Leadership

Stick to Your Mission on This Giving Tuesday

By / Nov 29, 2020

Appeals to donors have changed in 2020, but many of the old rules still apply: Be authentic and true to your organization’s goals.

Giving Tuesday is officially this week, but it’s had a complicated year. The annual effort to gather donations for nonprofits during the holiday season—following Black Friday and Cyber Monday—became a success after it launched in 2012. But COVID-19 disrupted that, along with seemingly everything else. As the pandemic intensified last spring, December seemed like too long to wait to promote charitable donations, especially for health and public safety organizations.

That feeling sparked the creation of #GivingTuesdayNow in May, which by most measures was a smash success. It raised more that $500 million, similar to the typical post-Thanksgiving call for donations; the clients of NeonOne, a philanthropic software vendor, reported revenues that outpaced 2019’s Giving Tuesday. But for charities and associations that maintain philanthropic foundations, that success can be a cause for anxiety. Was everybody’s goodwill expended in the spring? Are people experiencing so much pandemic fatigue that another fundraising push won’t work? Do you need a different strategy for this year’s Giving Tuesday?

All organizations are in some way both affected and part of the fabric of recovery for communities.

Adapting to new normal has required some changes, to be sure. According to a report last week in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, many organizations are tweaking their calls for donations in ways that relate to COVID-19 or social justice initiatives. Woodrow Rosenbaum, chief data officer at GivingTuesday, told the publication that while in past years nonprofits emphasized words like “donation” and “campaign,” this year “community” and “justice” are more likely to crop up.

But the urge to give hasn’t been exhausted—a range of organizations reported that they’ve seen the same kind of enthusiasm for donations in the fall as they did in the spring. Potential donors recognize the ongoing need for help and that every organization is touched by it. Though one might wish for a better reason for it, people now see the value in the research initiatives and scholarship funds that your association’s foundation maintains.

“All organizations are in some way both affected and part of the fabric of recovery for communities,” Rosenbaum told the Chronicle. “If you talk about that in an open and authentic way, I think you’re going to find people are very receptive.”

The key word there is authentic. It’s worth remembering that when Giving Tuesday launched in 2012, it deliberately obscured its origins in the 92nd Street Y, which wanted to emphasize the spirit of giving, not the institution that inspired it. As Henry Timms, then CEO of the Y, explained to Associations Now last year, the initiative’s planners wanted to frame the organization as engaged in the community but didn’t want to force the issue with outsize branding campaigns that might look manipulative or old-hat. And the Y got credit eventually. “It brought us a lot of relevance,” Timms told me. “If you prove you can speak to the world we’re in, that holds a lot of power for associations.”

But even if you want to be ruthlessly bottom-line about your fundraising efforts, there’s good reason to stick to your core mission in your promotions and avoid being overly clever in your messaging. A recent report from the media analytics firm Commetric found that leaders’ messaging is more effective when it focuses on the organization’s core strengths, rather than trying too hard to speak to the news of the day.

Among everything else they do, association leaders are brand ambassadors—they’re the ones who communicate an association’s need to exist. This year has heightened the sense that missions of all sorts deserve support. This year, perhaps more than ever, humility and a focus on the essential aspects of your mission can make your next round of fundraising a success.

What have you changed—or kept—for your foundation’s efforts this year? Share your experiences in the comments.

Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. More »

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