Advancement and Fundraising Nonprofit

Your Nonprofit Absolutely, Positively Should Take Part in #GivingTuesday

Cartoon drawing of a people celebrating around the GivingTuesday logo

By \ October 21, 2019

If you listen close enough, you can hear it. 

The not-so-distant rumble of retailers dragging out plastic Christmas trees, nailing up holiday sale signs, and reinforcing the door hinges to keep the Black Friday mobs at bay until the moment of truth.   

But after the chaos of the post-Thanksgiving shopping frenzy subsides, what then? What next? Feelings of exhaustion? Pangs of emptiness? 

GivingTuesday was created to fill that mid-holiday void. Since 2012, the day has stoked the movement to reemphasize the importance of charity and goodwill this time of year. 

Is GivingTuesday Worth It?

Some grinches argue against participating in GivingTuesday: Your message will get crowded out! You won’t raise enough money to make it worth it! You’ll detract from your other fundraising efforts!

To that, I offer my professional rebuttal, gleaned from two decades in advertising and years of working with nonprofits: Bullshit.

GivingTuesday naysayers apply the same narrow logic Super Bowl critics use when complaining that brands are wasting their money on multi-million dollar spots, blind to a magical phenomenon: the Window of Engagement.

The Window of Engagement is that tiny moment in time when you’ve managed to not only hold someone’s attention but sparked them to take some kind of action.

The Super Bowl (the day as well as the days before and after it) may be the most well-known Window of Engagement for advertising. What other time of year do people actively tune in, seek out, and talk about TV ads? 


Attention isn’t easily surrendered. People have stuff going on. Lives to be lived. They don’t give two shakes of a honey badger’s tail about your brand. 

Until they do. 

Super Bowl advertisers realize there will not be a bigger stage and a hotter spotlight than that Window of Engagement. It’s precious. It’s fleeting. And it’s not guaranteed. 

“In an era of global crisis and disconnection, we need new rituals to connect us.”


GivingTuesday rides that same logic train. With the possible exception of millionaires’ mad dash at tax time, when else is the notion of giving away money so universally top of mind for people? In 2018, more than $400 million was donated on GivingTuesday according to the organization’s tally. Not a bad haul. Especially when you consider that’s more than a 30% jump from the previous year’s totals.

People love to be a part of something public and sharable — especially when they get to play the role of hero. A New York Times study identified the top five reasons why people share content. Among them, to define themselves to others and to get credit for the content they share. 

Why wouldn’t you make every effort to capture your audience in that moment?

Simply put: There’s too much at stake not to take part. And it goes beyond money. There’s volunteer spots to be filled. Email lists to be expanded. And awareness to be gained.

Here are a few ideas to help your nonprofit tap into that Moment of Engagement:

Have a goal.

Everyone needs something to work towards. Determine your organization’s biggest need, and what it will take to fill it. Understand that the goal doesn’t have to be simply raising money. Building awareness, increasing your email and social media audience, encouraging volunteering — these all are perfectly acceptable and meaningful goals, especially if you’re looking at the long term. But how much should you ask for?

Somewhere between ho-hum and holy cow should do it. 

Work with your board of directors and staff to determine need and work from there. The goal is to ask for enough to make it worth it while not raising the bar so high that it discourages donors. Your audience’s donor profiles may help to determine a reasonable goal. 

Have a plan.

GivingTuesday begins long before GivingTuesday. Many suggest gearing up about six weeks before the big day, while some organizations begin planning long before that. Most of the nonprofits we work with begin planning about a month out. The later you get started, the more specific your plan should be — there’s no time to waste. Work backwards from the big day on your editorial calendar. We’ve used CoSchedule’s content calendar template because it’s simple and customizable. 

Determine the audiences you’ll focus on, the tactics you’ll use to reach them, the frequency and content of your communication, and the roles of those who will be helping to execute the campaign. GivingTuesday offers a number of resources, including a 50-Day Campaign Timeline, a checklist to keep track of milestones and tasks throughout your campaign’s lifecycle.

Start with matching.

Most advancement campaigns idfive works on rely on launching with a foundation of pre-pledged support. There’s a silent phase where donors are lined up early on to provide a positive start and momentum for the effort. Allocate some of this early money as “matching funds.” 

