By Nikkia Johnson, development and operations professional
PSL season has started so you know what that means. Thanksgiving. Black Friday. Small business Saturday. Cyber Monday. Giving Tuesday.
It’s the season to give … and give and give.
During the week of Giving Tuesday (or more accurately, the month leading up to Giving Tuesday), you are probably inundated with emails and bombarded with marketing about it. Everyone is writing hot tips and hosting webinars on how you can up your Giving Tuesday campaign game.
Reminiscent of the nonprofit hunger games, you’re fielding tons of work and marketing emails — all the while figuring out which strategic subject line will yell, “Pick me!” and help your nonprofit stand out among the many others.
If you’re like me, you probably dread checking your email during this end-of-year season. Also like me, maybe you end up deleting emails in bulk because the constant reminder of the sheer number of unread emails in your inbox feels hopeless (or maybe opening yet another email is just absolutely dreadful).
As Giving Tuesday starts inching closer, I have to wonder, for all the work we put into it – is Giving Tuesday even equitable and community-centered?
The origins of Giving Tuesday
According to its website, GivingTuesday was created in 2012 simply as a day that encourages people to do good. Since then, GivingTuesday has become an independent nonprofit, a global movement, and has inspired hundreds of millions of people to give and “reimagine a world built upon shared humanity and generosity.” In 2020, GivingTuesday reported that $2.47 billion in donations was given in the U.S. alone on December 1st.
So why wouldn’t you want to join the movement?
Even though the movement is steadily growing, more and more I’ve noticed that many local organizations and smaller shops opt out of participating in the global campaign. Organizations I was and am a part of have also internally debated whether or not Giving Tuesday is worth doing.
Part of how we would figure out whether we participate during a given year involved having many conversations with other nonprofits to understand all of the different approaches to Giving Tuesday. While there are a myriad of reasons why organizations take part in it, those who decided to opt out had reasons that generally fell into two camps:
1) Their message gets too lost in the crowd, and
2) The prep work for just one day is too time consuming for so little return.
In these conversations that I had with other organizations, I learned that only one of them had Giving Tuesday in their annual development plan. This tells me many of us are putting our Giving Tuesday strategies together on the fly — which may be a contributing factor to lower numbers.
It’s not always about the numbers though. One big reason I don’t feel enthusiastic about Giving Tuesday is what it inherently portrays. While the concept of Giving Tuesday is fairly straightforward, the way many of us currently approach Giving Tuesday is very transactional. We bombard folks with emails and hope we get enough donations to make it a good return. This is not exactly community-centered, is it?
Alternatives for a CCF Giving Tuesday
If we were to think of Giving Tuesday in the context of being community-centered and keeping CCF principles in mind, here are some ideas to try:
1. Start your own online giving campaign
Over the years, I’ve seen more and more organizations re-channel the efforts formerly used to pull off a Giving Tuesday campaign and apply those efforts into creating a branded, organization-specific campaign. This is a great idea.
First, because you aren’t obliged to one specific day of the year, you don’t have to worry as much about your emails going to spam or getting lost in the holiday shuffle.
Second, you can take a longer time to highlight your work. ART 180’s campaign, The Amazing Dream, is an example of this. It is held annually over five days in the early fall.
Lastly, it is much more likely that you put in the time and effort to curate a campaign that upholds your values as an organization when you make it your own. The extra time and effort will also help get supporters in the mindset of sustainability, that giving can be year-round. We should not have to do a mad dash to end the year in the green.
2. Highlight partner organizations/movements
One of CCF’s principles is, “Nonprofits are generous with and mutually supportive of one another.” To be more community-centered in the context of Giving Tuesday, this can look a few different ways.
For instance, you can use the day to give thanks to and highlight any organizations you partner with. You could also use the day to fundraise with or for BIPOC led organizations in your community who are doing great work, since we know that they are not funded at the same rate as white-led organizations.
Last year, The Movement for Black Lives started a #RepartionsMonday campaign. In lieu of the typical Giving Tuesday strategy, the campaign focused on a toolkit with racial and equity justice recommendations and resources as well as a collective fund set up to benefit 150 Black-led organizations.
Not only will shifting the focus highlight that our individual organizational missions are not as important as the collective community — doing so uses your organizations’ power to amplify your partners and show the interconnectedness of our work, our organizations, and communities.
3. Forgo it altogether
Is Giving Tuesday even worth it for your organization?
The essence of what Giving Tuesday has become may no longer align with your organization’s values. It has become a day where you’re competing with other nonprofits and focusing solely on dollars raised. Giving Tuesday is not community-centered — honestly it’s not even donor-centered. But if that argument isn’t enough, do an analysis of how much your Giving Tuesday campaign has brought in year over year. Then think about your staff capacity. Many development offices are already stressed with end of year activities; is Giving Tuesday the best use of your resources? If you’re not seeing the level of participation you hoped for, it’s better to put your efforts into your annual planning and end-of-year strategy.
As we seek to make all facets of our work more transformative, equitable, and community-centered, we must reconsider how we approach Giving Tuesday. If you have yet to internally discuss your Giving Tuesday strategy for the year, it’s okay to forgo a year (and I promise, most donors won’t even notice). If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that the status quo is no longer acceptable and we need to examine the way we operate with a different lens. If you decide you’re gonna do it, invest the time to be sure it is strategic and mission-aligned, and do your best to fine tune a community-centered Giving Tuesday campaign.
