More than 2,500 charities, volunteer organizations, community centers and corporations participated in the inaugural GivingTuesday on November 27, a day marked by volunteer projects and online fundraising campaigns in all 50 U.S. states. GivingTuesday, which follows the country’s biggest shopping days, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, is a new effort to establish an “opening day” for charitable giving and volunteer efforts during the holiday season.
Results were mixed, however, according to local nonprofits who jumped on the bandwagon. Many nonprofit organizations turned to social media sites to promote their GivingTuesday efforts and had successful campaigns, while other organizations found the effort to be ineffective in harnessing attention for their causes. For New Yorkers, who are still in the process of healing after Superstorm Sandy, GivingTuesday helped provide greater exposure to storm relief efforts.
“We were a late adopter of the concept of GivingTuesday, but it became a kickoff of our holiday efforts this year,” said Mary Ellen Sanger, Assistant Executive Director of Riverstone Senior Life Services. “We implemented it on the fly by sending an email blast to our usual subscribers. We had 10 to 12 people donate to us because of it.”
According to Sanger, the donors who responded to Riverstone’s online campaign would not have donated at this time of year without this initiative. “They were struck by the concept of GivingTuesday,” Sanger explained. “We pulled in between $600 and $700 in one day. For an agency our size, it’s a nice extra boost.”
One donor reached out to Riverstone after seeing the organization’s posts about its GivingTuesday efforts on Facebook. Although social media wasn’t especially useful for Riverstone this time around, Sanger said, “Agencies with a larger following will find Facebook to be useful. When it comes to social media, fling it as far as you can.”
While Riverstone’s efforts did not have a huge return, Sanger said the organization is hopeful that this year’s GivingTuesday will serve as a springboard for next year’s initiatives. “Given the small size of our donor pool, we are not at all unhappy with the donations we received. This was more of an effort to get the idea out there. People need time to get behind this idea. We are hoping that by next year more people will be aware of GivingTuesday and will be more ready to give.”
Literacy Partners also promoted GivingTuesday through social media and e-communications to grow its base of support and advocate for charitable giving for its cause. “We found out about GivingTuesday through an email we received through a list-serve,” explained Arianne Keegan, Literacy Partners’ Development Associate. “We loved the idea and promoted it in an e-blast a week prior to GivingTuesday and in another on the actual day. The general appeal of GivingTuesday helped us gain a few new donors.”
According to Mary Vinton, Literacy Partners’ Director of External Affairs, the staff at GivingTuesday was responsible for making their campaign successful. “It was a smooth process. Representatives from GivingTuesday were on call, disseminating information, press releases and resources,” she said.
The fact that GivingTuesday relies heavily on social media sites for exposure, while online accessibility varies for clients of different organizations, is an obstacle Literacy Partners hopes to overcome in the future. “We tweeted about it,” said Vinton. “Twitter is definitely a new tool that can be great for agencies. It’s not as useful for us because our primary constituent base isn’t online, but that’s more of an internal obstacle. We would love to delve into that base.”
According to Vinton, the human service sector has had a hard year, especially in New York, where many people have been greatly affected by Hurricane Sandy. But, she also pointed out, “Those who support nonprofit causes will often give additional money in times of need.” As for the prospect for future successes with GivingTuesday, “efforts like this can gain traction when people feel that they are a part of a movement,” said Vinton. “It’s a great idea, and hopefully it will grow even more.”
Like many nonprofits, the Center Against Domestic Violence promoted its GivingTuesday effort a week prior by sending out an e-blast to its supporters, using GivingTuesday’s logo. According to Rona Solomon, the Center Against Domestic Violence’s Deputy Director, GivingTuesday is a great concept, but didn’t work out well for a number of organizations this year. “It was good because it got us off the mark, but it didn’t result in any big boost in donations. We have an elder donor base that already gives monthly donations. But I think GivingTuesday is a great idea that will continue to grow. Nonprofits could use it in the future to kick off their holiday efforts.”
However, in New York City and the surrounding areas, many nonprofits already had launched their holiday efforts even earlier this year to respond to the needs of Hurricane Sandy victims. “People were very generous at the time of the hurricane,” Solomon explained. “I like to think that generosity begets generosity, but the reality is that it’s a tough year for people. New Yorkers don’t need to be reminded to be generous. We all have been helping.”
Directors of other nonprofits also provided insight as to why their GivingTuesday efforts may have been less successful than they anticipated. One executive eirector explained, “We obviously wanted to participate, but it seems that most people at this time are understandably focused on storm efforts.” Another executive director said that donations may have been slow to come in because the GivingTuesday website was difficult to navigate, explaining that “once a potential donor found our organization on that site, they still needed to search for our ‘Donate Now’ button.”
“As an organization, we don’t like asking for donations until mid-December,” one development director explained. “It differs for each organization, but we’ve found that people are most willing to give back closest to the holiday season. People might not have been looking to donate that early in the season.”
Still, in its first year, GivingTuesday successfully increased awareness and donations for many nonprofit organizations this holiday season. According to Blackbaud, a supplier of software and services specifically designed for nonprofit organizations, there was a 53% increase in online donations on the inaugural GivingTuesday compared to same day last year. Despite any perceived failures, GivingTuesday is already gaining momentum for next year’s initiatives. Perhaps Mary Ellen Sanger of Riverstone best explained the significance of the movement: “Globally, GivingTuesday has become a great tool to get people thinking in that vein.”
by Marissa Fariello