Thoughts on the Friday after Giving Tuesday

I am going to go ahead and say it — Giving Tuesday makes me uncomfortable.  

Let’s get a few things out of the way up front: I do appreciate its emphasis on giving to others and to worthy causes in the midst of the holiday buying season. No donation is too large or too small and every one of them is thoughtful and motivated, at least in some part, by an altruistic impulse. As someone who spends so much of his professional time thinking about donor relations, I get that.  

I also recognize that the growth and proliferation of Giving Tuesday is, in certain lights, supported by data. That, in aggregate, more dollars are given away on this occasion every year, and taken in that regard it is an effective and undeniable tool in non-profits’ efforts to hit revenue targets. Some of the dollars that have been used to pay my salaries have undoubtedly come from Giving Tuesday campaigns. This is not a rant blind to my own hypocrisy.

The reason I don’t like Giving Tuesday anymore is that it no longer feels empowering to the social sector, because it forces us into a short and furious competition for fleeting eyeballs, rather than teach the importance of sustainable, consistent philanthropy to those with the means to give. It’s become another glaring example of the power imbalance in fundraising. More on that in a bit.

This concern I have was best expressed by a colleague yesterday, an ED of a 501c3, when he said Giving Tuesday ” gives off the false impression that one day of largely small-dollar donations will be ample enough resources to sustain the non-profit community for the tasks ahead,” so much so that the average donor doesn’t have to think about our potential needs again for 364 days.

Giving Tuesday cheapens us. By sanctioning one ‘day’ (really, a week) of glorified panhandling, it forces scenarios like the one over the last 72 hours where I received no less than 8 appeals from ONE organization that I have supported in the past, contracted with as a client, deeply respect, and whose Director of Development is a friend of mine. Why do we feel like we have no choice but to participate in this virtual groveling that nobody asking for support feels good about? 8 points of outreach in one short timespan? That’s just unfair to us who raise dollars for a living and work tirelessly to build real partnerships with funders who take the time to understand and support our mission. We prepare diligently for carefully scheduled, personalized engagements. Wasting 8 touchpoints around one campaign robs us of the opportunity to engage those donors more meaningfully at any other point in the year to invest them in our cause. ‘I gave to you on Giving Tuesday’ is a momentum killer.

No matter what, in the relationship between philanthropists and service providers the balance of power is always resting in the hands of the donor deciding whether or not to make an investment. So how does a good fundraiser cope?

By recognizing that our prospects are human beings who want to find ways to be helpful in the world, with their own personal reasons why they engage with us. We do our homework on them, asking why is this person willing to sit across from me, or answer my emails? We honor their curiosity with multiple versions of our pitch that go deep on any and all of those reasons. We model partnership between donor and service provider, showing up as the authentic, subject-matter experts any philanthropist seeks to be the steward of their charitable investment.

Nothing about this is quick nor best accomplished by slick marketing. Giving Tuesday, therefore, pushes the art and science of our practice off the front page, replacing it with a short-attention-span-driven cash grab that as my colleague Abby would say, erroneously conflates ‘feel good’ with ‘real good.’ We need donors to give more of themselves, commit deeply to the purpose of our programs, make a sacrifice for the good of others with their discretionary income. That’s the partnership through which we seek equal footing with our donors.  

Giving $10 to 5 causes via links in an email you don’t even read all the way through is not ‘efficient fundraising.’ I don’t think Giving Tuesday is going away. But how you show up for us, the experts in the causes you believe in, on Mondays and Wednesdays? That’s what matters most to those of us asking for your help.