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A Few Thoughts In Advance of #GivingTuesdayNow

Jennifer Mulholland & Jeff Shuck
April 30, 2020

We're getting a number of questions about the upcoming #GivingTuesdayNow. For many of our clients, their need has never been greater. At the same time, it's not an easy time to ask for donations – to put it mildly. And to be honest, we're not thrilled about the timing of the event. 

Given all of these factors, we wanted to write a quick post sharing our advice about whether to take advantage of #GivingTuesdayNow to ask for support, and how to best position your ask if you do.

What is #GivingTuesdayNow?

You probably already know this if you're reading this post, but #GivingTuesdayNow is a movement from the organizers of #GivingTuesday that's designed to help nonprofits mobilize support to address the massive need posed by COVID-19 and the resultant economic crisis. 

In their own words, "#GivingTuesdayNow is a new global day of giving and unity that will take place on May 5, 2020 – in addition to the regularly scheduled Dec 1, 2020 #GivingTuesday – as an emergency response to the unprecedented need caused by COVID-19."

The #GivingTuesday movement overall has become a massive success, and evidence shows it has generated large levels of new engagement and fundraising dollars since it was launched in 2012.

So in it seems natural and necessary to mobilize that infrastructure and direct it towards the myriad needs caused by the pandemic.

Why May 5th?

We don't have a lot of insight into how the May 5th date was chosen. We were invited to attend a briefing at the end of March about the plan for #GivingTuesdayNow, but it was presented as a final product and we weren't involved in picking the date.

It's not the best date in our mind, for a couple of reasons. One, from a practical standpoint, May 5th is obviously ... Cinco De Mayo. It is a date celebrated widely by Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, and Americans, and has become a symbol of Mexican-American culture and partnership. At a time when immigration, inclusion, respect for others, and our relationship with the world are under assault from some quarters, it seems unfortunate to take attention from what can be a celebration of how we are all connected. That's too bad.

Second, May 5th is only a few days before Mother's Day, which feels like it is going to be tremendously more poignant this year – not to mention the fact that many nonprofits use Mother's Day as a fundraising day, as well. 

Is it too soon?

But our biggest concern is that #GivingTuesdayNow is coming at a time when the true health and economic damage of the pandemic is only being fully understood. When #GivingTuesdayNow was announced in late March, it may have seemed like the country would be "back to normal" by May. However, it is clear that this is far from the case. We're still in an active conversation as a country about when and how to loosen  restrictions. 

There's no doubt that the need is great, everywhere. The nonprofit organizations that we're working with are seeing 50% year-over-year declines in giving for March and April. Obviously, this is the argument for why we need #GivingTuesdayNow.

Large and small private foundations are mobilizing resources, granting rapidly, and trying to address the shortfall. But our sense is that many individual and organizational donors aren't in an economic situation to think about giving – yet. Unemployment claims are now at a staggering 30 million people and the stock market is off 15% from the start of the year. In other words, both income-based and asset-based gifts are under extreme pressure. People can't give what they don't have.

As one small – and admittedly imperfect – example, consider last week's "One World: Together At Home" telecast. It was carried on every major broadcast and streaming network and raised $128 million, an impressive amount. As a comparison, however, the 9/11 telethon, which was held on September 21, 2001, raised over $200 million in actual dollars, or over $300 million in today's dollars when adjusted for inflation. The pandemic and 9/11 are obviously very different tragedies, but the gap in fundraising points to the wide economic collapse that has accompanied COVID-19. 

(As an aside, we are often taught about the value of urgency. "Act now! Subscribe today!" But sometimes in strategy, discretion is the better part of valor. It is possible to act too soon. In your planning, it is worth asking, what is the cost of delay? What might we know tomorrow that we don't know today? It's a balance – you can take this too far and end up paralyzed. But sometimes, you can act too early.)

How can you best take advantage of it?

So what to do with all of that? As we're all learning in our personal and professional lives right now, "pivot" is the name of the game. 

There's no doubt that the need is great, and there's no doubt that #GivingTuesdayNow can be a massive force for good. But you'll be well served not thinking about it like a normal campaign.

  • Put yourself in your audience's shoes. It is important to spend some time thinking about your audience. If you can, interview some of your organizational and individual donors. How are they feeling? How are they spending their time? Are they donating to organizations?
  • Talk about more than your needs. We'll repeat that: This is not the time to talk only about your needs. We've already seen appeals that sound like this: "In these times of hardship, [our cause] needs you more than ever." Here's the problem with those kinds of appeals. One, they are banal. There's nothing original about them. Two, they run the risk of being tone-deaf to what your audience is going through. If you have to talk about yourself, talk about how you have been able to help because of your donors. For example, "In these times of hardship, [our organization] has been able to help 20 more needy families because of the support of contributors like you." That's still not award-winning text, but it involves the donor. And, it focuses on impact. 
  • Think about engagement, not just revenue. What does that look like? It means a campaign that involves your audience, keeps you relevant and top-of-mind, but maybe doesn’t generate lots of money. That might mean giving people a way to share who they are thinking about. It might mean just asking people to share their story of why they support you. It might mean amplifying your constituents' posts instead of writing your own. 
  • Highlight the generosity that has already emerged. One of the bright spots of the pandemic is how much kindness, generosity, and charity it has already called forth in much of the world. Many of us have redefined how we behave and how we act, turning our attention to small acts of kindness for our neighbors. There's been an outpouring of personal, one-to-one charity already. Can you highlight the generosity of your constituents in some way?
  • Be intentional about how you link to COVID-19. Some causes out there are directly related to Coronavirus – a charity that distributes free PPE, for example. Many causes are closely related – a charity that helps low-income families navigate the healthcare system, for example. And for some, the link is a bit of stretch. Be honest with yourself and your donors about what that link is. The last thing you want to do right now is sound contrived because you are trying to engineer an appeal to the pandemic. For many organizations, it may be better to set your campaign in the context of economic hardship than Coronavirus hardship. Quick tip: If you find yourself needing more than one sentence to explain the link between your organization and COVID-19, you're trying too hard.
  • Consider giving back. This may sound counter-intuitive at a time when your need is greater than ever. But everyone's need is greater than ever. Is there something you could offer instead of solicit? Are there services you could grant? Could you use it as a day to recognize the spirit of your contributors? How might you lead with service?

As we've written for the last six weeks, these times are calling us to reconsider our priorities; to slow down; to listen to our communities; and to serve. The #GivingTuesday movement is fantastic, and at the same time it sometimes creates an urgency in our clients that obscures long-term planning.

Now more than ever, it's time to play the long game. We hope that as you plan your appeals for next week, you think further than May 5th.

And as always, if we can help, we'd love to.

Hope Needs Help

Hope Needs Help. 

Our thoughts and care are with you and the millions around the world doing what they can to create peace and love in these times of uncertainty. 

We're here to help. 

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