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US: Charities fundraising for other nonprofits on GivingTuesday

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GivingTuesday, the annual fundraising blitz on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, turns 10 this year. What began as a social-media hashtag to counter aggressive consumer advertising campaigns with appeals for charitable giving has now grown into a juggernaut. Charities raised an estimated $2.47 billion from U.S. donors on GivingTuesday last year in addition to the $503 million they raised on GivingTuesdayNow, the special May 5 giving day to raise emergency dollars to meet pandemic needs.

This year, however, some fundraisers worry that donors will no longer feel the same urgency to give as they did in 2020.

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Even if charities don’t raise as much as they did last year, Niely Shams, president of nonprofit solutions at the marketing company Data Axle, says she still expects the giving day to make a splash. “Every year it just gets bigger and bigger,” she says. Shams credits fundraisers’ growing mastery of strategies to appeal to donors by email, social media, and text message.

Fundraisers now spend months crafting strategies to appeal to donors leading up to and on the giving day, says Asha Curran, who co-founded the event back in 2012. Curran now heads up the nonprofit GivingTuesday, which organizes the campaign.

This year, donors should expect to see more charities with similar missions joining together to appeal for support and raise awareness of their causes, Curran says. The National Center for Family Philanthropy, for example, is organizing family foundations across the country in a social-media campaign to highlight charities making an impact in their local communities. Volunteer efforts such as mutual-aid networks are also taking advantage of the day, joining a campaign that is typically the purview of nonprofits. The grassroots group Pandemic of Love and the mapping resource Mutual Aid Hub will post on social media with #MutualAidGT to share stories of how mutual aid meets community needs and advances nonprofits’ missions.

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The nearly 300 joint campaigns signal a shift in GivingTuesday, according to Curran. “It really has become an exercise in civic participation,” she says.

Some nonprofits whose donor rolls swelled last year are using GivingTuesday as an opportunity to thank their pandemic donors. For the past week, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy has posted notes of gratitude on its website and social media, thanking donors, staff, clients, grant recipients, and others for their partnership.

“The hope is that it also reminds people of the good work we’re doing and the good philanthropic partners we can be,” says Devin Mathias, director of development at the charity, which coordinates disaster-relief grants and helps guide donors in their giving.

Foundations and corporations previously provided the bulk of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s revenue. But last year saw a roughly 300 percent increase in individual donors. Over Week of Gratitude, Mathias aims to show those new donors the difference they made and inspire them to give again on GivingTuesday.

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The Mid-Ohio Food Collective, a food bank, also saw donations skyrocket during the pandemic. But the charity plans to focus on thanking rather than making appeals on GivingTuesday. Because the event falls after Hunger Action Month in September and on the cusp of the year-end fundraising push, the food bank doesn’t typically join the action on GivingTuesday, says Matt Habash, chief executive of the charity. Instead, it organizes its own giving day on December 15 with a matching challenge. Last year the one-day campaign raised $3.7 million.

Some fundraisers are not convinced that the dollars earned on GivingTuesday are worth the effort. Nikkia Johnson, senior development officer at the Legal Aid Justice Center, says small nonprofits in particular don’t see the payoff. She remembers her disappointment when, in a previous fundraising job at a small nonprofit, her meticulously planned GivingTuesday campaign brought in less than $5,000.

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Rather than following the crowd, charities should analyze whether the donations earned on GivingTuesday are worth the hours they put into planning, says Timothy Winkler, chief executive of the Winkler Group, a fundraising consultancy. Consultants at the firm also worry that the rush of GivingTuesday encourages fundraisers to focus more on crafting an appeal that stands out than they do on building a strategy to keep those giving-day donors engaged over the long term.

“Donor retention is one of the most pressing problems facing nonprofits today. The retention rates are just terrible,” says Jessica Browning, executive vice president at the Winkler Group. “GivingTuesday just exacerbates that problem.”

Johnson, with the Legal Aid Justice Center, also worries that GivingTuesday incites a sense of competition, pitting nonprofits against each other. That’s far from the values of equity and inclusion that many nonprofits espouse. Instead of asking for contributions, her organization will use GivingTuesday to send emails and post on social media about the work of three partner nonprofits.

“We’re really trying to keep it simple,” Johnson says. “This is the first year that we’re really trying to think about how to be equitable and community-centered on GivingTuesday.”

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Other nonprofits are asking their donors to support other charities. The Ann Arbor YMCA, for example, will appeal for donations to its sister YMCAs in Haiti, the Philippines, and South Dakota.

Over the past decade, GivingTuesday has become the informal launch of the year-end fundraising season. That’s the case for Unicef USA, which has planned a series of in-person and virtual events around the country to celebrate its 75th year. The events will feature a short film about Unicef’s work alleviating child poverty and promoting children’s health, education, and well-being. The in-person events in particular are a draw for donors who make big contributions. A single ticket to the virtual event costs $200; tickets to an in-person event start at $1,500. The charity is also running email and social-media campaigns to appeal to a broader donor audience.

Curran, of GivingTuesday, says the day puts charitable giving at the top of people’s minds. And while some people complain about the avalanche of appeals that flood their inboxes, Curran says the volume is no worse than the advertisements consumers receive ahead of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Despite the flurry of activity, GivingTuesday “still works for individual organizations,” Curran says. “We really urge organizations to not retreat because they think they will get lost in the noise,” she says. “This is a day that people are looking for organizations to support.”

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This article was provided to The Associated Press by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Emily Haynes is a staff writer at the Chronicle. Email: [email protected] The AP and the Chronicle receive support from the Lilly Endowment for coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits. The AP and the Chronicle are solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.

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