Is Giving Tuesday still relevant?

On a day on when it’s hard to cut through the noise, the value of Giving Tuesday still depends largely on what each organization expects to get out of it.

On a day on when it’s hard to cut through the noise, the value of Giving Tuesday still depends largely on what each organization expects to get out of it.


Some charity executives describe the day as the Olympics of giving – a heated competition for donor attention.

Each year, charities go in to Giving Tuesday knowing they are competing not just with each other but with twin titans of consumerism: Black Friday and Cyber Monday, events that now seep into the preceding and following weeks.

Canada Helps says that $11.6 million was donated through its platform this year, but on the heels of Giving Tuesday 2021, some charities are wondering if it is worth the trouble. “It’s a competition of who can be heard, whose issue is most important, who’s current and cool,” says Marlon Merraro, executive director of Peacebuilders Canada.

That sense of competition kept Earl Pinchuk and Gary Blair, co-founders of the Art for Healing Foundation, from participating in Giving Tuesday in the past. Though they had debated the idea over the years, they wondered if their message would simply be overwhelmed. Still, Blair says, “my concern has always been, are we potentially missing some folks that give on Giving Tuesday?” So this year, they decided to give it a try.

Ultimately, says Pinchuk, “the donations that we received [on Giving Tuesday] were all from people who know us, so I’m not sure how much of an impact Giving Tuesday had on us. Did they give because of ‘#GivingTuesday’ in the subject of the email, or did they give because they know us? I was at my computer on Tuesday morning and felt bombarded by so many emails.”

We know this is when most charities raise most of their donation dollars, and Giving Tuesday is now part of that.

Cathy Mann, Fundraising Lab

Cathy Mann, a fundraising professional at the Fundraising Lab, agrees that donors get a lot of emails on Giving Tuesday, and some report that they don’t like direct marketing campaigns. However, she cautions, “there is a very big difference between what people say and how they behave.”

Giving Tuesday, she adds, must be part of a deliberate end-of-year strategy. “We know this is when most charities raise most of their donation dollars, and Giving Tuesday is now part of that,” she says. To be strategic, each organization must consider its unique combination of mission, resources, existing fundraising program and, importantly, whether it has determined a way to use Giving Tuesday within its holiday campaign.

Doina Oncel, founder of hEr VOLUTION, an organization that promotes women in science, technology, engineering and medicine, suggests that Giving Tuesday would be more useful, particularly for small organizations, if it were scheduled before Black Friday, when people still have money in their pockets. “Give before you receive, so to speak,” she says.

Hopefully, it’s a day where people are tuned in more to philanthropy and scrolling charitable websites rather than Amazon feeds.

Huda Al-Saedy, Ecojustice

Giving Tuesday is associated with some environmental values, notes Huda Al-Saedy, director of philanthropy at Ecojustice. “Hopefully, it’s a day where people are tuned in a little bit more to philanthropy and scrolling charitable websites rather than Amazon feeds,” she says.

For some organizations, however, offering a product or an incentive on Giving Tuesday is still a proven way to tap into the wider public’s desire to buy. “Its intention is supposed to be ‘Now put your philanthropic hat on and give,’” says Nicole Langton, development manager at B.C. & Alberta Guide Dogs. “That works, but so does ‘Continue to shop.’”

Langton says that the organization’s 2020 Giving Tuesday campaign was their most successful ever, in part because they encouraged people to continue shopping by offering puppy sponsorships. These allowed recipients to follow a puppy-in-training from eight weeks old to its graduation. They decided to stick with that strategy this year, successfully raising $16,000.

We rely on smaller donations, and when it’s all culminating at the end of the month, with bills and such, I think it was just an extra layer to sift through this year.

Courtney Steeves, Charlotte Street Arts Centre

In New Brunswick, Fredericton’s Charlotte Street Arts Centre, which lost its major in-person revenue-generating events during the pandemic, took a similar approach, offering a greeting card featuring a watercolour image of the group’s historic building with each donation over $20.

But was that plan successful? “I don’t want to say it was disappointing, because it was $500 more than we made last year,” says Courtney Steeves, the organization’s executive director. While undecided about whether Giving Tuesday should fall before or after Black Friday, she feels that when it occurs on the last day of the month, fewer people contribute. “We rely mostly on smaller donations from the community, and when it’s all culminating at the end of the month, with bills and such, I think it was just an extra layer to sift through this year.”

The dilemma of Giving Tuesday is that whether it exists formally or not, the end of the year is bound to be a noisy time for charities. That’s when donors are paying attention and handing out money – either because the season tugs on their heartstrings or their impending taxes do.

“The reality is that in this industry, a lot of people wait until November and December to make their donation because it then gives the shortest window until they utilize the benefits of the tax receipt, which will happen early in the new year,” says Josh Cooper, president and CEO of the Baycrest Foundation.

The giving sector is a mirror of what’s happening in the community, in regard to who is financially secure and who is not.

Marlon Merraro, Peacebuilders Canada

The issue for Cooper is not Giving Tuesday per se, but rather finding more ways to grow the charitable sector as a whole. “Mega gifts have become more mega in the last few years,” he says. “The reality is we need to find more ways to encourage more philanthropy.”

“The giving sector is a mirror of what’s happening in the community, in regard to who is financially secure and who is not,” adds Merraro, who has noticed the trend as well. While the number of individuals giving is down, he notes that overall giving is sometimes larger.

For some development managers, Giving Tuesday may be less about generating new donors and revenue and more about storytelling and launching year-end fundraising. “People say, ‘Why are you wasting your time on Giving Tuesday? It detracts from other things, and you only get small gifts,’” says Cindy Ball, vice-president of development at Indspire. But for her, the day is not about “big, crazy goals.” Rather, the presence and messaging of Giving Tuesday is another tool to help Indspire – and other charities – find resonance with new and existing supporters.

For organizations without the resources to run a well-designed campaign, Giving Tuesday might simply be seen as a day to reach out to donors and offer thanks.

“We don’t have a group of people to actually plan for that,” Merraro says, however, noting the challenge that Giving Tuesday presents for employees of smaller organizations who develop fundraising at the side of their desks.

“There’s no one right answer to it,” Mann concedes. For organizations without the resources to run a well-designed campaign, she suggests that it might simply be seen as a day to reach out to donors and offer thanks. Regardless of the approach, for Mann, Giving Tuesday is about being strategic, intentional and ultimately respectful of donors.

The bottom line: on a day on when it’s hard to cut through the noise, the value of Giving Tuesday still depends largely on what each organization expects to get out of it.

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