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Seven Steps to Carpe Diem on #GivingTuesday

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Special to the Philanthropy Journal

By Laurie De Armond, BDO

#GivingTuesday, the annual day of giving that takes place the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (November 28 this year), is now in its sixth year and has come a long way since its humble beginnings.  Since its launch in 2012, #GivingTuesday has grown, with 2016 donations skyrocketing 44 percent and totaling $177 million. It’s clear that #GivingTuesday’s reputation is established within the philanthropic community, providing organizations with a reliable opportunity to generate donations, usually via simple online donation interfaces.

This year, though, natural disasters and political developments disrupt the giving landscape.

The U.S. and the world at large have been dealing with the aftermath of massive natural disasters over the course of the last few months. Wildfires on the West Coast, the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, or the recent earthquake in Mexico City, donors have been focused on funding emergency response efforts. Donations for Hurricane Harvey alone raised over $350 million in just three weeks. The Communities Foundation of North Texas also held its annual day of giving in September, generating $39.4 million for area charities. What remains to be seen is if the timing of this recent outpouring of donations will detract holiday season giving, historically a crucial fundraising time for many nonprofit organizations.

Then there’s the ongoing conversation around tax reform. With the potential for the estate tax to be eliminated completely, many nonprofit organizations are scenario planning to determine the potential impact on their development programs. While it remains to be seen what, if anything will be accomplished related to tax reform, it is nonetheless on the minds on nonprofit stakeholders.

Despite these ongoing uncertainties, nonprofit managers should not put #GivingTuesday efforts on the backburner. #GivingTuesday, at its core, is about making a compelling connection with people who are passionate about your cause and inspiring them to give in an easy and simple way. For organizations that do this successfully, it can result in a huge boon to holiday fundraising efforts.

Position your nonprofit to “carpe diem” on #GivingTuesday with these seven steps:

1. Start planning now and optimize your online presence.

The holidays may seem like a long way away, but the truth is they’ll be here before we know it. To conduct a successful #GivingTuesday campaign, organizations should ensure that they have a detailed plan to connect with donors before, during and after November 28. This means getting all key stakeholders—including marketing, fundraising and management professionals—to commit to and engage with your #GivingTuesday campaign efforts well before November.  

Online giving is integral to #GivingTuesday efforts. The holiday started as an online movement, and online donations have been steadily increasing each year since its launch, growing 20 percent from 2015-2016. Because online giving is key to success, nonprofit websites should be designed to encourage and facilitate giving. Mobile giving is also more popular than ever. Seventeen percent of all online donations last year were made on a mobile device. To increase the success of your campaign, run tests to make sure your organization’s website makes donating via phones and tablets as easy as possible.

2. Establish objectives to guide your campaign.

#GivingTuesday is essentially a marketing and fundraising campaign, and thus organizations need to start with clear objectives that are measurable and specific. Are you trying to eclipse last year’s numbers? Get exposure to new supporters through #GivingTuesday’s social media presence? Encourage existing donors to increase their giving? These are critical questions organizations should answer, especially when dealing with limited resources for fundraising efforts. Once you have a set of goals in mind, you can begin to develop tactics designed to achieve those goals and connect with your identified targets.

3. Don’t overlook the potential of existing supporters.

While #GivingTuesday is a great opportunity to introduce your organization to new potential donors, don’t leave existing supporters behind in your efforts. These individuals are already aware of your work, and feel passionate about your mission. Reach out to existing donors and key stakeholders like board members well in advance of #GivingTuesday, letting them know your plans for the day and encouraging them to participate by both giving and spreading the word to their personal networks. Your nonprofit’s existing network of supporters can be powerful advocates for your fundraising efforts, amplifying your message and attesting to your organization’s work.

4. Use the holiday to pilot new fundraising methods.

#GivingTuesday can be a great time to test out new and innovative fundraising methods that might be too outside-the-box for your normal fundraising activities. Capitalize on the public sentiments around charity during this holiday, as well the amplification you’ll receive via #GivingTuesday’s social media presence.

One interesting tactic to pilot could be a matching donation – if you can get one of your biggest donors to agree to match #GivingTuesday donations, you not only motivate people to give on the day, but can effectively double your fundraising efforts. For smaller nonprofits, strategies like this can help level the playing field in the crowded charitable sector.

5. Tell your own financial story.

Smart donors do their research before sending funds to ensure their donations are used properly and effectively. In the 2015 Money for Good study, nearly half of donors expressed concern about not knowing how their money was being used. As individuals begin research, an organization’s website is the first stop for nearly 62 percent of individuals according a 2010 donor behavior survey

As the most powerful tool to communicate your mission to potential donors, nonprofit websites should be optimized to both tell an organization’s story and transparently explain their financials. Nonprofits should post their Form 990s, annual reports and financial statements, and make them easy to locate.

6. Know (and contextualize) your rankings.

Another place potential donors often turn to for more details on an organization is a respected database or watchdog organization like GuideStar or Charity Navigator. This year, donors may be especially likely to use these resources. On #GivingTuesday, GuideStar and Charity Navigator will launch their first-ever collaborative effort, combining their databases to publish charity results in an effort to provide donors with transparent information to help inform giving.

While the data won’t impact a charity’s ranking on Charity Navigator, it will offer the opportunity for exposure to a wider audience—estimated at over 20 million people this year—to key metrics on impact and outcomes. To make sure this exposure is a boon rather than a liability, organizations should strive to first have a sense of what their rankings and metrics look like.

In addition to being aware of online rankings and metrics, organizations should strive to contextualize that information for donors. Those with impressive scores should look for ways to promote them on their website and in promotional materials. Those with less-than-ideal numbers should get out ahead of any negative perceptions by openly explaining the situation on their website. For example, if a nonprofit made strategic investments in past years, leading to financial deficits, it should elaborate on how this investment furthers its mission, and how it plans to get back on in the black in the future.

7. Don’t put all your eggs in the #GivingTuesday basket.

While #GivingTuesday has the potential to spur donations and jumpstart the holiday giving season, organizations shouldn’t rely too heavily on the results. Online giving still makes up a relatively low portion of overall donations throughout the year. #GivingTuesday should be considered as an additive to year-long giving efforts, not as a main source of funding. Fundraising efforts can kick off on November 28, but they should carry through the holiday season and into the new year.

With #GivingTuesday just around the corner, savvy nonprofits are already laying the groundwork for their campaigns to maximum success. How is your nonprofit seizing the day?


Laurie De Armond is co-Leader of BDO USA’s Nonprofit & Education practice and an Assurance Practice Office Managing Partner. She may be reached at ldearmond@bdo.com.

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