Gimmickry of Giving Tuesday?

By Ray Foote Nov 28, 2023

“Giving Tuesday is a gimmick,” an experienced fundraising professional whom I admire remarked recently. I respectfully disagreed, and we went on to have a great discussion about things like flash-in-the-pan fundraising, the trap of “rearranging” gifts versus growing philanthropy, the risk of undermining major gifts, and more.

I believe Giving Tuesday is still a valuable moment during the year in part because it offers a small (admittedly short term) bulwark against the tsunami of consumerism and excess of the Holidays. It has other redeeming qualities, but first, as Kai Ryssdal says on the show Marketplace, “Let’s do the numbers.”

Last year’s GT results clocked in at $3.1 billion (up 15% from 2021) from 20 million people (up 6%), with a younger average donor age than before. These are solid. GT is one of the few bright spots in the larger context of steadily declining household participation in charitable giving: since 2000, approximately one-quarter of all U.S. households have stopped giving anything to charities. The base is dwindling, so let’s celebrate the wins that do come.

GT is an opportunity for fundraisers to experiment. Last year, 82% of nonprofits tried something new for GT. That last piece is especially interesting. In my experience, GT can serve as a sandbox for fundraising innovation, stretching organizations to figure out how to integrate email, social, mobile, matching gifts (which may be peaking), web, volunteerism, mail, year-end, and more. Anything that challenges fundraisers and nonprofit marketers to find synergies is useful, especially if tactics are immediately measurable. That’s a great learning moment.

I have seen GT pitfalls such as board members making their board commitment (often diluted) on that day to “participate” in good faith, but undercutting the organization’s shot at a larger, maybe even major, gift. And, of course, there’s the seduction that “anything worth doing is worth overdoing” as nonprofits sprawl out GT to the day before and well after, not to mention the long-lead time heralding that GT is approaching. These practices will eventually cause donors to tune out. Skeptics of GT have been raising their objections since its earliest days; ironically, their arguments may get stronger the bigger GT grows.

The most acute challenge nonprofits face comes after the gift. At The Compass Group, one of our absolute favorite questions—usually around a major gifts program—is “What are you doing to steward your donors?” Remember, the goal is relationships. From those, support will flow, but it doesn’t happen by accident or with careless stewardship practices. It’s entirely possible that AI will help overburdened fundraising staff find the giving patterns and more that supports more meaningful donor stewardship.

As I see it, there is still plenty of gas in the GT tank before it possibly collapses under its own weight. Mae West’s famous maxim that “Too much of a good thing . . . is wonderful” might not apply here: if GT peaks and plunges, we’ll have a moment of furrowed-brow reckoning, some re-embrace of timeless (good) fundraising practices, and the start of the next innovation. In the meantime, may worthy organizations everywhere find success on this robust day of giving, and may they do everything in their power to create an authentic and lasting relationship with each of their new supporters.

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