I’m not a fan of #GivingTuesday. Don’t get me wrong, though. I do like the idea of it. Promoting philanthropy at a time of year that has become associated with extreme consumerism is a nice concept.
While I have no quarrel with the idea of #GivingTuesday, I do have several problems with the reality of it, including:
It does not inspire much philanthropy. During #GivingTuesday 2016, early reports show that charities raised $168 million … WORLDWIDE. Last year, nonprofit organizations raised $117 million. Assuming all of that money was given in the USA, which was not the case, it would have accounted for just 0.03 percent of overall philanthropy!
We do not know whether #GivingTuesday inspires new and increased giving. While people contributed on #GivingTuesday, we simply do not know whether they would have given those gifts anyway. We also do not know if #GivingTuesday simply shifts when people give.
Well-resourced charities may be siphoning support away from smaller nonprofits. With larger marketing budgets, staff sizes, and brand awareness, it’s entirely possible that big organizations benefit from #GivingTuesday at the expense of smaller ones.
#GivingTuesday growth appears to be slowing. NonprofitPro reports that this year’s growth rate is the lowest in the five-year history of the campaign.
While I recognize that some charities have benefitted from their #GivingTuesday campaigns, I still fail to see how it is a benefit to the nonprofit sector as a whole. (You can read my more detailed critiques of #GivingTuesday by entering that term in my blog’s search box to the right.)
Furthermore, I find that many individual charities do themselves more harm than good by rushing to embrace #GivingTuesday while failing to invest time and money to enhance the fundamental fundraising skills of staff.
Consider the #GivingTuesday appeal initiated by Inis Nua Theatre Company. This small theatre company in Philadelphia produces excellent contemporary, provocative plays from Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales.
Jessica Simkins, General Manager of Inis Nua, told me that the company normally does a year-end fundraising campaign. This year, staff chose to use #GivingTuesday to frame this year’s appeal. Rather than implementing an entirely new appeal for #GivingTuesday as many nonprofits have done, Inis Nua chose to leverage the hype around #GivingTuesday, such as it is, to see if it could boost its year-end fundraising campaign.
Despite my general feelings about #GivingTuesday, I actually like this application of the concept. I consider it a Hit. I also like that they included a challenge grant.
Unfortunately, the appeal letter itself is a big Miss. Here’s the direct mail appeal my wife received:
The major issue I have with the mailing is that it is very organizational-focused. The author uses the words I, my, our, ourselves, us, we a total of 30 times in a one-page letter. On the other hand, the writer uses the words audiences, donors, patrons, supporters, you and your only eight times.
The letter is a self-congratulatory missive from the Founder and Artistic Director. Donors are never given any credit for helping to make possible Inis Nua’s impressive accomplishments. There are other problems with the appeal, but the organization-centric approach is a giant problem. Piggy-backing on #GivingTuesday won’t offset Inis Nua’s neglect of fundraising fundamentals.
By contrast, my wife received a donor-centered email from Lantern Theater Company that also referenced #GivingTuesday. Lantern Theater is also a small nonprofit in Philadelphia that produces classic and modern plays. Unlike Inis Nua, Lantern’s mission statement actually mentions audiences, audience members, and community. You’ll see the audience/community focus represented in Lantern’s email appeal:
Stacy Maria Dutton, Lantern’s Executive Director, told me, “Our mission is about serving the community and our audiences.” When talking about the email appeal, she said that the donor-centered, audience-centered orientation was not something that required much thought since it’s something that’s part of the organization’s culture and is a posture routinely reinforced by Lantern’s Artistic Director and Co-Founder.
Dutton explained that Lantern “agonized” over whether to link its appeal with #GivingTuesday. In the end, they decided to briefly mention #GivingTuesday to leverage the overall publicity for the brand. However, Lantern was careful not to let #GivingTuesday overwhelm its core message. It also included mention of a challenge grant.
While Lantern’s email could be improved, it’s much stronger than the Inis Nua appeal because it embraces a fundamental fundraising principle:
It’s about making the donor the hero of your story.
For exhibiting an appreciation for fundraising fundamentals, I believe this appeal is a Hit.
Rather than spending time and money on a fundraising gimmick, many nonprofit organizations would benefit far more by investing in mastering fundraising fundamentals. That may mean buying an instructional book, attending a seminar or conference, participating in a webinar, or contracting a consultant.
If you invest more to develop staff skills, I promise you that your organization will raise more money than it would by simply tying appeals to #GivingTuesday, an arbitrary date on the calendar that has nothing to do with what’s appropriate for your organization and its prospects and donors.
What are your thoughts about #GivingTuesday?
That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?