Why Giving Tuesday may be no good

Giving Tuesday, “a day dedicated to giving back.”

A theoretically beautiful thing, #GivingTuesday kicks off the holiday and giving season. In reality (despite good intentions), #GivingTuesday has the potential to be equally as harmful as it is helpful.

Having worked for/with nonprofits for the better part of twenty-five years I have seen staff spend a great deal of time on projects that do not pay off. With the recent burst of social media, it is easy to get caught up in “everyone’s doing it,” so we should too. That kind of bandwagon mentality overlooks an important question; what does #GivingTuesday actually cost your organization?  

Forgive me if I sound like a Scrooge, but for small-to-medium nonprofits trends like #GivingTuesday are a drain of staff time, resources, and result in donor fatigue.

A time suck

#GivingTuesday is a great trend for as long as it lasts, but it is just that; a social media trend, not something to become invested in.

Take the #IceBucketChallenge. This viral trend originally raised funds and awareness for breast cancer but very quickly shifted focus to supporting ALS organizations after one family spread it through their extensive network. The challenge went viral and continued to sweep across the nation in an icy wave.

The phenomenon raised a significant amount of money for nonprofits working in ALS, which was great. BUT then along came year two.

ALS organizations poured hours and dollars into building websites, sending out mailings, and making videos to promote the Ice Bucket Challenge. The sad truth was that after the first year’s hype, very few people aside from dedicated donors cared. Organizations wasted resources and time that could have been dedicated to retaining donors with other fundraising strategies.


Another big problem of #GivingTuesday is that it comes at the expense of your holiday appeal.

You’ve spent the last weeks or months furiously working to send your appeal by the end of the year, a time when 31% of all donations are made. Now you are making a smaller ask of those same donors within precisely the same time frame- that doesn’t sound too profitable, does it?

It cannibalizes on your donors who would otherwise give to an annual appeal. If #GivingTuesday could be moved to the Spring or Summer, the “slow season,” it would be a much more beneficial investment.

A win for the big boys, a loss for smaller organizations

If you are the American Cancer Society and can afford to pay to be the first ad on the Google search of #GivingTuesday, you can consider it an easy win.

As for the small to medium nonprofits struggling to raise money at a smaller level, it is dangerous to get caught up in the tidal wave started by bigger organizations. They have bigger budgets and their trends are not necessarily always what we should be following. Without investing a lot of money in advertising yourself, your message gets lost in the hum of donation solicitations that occur on a social media holiday such as this. 

Give Up on  #GivingTuesday?

I am not trying to boycott #GivingTuesday. If you choose to partake, this is simply a reminder to be strategic; target new donors who do not give to your annual appeal, and be conscious of how much time and money you are allotting as compared to the expected return.

I subscribe to soliciting people in a regular manner, keeping them apprised of the good work you are doing, and respecting your donors. Invest your time and resources into best practices that are proven to pay off.

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