Is Giving Tuesday Helping or Hurting Fundraising?

It’s been five years since the first Giving Tuesday, and as fundraisers are celebrating its highest returns ever, the cracks are beginning to show.

Our research is revealing a not-so-attractive side to Giving Tuesday, one which could turn this innovative fundraiser into just another ask at the end of a long year of solicitations. This comment sums up a rising sentiment:

On Giving Tuesday, my wife and I received 17 appeals from not-for-profits to which we are current or recent donors. Only 2 thanked us for our past gifts (some of those gifts were made very recently). Many of these causes had budgets in the $50 Million range, with fully developed Donor Relations programs. All of them used systems that could easily segregate their donors. For us, Giving Tuesday has become just another way that we are bombarded. We are very disappointed and reconsidering our future support.

Giving Tuesday may be falling into the trap of focusing only on the money, when raising money in conjunction with mindfulness about the diverse groups of donors who fund not-for-profits is so essential.

For fundraisers, Giving Tuesday is one more obligation (though a profitable one) added to their already over-loaded year-end responsibilities. So, I can see why Development professionals might just dump their entire donor file into this one-day appeal and hope for the best. But, donor attrition has become the single biggest obstacle to fundraising success; and, over-solicitation is the #1 cause of donor attrition. Without adjusting it in more nuanced ways, Giving Tuesday runs the risk of becoming just another way to bombard and frustrate donors.

How to Eliminate the Risk of Losing Donors in Giving Tuesday

Here are my recommendations for including your existing donors in Giving Tuesday in a more Donor-Centered way. By existing donors, I mean anyone who is in your system, has made at least one gift, and who is still considered to be active, not lapsed:

1. Redefine your existing donors in discrete stakeholder groups, crafting Giving Tuesday appeals that acknowledge each group’s special and unique status. For example, a donor who has been giving to you steadily for the last five years should be acknowledged as such in the opening paragraph of your email, letter or script. Anyone who has already given to you this year should also be acknowledged for his/her very recent support and you should have a compelling rationale for coming back to this donor so soon. (The fact that you are running another fundraiser is not justification in itself. See #4 below.)

2. Regardless of how you categorize your existing donors, your first job is to express your genuine gratitude for what these donors have already done for you that has got you to where you are today. This is essential in order to mitigate the situation that donors find themselves in today. They have so many choices for giving and they are drowning in everyone else’s urgent appeals.

3. Consider whether certain donors should be solicited in Giving Tuesday at all. The donor whose quote is at the top of this blog manages his family’s foundation and makes very generous contributions to dozens of causes each year. He is now rethinking who deserves his and his Foundation’s major gift support. Any major gifts officer will confirm that you should avoid anything that has the potential of sending a donor down the giving ladder.

4. Donors don’t need one more fundraiser, but they are crying out for a real reason to give beyond the fact that you just need the money. Competition and over-solicitation mean that your Giving Tuesday appeal must focus your donors’ attention on a single program, project or initiative as the reason why you are reaching out yet again this year. Whatever you choose must be able to achieve a measurable impact as a result of the funds you raise through Giving Tuesday. This is known as designated or restricted giving and it has become essential for holding onto donors long term.

5. As soon as donors give, send each one (regardless of gift value) a donor-centered thank you letter that is personal, a pleasure to read, and which reminds them where funds will be allocated.

6. Later, once their contributions have been set to work in your designated program, circle back to your Giving Tuesday donors to tell them what they have helped you accomplish so far.

Prompt, meaningful, acknowledgement, restricted giving and reporting in meaningful and measurable terms before asking again – these are the three things donors have been telling us, for over twenty years of research, that they need in order to stay loyal and give more generously over time. Collectively, they are called, “Donor-Centered Fundraising” and they apply as much to Giving Tuesday as to any other fundraising program.

If you turn Giving Tuesday into Donor-Centered Giving Tuesday, you can watch this innovative fundraising program soar into the stratosphere.

[Next blog: Giving Tuesday and Donor Acquisition – Another Donor-Centered Advantage.]
Showing 11 comments
  • Kim Berry

    Nice article – thanks for the thoughtful suggestions.

  • Carolyn Bick

    I totally agree wirh this article. I am both a non for profit professional and a donor.

