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Giving Tuesday: More orgs, more money, more questions about donors

By Mark Hrywna and Patrick Sullivan - December 31, 2013

Is #GivingTuesday advancing the needle on charitable giving or just moving it around during charities’ busiest time of year? That’s the question that remains to be answered after #GivingTuesday last month. But, nonprofit leaders are still pleased with the huge jump in donations and funds raised during the second iteration of what is intended to become a national day of giving.

At least $32.335 million was donated on Dec. 3, based on a survey  by The NonProfit Times of five donation processing platforms: Black­baud, DonorPerfect, Pay­Pal, Network for Good and Razoo. Other companies that were queried either planned to release data after the new year or did not release aggregate dollar totals but reported large percentage increases in participation and donations over last year.

The total does not include all of the $5.75 million raised by Baltimore’s “BMore Gives More” #GivingTuesday campaign, which benefited hundreds of Charm City charities. Nor does it include $85,455 raised via text donations through the mGive Foundation.

It’s too soon to say whether donors are shifting the timing of their giving instead of making them later on in the month, increasing their giving overall or shifting their gifts online from other channels, such as checks or in-person, according to Dr. Una Osili, director of research at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy in Indianapolis, Ind. She said giving could be greater this year because the overall economy seems to be improving, and key indicators of charitable giving, such as household income and the unemployment rate, seem much more positive this year than last year.

“It’s healthy to shift away from putting all their eggs in the last day’s basket,” said Steve MacLaughlin, director of the Idea Lab at Blackbaud.

“Smart organizations don’t procrastinate; if anything, they’re getting their last few dollars on the last two days of the year. Focusing more on driving giving toward a deadline will help you to increase overall giving. The holiday thing is huge but it can be shifted,” he said.

It’s also unclear how #GivingTuesday might impact the trend of regional or local 24-hour “giving days” throughout the year, particularly during December. Colorado Gives Day raised a record $15.7 million from 68,000 in 2012 for 1,258 organizations, 23 percent more than the previous year and the third straight year it increased. This year, Colorado Gives Day took place on Dec. 10, just a week after #GivingTuesday, but by mid-day was at $9 million, on pace to eclipse 2012.

There’s also the question of whether #GivingTuesday brings not just dollars but more attention to nonprofits, in the way of more donor engagement and involvement and volunteering year-round. “It will be interesting to track going forward. There are a lot more follow-up questions that need to be done to disentangle the impact of #GivingTuesday. But early indicators suggest this is a great opportunity to raise awareness, link social media and online giving to overall initiatives in cities and nationwide,” Osili said. “It’s not just giving but also volunteering. One area we are working on is teaching children about philanthropy. This campaign has that potential,” she said.

The Lilly School will be working with Network for Good to gauge and analyze the data, using a control for the year and month impact that #GivingTuesday might have on giving, Osili added.

Among five companies that provided estimates for both funds raised and number of donations, the average gift was about $126.14 from nearly 245,000 donations. The majority of donations and dollars were recorded by Charleston, S.C.-based Blackbaud, which reported $19.2 million raised this year, almost double the $10 million in 2012, for an average gift of $142.

Participation in the 2013 version of #GivingTuesday more than tripled from the previous year, leading to increased giving totals being reported all around. Three times as many organizations participated in #GivingTuesday this year, with more than 8,300 partners, and some of the charities involved last year were much more active in the 2013 edition.

Henry Timms, interim executive director of the 92nd Street Y (92Y) in New York City, which helped to launch #GivingTuesday, said the response far exceeded his expectations. “We were just overwhelmed by the outpouring of generosity,” he said. “I think it really showcased the creativity and entrepreneurism in the nonprofit world and the generosity of the heart of this country. The combination of traditional values and new technology proved to be a really powerful one,” he said.

The General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church (UMC) announced that 11,000 donors in 34 countries gave more than 16,300 gifts through The Advance, UMC’s giving channel, totaling more than $6.5 million. The Advance encompasses more than 850 Methodist-related projects and more than 300 missionaries. Global Ministries matched the first $500,000 received and all but $2 million, which was raised off-line, was raised through Blackbaud’s Luminate platform. Without UMC’s portion of Blackbaud’s reported $9.2-million increase, overall fundraising during #GivingTuesday still would have been up almost 50 percent compared to last year.

