The Devil’s Avocado: Giving Tuesday

Giving Tuesday  (which I refuse to hashtag & trademark) is upon us.

We (which I also refuse to hashtag or trademark) have seen a lot of really great encouragement to join the #Movement™ (oops.)

I love action that propels us to colludo (to play together), but I also love playing devil’s avocado. I like to challenge what I believe in order to grow my perspective.

What I Like About Giving Tuesday

A day of giving back in a season notoriously bloated by consumer glut? Yes please. I am all for setting in motion that which will create good things for all. As non-profit professionals, we are in the business of making connections between our incredible organisations and the amazing people who want to make a difference. Standing united is a tall order, but one that needs to happen.

I like that this day invites us to connect – people to causes. I like that it is an invitation for organisations to tell their stories on a day where everyone is (theoretically) listening. I also like the idea of using this day as a day of gratitude and stewardship.

Things That Make Me Go Hmmm

I have worked at small nonprofits and still consider myself a rookie, so many of my questions come from being a concerned professional as well as being an entitled and whiny millennial donor. If you have answers for me, by all means I’d love to hear them. By no means do I want this to come across as negative, spiteful or cynical. Like many, I have some concerns and hope that through intelligent dialogue we can further the power of philanthropy in a world so desperately in need of our care. My questions throughout are genuine, not sarcastic, though I do like to use humour to approach a touchy subject.

1) Marketing concept is backwards.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday exist because marketers took advantage of pre-existing conditions – people go consumer cuckoo bananas these days. The idea is pretty simple: people are buying a lot on these days so let’s encourage them to buy at our store by giving them incentive (cheap) and cranking up the anxiety (ONE DAY ONLY! LIMITED SUPPLY! TRAMPLE THE WEAK AND LAME TO GET INSIDE FIRST!)

If we are to apply this model (i.e., build it where they’re already coming), we should be looking to the day where the bulk of donors are giving anyways. We all know this is December 31.

2) Movement by guilt.

Perhaps this day doesn’t come with the incentives of its consumer sibling days, but I feel it offers some of the anxiety. Maybe I’m just being a cynical asshole here, but as someone who doesn’t buy into the mega-consumer bullshit of Black Friday/Cyber Monday, I feel like Giving Tuesday’s undertone is “Hey jerkface! You just spent like a capitalist consumer pig robot for, like, a whole week? Why don’t you stop being so goddamn selfish and give some of the nothing that’s leftover to charity?”

You can guilt people into giving like you pressure them into buying, or you can inspire them. As a donor and a professional, I’d prefer the latter.

3) Diversified giving.

This brings me to Annual Appeals. We all do it, we all have to, and yes, this is the biggest giving season, with Giving Tuesday poised as the kick off. I’d like to think we give at this time because we all feel so gosh darn into loving our fellow humans, but the fact that December 31 remains the biggest giving day of the year tells me something else: “oh shit, better get this on the books for my tax year!”

Many frontline fundraisers I’ve spoken with have talked about diversifying where their funds are coming from. The need to find donors who want to give throughout the year, bigger gifts and more frequent gifts, feels like an overarching theme to me. If we want to shift away from spot giving and into better retention, it seems bizarre to further encourage this behaviour by expending our energies on it.

4) Likes don’t save lives.

Giving Tuesday is prefixed with a hashtag. As a #Millennial #Geek #SME #Wizard, this tells me the nature of this campaign is social-media driven. Don’t get me wrong, I love social media (how else would I let y’all know what I had for supper last night?) but we also know that what works as a great awareness tool doesn’t equal money or even true engagement. Or at least we haven’t quite figured it out yet. And even if this campaign is simply about awareness – we need to realize that some organisations really don’t even have capacity to maintain a social media presence, let alone tackle a social media-driven campaign of this nature. This would require extra effort and planning.

5) Failing to plan.

I’ve worked for small shops, and in one case I was the only fundraiser on staff. I echo concerns about the capacity of small shops, and the stress of doing something else on top of other things while maintaining the struggle to do all things well. Are small shops writing Giving Tuesday into their annual plans? How far in advance do small shops need to write their plans? Are boards and CEOs able to support another giving event? Are we giving them enough resources and support to make an informed decision about getting involved? Do these organisations have the systems in place to handle something like this?

6) Show me the data.

I know. There’s data. At one point I saw someone tweet some online giving totals. Damned if I can find a source document. Can someone send me a link to the report about it? Any info on retention rates? ROI for different size shops?

Also, Giving Tuesday is new in Canada, so alas, there’s no data specifically for us.

