Thanks to Penelope Burk for bravely jumping into this topic! Her thoughtful article reminds us to keep our focus on our donors and to be resolute in executing a specific plan that is right for our organization. Without this focus, it is difficult to resist the allure of national campaigns and promotions such as Giving Tuesday. Across the industry, we must be cautious about herd mentality and group think. Many organizations have benefited from the donor energy created by Giving Tuesday, but it is not the right strategy for all organizations. Before contemplating another appeal like Giving Tuesday, development professionals must understand where their organization’s fundraising strengths and successes lie, and where they should seek improvement and growth.
In addition to Giving Tuesday, there are a number of community foundations that have launched similar public giving campaigns. These campaigns go by various names and encourage donors to give to their favorite organizations through a gift to the community foundation. Typically, these gifts are made online and they often employ a challenge gift to encourage nonprofits to get their donors to participate for an increased percentage of the “pie.” These campaigns can create even greater donor stewardship challenges than Giving Tuesday, because the gift is sent through a third party and not directly to the nonprofit. The community foundation benefits from the favorable press and heightened awareness, as well as all from the donor data they are able to capture. But the inherent delays in reporting donor information from the community foundation’s records to the nonprofit can compromise donor stewardship. Further, in our experience too many nonprofit organizations fail to properly record and steward the donors that participate in these consolidated challenge campaigns.
We especially appreciate Ms. Burk’s focus on donor retention and stewardship as a method of considering (continued) participation in Giving Tuesday. Our best advice is to analyze and monitor your entire constituency of donors, develop an informed plan of action, and to be dedicated to executing that plan. If national campaigns like Giving Tuesday or a local giving day challenge help your strategy, then prepare your organization for success and jump smartly into the mix. If not, keep working your plan to keep your donors giving again and again, year-after-year.
Our research is revealing a not-so-attractive side to Giving Tuesday, one which could turn this innovative fundraiser into just another ask at the end of a long year of solicitations. This comment sums up a rising sentiment:
On Giving Tuesday, my wife and I received 17 appeals from not-for-profits to which we are current or recent donors. Only 2 thanked us for our past gifts (some of those gifts were made very recently). Many of these causes had budgets in the $50 Million range, with fully developed Donor Relations programs. All of them used systems that could easily segregate their donors. For us, Giving Tuesday has become just another way that we are bombarded. We are very disappointed and reconsidering our future support.
Giving Tuesday may be falling into the trap of focusing only on the money, when raising money in conjunction with mindfulness about the diverse groups of donors who fund not-for-profits is so essential.
For fundraisers, Giving Tuesday is one more obligation (though a profitable one) added to their already over-loaded year-end responsibilities. So, I can see why Development professionals might just dump their entire donor file into this one-day appeal and hope for the best. But, donor attrition has become the single biggest obstacle to fundraising success; and, over-solicitation is the #1 cause of donor attrition. Without adjusting it in more nuanced ways, Giving Tuesday runs the risk of becoming just another way to bombard and frustrate donors.
How to Eliminate the Risk of Losing Donors in Giving Tuesday
Here are my recommendations for including your existing donors in Giving Tuesday in a more Donor-Centered way. By existing donors, I mean anyone who is in your system, has made at least one gift, and who is still considered to be active, not lapsed:
1. Redefine your existing donors in discrete stakeholder groups, crafting Giving Tuesday appeals that acknowledge each group’s special and unique status. For example, a donor who has been giving to you steadily for the last five years should be acknowledged as such in the opening paragraph of your email, letter or script. Anyone who has already given to you this year should also be acknowledged for his/her very recent support and you should have a compelling rationale for coming back to this donor so soon. (The fact that you are running another fundraiser is not justification in itself. See #4 below.)
2. Regardless of how you categorize your existing donors, your first job is to express your genuine gratitude for what these donors have already done for you that has got you to where you are today. This is essential in order to mitigate the situation that donors find themselves in today. They have so many choices for giving and they are drowning in everyone else’s urgent appeals.
3. Consider whether certain donors should be solicited in Giving Tuesday at all. The donor whose quote is at the top of this blog manages his family’s foundation and makes very generous contributions to dozens of causes each year. He is now rethinking who deserves his and his Foundation’s major gift support. Any major gifts officer will confirm that you should avoid anything that has the potential of sending a donor down the giving ladder.
4. Donors don’t need one more fundraiser, but they are crying out for a real reason to give beyond the fact that you just need the money. Competition and over-solicitation mean that your Giving Tuesday appeal must focus your donors’ attention on a single program, project or initiative as the reason why you are reaching out yet again this year. Whatever you choose must be able to achieve a measurable impact as a result of the funds you raise through Giving Tuesday. This is known as designated or restricted giving and it has become essential for holding onto donors long term.
5. As soon as donors give, send each one (regardless of gift value) a donor-centered thank you letter that is personal, a pleasure to read, and which reminds them where funds will be allocated.
6. Later, once their contributions have been set to work in your designated program, circle back to your Giving Tuesday donors to tell them what they have helped you accomplish so far.
Prompt, meaningful, acknowledgement, restricted giving and reporting in meaningful and measurable terms before asking again – these are the three things donors have been telling us, for over twenty years of research, that they need in order to stay loyal and give more generously over time. Collectively, they are called, “Donor-Centered Fundraising” and they apply as much to Giving Tuesday as to any other fundraising program.
If you turn Giving Tuesday into Donor-Centered Giving Tuesday, you can watch this innovative fundraising program soar into the stratosphere.