“Even if you were to take out that significant amount of giving to one or two organizations, it was still up a considerable percentage,” said MacLaughlin. “A lot of it is because it was a broad national campaign. If you’re a local animal shelter or Habitat for Humanity organization, you’re not going to have all these media outlets covering your day. It’s a case of a rising tide lifts all boats. When you have that much awareness being generated and nonprofits latching onto it and personalizing it, that creates a very powerful combination that we really only ever see with major disasters and political election cycles,” he said.

“At 12 a.m. you start at zero, so it’s not as though you start at $10 million,” MacLaughlin said. “If anything, the success that United Methodists had was when they chose to focus on #GivingTuesday as a broader fundraising campaign and appeal. It was also driven by matching gifts, and that makes it a really powerful combination for donors.”

UMC’s previous largest one-day total for fundraising was $492,882, the day after Haiti was struck by an earthquake in January 2010, according to Melissa Hinnen, director of content and public information. UMC did some social media for #GivingTuesday last year, but Hinnen said this year “exceeded our wildest dreams.” Initially, she said, they had hoped to make it a million-dollar day and grab the $500,000 matching gift.

Donation processors still were giddy about the year-to-year numbers. Among organizations that participated in 2012 and 2013, DonorPerfect estimated that the dollars raised increased by 162 percent, the number of gifts increased 89 percent, and the total average gift jumped 39 percent, from $125 to $173. Salsa Labs also reported substantial increases for nonprofits that participated in both 2012 and 2013. Those that were active both years received 77 percent more donations this time than in 2012. The Washington, D.C.-based company processed about $520,000 for 347 organizations this year, compared with 230 organizations that raised $168,000 in 2012.

Skeptics of #GivingTuesday believe it could cannibalize year-end giving, the busiest time of year for most charities. Others fear that nonprofits might get lost in all the donation requests on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, crowding each other out.

That #GivingTuesday might cannibalize year-end giving is “a specious argument,” MacLaughlin said. “I’ve heard the same thing about online giving for 10 years: Donors who would have given through a check are giving online. When you look at the data, that’s not true,” he said.

“I think we will find as we do further analysis of donor patterns around #GivingTuesday that yes, there are existing donors who gave on #GivingTuesday and not Dec. 31, but I also get a sense that we’re driving new donors to give,” MacLaughlin said.

“The mindset is problematic in the nonprofit sector, that they feel as though it’s a zero sum game, someone’s losing donations because someone gave on #GivingTuesday and not elsewhere,” he said. “If anything, if donors are giving earlier, they’re more likely to give an additional gift by the end of the year. A nonprofit has a better sense of fundraising results earlier in the year rather than at the last minute.”

Jon Biedermann, vice president of fundraising solutions at DonorPerfect, labeled the concern of gift flipping a fallacy. “It’s the same thing I hear from board members who say, ‘We don’t want to ask our donors too much. We need to give them a rest,’” he said. “All the data clearly shows, the only reason they give to an organization is because they’re asked, and if you don’t ask you lose them — simple as that,” he said. Some believe that a good cycle for asking is once or twice a year, however, data clearly says that organizations can start losing donors after 60 days, according to Biedermann.

“Why in the world would you run a company like a pizza shop where you only serve your customers once every 60 days? Customers are their donors, and a good chunk of them want to give,” Biedermann said of charities.

Biedermann said he’s rarely seen nonprofits take fundraising solicitations too far. An organization might turn off some people by “asking too much,” but the more that nonprofits ask — especially in direct mail — the more revenue they will generate. “Each time they ask more, they make more money. The more you mail the more money you make. That’s been true for 20 years,” he said.

For Biedermann, the increased participation in #GivingTuesday is exciting because now the numbers are becoming statistically significant and can measure the impact through the end of the year or the number of new donors versus other periods.

“What Giving Tuesday is going to do is get people who are on the cusp of donating to actually donate,” Biedermann said. It also seems to be helping in lowering the average age of the donor. “I think it’s because of efforts like this, in social media and everything like that, you just weren’t as inundated with asks in your 30s” even several years ago. Whereas people used to be asked for $5 donations to the PTA, now they have friends walking or running for a nonprofit and asking “a lot more than $5.”  NPT

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