Giving Days have become a popular tool for charities and foundations in recent years to spur giving both during select dead periods and the holiday season through efforts such as #GivingTuesday. As the days increase in popularity, with improved technical functionality and social media awareness, organizations are faced with the conundrum of whether or not to dip into the well earlier.
Dallas-based Communities Foundation of Texas incorporated a week of advanced giving for the first time during its most recent giving day this past September. The effort stemmed from the fact that the giving day landed on a Thursday and donors voiced concerns about being out of town or forgetting and area nonprofit leaders sought to host events promoting the giving day during the preceding weekend. A seven-day window was selected to give nonprofits every day of the week to work with while minimizing the risk of donor fatigue, according to Susan Swan Smith, chief giving day officer.
The campaign drew $39.4 million, an event high, with $6 million via advanced giving. The foundation handled the opportunity to give in advance as kind of a “P.S.” in its press releases and other print materials, but provided its 2,900 participating nonprofits with the option of further highlighting the option.
“We didn’t quite know what to expect,” Smith said. “That it was about 15 percent that came in advance, it clearly made a difference to some people, yet it didn’t take away from the day itself.” Foundation leadership is in the process of analyzing any subtle differences between pre-gifts and those given during the day itself.
Giving days are typically organized by local community foundations, but about three or four of the United Way’s 1,800 worldwide affiliates conduct giving days, according to Kelly Brinkley, chief operating officer of the United Way of the National Capital Area (UWNCA) in Vienna, Va. UWNCA has held its Do More 24 event for the past five years and introduced a two-week pre-giving period for the first time this year. The offering was not featured in UWNCA advertising materials and was instead offered to participating nonprofit leadership to promote as they saw fit.
“I just think that giving days and our relationship with the nonprofit community evolved and everybody recognized that we were leaving donors on the day,” Brinkley said. “It was more for convenience.”
This year’s event, held in June, drew $1.7 million, about 10 percent of which came via advanced giving. The cumulative sum was in line with what UWNCA has seen in terms of year-to-year growth in fundraising totals, which has bumped up a few hundred thousand each year. In other words, $160,000 or so is what event organizers would have expected during an early morning rush. Such donors decided, instead, to give in the preceding days.
Comic Relief Inc., organizer of Red Nose Day, has a somewhat different approach, according to CEO Janet Scardino. The organization’s entire annual fundraising effort is compressed into an eight-week span ending with Red Nose Day itself in late May. That campaign period is focused on red-nose sales at Walgreens stores, helping independent fundraisers across the country in local schools and workplaces, and driving awareness through social media. The campaign drew in $38.2 million in 2017, up from $36 million in 2016.
“We’ve found that by focusing our energy during one time of year, [it] really makes Red Nose Day special — like a national holiday,” Scardino said via an email from London. “You can create excitement and anticipation.”
The Seattle Foundation has provided two weeks of advanced giving in each of its past two Give Big events, which take place in May. Some $3.3 million of this year’s $22-million total was from advanced giving.
The foundation partners with The Seattle Times two weeks prior to Give Big with a special supplement. That supplement effectively sets off early giving and leaders of the region’s 1,700 participating nonprofits are able to promote early giving as much as they see fit. Responses from the local nonprofit community have been mixed. Some enjoy getting a jump on giving, while others are less interested and fear that advanced giving takes away from the day itself, Roske said.
Roske sees the Seattle Foundation sticking with advanced giving and spoke of the benefit of testing giving platforms during times of low volume as opposed to going zero-to-60 on the day itself. She likened the pre-giving trend to other donation enhancements such as donation “gift carts” that allow donors to pick and choose to give to multiple organization in a single transaction akin to online shopping. The point of giving days, Roske said, is to elevate and organization’s existing strategy with such tools.
“I think that donor fatigue is an issue facing the nonprofit community and giving days in general,” Roske said. “The addition of early giving, I don’t believe, contributes to the overall challenge of donor fatigue.”
Organizations, particularly community foundations, have traditionally used giving days to raise the bar for area donors, said Brad Ward, director of community philanthropy for the Council on Foundations. The average gift for giving days tends to be larger as donors are giving outside their normal decision making, making a little extra generosity more feasible.
Giving days have grown in popularity during the past five years as organizations seek to expand organizational culture, engage local philanthropists, and promote civic pride. The increased popularity of online giving has helped fuel donor comfort with such events, Ward said. He sees advanced giving as a means for nonprofits to play to existing strengths by giving reliable donors who would participate anyway more time in which to do so all while providing more time to coordinate a successful effort.
“Any time you give donors flexibility to control their giving and the ability to essentially mobilize other gifts — you open up Hour 1 of the giving day with money — it’s very inspiring. It’s very motivating,” he said.
The Pittsburgh Foundation is one organization out of the business of organizing giving days, according to Kelly Uranker, director of the foundation’s Center for Philanthropy. The foundation’s first giving day was in 2009, a response to the 2008 economic crisis. Area nonprofits were concerned by a lack of individual giving and Pittsburgh is a foundation-focused community, Uranker said. The inaugural giving day was an opportunity to create an incentive around giving while also giving local nonprofits the chance to work with then-unfamiliar online donation platforms.
At its peak, the giving day raised about $8 million. A pot of $750,000 in matching funds was a consistent carrot for organizations and matching dollars were prorated so that all participants could benefit. The foundation stopped organizing the giving day after 2016, choosing instead now to provide consulting expertise for Pittsburgh Magazine’s efforts, which will tie into #GivingTuesday.
Uranker said that the foundation was a victim of its own success. Each year, 40 or so new nonprofits would sign on to participate, but the matching funds remained static. Matching amounts went from 22 cents on the dollar to 14 to 11. Those decreases were hard on public morale. In 2016, nonprofits were encouraged to work toward their own match pool, raising $2.2 million.
Understanding the timeline of the giving day on the outset is something Uranker would recommend to foundation or nonprofit leaders before they take the plunge. “It works well in different communities,” Uranker said. “It’s an arch. We’re all arching at the same speed.”