Three lessons from #GivingTuesday


Magazine article

"Interesting idea, but you should leave it a year..." Summer 2012

Coming from a mentor to countless entrepreneurs, with an appetite for experiment, this was not the encouragement we were hoping for...

The idea he was hesitant about was simple. On the heels of Thanksgiving, "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday" have become two of the biggest US retail days. We had pitched him the concept of launching "#GivingTuesday" – a national day of giving after two days of getting.

Our vision was that the "umbrella" of #GivingTuesday would harness the collective impact of the philanthropic world. And the hashtag was there for a reason. We wanted to create a giving tradition for a new generation of philanthropists in the age of Twitter and other social media. So, in the great spirit of ignoring unwelcome advice, we publicly launched in September last year, just seventy days before our first "#GivingTuesday".

#GivingTuesday 2012, run on a limited budget and lots of goodwill, turned out better than we had ever hoped. The White House, Bill Gates and many others endorsed the campaign, #GivingTuesday generated over 800 media hits and trended no. 1 on Twitter, and 2,700 partners representing all 50 states took part. A range of donation platforms showed online giving increased by around 50%. One measured an increase in cell phone giving by almost 500%.

Looking back, three factors really helped create momentum for #GivingTuesday:

1) The amazing innovation in the non-profit sector

Too often our sector is seen as resistant to change, even stuck in its ways. But our experience with #GivingTuesday told a very different story. The movement was fueled by many dynamic and entrepreneurial campaigns leaping into life - often led not from the top of an organization but by emerging leaders. Here are just four examples:  

- Heifer International created an infographic and app that showed people how much they had saved shopping on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and encouraged them to turn the saving into a gift. Driven by an effective marketing campaign this told a powerful story about the values of their organization.

- Phoenix House - an organization dedicated to helping people challenged by substance abuse - organized a campaign asking people everywhere to write letters of support for those in treatment programs. All the letters were issued on #GivingTuesday, providing encouragement for people who often feel alone. 

- The Case Foundation, Kevin Bacon's and Crowdrise formed a unique partnership to run an online matching campaign. They had hit their goal before lunchtime.

- Dress for Success - who provide disadvantaged women with suits for interviews - renamed the day #GivingShoesDay, encouraging donations of professional shoes.

2) The power of a "posse" strategy

We decided at the outset that #GivingTuesday would not be an initiative owned and directed by one organization. Instead, we built the core #GivingTuesday team using an idea from Philanthrocapitalism authors Michael Green and Matthew Bishop (who provided strategic advice from the beginning): raising a voluntary and collaborative "posse" of people, uniting top talent from many different organizations, all sharing one goal.

So, alongside our team at 92Y, many others joined in. The award-winning team at the UN Foundation took on communications. Digital leaders from Mashable built the social media structure and website. Experts from Stanford University and the Bridgespan Group advised on impact and strategy. Many other leaders -  from Facebook, Groupon and elsewhere - contributed their time, contacts and expertise.

None of these people were mere "names" on an advisory board. None received fees. With a start-up mindset, a huge amount to get done and a ticking clock, we saw amazing results from members of the posse taking on a task, owning it, and delivering. (This also proved the great value in asking the busiest and smartest people you know to volunteer their skills.)

3) The opportunities in shared giving

The most effective way to secure a gift is to be asked by someone you know. The Internet facilitates this and social networks, in particular, are proving powerful drivers of peer-to-peer fundraising. Recent research from Waggener Edstrom and Georgetown University have shows that three out of four people agree that it is important to them personally to influence others on social media to care about their favored causes. 

Although this trend flies in the face of the nobler traditions of anonymous giving, the potential is enormous. Just as we proudly share images of our birthday parties, holidays or pets, we are beginning to share symbols of our giving. Many organizations used #GivingTuesday to experiment in this area, and this encouraged the "virality" of our efforts. As online giving continues to spike (up 11% in the last year in the US) this could not be more important.   

As we look towards #GivingTuesday 2013, it is inspiring to see the movement begin to scale further. We are hearing about "posses" forming in different cities (Philadelphia's #GivingTuesdayPHL is looking especially promising), and even in different countries, with Canada leading the way with

Beyond that, we are hearing about even greater innovation. This December will see the launch of the "#GivingTuesday Pledge", where people will use the day to commit to increased giving over a full year. We'll even see philanthropic couples going on a #GivingTuesdate - where instead of a fancy meal out, they will volunteer together.

So mark your calendars for Tuesday December 3rd. And this year help create a new "opening day for the giving season".

#GivingTuesday was recently shortlisted for the 2013 Drucker Institute Award for Non Profit Innovation.