It’s that time of year again. The time when you book your flight, gather with family, stuff your face with turkey, and shop till your heart’s content. And thanks to modern consumerism, the Thanksgiving shopping glut that used to end with Black Friday now extends through Cyber Monday.
But in recent years it has been extended by a day to flex your charitable spirit. It’s called Giving Tuesday and it was created five years ago to bring back the spirit of giving to Thanksgiving weekend. This one-day annual movement has spread to 70 countries, over 700,000 donors, and last year, raised over $116 million (up from $45 million the previous year).
But as you settle into a turkey coma on that comfy couch, glancing at your phone, you may notice an endless stream of #GivingTuesday appeals cluttering your inbox from your favorite charities. One after the other, the message tend to be the same: "Flex your charitable spirit and give us money because we do great things and help those in need."
Now before you judge and think I’m the uncaring sort, know that I actually care deeply about community impact and am a fan of Giving Tuesday. It is a nice counterbalance to the commercialism of Thanksgiving weekend, and, because it is both time bound and leverages a moment (when people are flexing their most consumeristic selves), it works well. It’s also a chance to be part of something bigger and feel thankful for what you have.
But last year I received 22 emails from a variety of charities. It got me thinking, has Giving Tuesday lost its innovative roots, becoming nothing more than another annual appeal?
The weakness of Giving Tuesday (among many positives) is that it’s starting to feel like an "offset" to all the gluttony of the holiday weekend. We offset our carbon when we travel and work, so why not when we holiday? Why, because it reinforces a mind-set in the charitable sector that separates money and mission. Profit from purpose. Thereby limiting the ability to create impact at scale. Giving Tuesday generated $116 million last year, which is great. But it’s also a fraction of all charitable giving on an annual basis (roughly $400 billion), which is again a fraction of the overall total sales over Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Offsets generally don’t scale as well as "give and get."
Giving Tuesday is too weighted to the giving and not enough of the getting. Consider this: The movement is overly focused on the charity and not the donor. And great fundraising is all about focusing on the person giving the money. Imagine if there was no payoff from the TV or clothing you purchased? You wouldn’t buy it. So why should it be all that different when asking for money? All 22 emails I received last year essentially said the exact same thing: Give us money because it’s #GivingTuesday. But where was the amazing opportunity to be part of something unique, or witness something impactful?
Despite these challenges, the intent of this movement is sincere and admirable, so, in the spirit of both giving thanks and giving back, here are three improvements I think could go a long way toward making the campaign more effective.
If most charitable emails and tweets all say the same thing, why would you follow suit? Instead, why not take a page from Patagonia and REI’s playbook when they zagged on Black Friday by telling consumers "don’t buy this jacket" and "go outside" respectively. Patagonia’s message was about reusing your clothing on the weekend when everyone is shopping and REI’s message was about enjoying the outdoors not the shopping malls. And both campaigns generated huge press and sales. The same can be true for charities taking part in Giving Tuesday. Find your zag. But it needs to be authentic. Telling donors not to give when you don’t mean it will be seen for the empty promise that it is.
Reciprocity is the name of the game. Black Friday and Cyber Monday have conditioned consumers to expect a deal. So why not embrace this and figure out what the "get" is for your donor? Many companies are engaging with Giving Tuesday and lots are providing discounts, coupons, and promotions if the consumer gives. So, finding a corporate partner is a good option. So is thinking about unique social recognition opportunities for people that donate. And how about offering a behind-the-scenes look at your work in the field or access to interesting people in your network? All of these are opportunities to be both the giver and receiver.
There continues to be a lot of emphasis in the charitable sector on how much money was raised and how many people are reached. And while these are important outputs, they are not outcomes. Outcomes are what matter, because they are measuring sticks on the path to longer-term social impact. Giving Tuesday is an opportunity for charities and nonprofits to focus on the outcomes they have achieved and will achieve with new funding. And the more these outcomes can be communicated as part of a well-defined path to social impact, the better the impact story becomes, which in turn should excite and engage donors.
Simple changes can go a long way to making #GivingTuesday a more reciprocal affair. A bit more "give and get" creates the opportunity for greater social impact at scale. And who doesn’t like that, especially when giving thanks.