Be the Tortoise, not the Hare: Why Giving Tuesday isn’t for Everyone.

If you’re a sports fan, and even if you’re not, you know this story. Your team starts winning, has a great run through the playoffs, and ends up in the finals. And suddenly, fans are coming out of the woodwork. People are flying team flags out front of their homes, everyone is wearing the team jersey and schools are having team spirit days. And you, the loyal fan who has seen the team through thick and thin, who followed them even when they were at the bottom of the standings, is left to wonder where all these people came from. Where were they when times weren’t as good?

It’s a good analogy for Giving Tuesday.

Started in 2012 by the Belfer Center for Innovation and Social Impact at the 92nd Street Y, Giving Tuesday was initially a creative effort to lift non-profits onto the commercial bandwagon surrounding Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and therefore falls on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (in 2018, that will be November 27).

It was a huge success, leading them to share their idea with other non-profits and facilitate the broad uptake of what has become a vast social media campaign. The statistics provided on the Giving Tuesday website seem to bear out the success of the campaign: 150 countries participated in 2017, and nonprofits raised more than $300 million. The average online donation was approximately $120, and there were more than 21.7 billion social media impressions.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want to get in on that?

On the face of it, Giving Tuesday seems like a powerful engagement tool for non-profits to gather and activate online donors, and it seems like a great way for them build their brand. However, is this true for all non-profits, especially the small to medium-size ones?

If your organization doesn’t have the reach of the Salvation Army or the United Way, chances are your message (and your ask) are going to get drowned out by the chorus of more than 30,00 voices competing to be heard on Giving Tuesday. (And that’s just the number of official participants — many more non-profits participate informally.)

Social media streams, from Twitter to Facebook to Instagram, are flooded with “Donate Now!’’ messages on Giving Tuesday, and if you don’t have the powerful brand and promotional engine of groups like the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs or the Red Cross, your efforts to capitalize on Giving Tuesday will be lost.

#GivingTuesday is a noisy hashtag.

Moreover, Giving Tuesday promotes what’s known as spot giving — the practice of encouraging donations of one-time gifts, rather than developing a long-term relationship with a donor. What few people realize is that what worked for the 92nd Street Y was getting their existing donors excited about giving when they were already thinking about spending. Though donations have been shown to spike on Giving Tuesday, for most, it’s a one-time deal.

While we’re not suggesting you turn away a gift, encouraging people to give on just one day of the year can be counterproductive. For many, a donation on Giving Tuesday is a feel-good gesture after the excess of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. When you take down the information provided by such donors, and then approach them later, you run the risk of annoying them. Why are you asking them for more money when they’ve already given? You may have lost the ability to create a lasting connection with that donor.

Moreover, how much money is actually raised by most non-profits? While the numbers provided are substantial, look a little closer.

When you divide the total amount donated last year — $300 million — by the 30,000 organizations known to have participated, it works out to $10,000 per group. That’s certainly a lot of money. But that assumes each organization is raising the same amount, and that is obviously not the case. Small and medium-sized non-profits need to consider whether the amount of labor they put in to Giving Tuesday is going to be worth the return. Would your time be better served by making personal calls to your existing donors or visiting with them to build a stronger and deeper connection? Probably.

Ultimately, most non-profits are better off focusing on building strong relationships with their donors over the entire year and creating multi-channel year-end campaigns that are donor-centered.

Donor-centric strategies are those that build a connection with your donors and focus on the relationship between the investor and the non-profit. Concentrating on creating successful donor-centric relationships will result in donors remaining loyal to your organization non-profit for longer, and giving more generously. Your pitches to donors need to convey the impact your organization has had over the past year and highlight the impact their particular donations have made. As our colleague Kyle Pate said in his blog post about this same topic, “Your donors do not have an emotional connection to Giving Tuesday.” What they do have is an emotional connection to your group and your mission. That’s why they became donors in the first place, so build on that.

If you absolutely must be a part of the crowd — and hey, we can understand that impulse! — use Giving Tuesday to prepare your donors and followers to hear future messages about your organization. Give them the emotional connection that will make them long-time donors, and not just spot donors.

Focus on the basics:

  • Cultivating your donors
  • Segmenting your lists and requests based on donors’ past giving
  • Highlighting your impact
  • Sharing stories, pictures, and testimonials
  • Helping donors personalize your mission
  • Working on making the messages conveyed by your board and donor pool consistent to create an echo chamber around your mission and impact
  • Making asks as personal as possible

As we all know, bandwagons tend to break down over time. When that team stops winning, all those sudden fans disappear. No more team spirit days or flags flying outside the house. That’s not what you want to happen to your non-profit. To use a different metaphor, it’s the tortoise who wins the race, not the hare.

There are alternatives and strategies to create better relationships with your base.

  1. Create a different “Giving Day” for your organization so your message isn’t lost in the crowd on Giving Tuesday.
  2. Involve local businesses by encouraging them to match their employees’ contributions or match overall donations up to a certain amount.
  3. Write thank you notes to your donors highlighting the impact of their donation.
  4. Communicate with your donors outside of asking them for more money by sending newsletters and updates on your projects. Take the time to reconnect.

Real and meaningful donor cultivation, though it takes longer and isn’t as flashy as a hashtag, is tried, tested, and true. For the majority of small and medium non-profits, taking the time to focus on building lasting, donor-centric relationships will ultimately lead your organization to bigger and better triumphs, and will, in the long run, lead to raising more money than you will by focusing your efforts on Giving Tuesday.