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Tapping the power of #GivingTuesday: Highlights from the kickoff keynote

On Aug. 17, 2018, GCN celebrated the beginning of GAgives on #GivingTuesday planning season with our annual kickoff event, where #GivingTuesday Community Lead Jamie McDonald gave an advice-packed keynote address on the principles, promise, and practice of the international philanthropic phenomenon. Here are some of the top takeaways from her talk (lightly edited for clarity and continuity).


How #GivingTuesday works

As an organization, #GivingTuesday operates in a very lateral way: We practice the philosophy of un-branding, of being the coalition-builder rather than the experts. We view you as the experts. What we do is gather all that expertise from around the world and channel it back out, through our online setup and events like this.

We also believe that leaders emerge in expected and unexpected places. Some of the most inspiring campaigns we’ve seen have come from small organizations: the volunteer-led, no-budget operations that do something amazing. We love that 80 percent of the people who responded to our annual survey said that #GivingTuesday was the day that pushed their team to try something new. The truth is, that’s the only way the sector’s only going to move the needle from the 3 percent of GDP that we’ve been getting forever and ever.

80 percent of the people who responded to our annual survey said that #GivingTuesday was the day that pushed their team to try something new.

On the value of #GivingTuesday

#GivingTuesday is the largest social movement in the world. We have 50 official U.S. partners; last year there was #GivingTuesday activity in 202 countries and territories around the world. There is no other social movement to have ever had that kind of reach in history. It’s really about our collective impact and collective generosity.

Some facts for those skeptical board members:

  • #GivingTuesday is one of only three days in the U.S. each year where donors look for nonprofits to support. You probably know the other two: Dec. 30th and 31st. All other 362 days of the year, you’re looking for them. On these three days, they are looking for you, so you want to be in on the conversation.
  • Just last year, just online, and just in the U.S., #GivingTuesday raised $301 million – and that represents just a fraction of the giving that happens around the globe.
  • On almost every online payment platform, #GivingTuesday is the largest online giving day by the number of donors.
  • #GivingTuesday has also become the gateway to giving for young people. If you’re 35 and you’re not itemizing your deductions, you’re not worried about Dec. 30th or 31st. #GivingTuesday is the day all your friends are giving, when it’s social and fun. It’s an opportunity, not an obligation.
  • In the U.S., as of last year, 58 percent of the entire country is aware of #GivingTuesday, and 60-plus percent of those who are aware of #GivingTuesday do something on #GivingTuesday. They give money or time, they volunteer their skills, they give their voice to a project. That number keeps going up every year.

The social conversation also continues to grow. If you look at online mentions of #CyberMonday, you’ll see they’ve stayed roughly the same on every #CyberMonday since 2011. Meanwhile, look at #GivingTuesday over the same timeframe:

On the value of small gifts

One question I frequently get: “Is that really where I want to spend my time, raising a lot of small gifts?” I like to use the example of Michael Bloomberg. In 1972, when he graduated from John Hopkins, he was solicited for gifts. He gave $5, equivalent to about $28 today. As of last year, he’d given them $2.3 billion total.

You probably get a lot of those $28 gifts on #GivingTuesday. So what I like to ask is, how do you celebrate your $28 giver? Do you make them feel like a future Michael Bloomberg?

On the question of donor fatigue

Here’s what is true across every platform we work with: We see net revenue on #GivingTuesday go up with no corresponding drop in December. Donor fatigue is a myth.

Think about the emails that you get from your favorite store. How many emails do you get from the Gap, or Wayfair, or whatever you like? If you're telling a strong story in an effective way to an audience who cares, you can tell them that story every day. The problem is not donor fatigue: The problem is crappy marketing. You need to be proud of the work that you do, and put that out there: “What we do is changing lives,” not, “Please give me money.”

Across every platform we work with, we see net revenue on #GivingTuesday go up with no corresponding drop in December. Donor fatigue is a myth.

