Monday, November 27, 2017

Giving Tuesday - Asking Questions.

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on............."

Today is Giving Tuesday, a program to encourage people to donate to nonprofit organizations and causes. The Arts participate in this effort widely - if my email in box full of solicitations is any indication.  And so do a wide range of other nonprofit groups and charitable causes.

Giving Tuesday follows Black Friday - the retail industry's kickoff of the holiday season wherein fantastic bargains are offered to lure shoppers into spending money.  The Thanksgiving to Christmas month accounts for some 30% of total annual retail sales, and for some industries like toys and jewelry the period accounts for 40% of the year's sales.  Saturday was Small Business Saturday, where people were encouraged to shop local, smaller shops. Monday was Cyber Monday - launched as a program to compete or complement Black Friday by encouraging shoppers to spend money for online purchases.  Everybody wants on the bandwagon.  Current estimates are that Americans will have spent record billions of dollars on Black Friday and Cyber Monday this year, with an increasing amount spent online.     

And so now it's Giving Tuesday as follow up to the big retail spending days.  This year Americans are projected to donate some one hundred eighty million dollars to nonprofits on Giving Tuesday - which is roughly the same as last year.  And that's a guess, because it's difficult to accurately report exactly how much was donated - or where the money went.  The total is not much in comparison to the retail expenditures, but nothing to sneeze at taken by itself.  Indeed, any donations that help nonprofits are clearly welcome.  This money is spread out over all the nonprofits and other causes that wave the Giving Tuesday banner.  We don't know how many that is, and so we don't know how much each participant realizes within each category of nonprofit.

The idea behind Giving Tuesday is to make sure nonprofits and the work they do isn't forgotten in the mad rush to buy stuff.  It's like a call to do something charitable in addition to the holiday spending for gifts and personal stuff.  The income generated is minor compared to the retail spending, but it is something, and apparently growing according to the Giving Tuesday people in its DataKind report.

I have some questions I think we ought to be asking ourselves:

First, does the Giving Tuesday campaign work and is it worth it?
While there are some statistics on the average donation, and that it is higher for regular, frequent donors to nonprofits and causes - it's unclear if the average donation is to one organization, or an aggregate of donations parceled out to several organizations.   The problem is that even if there is an increase in money raised over time - either by single donors, or by an increased number of donors - it's hard to attribute any specific gains causally to the campaign.  Is this money that wouldn't have come to us but for the Giving Tuesday program effort and our participation therein, or would those increases - or portion thereof - have been realized anyway - say by our traditional end of year solicitations?  The Giving Tuesday DataKind Report isn't really conclusive.  Very likely, it works well for some organizations, and not as well for others.

If all you do is promote the idea of Giving Tuesday to your base - via email blasts, or newsletters, or even at events, performances and exhibitions, then the questions is: Is there really any net gain that justifies the time and resource expenditure?  The key seems to be to expand the idea beyond your base to attract new donors - or at least get your current donors to pony up more.  But that's not so easy.

Is the timing smart? 
First, by promoting Giving Tuesday are we merely shifting the time period during which people give from the very end of the year to early December?  And does that time shift result in more, or larger, donations and thus more money, or once having made a Giving Tuesday donation is the attitude of donors:  "I already gave on Giving Tuesday" and thus do end of year campaigns no longer succeed to the same extent they once did.  The Giving Tuesday people ask this same question and argue that much of the day's donations come from new donors, or that the donations of previous donors are increased. - though I am not sure their data completely confirms this claim.  In their recent data analysis report, they posit that the Arts are one of the classifications of nonprofits that have seen a rise in their fortunes from Giving Tuesday - but they don't provide a lot of statistics that support the claim, and, in any event, there will be wide variations between organizations.  We lack data on which organizations do well, and if there is any commonality for them as a class - location, size, type et. al.

Certainly, individual arts organizations can, with some effort, determine for themselves if Giving Tuesday has resulted in a net gain in new donations during the month of December compared over years the data is available, and even whether or not loyal donors have increased their gifts with participation in Giving Tuesday.  And its probably a good idea to run the numbers and do just that to see how the campaign plays out for your organization so you can determine whether or not the program is a net increase, or it is discouraging larger gifts, or just shifting the time for receipt of essentially the same net income.  And over several years, it would be advantageous to know whether or not new donors - of whatever donation size - were converted from first time / one time donor status to loyal annual donors.

Second, after huge personal spending on the retail days - Black Friday / Cyber Monday, and even Small Business Saturday - how motivated is the public to support nonprofits via Giving Tuesday?  Do people feel in the giving mood, or are they feeling like they ought to compensate for perhaps overspending on retail by being more frugal.  In our quest to be part of the retail frenzy, are we committing to a time for one of our "major asks" that might not be optimal.  Is the theory that they will feel guilty and so give more to nonprofits?  Or is the theory that they are in the giving mood during the holidays and we are simply capitalizing on that mood by framing the opportunity in a single day - not unlike Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  But do either of those theories hold water?  Is the Tuesday following Black Friday and Cyber Monday the best possible date for asking America for more support?  If not, what might be considered a better date?

Has the Giving Tuesday campaign supplanted the End of Year Donor Solicitation that for a long time was a hallmark for nonprofit fundraising?  That campaign urged end of the year altruism with the deal sweetened by the year end tax deductibility self-interest advantage. If Giving Tuesday has taken some of that thunder way, we need to know if it has yielded more, less or essentially the same as the old campaign.  If utilizing the Giving Tuesday campaign and still using an end of year "ask" too, has the net income increased?  By how much?  Can you identify the sources of contributions from each?  New donors?  Old donors?  Does participating in one form but not the other have any impact on donor fatigue?  There are lots of questions that it makes sense to ask.

The big longer term question for Giving Tuesday is: Can the total dollar take grow bigger?  And what would it take to dramatically increase the Giving Tuesday concept total donation for each individual arts organization?  Can Giving Tuesday somehow be better connected to the volume of activity on Black Friday and Cyber Monday?

No criticism of the idea for Giving Tuesday is intended here.  I applaud the effort to codify in some way the idea of giving to worthy causes as part of the holiday season - or at any time really.  Indeed, that altruism is suppose to be at the essence of the season.  I suspect it has, at least in some ways, had a positive impact.  And I think Giving Tuesday needs time to sink into the collective public psyche on a deeper and wider level before it will realize its potential - or not.  But I think too that we ought to ask some questions about how well it is working for each organization? What, if any, unintended consequences it may have?  How we might better manage it?  I'd like to see some data on how arts organizations have done on Giving Tuesday, whether bigger or smaller organizations do better, the relationship, if any, between Giving Tuesday and other fund solicitation efforts, differences in success based on geographical location and even on demographics.  This kind of information can help us to make the Giving Tuesday campaign more effective.

Perhaps some of these questions are relevant to your organization's situation.  

Have a good week.

Don't Quit