    I was bombarded with at least 15 generic boring e appeals to many organizations that i already had recently supported in giving Tuesday.I saw one e appeal that was creative a nd compelling in its writing and design .

    Giving Tuesday turns me off. I make donation decisions based on longer term relationships and knowledge of the organization.

  • Joe Araujo

    Well said – couldn’t say it any better! The quicker we stop treating donors as a number – get up-close-and personal and account for the money they gave us in the past – the more reason have and eager they are to give us more!

  • Pat Lee

    Great advice.

  • Elizabeth Rogers

    Very good suggestions. As a former nonprofit administrator and a current donor of moderate means–thank you! I am SO at the end of my rope with outstretched hands at the conclusion of many TV reports and never-ending ads (online and print) soliciting money. Still, I fully realize that nonprofits need adequate funding and that we can no longer count on government to do its share. The current regime in WA D.C. is a disgraceful example of vulture capitalism, privilege and neglecting the nation’s responsibilities to its less fortunate residents.
    I’ve donated as generously as I reasonably could for most of my 81 years; I still give what and when I can. However, I’m retired from the nonprofit sector so my resources are limited now. Of necessity, I must be selective, and I would certainly appreciate less-frequent appeals overall. I wouldn’t be surprised if other donors–some much better off than I–are also suffering from “donor overload”.

  • Jacques Delettrez

    Not only have I given to the organizations during the year but their incessant requests before and on Giving Tuesday (sometimes very near midnight) flooded by email inbox and wasted my time cleaning them out.

  • Maddison

    Great blog post – I hope the writers of these appeals take your advice to heart!

    My understanding was the Giving Tuesday was developed in response to the consumerism encouraged by Black Friday/Cyber Monday, and to do something with our money that makes us feel good. Instead it feels overwhelming and just another demand for money.

    While businesses ask us to spend money on something we don’t need simply because it is Black Friday, charities are asking us to give to causes that we might not care about (or they haven’t bothered to explain) simply because it is Giving Tuesday. Even from the subject lines of the emails such as “Today is #GivingTuesday!” or “Happy Giving Tuesday,” you don’t get any information about the cause or why you should support them!

    It gets overwhelming when you work in the industry and are a donor and get 20+ appeals on one day.

  • erica waasdorp

    Wonderful post. As consultants we’re asked this a lot. Giving Tuesday seems to have made a difference for those organizations that were not asking online to begin with.

    It’s too bad that Giving Tuesday was designed to be done at the busiest fundraising time. I wish they’d ‘invented’ it in April or May when people will have the time to follow up which is something that’s sorely lacking at the busiest time. I made 22 donations the day after Thanksgiving and have received 6 thank you letters to date, sad. It’s much more important to have a plan and be asking, thanking and reporting back about how their gift has made a difference than focusing on one day which is has become the most competitive day of all.

    thanks for this, keep’m coming! Erica

  • ImmaDonorToo

    Would you say the same issues are happening with college/university giving days? From both sides myself, as a university fundraiser and donor, it feels very tired and more about the numbers than the donors. I’m curious what your thoughts are. To me, these days fall into “a way to bombard and frustrate donors” rather than true engagement, but I’m likely too close to be objective.

    • Penelope Burk

      Generally speaking, universities and colleges tend to be more conservative about the number of times in a year that they solicit their donors, no doubt in part because so many of their donors are alumni/ae. That said, the close association between an alum and his/her college should inform how they are solicited. Research we conducted two years ago suggests that the number of alumni who give at all to their alma mater could be improved if Advancement Offices communicated in ways that were less arms-length. Direct mail letters signed by a fundraiser are commonplace but alumni/respondents said they would be more likely to give if they received a personal appeal from the Dean of the Department in which they studied or from a fondly remembered professor.

  • Robert Ruane

    The Giving Tuesday solicitations have begun to flood my inbox and my Facebook–two days early. I think that the opposite time of year–the day after Memorial Day (which would be any day from May 26-June 1 and also a Tuesday) would be a more appropriate day for Giving Tuesday. As it stands now, Giving Tuesday is the opening barrage of what I call the Special Christmas Solicitations. I’ve donated to a variety of nonprofits this year, but the solicitations will keep coming.

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