There was an old rule of thumb in marketing that said it takes seven “touches” to get somebody to act. Today, because of social media, it takes something like 27 touches. Even if you’re telling an inspiring story, and you’re reaching people who love what you do, it might take five, ten, fifteen times for them to open it and act on it.

And all the data shows that you want to go back to each person who supported you with a story of impact within 30 days. By creating an arc from #GivingTuesday to year-end, you’re offering them the opportunity to give again. Wayfair doesn’t care if you bought something on the day after Thanksgiving, they’re still going to send you the “day after Christmas” email, right?

On setting a #GivingTuesday goal

A goal is not just about what you want to accomplish on that day, a goal is like a theme for a party: If you’re throwing a Cinco de Mayo party, you’re not going to decorate with leprechauns and shamrocks. If your goal is to build a base of monthly givers, think about how that differs from a campaign to support event attendance, or trying to get long-time donors to make an extra-special gift. Setting a goal is one of the most effective ways to frame a campaign.

Ambition itself becomes a rallying cry: We’re trying something new and different because our work deserves it.


You also want your goal to be big enough that you get a little flutter in your stomach about whether you can achieve it. The ambition itself becomes a rallying cry: We’re trying something new and different because our work deserves it. And if you don’t get there, what’s the worst that can happen? You’re going to turn around and ask, “What did we learn? What worked and what didn’t? Who did we reach? What can we do better?”

On storytelling

Is it authentic and emotional? Is it making people laugh, or making them cry? Are you making it incredibly easy to understand? The work you do has implications that are life-changing, or even world-changing, and you could get lost in a lot of facts and figures and data. But that’s not why people give.

Think about how you articulate the life-changing nature of what you’re doing. It is much easier for me to understand that Johnny can now read at night with his daughter because he was in your literacy program, than to hear that there are 13,000 people in Atlanta who need literacy services. You want to make the reader feel like he or she could make a difference.

Another example: Instead of using a dollar amount, the goal articulated by one campaign was, “800 bicycles in 24 hours on #GivingTuesday.” All their storytelling was about one child, and one parent, whose lives have been changed by receiving bicycles through their programs. Through the clarity and repetition of that messaging, they raised almost 1,200 bikes-worth in dollars.

Of course, I know it isn’t possible for some of your organizations to show your work or your clients that way. But think about how inspired a staff person is to come to work every day, and how they can become part of the story. The human part of the work is what really captures people’s imagination.

On creative collaboration

You may know you’re not going to land some big company as a matching fund partner. That’s totally fine: By thinking smaller, you can reach people who actually care and want to support you. Merchants want to be part of the good in your community; they often don’t have dollars, but they have gift certificates, spaces for events, social media channels, websites. Think about the place near your office where everybody goes to for lunch. Ask them to give one free pizza an hour to somebody who gives to your campaign on #GivingTuesday.

Think about the place near your office where everybody goes for lunch. Ask them to give one pizza an hour to somebody who gives to your campaign.

You can also hold a friendly competition with partners. In Baltimore and in Cincinnati, they do this Book Bowl every year to coincide with a big football game that happens around #GivingTuesday. Two public libraries, one in each city, have a campaign to see which can raise more on #GivingTuesday. Whoever loses has to dress up in the other city’s football gear for a public reading.

If you’re a really small organization, you could also think about teaming up with other small organizations to raise the visibility of everyone. Two organizations with complimentary services could partner together – like a domestic violence shelter and a women’s workforce organization.

In L.A., there were eight small-budget arts organizations that came together to create one Giving Arts campaign. With eight development people working for one campaign, they figured they could make three or four times the impact each could make trying to break through themselves. Then, on #GivingTuesday, however the gifts came in, they flipped them into one pot and split the contributions evenly – maybe the organizations that were a little bigger took a little less, and vice versa – and they each got all the donor names.

We’ve seen a zillion different combinations, and what they show us is that one plus one doesn’t add up to two, it adds up to 10.

Jamie McDonald is the founder of Generosity Inc. and community campaigns leader for #GivingTuesday.

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