Nikkia Johnson (she/her) is a nonprofit development and operations professional. She was born and raised in Queens, NY and currently lives in Richmond, VA — which greatly informed her career choice in nonprofits, and later fundraising. Her career has been centered on nonprofit development and management, relationship building, and empowering marginalized communities through equity-based initiatives. Nikkia is passionate about mentoring, therefore very involved in many mentorship groups and community organizations (in hopes more people will choose a development career instead of falling into the work like most of us). She currently serves on the VAFRE Board of Directors and programs committee, and is in the 2021 cohort of AFP Central Virginia’s Inclusive Fundraising Fellowship. She can be reached via LinkedIn, or via email. You can send her a tip via her Venmo, @nikkij1021
Thank you for lifting these alternatives to Giving Tuesday! There is so much pressure and “FOMO” out there about Giving Tuesday, and in my experience, it is a waste of time. One year, the organization I ran decided to give back on Giving Tuesday. We spent the whole day offering webinars and trainings on a variety of topics for anyone who followed us on social media. We did a vegan cooking class, a fundraising training and a social media engagement workshop and a few other things – and we didn’t ask for any money that day. The goal was to give to others. And it was really fun!
Yes!! Thank you Nikkia. My organization has completely ditched Giving Tuesday and we do our own campaign at the end of the year. Plus, we’re being extra conscious this year of how many emails we send.
Love this post! I have never felt as though Giving Tuesday was worth the work. More than that – why are we asking for the money that people have left over after 4 days of absurd holiday buying? So this year, here is what we are going to do:
1. We are going to have Thanks for Giving Thursday – we are asking people to become members of our organization and/or buy memberships for their family and friends. No having to go out to shop at ridiculous hours, no waiting for packages to arrive!
2. We are highlighting four smaller community-based nonprofits that we work with regularly. We will be introducing these organizations to our audience and asking folks to consider supporting their missions. We will focus this message from Friday – Tuesday after Thanksgiving.
3. We have shifted our real Giving Day to late April and aligning it with Earth Day. Since we are an environmental organization, this aligns with our mission and makes much more sense.
This whole approach seems like it makes more sense and is more generous than focusing on Giving Tuesday.
Love your approach, Mary. I find myself in a loop of educating folks about why Giving Tuesday is not what people think it is. Sure, we can send an email, but it’s not a magic wand nor does it have the power to unlock a new level of generosity that doesn’t already exist or isn’t accessible at other times of the year and in much more intentional ways.
This is a great point, how GT isn’t even donor centric, nevermind community centric. At a previous org, we analyzed our Giving Tuesday efforts and realized they yielded gifts mostly from our loyal donors. No increased giving, no increased engagement, just shifted some donor gift dates around.
So it makes me wonder how meaningful these GT statistics we see every year are. $X raised on a certain day, but is this making an impact for the people the org serves?
Brilliant! And such a great discussion! Thank you so much.
What a relief! There are two things that drive me crazy about the last three months of the year, and they are the frenzy over year-end giving in general, and Giving Tuesday. Ugh. Both of these represent a trend I deplore. The first is “get people to give to charities before the end of the year for tax purposes.” Well, that’s bogus (the laws for charitable deductions have changed so only those who give megabucks can benefit). And the second is everything Nikkia says in her brilliant article.
Here’s the deal. If you run a nonprofit (or you fundraise for one), then things are pretty simple – you have to raise money all the time. There is NO time you don’t need money. So frenzies over particular giving days or artificial hype over year-end giving are counter-productive. I love Nikkia’s examples of those who have bucked the trend and prospered.
Great job, Nikkia!
Oh yes! Thank you, Nikkia!!!
I agree with the previous comments and it is so good to hear and think about alternatives. Thank you for this information. I am looking forward to more ideas and I am looking for how I can contribute to help make this concept grow in our organization and in other communities.
This is so incredibly helpful. I was thinking of just sending out 1 eblast and 1 social post. Minimal effort since it doesn’t seem worth it to put too much effort into it. You really made me think that I should re-think how I approach Giving Tuesday by using our space to highlight other orgs, etc. Thank you!!
THANK YOU! I have been struggling with what place if any, Giving Tuesday has at my organization. This article made me feel not so alone and also gave me some great ideas about how to move forward.
This. So. Much. This. I will be sharing this article with my non-profit clients in the Montreal / Tio’ta:ke area, Québec, Canada / Turtle Island. I’ve been coaching small to medium sized non-profits on fundraising and have been cautioning them against getting too swept up in the hype surrounding Giving Tuesday. From my experience, the return and “feels” surrounding building your own grassroots campaign (that is more than a day long) is a WAY better investment!
Love this! Another alternative: channel those efforts into a local giving day in your community, and use it to deepen community engagement and donor relationship stewardship.
Super interesting and something I will share with our development staff. I feel like this is what we’ve all been waiting for–general consensus that we need a different approach to this day.
This is perfect, GIving Tuesday is my least favorite thing. Saying that, we have a regional Giving Tuesday that is run by groups that give key funding to one of our programs. We participate because of this, but my approach is to load five or six social media posts for the month and our development director sends out emails to donors in the area. Minimal time commitment for the same results!
Thank you for this!! Well said. It was a lot of what I was feeling. Great job!!