(Year) Three Appears To Be The Charm For #GivingTuesday

December 30, 2014       Mark Hrywna      

The evolution of #GivingTuesday has made the jump from experiment to tradition right alongside Black Friday and Cyber Monday as the “opening day” of the December giving season.

Some 20,000 nonprofits in the United States got involved the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, raising nearly $50 million, producing three-quarters of a million tweets and millions of media impressions. There were an additional more than 6,700 partners in 28 countries around the world.

“Moving from an experiment to a holiday was always our goal,” said Henry Timms, executive director of the 92nd Street Y in New York City, who is credited as being one of the founders of the annual day of giving back. “This will return year after year. If we can do that right, it can be not just beneficial on the day and around the seasons, but also much earlier in the year,” he said.

Research from Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and the Case Foundation shows the amount raised by nonprofits around #GivingTuesday increased by 63 percent compared to 2013, noting nearly $46 million raised, largely by U.S.-based organizations. The increase in participating organizations helped grow the overall giving numbers but the aggregate total also had not yet included PayPal, which reported almost $4 million in contributions last year, as well as other smaller donation processing firms.

“There’s still room for growth. This is just the third year. You’re still seeing new organizations,” said Steve MacLaughlin, director of product management for Blackbaud, which that day processed $26.1 million in online donations to clients, up 36 percent compared to last year. Transaction volume for Blackbaud was up 50 percent, compared with an increase of 36 percent last year versus year one.

MacLaughlin estimated the overall number could be more like $100 million if information from other software firms not reporting is extrapolated.

There’s also a lag in reporting offline gifts. “Someone could’ve been inspired by what a charity did on #GivingTuesday but it won’t see it show up for days or maybe even weeks,” MacLaughlin said. The thinking is that “$26.1 million, is that what you see happen on Dec. 31? No. But in 2011, it was $6.6 million on the same day. I’m not sure what else is moving the needle that much,” he said.

#GivingTuesday is now among the biggest days of December for Blackbaud in terms of volume and transaction dollars, along with Dec. 30 and 31.

The online story is being told but there’s much more to the offline story, which will be coming out in the coming weeks and months as data are dissected, Timms said. “The aim was to give December a good start and it’s interesting to see that play out,” he said.

This year, for the first time, #GivingTuesday data will be analyzed by researchers at Lilly Family School of Philanthropy through a partnership with the Case Foundation. That report is expected to be released this month.

Una Osili, director of research for the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy said one of the goals is to further understand #GivingTuesday’s impact on the overall holiday season and how behavior might be changing, as well as what types of nonprofits are engaged and how, whether through volunteering or social media.

Initial estimates do show a significant increase, particularly in online giving. It’s hard to gauge offline giving because it’s processed more slowly. Osili said much of it seems to be due to more organizations participating.

Initial evidence seems quite positive, with the overall level of engagement and more nonprofits of different sizes involved and more transactions. “The increase in online giving shows some potential for #GivingTuesday to be a clear role in engaging individuals across the U.S. and the world,” Osili said.

The overall amount raised is very important but it underestimates the potential of #GivingTuesday because of so much offline activity, increased level of awareness and engagement, and the vast numbers and sizes of organizations participating in just three years, she said.

#GivingTuesday will now shift into “listening mode,” as Timms called it, to track, listen and learn as much as possible. That will be synthesized into a full report to be released within the first quarter of this year to kick off #GivingTuesday 2015 planning.

Timms was heartened by the success in places like the United Kingdom, which doesn’t even celebrate Thanksgiving. #GivingTuesday in the U.K. reported a 46-percent increase in giving, an 80 percent increase in text donations, and 270 percent growth in online donations.

#GivingTuesday isn’t necessarily just about the bottom line, either. “The reach of this from a media perspective is massive,” Timms said, and the number of media impressions will be huge this year.

Corporate support is among the aspects that will be tallied in the weeks after Dec. 2 and wasn’t included in the initial estimates. Timms expects next year will see even more involvement on the corporate side. “America wants to have a bigger conversation about philanthropy and corporations will want to be part of that,” he said.

Bank of America ran a full-page ad in The New York Times that referenced #GivingTuesday and its work with World AIDS Day (Dec. 1) rolled over to #Giving Tuesday. Retailer H&M donated $7.5 million in clothing to people in need. Avon Foundation raised $1 million for domestic violence and CVS pharmacies awarded $100,000 in 50 unexpected gifts to charities, based on nominations by local branches.