7) The business of raising money.

I love the idea of a purely philanthropic movement. But let’s be honest for a second. We need to raise money, or we’re screwed. Fundraisers lose jobs if they don’t. 365 days of the year we’re competing for dollars and struggling to figure out how to make those one-time donors want to give more dollars. We also know that donors aren’t disappearing, they are simply jumping ship and giving someplace else. Actively engaging in coopetition would be a tricky sell for that poor soul sitting alone in the development office who has to sell it to a board who is already telling her she’s not selling it to donors enough.

8) “We already got one!”

(For this one I’ll use the scriptwriting skills I learned before I dropped out of filmschool)

Me: What the hell is National Philanthropy Day?
John Cleese appears from behind a tree.
John Cleese: I’m actor and humorist John Cleese and thanks for asking, small woman-girl with ketchup all over her face. National Philanthropy Day is the special day set aside to recognize and pay tribute to the great contributions that philanthropy—and those people active in the philanthropic community—have made to our lives, our communities and our world. What makes philanthropy so special is that no one is required to give of themselves. Philanthropy is so powerful and inspiring precisely because it is voluntary—that through the goodness of our hearts, through our need to connect, through our desire to see a better world, we come together to improve the quality of life for all people, and I’ve stolen all of this blatantly from the AFP website without their previous permission.
Me: So, Giving Tuesday is about giving money, and National Philanthropy Day is about the love of human kind?
John Cleese: No, hashtag GivingTuesday trademark symbol is about that too.
Me: So National Philanthropy Day is about celebrating philanthropy and Giving Tuesday-
John Cleese: Hashtag GivingTuesday trademark symbol!
Me: And Hashtag GivingTuesday trademark symbol is about celebrating philanthropy AND giving.
John Cleese: Yes.
Me: Really?
John Cleese: Yes.
Me: That sounds like the same thing to me.
John Cleese: Yes.
Me: Couldn’t we somehow just make one day for both?
John Cleese: No. Nonononono. Heavens no. BABY JESUS NO! No. Good gracious. Wow. No.
John Cleese slaps me in the face with a dead fish, puts on a stuffed moose head, hails a taxi, and speeds away.
Me: And now for something completely different.

Things I’d Like To See

I don’t want to ask all these questions without offering some possible ideas to move towards a better solution. Here are just some things I think might help.

1) Seriously, let’s get some damn good data.

So, I’m a fundraiser at a small shop. I know about Giving Tuesday. I need to sell it to my CEO and board. I turn to Google and I type “#GivingTuesday Data.” I need to find more than a sexy infographic linked from a naysayer’s blog.

And if we want to build it, let’s talk about failure, too. Talking about the opportunity is great, but let’s be transparent about Giving Tuesday campaigns that went terribly wrong for organisations, or had little success. Examples of high investment and little return, added stress to staff, or data influx nightmares. We can’t make it a great option for everyone until we know how to tackle the issues people are truly facing in creating campaigns.

2) Let’s get some great support in place.

If we want Giving Tuesday to make its way into the hearts, minds and annual plans of every fundraiser, let’s get them the information and training they need in good time. I’ve seen a lot of webinars pop up over the last month or so, but do we really want our already stressed out development folks to start planning for this most grand occasion only a few weeks in advance? Let’s see training, webinars and information about 2014 Giving Tuesday now, so that when we pitch our plans to our boards we have it written in place. Spontaneity in fundraising is something very difficult for many to tackle.

3) Consider observing what our donors are already doing.

If, like Black Friday, we intend to build it where they are already going, why not consider focusing our social efforts for December 31? Seems logical to me.

4) Consider observing what we’re already doing.

Seriously, though, National Philanthropy Day? I watched my Twitter feed that day hoping to see some non fundraisery peeps talking about it. Crickets. Is NPD really just a NRPDLD (National Fundraiser Professional Development Luncheon Day)? Or is it truly supposed to be celebrating philanthropy, which we want to create as a universal movement (not just a word we use for wealthy people giving millions.) If this is what NPD and Giving Tuesday both want to accomplish, why isn’t there a concerted effort?


Perhaps I’m misunderstanding a lot here, but by the conversations I’ve been watching online between fundraising professionals and donors alike, there might be a lot of people out there who are missing something. As a devil’s avocado, I feel it’s necessary to ask these questions in order to make a movement stronger, more useful for organisations and more rewarding for donors.

For more on this discussion, please see Fundraising Authority’s blog, and scroll down to the comment section. Some really big names are weighing in, both as advocates and skeptics of the event. I hope this dialogue can continue!