#GivingTuesday Hits and Misses

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?

13 Responses to “#GivingTuesday Hits and Misses”

  1. I’m also not a fan when used to send yet another fundraising appeal at an already busy time of year. You see, even though reports show plenty of money is raised that day, there’s no way to tell that it’s ‘plus’ contributions. In other words, it may simply be cannibalizing your other fundraising efforts. Net/net? You raise the same amount of money, but it takes a lot more effort. I Do suggest a bit of jujitsu, however. I like using the day to give back to donors. I prefer a #Giving(thanks)Tuesday. See my article on the topic: http://clairification.com/2016/10/09/quick-nonprofit-guide-givingtuesday-jujitsu/

    • Claire, thank you for sharing your thoughts and the link to your post. You’re a black-belt fundraiser (Do they give belts in jujitsu?), so I hope folks take the time to read your post. I like your #GivingTuesday suggestions, and believe others will as well.

  2. Michael,

    I have had long and fruitless discussions over the years with the folks running Giving Tuesday. They do not want help. They do not want ideas. They do not want to hear that their entire operation essentially drains resources and potential resources from the voluntary sector that negate the small amount it produces, and they most certainly do not want to hear that in a world of philanthropy that generates one billion dollars a day in the US alone, they are a global gnat. They have no appreciation that until they scale up to at least one billion dollars in a day of online giving they are simply shifting money that otherwise would have or could have been given at some other time and in some other way.

    But, for those running it, it is a job with salary and benefits….

    Hope all is well with you these days.


    • Ted, thank you for taking the time to comment. I feel your frustration. All we can do is keep teaching. Some folks will get it while others won’t.

      All is well with me. I hope you’re doing well, too. I wish you and yours the best during this holiday season and beyond.

  3. We (Saint Patrick High School in Chicago) use Giving Tuesday as a “kick-off” to our Christmas/End of Year appeal. We focused on promoting this online giving vehicle to our younger alumni who do not receive a hard copy of our Christmas appeal in the mail like our older alumni. We would never use this day as a stand-alone to our fundraising; we use it as an enhancement to our year-end giving and promote to the appropriate age-related constituents. We had great success this year raising more than $11,000 for the day. The comments left on the “Go Fund Me” site alone were priceless, we had new younger donors step forward, and our staff joined in as well. Overall, we were extremely pleased with our results. Lesson? Giving Tuesday is not for all demographics but when used with a targeted,segmented group, it can be a great rallying tool.

    • Janet, thank you for sharing your own #GivingTuesday experience. You’ve described another essential, fundamental fundraising concept: Database segmentation counts! Treating our donors as one homogeneous group occasionally makes sense. However, more often than not, segmenting communications and appeals makes way more sense. A few years ago, I would actually get a bit miffed when I would receive a mailing for a Charitable Gift Annuity; I wasn’t part of the target age group. I was miffed because either the charity was wasting money or they thought I actually looked much older (thanks a lot!). As fundraisers, one of our challenges is figuring out how to personalize communications and appeals on a mass volume. Thank you for providing an excellent example.

  4. Michael, this is so important – whether it is on #GivingTuesday or any other day of the year, YOU is the most important word in the fundraiser’s lexicon. We need to build our organizations’ “mythologies” around the donor, with the donor as the hero of the story. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. I agree with you on all points. The organization for which I am the development director, the Damiano Center, incorporated #GivingTuesday as a small part of our annual campaign plan. We did a bit of social media promotion and a blog, but we did not use that day as the focus of our campaign. We acknowledged it and were present on the #GivingTuesday site so that we would not miss out if there were opportunities to gain new donors. I was not able to tie any donations received on that day to anything having to do with #GivingTuesday, so I have no evidence that it did anything for our fundraising.

    • Katherine, thank you for sharing your experience with #GivingTuesday. I’ve talked with a number of development professionals with similar stories. I think that’s because donors really don’t care about #GivingTuesday. Instead, they care about the charities that ignite their philanthropic passions. If that can happen around #GivingTuesday, great. But, if we can ignite philanthropic passion the other 364 days of the years, that’s even better.

  6. Your commentary is the very reason I encourage my clients to use #GivingTuesday to champion their donors and turn it into #GivingBackTuesday. I provide them with a list of ideas on how to do that so it’s fun, engaging and appreciative. Here is a link to my post about shifting the focus back to the donor. AND … as a bonus, it’s a perfect set up for the annual appeal letter that follows … which is totally donor centric! http://suekindred.blogspot.com/2016/11/six-tips-to-usher-in-season-of-giving.html

    • Sue, thank you for sharing the link to your post. I do like the idea of using #GivingTuesday as yet another chance to engage donors and show them appreciation. I hope my readers take a few moments to checkout your post for some good ideas.


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