Nonprofit Technology

Is #GivingTuesday Worth the Effort for Your Nonprofit?

Published by in Nonprofit Technology

Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday … Giving Tuesday? When will these pre-holiday holidays end? (Soon enough, we’ll have a special name for every day of December.)

At some point over the past three years, you’ve likely heard of #GivingTuesday, an extension of the Thanksgiving weekend and the only day of the year with a hashtag built into the title. But what is #GivingTuesday? And more importantly, should your nonprofit participate?


#GivingTuesday occurs on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, and it’s a reminder that the holiday season—while a heavy shopping season—is meant to be a season of giving, too. #GivingTuesday is a social media movement spearheaded by the United Nations Foundation and 92nd Street Y. The #GivingTuesday mission urges individuals and businesses to donate to a nonprofit of their choice, spread the word through social media, and encourage others to do the same.

Sounds like a great idea, right? And perhaps a great opportunity for your nonprofit to raise some much needed funds? Sure. But is it worth the time and effort to participate?

Reasons to Participate in #GivingTuesday

In the past three years, #GivingTuesday has experienced massive growth. Between 2011 and 2012 alone, the event had a 53% increase in donations year-over-year, and 2013 saw a roughly 90% increase in giving over 2012.

Many participating organizations have experienced the benefits of #GivingTuesday first hand. The Central Florida Food Bank and Camp Kasem, for example, both raised roughly $10,000 on #GivingTuesdays past, while the Metropolitan Museum of Art secured a $500,000 matching grant to launch its year-end giving campaign on #GivingTuesday. The American Diabetes Association saw single day donations jump to $21,000. And for organizations that really go all-in, there’s a chance for the top fundraisers to win additional funds from Razoo, a web service for crowd-sourcing and promoting fundraising opportunities.

Furthermore, DonorPerfect, a fundraising software provider, found that nonprofits participating in #GivingTuesday last year outpaced non-participating nonprofits by almost two to one, and their online donations in December grew by 19.4% year-over-year, compared to just 8.4% growth for the non-participants.

You’re sold, right? Not so fast. While this data suggests that it’s a no-brainer to participate in the movement, there are plenty of skeptics who offer legitimate reasons why it may not be the best move for the fundraising community.

Reasons Not to Participate in #GivingTuesday

Know ahead of time that seeing major returns from your organization’s participation in #GivingTuesday will take a lot of work. You shouldn’t expect to see insane returns if you plan your #GivingTuesday strategy on the fly. So, before you divert your entire Q4 marketing budget toward a single day and start planning today for next year’s event, you may want to consider the potential return on your efforts.

In 2012, all participating nonprofits combined raised just $5 – $10 million, according to The Fundraising Authority. When split among the roughly 2,500 participating nonprofits, an average participating nonprofit raised just $4000. And while donations have increased, so have participating nonprofits. Last year, the number of participating nonprofits from 2012-2013 increased by 200%, despite just a 90% increase in donations year-over-year. Those numbers don’t bode well for nonprofits participating today.

Furthermore, donations you’d receive on #GivingTuesday could cannibalize your other campaigns. While the jury is still out as to how much #GivingTuesday impacts donor behavior, it’s quite possible that these spur-of-the-moment, viral, social media prompted donations could prevent larger donor contributions later in the holiday season or at other times of the year.

If you’re concerned about cannibalizing your existing donor base, you may think a better strategy would be to use #GivingTuesday as an opportunity to attract new donors. But are those the donors you really want? They’ve been socially pressured into donating to a cause; you haven’t cultivated them as loyal donors, and they’re unlikely to commit themselves to your organization.

Additionally, unless you have a well-defined donor retention plan in place, all of your newly acquired donors could be for naught. As Steven Shattuck of Bloomerang explains in a recent analysis of #GivingTuesday, nonprofits would be better off thanking their existing donors before going all-in on acquiring new donors one day of the year. He finds, “53% of donors lapse because of poor gift acknowledgement…Worse yet, 39% of all donors lapse on average, and a staggering 73% of donors never give again.”

