November 27, 2012

Why I'm only giving advice on #GivingTuesday (blog)

I had never heard of #GivingTuesday until late in the day.

Keep in mind that my day job is helping people give money to charity. I enable giving. I encourage it. I spend a large portion of the professional me figuring out how to ask people to give. And, by most measures, I'm pretty good at it. (That is, if you consider raising $60 million, recording 1.5 million volunteer hours, and being ranked #1 in the country three years in a row a decent set of metrics.)

So hearing about #GivingTuesday for the first time after it was almost over was a little surprising.

And to be honest, I've had a very hard time getting revved up about it.

Maybe I'm just too cynical about Black Friday and Cyber Monday to give a flying meme about #GivingTuesday.

Or maybe Black Friday and Cyber Monday are just so oozy with the septic puss of unbridled consumerism that #GivingTuesday feels like an overreaction. Like naming the Saturday after Thanksgiving "Fitness Saturday"... the day you try to make up for the fourteen pounds of pumpkin pie you ate two days before. You feel guilty about your overindulgence.

Or perhaps the whole thing feels just a little too self-righteous. Like those parents who don't let their kids watch TV or play video games and only let them listen to NPR. "It's wonderful you let your four-year-old son play Call of Duty," they say. "Here, I'm not using this Beethoven for Toddlers CD any more. Maybe share it with your son," they say. They are disgusted by your overindulgence.

You need to give to charity on Tuesday because you just gorged yourself on consumerism, presumably maxing out your credit cards in the process. This is healthy... how?

Mostly, though, it just feels irrelevant. Or desperate. Like that forgettable guy you had your first date with last night who leaves nineteen messages on your machine the next day before noon, every one of which ends with, "Yeah, okay, so maybe give me a call some time. You know. If you want to. You don't have to. Just if you want to. Okay? So okay. Um, bye."

Browsing the Twitter feed for #GivingTuesday did not inspire me. It did not educate me. It did not make me want to continue reading the Twitter feed for #GivingTuesday. It did get me to click over to the web site once due to professional curiosity. The feed seemed to be filled with three types of tweets (my very unscientific vague impressions):

  • "Hey, I'm participating in #GivingTuesday!"
    Translation: I am tweeting but may or may not be giving any actual money. I am (a) appeasing my inner slactivist, (b) trying to look cool, or (c) hoping someone else will also give to my favorite charity.
  • "Hey, we're a charity! It's #GivingTuesday! Give us something!"
    Translation: Hey! We're a charity! We are desperate! We will take anything, even slightly used tweets!
  • "Top story of the day: #GivingTuesday!"
    Translation: I work in a charity-related job and all my colleagues will think that I'm well informed for tweeting this hashtag.
I'm really not this cynical about most things. Really. Ask anyone who knows me well.

On the other hand, I know #GivingTuesday will do some good. The #1 reason people don't give to charity is because no one ever asked them to. #GivingTuesday is that first ask for many people. And the best way to generate a positive cycle of giving is to get people talking with their friends and colleagues about their charity in an authentic, personal way. Also, exposure for nonprofits--especially when people are feeling guilty about overindulgence and generous due to the holidays--is not a bad thing.

I hope someone does some serious scientific statistical study about the real effects of #GivingTuesday. I would love to know if nonprofits saw a spike in web traffic, a spike in one-time donations, a rising tide of engagement, a lasting increase in their donor rolls.

For my part, I did not give anything on #GivingTuesday. I plan out my philanthropy as part of my family's annual budget, and I give to many causes mostly through automatic deductions from my paychecks.

#GivingTuesday is like the Twinkie of charity. Nonprofits and donors love that sweet, immediate rush. But you can't live on it for long. Nonprofits need sustained, rich relationships with donors who understand and appreciate the work their donations fund. If #GivingTuesday is an entree to a more healthy, sustainable relationship between nonprofits and donors, terrific. But if it's simply an instant gratification moment to capitalize on the tacky "special day" feel of Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, then I hope it disappears as quickly as it flashed into being.

1 comment:

Peter Dudley said...

Blackbaud posted a preliminary reaction to #GivingTuesday.

The only actual fact included was this: For example, Blackbaud processed more than $10 million in online donations on the inaugural #GivingTuesday, a 53% increase over the same day last year.

While a one-day jump from $6.5 million to $10 million is impressive and interesting, the statistic itself, without context, is meaningless. Context is critical to understanding this fact. For example, did Blackbaud's processing customers restructure their fund drives around #GivingTuesday such that donations that might have come in a few weeks earlier or later were instead focused on this single day? Or, did new people give that haven't given in the past? Or, did anyone other than Blackbaud's processing customers see a rise in donations?

I continue to be interested in, but mildly disgusted by, this whole concept. I try to build lifelong engagement, and #GivingTuesday could either be a tool for furthering that end, or a shallow distraction that feels good but really undermines efforts to engage people on a meaningful level.

We shall see.