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Giving Tuesday? Yes, and…give it some thought.

By Susan Carey Dempsey on November 28, 2012No Comment

I join many other observers of the philanthropic community in applauding the concept of Giving Tuesday, seeking to shine as bright a light on charitable giving as we have become accustomed to seeing – endlessly – on the super-shopping days Black Friday and Cyber Monday. A host of founding partners, from 92Y to the UN Foundation, from the Huffington Post to New York’s Tunnel to Towers Foundation and numerous nonprofits of all sizes, were encouraging donors to take a number of steps to support their favorite causes on the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving.


Donations (Photo credit: Matthew Burpee)

The positive aspects are numerous:

  • the end-of-year giving tradition gets nudged to an earlier spot on the calendar, which helps reduce the risk of procrastinating or forgetting during the busy closing weeks of the year
  • Giving Tuesday is encouraging individuals to not only make their own donations, but to share their intentions via social media. This is a great way to prime the pump, making giving a contagious, quickly replicated, positive act – akin to being the first to drop a dime or a dollar into the proffered boot or bucket. It validates the instinct of your neighbor, and gets that next dollar moving, and the next…
  • The aggregation of donations as well as social media actions will enable us to get a sense of critical mass, and it should be relatively easy to track the impact of designating this new giving “holiday.” Powerful results will be noticed by corporations and other funding sources, who will likely expand the initiative widely in years ahead.

Are there any negatives? Not really. Do I have questions? Just a few, and really, I hope they will be taken as constructive concerns. Here are a couple:

  • My email inbox has lit up even more than usual, with appeals geared to take advantage of Giving Tuesday. No harm in that, and just what I would urge any nonprofit to do. Now, will a donor who responds to the most effective of those appeals…make a downward adjustment in her giving to a favorite community cause? Let’s hope not.
  • In such a crowded nonprofit field, large national and international organizations find it easier to get media attention and take their fundraising to scale through large corporate partnerships. Again, good practice. And yet, when I check out at a supermarket or drugstore and am asked to contribute to, for example, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, I stop to think…and then I give. I worry about the local hospital or children’s charity who won’t have access to donors so conveniently checking out. So I consider the beneficial research St. Jude’s conducts that will help children everywhere. I make my donation, and mentally resolve to help a smaller, local children’s healthcare program. I hope that will be more than a well-intentioned resolve. On my to-do list, with so many more items that I may or may not get to…
  • There have been many wonderful technological advances that have powered individual philanthropy, from the increased efficiency of online giving to the inauguration of texting to make instant, small donations. All great, but how can we encourage donors to make the larger gift, not just the easier gift?
  • One of my pet peeves is that nonprofits, having been rightly chastised in the past for a lack of accountability, have too often taken steps analogous to the “teaching to the test” to which many educators have resorted in the wake of pressures on under-performing schools. They often pursue objectives that are easy to count and evaluate, shying away from and perhaps shortchanging other worthy but less measurable goals. I am sure that many individuals seeking to make an impact on Giving Tuesday consulted one of the valuable sites that rate nonprofits and outline the percentage they spend on fundraising, administration, and so on, versus programs directly impacting their mission. There is such a wide range of organizations that need to allocate their resources in different ways; one standard does not fit all. One can hope that a donor taking the time to consult a Guidestar or Charity Navigator will take a few minutes more to think through the differences in the way social service agencies, cultural organizations, advocacy groups and others need to spend funds to raise funds, and to build awareness of their missions.

Our colleague Matthew Bishop, author of the influential book Philanthrocapitalism, was instrumental in creating Giving Tuesday, and he rightly gives credit to Americans for being singularly philanthropic and community-minded. We need look no further than the response to Hurricane Sandy’s devastation in recent weeks to know that people respond quickly and generously on many levels, from writing checks to the NYC Mayor’s Fund or the American Red Cross, to delivering hot meals and pitching in to rip out moldy wallboard. There were the inevitable ballgowns and high heels, but apparently far fewer than in previous emergencies. Mass media coverage has surely helped educate well-meaning donors, and nudged them to help in more appropriate ways.

So this is what I ask: Let’s cover Giving Tuesday, and encourage people to participate, but urge them to think. I’d like to encourage the founding partners to follow up with surveys and analysis as to what motivated people to give, and how they collected information to inform their giving.  The donations of caring, conscientious American individuals are a tremendous force for good. We must do our best to channel those great gifts to achieve their best impact, by making sure we inform, advise, report on results, and be sure we produce not just more giving, but better giving. Sounds like a good New Year’s resolution to me.

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