of philanthropists and smaller charities to craft a strategy framework that works. That is where I am headed. Innovation is important for our new legacy social solutions. Protecting those like yourself is the foundation for that change.

        Best regards,

        William D. Kuenning
        Military Family Voices

  12. Michael,

    I saw this post and simply didn’t have time yet to respond.

    Unfortunately, I believe your analysis is missing two important factors:

    1) The majority of the donations being reported by the Case foundation were made online using a credit card or ACH bank draft.

    It is well known that online donations only represent about 5%-6% of all fundraising.

    Therefore, that portion of your analysis may be off by a factor of 20.

    2) The number of participating organizations, represented to be 15,000, is no where near the actual total. The companies who reported only have a very tiny percentage market share of the entire nonprofit market. To put it in perspective, there are about 1.2 Million nonprofits in the US. If only 5% of them participated in #GivingTuesday, that would be 60,000.

    Did more than 5% participate? I believe so.

    Also, many, many large donations, including several multi-million dollar ones, were made because of #GivingTuesday. And because of the economics of credit card processing fees, these much larger gifts were not included in any reported total. The donors sent in a check because that’s the way large donations (> $5,000) are generally handled.

    I do agree that a better analysis needs to be conducted so that the true ‘lift’ of GivingTuesday can be measured. This includes the number and revenue of new donors vs. returning donors vs. reactivated donors. This can only be measured year-over-year. Fortunately, with this last year we are near a statistically significant sample size (95% confidence level) that we can publish the results.

    I’ve seen the preliminary results, and it’s exciting. #GivingTuesday will be shown to be the tide that lifts all boats.

    I also appreciate your discussion of the topic and the passion you have for it. All too often people assume what they read is true- even the hyperbole-, but clearly the truth is somewhere in between.


    Jon Biedermann
    Vice President
    DonorPerfect Fundraising Software

    • Jon, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and analysis. Like you, I am anxiously awaiting the #GivingTuesday report due out this month. While I am skeptical, I remain open minded. However, I fear that the #GivingTuesday cheerleaders will not let evidence, or lack of evidence, get in their way. We’ll see.

      Meantime, I’d like to take this opportunity to address some of the points you have made above:

      1. You suggest that the results I looked at might be off by as much as a factor of 20. Okay, let’s assume you’re right. That would mean that #GivingTuesday results accounted for about 0.26 percent of all 2014 philanthropy despite the day itself accounting for 0.274 percent of the calendar. I’m still not impressed.

      2. You mention that the number of participating charities cited by the Case Foundation significantly undercounts the actual number of participating organizations. You also mention that there are 1.2 million charities in the USA and that, minimally, five percent likely participated in #GivingTuesday. First, I have no idea what you are basing that five percent factor on. What’s your evidence for the assertion? Second, while there are 1.2 million or so charities in the USA, there are only about 275,000 or so public charities with expenditures of $500,000 or more. It’s those organizations, rather than the tiny ones, that are more likely to have a fundraising staff and, therefore, more likely to participate in #GivingTuesday. Given that, and in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I have no reason to believe that the number provided by the Case Foundation is off by as much as you have asserted though I’m willing to assume it is somewhat greater than originally estimated.

      3. You state, “Many, many large donations, including several multi-million dollar ones, were made because of #GivingTuesday.” You’re confusing correlation with causality. While several large gifts might have indeed been made on #GivingTuesday and might have been made intentionally on that date, it is extremely unlikely that those gifts were made because of #GivingTuesday. Large philanthropists make giving decisions on a variety of factors. However, I suspect precious few are motivated solely by a marketing slogan. I suggest that those multi-million gifts would have come in regardless of the existence of #GivingTuesday. Good solid development work and a meaningful case for support more likely led to those gifts. If such gifts are included in the #GivingTuesday results analysis, that analysis will be rendered nearly meaningless rather than more meaningful as you have suggested.

      4. I agree with you that more year-over-year analysis is necessary to really appreciate the impact that #GivingTuesday may or may not be having.

      To justify itself, #GivingTuesday must demonstrate that it attracts more donors, inspires donors to give more often, and encourages more donors to give more. We also need to see evidence that #GivingTuesday does not simply alter when people give. And we must see evidence that #GivingTuesday does not simply involve larger organizations siphoning support from smaller organizations.

