Live From SXSW: #GivingTuesday — The Sharknado of Giving

March 12, 2014       Megan Keane - Special to The NonProfit Times      

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is the biggest day of the year for commerce. Why not take the energy surrounding a day that’s good for business into a day that’s good for giving? That’s the idea that launched the national (and now international) #Giving Tuesday movement. An experiment in philanthropy, #GivingTuesday designated the Tuesday after Thanksgiving as a day for organizations and their supporters to use social media & new tools to raise funds.

In the two years since its inception, #GivingTuesday has grown to 10,000 partners and this year had a 90 percent increase in online giving, and 40 percent increase in average gift size. Social media results from 2013 included 1.2 billion media impressions; 1.2 million Facebook Likes; and 500,000 tweets.

Rob Reich, professor of political science at Stanford University, moderated the session,#GivingTuesday: Inside the Sharknado of Giving, which explored lessons learned from the #GivingTuesday movement, and how it fits with the changing landscape of giving.

The fundraising numbers are impressive. But as Henry Timms, the event’s founder and interim executive director of 92nd Street Y in New York City pointed out, you need to look beyond the numbers to gauge the impact of #GivingTuesday. “As much as money metrics matter, what really engages people are stories about value. We need to look at ways people will engage more deeply in the organization’s mission; not just give money,” he said.

Timms found that successful #GivingTuesday campaigns motivated people to get taking action in other ways. Not treating money as the primary driver, and keeping low barriers of entry is key to engaging supporters, as is creating clear calls to action and concrete ways to get involved. Volunteering is one big method of involvement, especially for those who don’t have deep pockets.

Giving people tools was big part of the growth of #GivingTuesday. Beyond just sharing on social media, it allowed users to shape the movement by giving them bits of content to make their own.

There was a lot of success with co-ownership and co-branding of #GivingTuesday campaigns. Timms gave the example of GiveCorp. With the support of the Mayor of Baltimore, they group took the #GivingTuesday campaign and rebranded it as “BMore, Give More” to raise funds for local organizations and schools. It raised more than $6 million in just two days. Yet, this is not just a fundraising story; it’s a story about value. By focusing on the stories and value of local organizations, the community got excited to support the causes they value.

Similarly, Libby Leffler, strategic partnerships, Facebook, recognizes the value that co-ownership brings when looking at the human behavior around giving and what motivates people to give. She identified three components of viral campaigns: co-ownership; a multi-platform effort; and, a very specific campaign and call to action. Giving people specific language and examples are crucial to enlisting their support. Leffler used the example of the Zakat Foundation of America working together with its partner organization, Heshima Kenya, to raise funds for the Girls Empowerment Program. Through a branded effort, with cross-promotion, and a collection of tips for users, the groups gave supporters a clear call to action and provided the tools to do so.

“But even with a clear call to action,” Leffler warned, “you have to ask users to take the next step. If you tell them and it never become dialogue, it won’t work. It’s important to look at #GivingTuesday as the beginning, not the end, and have each year build on the prior one. The ongoing challenge is how to get people to the next step.”

Charitable giving fatigue can be a challenge, with so many major year-end asks. Leffler recommended taking the approach of asking people to make an individual #GivingTuesday pledge towards one cause and one area that is really important to them. This personalizes the value of the cause and acts as an anchor for demonstrating year-long commitment to a single cause for the year. Keeping it to a single ask avoids bombarding supporters with multiple donation requests.

Leffler said he believes Millennials are a crucial piece of the success of #GivingTuesday. “In 2013, 90 percent of Millennials gave, but majority gave less than $100. Yet, a small amount doesn’t make it less important. [Among millennials] there’s a culture of impact.”

Timms agreed with Leffler. “There’s something more profound taking shape. It’s not just technology change. We often assume that the future of technology is just a shinier 2.0 version of today’s technology, but [what] we’re seeing here is a fundamental change in how humans engage with giving.”