‘Giving Tuesday’ is the Black Friday of Donations. How Nonprofits Prepare for Feel-Good Growth

November 26, 2018

By Suzy Strutner(opens in new tab), managing editor of Grow Wire

In short:

  • On the heels of the post-Thanksgiving retail holidays(opens in new tab), Giving Tuesday is a day when online shoppers can become online givers. Last year, the holiday drove more than $300 million in donations to nonprofits. 

  • Since Giving Tuesday launched in 2012, nonprofits have come to rely on it for a significant portion of their end-of-year fundraising.

  • Nonprofits leverage the holiday’s popularity using a suite of classic marketing tactics to drive donations. 

Ah, the trifecta of unofficial November holidays. First came Black Friday, the modern rendition of which rose to prominence(opens in new tab) in the late 1980s as a way for retailers to institutionalize what was already a popular shopping day. Then, the National Retail Federation debuted Cyber Monday in 2005(opens in new tab) to give online retailers a day of their own. Finally, Giving Tuesday launched in 2012(opens in new tab) with a twist: Give, don’t receive. 

Giving Tuesday acts less like an unofficial holiday and more like a movement(opens in new tab) that encourages locals to do good in their communities every Tuesday after Thanksgiving. The movement’s website encourages supporters to give their “time, donations, goods or your voice(opens in new tab)” to those in need.

Giving Tuesday likely wouldn’t exist without e-commerce.

Giving Tuesday is also a ready-made viral holiday(opens in new tab) that gives nonprofits access to millions of online potential donors in one concentrated, global effort. Last year, more than 2.5 million donors in 150 countries gave more than $300 million(opens in new tab) as a result of Giving Tuesday campaigns. It may be just a fraction of the $717 billion spent on retail on Black Friday(opens in new tab), but it’s a hefty accomplishment for a holiday that started less than six years ago.

Giving Tuesday’s goal is to provide an antidote to post-Thanksgiving shopping(opens in new tab) and kick off the Christmas and end-of-year giving season. And consumers clearly have an appetite for it: The amount raised on Giving Tuesday grew 20 percent(opens in new tab) year over year from 2015 to 2016 and nearly 70 percent(opens in new tab) year over year between 2016 and 2017. 

Here’s how nonprofits prepare for the influx.

It’s been an added bonus for nonprofits, most of whom already see a spike in giving at the end of the year: November and December are the busiest donation months for LifeLab Kids(opens in new tab), founder Jai Reddy told Grow Wire. Giving Tuesday donations will comprise 25 percent of their holiday-season fundraising, he said.

Warren Egersheim, a fundraising and development manager at Compassion in World Farming USA(opens in new tab), cited a similar situation.“Giving Tuesday is consistently one of the two heaviest donation days of the year for us, with the other one being December 31,” he said. 

On Twitter(opens in new tab)Compassion in World Farming USA(opens in new tab) promoted its Giving Tuesday campaign(opens in new tab)

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Other nonprofits told Grow Wire that 30 to 50 percent of their annual donations come in during the holiday season, of which Giving Tuesday is a part. 

Operationally, organizations seem to prepare for the influx as any other business would. Most cited reliance on careful planning and an “all hands on deck” approach when heavy donation time nears. Few hire additional staff or increase working hours to ensure everything gets properly accounted for and processed. Dollar-amount goals for Giving Tuesday ranged from $5,000 to $150,000 at the companies Grow Wire surveyed. 

To bring such proceeds in, nonprofits rely on a number of classic, smart marketing strategies(opens in new tab)

Buy two, get one free 
Kiva is a peer lending platform(opens in new tab) that lets individuals fund others’ small businesses. This Giving Tuesday, Kiva is offering donors a $25 lending credit to give to someone else when they lend $50 of their own.

Nonprofit Kiva includes two calls to action on its homepage(opens in new tab), referencing a "buy one get one free" offer for donors on Giving Tuesday.

Brand partnerships on social media 
In 2015, Kiva partnered with beverage brand Honest Tea, joining a “Twitter party”(opens in new tab) that encouraged Honest Tea fans to donate to the organization. 

The Greater Boston Food Bank(opens in new tab), meanwhile, asks local corporations to promote its Giving Tuesday campaign on social media, communications director Catherine Brennan said. 

And Water for People(opens in new tab) will “take over” the social feed of its corporate partner Absolut Elyx to drive donations, according to Marketing Director Jody Carman.

Like most brands, Compassion in World Farming said they historically ask for Giving Tuesday donations on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. This year, they’ll add a Facebook Live or two. 

“Most of our donor engagement now comes through social media,” Egersheim said. “It’s a great way for us to keep our supporters in the loop and the dialogue open.”

Corporate partnerships 
On Giving Tuesday, many organizations set up corporate matching programs that double their donation dollars. This year, for example, Water for People is partnering with engineering firm Brown and Caldwell, which will match up to $25,000 of donations received. Combined with the organization’s $30,000 Giving Tuesday fundraising goal, the total raised could easily equal more than $50,000, Carman said.

Nonprofit Water for People is partnering with engineering firm Brown and Caldwell(opens in new tab) for Giving Tuesday.  (opens in new tab)

Email blasts with personal thank-yous 
Many corporations also send email blasts to donors, asking for Giving Tuesday donations. The goal is just as financial as it is for brand awareness, said Mizgon Darby, executive director of Art in Action(opens in new tab).

“Our Giving Tuesday campaign always has a focus of connecting our donors with our communities ... Giving Tuesday is a form of civic engagement,” she said. “... Our goal is to get more individuals to understand the problem and engage by telling others, contributing financially, or volunteering in some way.”

Art in Action sends handwritten thank-you notes to donors, informing them where their money was spent. 

It’s likely this personal connection that keeps donors coming back, Darby said.

Compassion in World Farming also makes a point to thank its donors, Egersheim said. It’s the opportunity for personal connections like these that keep Giving Tuesday growing, he added.

“Giving Tuesday feels like its own holiday,” he said. “It’s a day where people realize the strength they have to impact the world and communities of like-minded people come together.”

To donate or volunteer on Giving Tuesday, visit the movement’s website(opens in new tab).

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