Giving Tuesday – Really?

13-12-03 Giving Tuesday FocusI consider myself to be fairly in the know when it comes to the general trends in fundraising. I’m also truly passionate about helping charities move forward toward the most effective ways to engage consumers. If you read my blogs regularly, you’ve no doubt heard me harping about the need to stand out from the crowd – to be different than other charities. Like it or not, the 500,000+ charities across North America are competition to your fundraising so you need to differentiate yourself rather than blend in.

Enter Giving Tuesday, which according to its website is “a new movement for giving and volunteering, taking place each year after Cyber Monday. The ‘opening day of the giving season, it is a day where charities, companies and individuals join together to share commitments, rally for favourite causes and think about others.”

To me, Giving Tuesday is the one of the biggest “blend-in” exercises I have seen in a long time. I really dislike “me too” campaigns. In one word they are…well…boring!

If you do a little reading you might have read some numbers around giving that happened on Giving Tuesday last year which suggests it is incredibly successful. But it is unclear as to what these metrics really mean in the grand scheme of things.  The international Giving Tuesday website boasts that on Giving Tuesday in the USA in 2013, giving to charity through two online gift processing platforms increased by about 50%. But no one seems to have analyzed whether it was new money or money already coming in through a one-day campaign.

History will judge but here is why I have such a bee in my bonnet about this “me too campaign”?

1. First of all, there is already a well-known day celebrating giving

Giving Tuesday splinters the efforts already in place to celebrate National Philanthropy Day. Professional organizations representing the sector like Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and others already have a day to shine a light giving and volunteerism in the country. Last year the Government of Canada even passed the National Philanthropy Day Act commemorating November 15 as a day to celebrate giving and volunteerism. So why splinter this cause by adding more noise, rather than joining a movement already well established. And who designated December 3rd as the launch of the giving season?

2. Giving shouldn’t be a one-day thing

I have spent a good portion of my fundraising career trying to encourage charities and supporters to think of giving as ongoing engagement (not a one-day event) in one or more causes meaningful to donors. Furthermore, many charities have learned the hard way large investments in one-day fundraising efforts are costly and often have a low return on investment. In this case, it may be true that giving on this particular day increases significantly but there does not appear to be any key messages to extend the trend beyond the one-day campaign. So what do you think happens to giving the day after Giving Tuesday?

3. “Me too” campaigns aren’t effective in helping your charity stand out from the crowd

There’s one charity I know of which has truly capitalized (in a good way) on the Thanksgiving holiday. A few years ago St. Jude’s Hospital created the overwhelmingly successful cause campaign called Thanks and Giving – a campaign which other charities have been salivating over ever since. But they don’t focus only on Thanks Giving day but on the month leading up to it. Furthermore, St. Jude’s refrains from hammering away at the GIVE! GIVE! GIVE! message, but has cleverly woven giving their key messages that talk about WHY GIVE (not just the WHAT.) “Give. To help them live” is a powerful way to kick off a story campaign that is full of faces, names and families who are helped by St. Jude’s.

4. Giving Tuesday seems to be a “hangover” from one of the biggest commercial days of the year and is not based in emotional engagement

It seems to me that the Giving Tuesday campaign is based on a guilt reaction to the overheated commercialization of Black Friday and Cyber Monday and the idea runs counter to what I believe about engaging consumers in causes. Having conducted significant industry research on what creates “breakthrough campaigns” (which we share with our clients) I can tell you that there are several factors that make up successful campaigns. Being reactive isn’t one of those factors, and neither is guilt. At causemark, when we help charities build their next generation campaign, we work hard to discover an underlying emotion people feel for the cause, and the we build out a series of marketing and fundraising strategies and tactics that fuel their emotional nugget.

For the record, it’s not that I think the Giving Tuesday campaign is evil or is inherently bad. I just think its ineffective, a distraction from important charity campaigns and ultimately is a waste of precious fundraising resources.

I’d like to know what others think about Giving Tuesday? I’d would especially like to hear from anyone who is able to show sustained giving results beyond this one-day campaign as a result of participating in Giving Tuesday.  Perhaps history will prove me wrong.

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