      Rising tides might raise all boats. However, there is no evidence yet that #GivingTuesday has generated an across the board rising tide. Even if we accept on faith that it has, the amount of the lift would be tiny. If all of the money that you suggest came in on #GivingTuesday was new money that would not have come in otherwise, it would still account for only 0.26 percent or so of overall philanthropy. While that would be better than nothing, it’s certainly not a dramatic boost that deserves the description of “rising tide.”

      I’m looking forward to seeing the #GivingTuesday report this month. I hope that many of our questions will be answered. Then, with the additional information in-hand, we can begin to consider the Return on Investment of #GivingTuesday and whether the resources devoted to the day could have produced a stronger ROI through other efforts.

  13. I do enjoy a spirited and intellectual debate that is reasonable.

    Yes, I am very aware of causality vs. correlation. Otherwise we should stop selling ice cream in the summer because whenever ice cream sales increase, drownings increase. Clearly, we should ban ice cream sales in the summer.

    I jest, of course.

    But help me understand your math. You said that even after 20 times GivingTuesday would only equal .26 % of the year (or .0026). But that doesn’t match with your original post:

    “#GivingTuesday generated 0.026 percent of donations for the year despite the day itself accounting for 0.274 percent of the calendar. In other words, despite the big promotional push, #GivingTuesday produced a disproportionately low volume of giving.”

    .026 percent multiplied by 20 is .52 percent, or more than double your rebuttal, correct? And that doesn’t include the possibility that many, many more nonprofits were participating than just 15,000 out of 1.2 MM.

    You seem to have a wide following. I invite you to join our group as a peer evaluator to make sure we have the data right.

    How does that sound?


    Jon Biedermann
    Vice President
    DonorPerfect Fundraising Software

    • Jon, thank you for your thoughtful follow-up. I, too, enjoy a good conversation, especially when I can learn something.

      As I was writing my response, I knew my use of the numbers would likely be confusing. I apologize. When responding to you, I went back to the original numbers shared by the Case Foundation. In my original post, I had doubled their estimate. So, in responding to you, it seemed reasonable for me to multiply the Case number by 20 rather than my own doubled estimate. If, on the other hand, you are suggesting that I should multiply my higher estimate by a factor of 20, then you’re quite correct.

      Ouch! My head hurts now. 🙂

      By the way, thank you for the fun correlation example. You’ve nicely demonstrated that statistics do not have to be boring!

      As for your kind invitation to serve as a peer evaluator, I’m happy to do so. Just know that I have this very nasty habit when people ask for my opinions: I give them. 🙂 Thank you!

  14. Michael and Jon:

    I appreciate your attempt to steer the “boat” back to definable waters and to reasonable expectations of discoverable reality for all aspects of “Giving Tuesday”. I also felt I might re-state, in a different manner, my reaction to the clearly well-meaning, good intent of rationale I just read from Jon:

    I appreciate your optimism, and you make some valid points for the sector of the donation metrics that are actually definable. Yet, and it really needs saying, you make some fairly incredible assumptions about those who actually participate, as indicated and implied to you by “everyday” online donation metrics vs. undocumented participant numbers.

    There are complex elements at play for giving and marketing focus for all the stakeholders, and those elements make assumptions about exactly why they gave and if it was solely because of “Giving Tuesday” highly complex and not distillable by simply saying, “Also, many, many large donations, including several multi-million dollar ones, were made because of #GivingTuesday”. As I am sure you would agree, saying it does not make it true, and giving that donation, large or small, on a hyper-marketed day does not mean it is in addition to what they would have given on any other hyper-marketed day or campaign.

    Your premise that everyday averages of donation statistical cross-sections can be applied to a single, heavily focused “Giving Tuesday” marketing campaign also appears to be pulling meaning out of areas from which it cannot emerge. As I said, I appreciate your optimism about participant numbers; however, to assume that orders of magnitude numbers of charities participate but do not register with “Giving Tuesday” has virtually no basis in documentable statistics and is clearly not extrapolate-able from the system facts. Virtually and simply assuming anything about who is undocumentable for participation would never appear to be a worthwhile exercise.

    It is hard enough to differentiate what “Giving Tuesday” singularly stimulates and what is just concentrated marketing and just as valid any other day, if applied for those who formally participate. It is also presently impossible to gain that information from the unknown charities who might have participated as unregistered in the background.

    There is as well actually very little reason to participate in “Giving Tuesday” without doing so formally (registering) because participation is simple and straightforward, and after all, it is a singularly organized, marketed day, with mass, organized participation as the main goal. In other words, participating and not doing so formally -because of no motive to do so, is fairly unlikely in significant numbers, compared with those who simply do not participate.

