The Giving Tuesday Paradox

The Giving Tuesday Paradox


Founded in 2012, Giving Tuesday has enabled nonprofits to raise a staggering amount of money over a short period of time, with more than $166 million raised last year alone.  As Giving Tuesday continues to grow, the scale of its impact may be the very thing that threatens its long-term success unless participating nonprofits, particularly the smallest organizations, understand the strategic opportunities - and limitations - of this single day of philanthropy.


Several years ago, while working on a project in Mumbai, I wandered into a marketplace to explore a sampling of local crafts.  Knowing that I would be returning home in a matter of days, I was intent on picking up a few choice souvenirs.  Perhaps sensing my eagerness to make a few purchases, vendors bombarded me from all sides, clamoring to grab my attention, push merchandise, and insist that their product was superior.  Feeling overwhelmed from the start, I left the market that afternoon having purchased nothing.


With each passing year, my inbox on Giving Tuesday feels more and more like that marketplace in Mumbai.  The paradox of choice and the sheer noise on a single day has left many donors feeling overwhelmed and even irritated, and the number of solicitations is only expected to grow this year.  An over-reliance on a single day of fundraising not only exposes an organization to increased risk and potentially siphons off support provided at other times of the year, but also fails to recognize the long-term, strategic relationship needed between a nonprofit and its donor base.  


When thinking about a donor’s reaction to a Giving Tuesday email solicitation, one can expect one of two likely results: Either your email is ignored (sadly, the more likely scenario) or a transaction takes place, hopefully in the form of a large donation.  But what if Giving Tuesday was about more than that single transaction?  What if Giving Tuesday was treated less like a one-off solicitation and more like a matchmaking opportunity for nonprofits to find and create relationships that are driven by repeat donor engagement opportunities well beyond the checkbook? What if, instead of asking their donor base to click “Donate”, they asked them to instead serve as an ambassador to the organization and share its mission with their friends, family, and social networks over the holidays, arming these ambassadors with collateral, videos, and personal stories?  What if every political post on Facebook was replaced with personal stories of triumph thanks to your local nonprofit?


At the core of any innovative fundraising strategy, regardless of what day it falls, is to acknowledge that the next generation of donors is looking to do more than just click “Donate”.  This emerging donor base, driven by socially-mindful and social-media savvy Millennials, are seeking a sustained, personal relationship with the organizations that they support.  This type of relationship rarely comes with a 24-hour campaign that is centered on raising dollars. The true measurement of a donor base comes in sustained, repeat engagement - not single-day totals.


Giving Tuesday will continue to grow and thrive so long as participating organizations recognize the need to build a fundraising campaign beyond that single day, not around it.  The power to drive meaningful social change needs to start, not end, with Giving Tuesday.  The onus falls on every participating nonprofit and donor to be the catalyst for that engaged conversation.  The end result will hopefully be a fundraising and engagement model where giving happens every day of the year.


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