What does this mean for your nonprofit?

Ultimately, it depends on how much time, budget, and effort you want to put into a #GivingTuesday campaign. If you simply tweet using the hashtag throughout the day, share a few photos on Instagram, and link to your regular donations page, there’s not much at risk (besides the potential disappointment of seeing no uptick in gifts on a day dedicated to giving). And if you do see an increase in gifts, donations are donations – does it really matter that they might just be one-time donors, motivated by their peers? Not if you account for that.

Furthermore, your participation in the event can build credibility for your organization. You’ll associate your brand with the big-name nonprofits that participate in and help run the event, as well as benefit from the coverage #GivingTuesday receives. When donors see that you were a #GivingTuesday participant on your website or your social media pages, they’ll remember that they heard about the event on the radio or saw it on the news.

That said, if you’re expecting record-setting donations, and you dedicated your entire Q4 budget to a #GivingTuesday campaign,  you could be setting yourself up for major disappointment: The average nonprofit’s results for #GivingTuesday are not $500,000 or $25,000 or even $10,000. But if you’ve got the time and resources to do something big, eye-catching, memorable, and news-worthy for #GivingTuesday, by all means, do it. Make a plan, get some coverage from your local news station, give new donors a reason to give to your organization, and reap the benefits. Most organizations, however, likely don’t have the resources to go all-in on a single day.

Remember that thousands of other nonprofits are going to be sending donors #GivingTuesday messages, so projecting your voice into the void or trying to battle a crowded marketplace with limited resources can be futile. If you’re in that boat, perhaps a better option is to run a small social media campaign and feature a #GivingTuesday message on your home page. Or you could just avoid the day altogether, and you’d likely still see some increased giving from your regular donors.

Are you participating in #GivingTuesday this year, or has your nonprofit participated in the past? Do you think it’s worth it?

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About the Author

Cara Wood

Cara Wood

Cara Wood is a marketing associate at Capterra and a graduate of Mary Washington! When she's not hard at work at Capterra, she can be found horse-back riding, reading and just generally having a good time at life.


Comment by Jo Kenny on

Thanks for the article. Your thoughts are very similar to the one’s we have had regarding Giving Tuesday.

We decided to experiment with Giving Tuesday (this our first year) by only soliciting from folks who are not current donors but we had contact with them sometime during the year – they either attended an event or bought a raffle ticket at a festival, etc. We did not want to cannibalize our year-end campaign (which goes to donors and members) and since we have a very small staff, we didn’t want to put a lot of effort into it.


Comment by Cara Wood on

Thanks so much for sharing Sanna! We would definitely love to hear how this strategy ultimately pans out for your organization. Please keep in touch!! I would certainly consider writing a follow-up post to this post if I had a good story. As I said in my article, I don’t know that #GivingTuesday is the best way to get donations, but I’d love to be proved wrong, or to have my thoughts fleshed out with more details.

Comment by Sanna Roling on

I chose to put our organization on #givingtuesday in mid-November, knowing full well that this year would be a “getting to know you” year. Whether it was the entry or things I have been doing on Facebook or by others in our organization, so far we have received one very sizeable (for our organization) new donation. Your article certainly points out the caveats. Thank you. For me, #givingtuesday is a relatively low effort/cost way that I can get the word out. We’ll see if next year the effort was truly worth the time financially.


Comment by Steven Shattuck on

Thanks for the shout-out, Cara!


Comment by Cara Wood on


Comment by Erica on

Thanks, Cara! Very cool!


Comment by Cara Wood on

That’s a really great question, so I did some initial research for you. This article I found suggests that matching can raise the amount of donations received by 22%. The article also links to a study by Yale and University of Chicago so you can do some deeper research!

Comment by Erica on

This is really interesting! I know that I have been more motivated to give and give more when I see that there is a matching donor and I am seeing a bit of that today. I wonder what the realized impact is after special matching announcements on #givingtuesday and otherwise.

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