    I do think your stealthful “compliment/observation” at the end was a bit disingenuous; “I also appreciate your discussion of the topic and the passion you have for it. All too often people assume what they read is true- even the hyperbole-, but clearly the truth is somewhere in between”. I do believe you meant well, and I am glad for your comments but you might consider that your “calculus” of implied participation numbers perhaps fits the category you basically describe as: just because you state it, it is not necessarily true. In this case, stating it as if it were true, and knowing that there really is no reasonable way to verify the veracity of the statement, risks looking like you are making it appear true simply because you stated it.

    You represent some wonderful donor management software, and I hope to protect the integrity of what you do and supply that you do not press individuals to imply more into statistics than their on-the-ground anthropological data can actually support at any given time.

    I believe it is very important here to understand that “Truth” is not the mission here. Truth is assumed. The discovery and understanding of promised, implied and actual present & future VALUE is the goal here and hopefully the goal in any discussion about, for instance, “Giving Tuesday”. I believe the organizers of “Giving Tuesday” would agree. Misunderstanding “Giving Tuesday” and its potentials, values and problems does no justice to the well-intentioned organizers of the initiative, nor does it help any stakeholder.

    You state, “I do agree that a better analysis needs to be conducted so that the true ‘lift’ of GivingTuesday can be measured. This includes the number and revenue of new donors vs. returning donors vs. reactivated donors. This can only be measured year-over-year”. I believe this to be realistic.

    Although, you also state, “I’ve seen the preliminary results, and it’s exciting. #GivingTuesday will be shown to be the tide that lifts all boats.” However, I think an honest assessment of it all is that the only thing we can be certain of (statistically), at this point in time, is that #GivingTuesday so far indicates that it is a tide that lifts all the boats that it lifts –and nothing more to date. It’s all clearly a work in progress and in need of some serious short and long-term understanding of who it helps and for whom it possibly wastes hopes and resources.

    Best Regards,

    William D. Kuenning
    Military Family Voices

  15. Whoa. If nothing else, I am impressed by the quality of thought in this debate, and I am wondering if William Kuenning has a book in mind — the man can write well and his penetrating observations about the value of and the nuanced challenges faced by small charities is refreshing.

    That said, I’m all for #GivingTuesday, mostly as a cultural rejoinder to the ugly frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday — its original intent, I think, regardless of the amount of money the day’s call to action generates. The narrative is the thing here.

    It terms of stats, the number of charities who “sign-up” for Giving Tuesday is not likely the total number of charities participating. A charity can utilize the logo and hashtag to promote itself without signing-up. GT is not like a community foundation’s or state’s Giving Day that requires one dedicated giving portal. I would guess that some/many charities simply don’t bother to officially sign-in, but fully exploit the momentum of the Day.

    Let me ask you to examine one stat more closely, which upon deeper analysis might make the case that Giving Tuesday has far greater reach than even its proponents are guessing. Somewhere above, Michael, you referenced the number of 501c3s (out of 1.2 million+) with budgets of $500k and above (275k+/-, if I recall). But how many of these tax-exempt entities are truly in the marketplace competing for donations? In my experience the $40 million budget “charity” almost 100% dependent on fees for service /reimbursement and government contracts raise fewer philanthropic dollars than the earnest $500k a year true charity. Why is AFP membership stuck at 30,000 (probably less)? Why is subscription to the Chronicle of Philanthropy (arguably the only quality journal in our industry) stuck at 25k+/-? (That Chronicle number becomes even more troubling when you consider that the larger the charity the larger number of subscriptions).

    In the end, I have a feeling that “social entrepreneurship” and its many variations, from impact bonds to impact investing, will ignore all of our arguments above and do an end run sooner rather than later on what we call philanthropy today.

    • Jim, thank you for joining the conversation. I appreciate your thoughts, and I’m glad to know your enjoying the dialogue. Regarding your comment about social entrepreneurship, I think your correct. This will be an increasingly significant part of the landscape. Furthermore, social entrepreneurship might even be better able to tackle some of society’s greatest challenges. For example, Paul Polak and Mal Warwick, in their book The Business Solution to Poverty, make the case for why social entrepreneurship stands a better chance of success when it comes to fighting global poverty compared with traditional charitable models. For those interested in the subject, it’s definitely a worthwhile read.


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