“We never got into this to be purely about fundraising,” Timms said, noting various volunteer efforts by charities that day, such as the Philadelphia Orchestra offering free concerts to the community and supporters.

“We committed to how do we have a conversation about values, the promise of getting people to stop when time was all about spending and trying to start a conversation about giving, about connecting with people’s communities,” he said.

The University of Michigan’s #GivingBlueDay, a 24-hour fundraiser on #GivingTuesday, raised more than $3 million but just as importantly, staff used social media to engage everyone from alumni to their president. “What they’re really doing is shifting people from donors to owners,” Timms said. “One of the shifts we think about with #GivingTuesday is, how do people really change to own your cause?”

There were hundreds of hours of free training resources to the sector in preparation for #GivingTuesday. “We thought a lot about capacity building. It’s important that we try to be constructive and useful. What no one’s talking about now is what nonprofits are talking about: What have we learned from #GivingTuesday, what went well, what didn’t. It’s just one of the interesting promises of what happens next,” Timms said.

With nonprofit servers working overtime churning out emails this past Dec. 2, one could fear oversaturation of fundraising appeals. There’s also the fear that #GivingTuesday simply moves donations from the end of the giving season to the start — something that data analysis hopes to prove or disprove.

“It is growing. It’s not cannibalizing giving because people are just asking more,” said Jon Biedermann, vice president at DonorPerfect. “Anyone in fundraising will tell you: the more you ask, the more you’ll raise. People say they only can give one time, but if you ask again, they usually do,” he said.

In the end, Biedermann isn’t convinced that #GivingTuesday will take away from other giving during December given the net addition of new and reactivated donors. “These are your Sybunts, Lybunts (Last Year But Unfortunately Not This Year and Some Year But Unfortunately Not This Year),” he said.

As #GivingTuesday grows, there will be more creativity by charities. “You only need to look at the results like Network for Good is posting, lots of smaller organizations are doing very well,” Timms said. Network for Good reported some $4.6 million raised, up from less than $2 million last year, for almost 2,400 mostly small or medium nonprofits.

The average gift was up about 4 percent for Network for Good’s totals, according to Jamie McDonald, chief giving officer. “Our focus since July has been on step-by-step tactical guidance and tools about how to take advantage of a day like #GivingTuesday,” McDonald said.

“A day like this that extends the giving month into December is powerful and important,” McDonald said, because too many organizations depend on Dec. 30 and 31 to make their year, which is a lot of pressure for small and medium nonprofits.

McDonald emphasized that small nonprofits can be a part of the movement despite all the messages and exposure crowding into one day. “They shouldn’t shy away from it because they don’t think they have extensive resources or a big staff that can’t capitalize; if anything we outperformed,” she said.

“We all have to be clear in the giving economy to continue to create leverage for small, on-the-ground grassroots organizations and that their participation in days like this can be highly leveraged,” McDonald said.

“#GivingTuesday is becoming a fixed part of the landscape,” after three years of massive growth, said Clam Lorenz, general manager, social innovation, at PayPal. “Our #GivingTuesday effort is rolling into a month-long holiday campaign, without question the biggest thing we’ve done,” he said, bigger than anything in response to natural disasters.

Shifting giving to earlier in December “primes the pump,” Lorenz said, and fundamentally it’s about more giving overall, perhaps smaller, more effective giving. The increase in gift size in PayPal totals indicates to Lorenz that it could be the beginning of a movement by people who are giving as part of a plan versus just giving in response to stimulus. “They’re getting into more serious, committed, earnest donors,” he said.

“This effort often attracts the more casual donor, which often means smaller gifts but we’ve actually been surprised, this year actually seems like true, additional donors, regular donors, are getting involved in #GivingTuesday,” Lorenz said.

PayPal had not yet released aggregate totals at presstime but reported an increase of about 66 percent in donations over last year. With nearly $4 million raised in 2013, that would project to almost $6.5 million for the 2014 version.

“By any metric, banners on our website, emails to users, we’re pulling more levers than we have in history to encourage users to give,” Lorenz said. There are about 170 million PayPal users around the world.

“#GivingTuesday is very small. Most Americans don’t know what it is,” Timms said. “There is so much further we can go, to get to the scale that we think we can.” NPT