Giving Tuesday

Why Nonprofits Need to Stop Hating On #GivingTuesday

Julia Claire Campbell Fundraising, Marketing, Nonprofits, Online Fundraising Leave a Comment

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Hello, and happy November! The leaves are falling, the PSL is in full force, and that means one thing: I’ve been seeing a lot of articles pop up lately around whether or not nonprofits should participate in GivingTuesday. Vu Le famously called it the “nonprofit hunger games” – one of my favorite books – and many thought leaders and fundraising experts have come out on both sides of the fence as to whether or not it’s worth the time and energy. 

I think GivingTuesday, both as a concept and in practice, is important, and I continue to defend it in the face of so many detractors for a few reasons. As a disclaimer, you should know that I have never been paid a cent by GivingTuesday, but I do have friends and colleagues that work there. 

I firmly believe that the debates around whether or not to participate in Giving Tuesdays are all completely missing the point. Here’s my take. 

First thought: Giving Tuesday is an easy enemy. It’s almost expected that people will criticize it. 

This is most likely due to the many myths and overall misconceptions that surround the day, its origins, and its purpose. 

But, what we fail to realize, is that Giving Tuesday is not the problem, it’s how we approach it that’s the problem. We approach it as a day for transactions – gimme gimme gimme! We act entitled to donations and then get resentful when they don’t come in as expected. 

Give to us, it’s Giving Tuesday! We don’t even bother to truly explain WHY people should give to us on this day. Does it kick off the year-end season? Is there a matching gift? Is there a special project that requires immediate funding? 

We treat GivingTuesday much like we treat putting a donate button on our website, or posting a link on social media and saying “Donate Now” – if we build it, they will come. And for many of us, that is simply not the case.  

The sad truth is that many nonprofits do not effectively communicate the urgency behind their missions. We think that others deserve the spotlight – I saw this a lot in COVID. Nonprofits shutting down their entire fundraising departments because they weren’t technically an emergency service. If you think that’s true, shine a spotlight on these organizations and their work! Better yet, take the advice of Nikkia Johnson on the COmmunity centric Fundraising blog: 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.

Second thought: Every single day is a cluttered, noisy day filled with messages. The anger against Giving Tuesday is misplaced.

Giving Tuesday doesn’t make nonprofits compete with each other. It’s not the hunger games. If you believe this, maybe we shouldn’t be fundraising at all, because why bother? We will only be competing with other nonprofits for the scraps that fall off the philanthropic table at all times of the year. 

Yes, Giving Tuesday is saturated. But so is Black Friday, and you don’t see Target throwing up its hands and saying “Oh well, Walmart and Marshalls and all the others will be asking people to shop on this day, so why bother.” 

When you think about it, every single day is a saturated day. On a normal day, we consume and process millions of pieces of information. Tim Wu wrote in The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads “All told, every second, our senses transmit an estimated 11 million bits of information to our poor brains, as if a giant fiber-optic cable were plugged directly into them, firing information at full bore.

Cutting through the clutter isn’t the answer any day of the year, and it certainly isn’t the answer on Giving Tuesday. Spending tons of money on advertising to try to capture a morsel of attention from a complete stranger is next to impossible now.

The question shouldn’t be how do we spend more money and more time and more resources to capture the attention of strangers who most likely won’t care. 

The question should be: How do we cultivate and nurture and inspire a dedicated group of supporters and the people that care about what we do?

The solution is to craft inspiring communications designed for the group of people that know you and love you, asking them for their attention and their participation.

Inspire them with stories of all the great work that you have been doing all year! 

Then ask if they would be able to spread the word to 5 friends.

Some of them will, some of them won’t. That’s ok. 

If you have been engaging with your supporters all year, demonstrating impact, creating connections, showing me helpful information, I am much more likely to look at your message and perhaps to make a donation.

Which leads me to thought #3: The pervasive and destructive myth of donor fatigue.

Vu Le himself wrote in 2018 in one of my favorite posts: Stop saying there’s only so much funding to go around. More importantly, stop believing it. 

Galvanized by the racial justice protests and the ongoing pandemic, charitable giving in the United States reached a record $471 billion in 2020. The Giving USA report says Americans gave more to charity last year than in 2019, despite an economic downturn that disrupted the paychecks of millions. The best part? Giving by individuals, which made up a majority of the donations last year, rose by approximately 2%.

Let’s all take note that we don’t tell nonprofits not to raise money at year-end, when nearly one third (31%) of annual giving occurs in December. 12% of all giving happens in the last three days of the year. And 28% of nonprofits raise between 26 – 50% of their annual funds from their year-end ask.

Thought #4: Nonprofits think that Giving Tuesday cannibalizes year-end giving. 

But an analysis of more than 10 years of individual transaction data tells a different story: Much like during disaster-relief efforts, donors respond with a large increase in donations and then return to baseline afterward.

If donors were truly tapped out, it would be impossible to motivate them to give more. Yet we repeatedly see examples of people doing exactly that, most often in times of crisis. During disaster-relief campaigns, for example, a large rise in donations does not result in a corresponding drop in giving afterward.

So, what are some reasons to participate in Giving Tuesday? 

It normalizes giving. GivingTuesday is driving a net increase in giving. An astonishing $2.47 billion was donated to U.S. nonprofits by a reported 34.8 million people on GivingTuesday 2020, with a record 13 percent of the adult population participating in some way. Moreover, 75 percent of GivingTuesday donors give to an organization they previously supported. In other words, it’s possible to motivate people to give again and to give more, directly refuting the donor-fatigue myth.

Small dollar donors are a growing segment of the overall philanthropic population. Giving Tuesday is a great way to get these small dollar donors in the door, to nurture them, and to make them feel truly appreciate. 

It makes us feel connected. Large-scale global efforts, such as GivingTuesday, tap into our need to feel connected by providing the incentive to act in order to be part of a shared experience. Giving should be for everyone. 

It encourages experimentation. Small and local nonprofits are participating. Campaigns are getting more creative. There are so many ways to share in the celebration without asking for money. 

Giving Tuesday isn’t a silver bullet, and it certainly isn’t going to solve all of the world’s problems. But hating on this event and the people that run it isn’t the answer. I believe that any way we can shine a spotlight on the important work that we do, and lift up the sector as a whole, is worthwhile. So much more than a simple fundraising event, Giving Tuesday is a global movement, showcasing the vital work done by the nonprofit sector every single day, as well as encouraging everyday people to give back in any way they can. 

To learn more about Giving Tuesday, you can visit my blog at and search on the words Giving Tuesday. Thanks for listening! 

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