For the donor providing matching funds, it’s excellent press; their gift is now publicly tied to the individual gifts of the donor pool. And for individual donors, the idea of doubling their impact without putting out additional funds is a powerful psychological driver. 

It’s essential to work with partners and major past donors to line up matching gifts at the early stages of the campaign.

Give your inner circle a sneak preview.

Volunteers, partners, and other close supporters are more passionate than the casual donor. Reward them for it. Share your campaign with them before taking it live. It’ll create a sense of exclusivity, but also build up the excitement and increase the chances they’ll share your content as soon as the embargo period ends. Who doesn’t want to be the first to share a secret?

Reduce the friction to give.

It’s hard enough to convince people to give. Don’t make it harder. Even if just for GivingTuesday, consider giving options that will expedite the donation process. Much like an e-commerce site, every additional step someone must take reduces the likelihood they’ll make it to the end of the transaction. If you can hook someone with a story — get them in that Moment of Engagement — then play off their initial impulse to give with a one-click option, you reduce the chances that they get distracted, second-guess their participation, or simply give up based on the level of lift. 

A study with the National Audobon Society and one-click giving platform FastAction showed the dramatic impact of one-click giving. Conversion rates were more than 9X higher than without one-click giving, and average revenue per person was 8X higher.

Because of its sheer reach and robust sharing features, I’ve always been partial to Facebook Fundraisers. Facebook receives no fees for gifts to nonprofits, allowing organizations to receive the full gift from donors.

Share updates to create urgency and engagement.

Throughout your GivingTuesday campaign, provide audiences with regular updates, not only about the fundraising progress, but about the stories you’ve introduced as well. Profile people involved in the stories, share details about the impact of the organization. Make them brief and consumable.

Use a mix of tactics to communicate updates — email for milestones or big announcements, social media for iterative updates, and live streaming for continual engagement and content.

Continue to push the need to give throughout the day — even if someone’s given already, think about what kinds of messages would spark them to give again. For our campaign with the Maryland SPCA, we stoked engagement and additional giving through competition, updated tallies, countdowns, and fresh content over multiple days — with more frequent content on GivingTuesday.

“The goal is to create a massive wave of generosity that lasts well beyond that day, and touches every person on the planet.”  –

Don’t relegate GivingTuesday to GivingTuesday.

While the promise of raising donations over a single day is exciting, play the long game. Use the moment to spark a lasting conversation and relationship with donors. Use GivingTuesday to kick-off a year’s worth of donations, donor engagement, volunteerism, and awareness. Some ideas to think about.

  • Post email and social media recaps in the weeks that follow, sharing some of the donation stats, such as comparisons to the previous year, average gift, and particular activities that the money will pay for.
  • Publicly thank key donors and supporters who helped to make the event a success.
  • Use social photo books such as Chatbook or MySocialBook to chronicle the GivingTuesday event and those who participated. Make them available for your community to purchase.
  • Create a few “Throwback Fridays to GivingTuesday” posts, featuring photos, videos and stories of donors, those who benefit from the funds, and even teasers for this year’s GivingTuesday to keep the kindness top of mind.
  • Send out a “half-way to GivingTuesday” email at the beginning of the summer inviting large sponsors or donors to “get in early” on matching funds and other support initiatives.
  • Share video testimonials from those whose lives have been impacted by the funds from GivingTuesday.

Finally, don’t reinvent the wheel.

There’s a ton of resources available to help you get your GivingTuesday event off the ground. provides a library of tools to support nonprofits — take advantage of proven best practices to get your campaign moving faster. Here are some of the must-haves in our book:

  • The GivingTuesday Workbook: Step-by-step planning tool to help you create and manage a campaign from scratch.
  • GivingTuesday Social Media Toolkit: A list of ideas and tactics to help boost your campaign’s reach and impact using major social media platforms.
  • 2018 Success Stories: Get inspiration from some of the campaigns that garnered attention — and drive donations.

Charity is human nature. A longing to be a part of something bigger than ourselves and a desire to help those whose stories touch our souls. However, charity lies dormant until it’s awakened in that Moment of Engagement. Giving may spike on the same Tuesday every year. But, ultimately, the kindness behind it can’t be constrained by a calendar.