[NPFX Ep. 11] Giving Tuesday during the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Welcome to The Nonprofit Fundraising Exchange, a podcast from IPM Advancement. Our mission is to help you raise more money so you can make the world a better place.

Today’s topic: Giving Tuesday during the COVID-19 Pandemic

In this episode, we discuss:

  • The two key reasons your nonprofit must participate in Giving Tuesday — especially this year
  • How to make your organization stand out in this crowded fundraising landscape
  • What to expect from Giving Tuesday 2020
  • Why this November is a prime opportunity to enroll recurring donors
  • How to communicate urgency in your Giving Tuesday messaging
  • What you should and shouldn’t say to donors about the COVID-19 pandemic
  • The importance of matching gifts to your Giving Tuesday success
  • What to do if your Giving Tuesday campaign underperforms

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From its inception not even 10 years ago, Giving Tuesday has become one of the biggest nonprofit fundraising days of the year. In 2019, nonprofits collected nearly $2 billion as a result of Giving Tuesday, breaking the previous year’s record. And this past May, a special COVID-19 related Giving Tuesday helped raise over half a billion dollars in online donations alone. In today’s podcast episode, we’ll discuss what nonprofits should expect from Giving Tuesday this year, best practices for Giving Tuesday fundraising in a pandemic, and strategies to ensure their Giving Tuesday fundraising efforts have the greatest impact.

Let’s meet our panel.

Jack: Hello, I’m Jack Padovano, co-founder of IPM Advancement.

Diana: Hi, I’m Diana Gardner and I’m Vice President of Client Development at IPM Advancement.

Curtis: And I’m Curtis Schmitt, host and moderator. Thank you both for joining me. Our topic today is Giving Tuesday during the COVID-19 Pandemic. I’d like to start our conversation by asking: Why is Giving Tuesday so important for nonprofits?


Why Giving Tuesday Matters for Nonprofits — Especially during the Pandemic

Jack: Two good reasons come to mind when I think about Giving Tuesday and the impact it could have on nonprofits. First, it’s awareness. Giving Tuesday is a huge opportunity for nonprofits that don’t get much attention from local media, or even on social media. The Giving Tuesday hashtag is already going viral on Twitter. So the more your organization uses it, the better odds you have of appearing in a potential donor’s news feed. And if your campaign is creative enough, there’s a good chance for earned media as well when you’re picked up, either in local or even national news outlets. So it’s not every day that a nonprofit gets to boost its brand like that.

Last year, our smallest client garnered the biggest, what I call, no cost boost when a local TV station in Salt Lake picked up a new story about a little boy who was drawing pictures around his town using chalk about the rare disease that he lives with — and, of course, the nonprofit that is working on a treatment and cure. And when that aired obviously donations just poured in. I mean, you just can’t buy awareness that good.

Curtis: And you’re saying that example was from a Giving Tuesday campaign, correct?

Jack: It was the days leading up to the actual day. Did it help that the nonprofit’s creative bent or ask was asking people to go out and create this sort of artwork on sidewalks? Really creative idea, and one obviously COVID friendly. So, yeah, they put the idea out there and it was just taken it up in droves. And I think a second reason — pretty obvious — is contributions. Last year in the US, nonprofits raised nearly $2 billion on Giving Tuesday and 25% of that was online alone. That’s just absolutely huge. So unless your organization participates, you completely miss out.

Curtis: So then let’s talk about elephant in the room this year. COVID-19 has changed some of the ways nonprofits are fundraising, and some things haven’t changed, of course. Should nonprofits move forward with big Giving Tuesday campaigns this year, and if so, what if anything should they change about their approach?

Diana: I think, you know, pandemic or no pandemic you participate in Giving Tuesday. I’ve had clients in years past who were a little gun shy about participating in Giving Tuesday, felt as if — and this was prior to any pandemic or national or international crises — but felt that, you know, participating in Giving Tuesday there’s too much noise and they didn’t want to add to the clutter. And they made a huge mistake because it’s, as to Jack’s point, it was twofold: It sort of gets awareness and raises awareness out about your organization, but people are looking to give on this international global day of giving. So, back to your question, yes, all nonprofits should participate in Giving Tuesday, pandemic or not. Your mission still matters, no matter what. And while this is typically one of the noisiest days of the year, it’s critical that you actually put your best foot forward, especially during the pandemic.

Find creative ways to break through the clutter. We’re working, we’re seeing the most success in any campaigns, quite frankly during this pandemic, with placing an emphasis on engagement and community and coming together as one and uniting. I think people are looking for ways to connect with each other and to give back and this is definitely the way to do it. I think, in light of the pandemic what we’re seeing is a lot more prep and lead time as staffs begin to restructure because of most people working remotely. It’s freeing up resources that people would otherwise be providing to on-site physical events where you have more lead time and more manpower to be able to create these robust campaigns. So I think the biggest thing you can do differently in this pandemic is to allow yourself some more lead time and to engage cross functionally across departments, utilizing your most talented and best resources on your team to be able to execute what I think should be a very engaging multimedia type of campaign this year to help break through the clutter.

Curtis: Yeah, it sounds like something that’s come up in other conversations on other podcast episodes: This idea that during the pandemic, it’s an opportunity for organizations to really tighten up where maybe they’re a little looser or areas where they’re weak, but to really kind of tighten those things up and still move forward. But do so in a more creative or more tactical kind of way. Is that what you’re saying?

Diana: Yes and, let me say yes and. It’s really not just sort of tightening up their strategies, it’s to work more collaboratively with other members of engagement through teams with inter departments meaning your communications department, your marketing department, your operations department, your technology department, and utilizing the best manpower and assets that you have to be able to develop the most engaging, robust, talented campaign you could possibly put forth. You have the ability to do so because this pandemic has shifted the way that we operate from an operation standpoint, which should arguably be able to free up your most available talented resources to engage in the planning and the execution of these campaigns.


Expectations for Giving Tuesday 2020

Curtis: Great distinction. What can nonprofits expect from donors this Giving Tuesday? Will it be better, will it be worse, will it be the same, what do you guys think?

Diana: So I wish I had a crystal ball because we’ve got so much going on in the months and actually days leading up to Giving Tuesday. We have, you know, a presidential election that may or may not have a definitive outcome. So there’s going to be a lot of noise, more so than previous years in this space. Things that I think they can expect? One of the first and foremost, tech savvy users, we expect easy-to-use donation options, no question about that. So I would encourage organizations out there to make sure that giving is mobile-friendly and mobile-responsive or you’re just gonna lose people right out of the gate. I do think that top causes like disaster relief, health, environment, and animal issues will remain consistent in previous years where those are typically the verticals that outperform.

Experts, from what I hear, are suggesting that we’re going to actually see an increase in giving over 2019 record break of revenue by about 18%. All this to say this is an unprecedented year, these are unprecedented times, you have a pandemic, you have a high unemployment rate, your quarter one giving trends are down by about 6% from last year — and PS, you had a Giving Tuesday in the spring, let us not forget about that. That was in support of the COVID relief efforts. All that to say, these other factors may actually influence whether or not there will be an increase over the previous years. But right now, all the research is pointing to we’re going to expect an increase by about 18%.

Curtis: That’s interesting. You mentioned some top causes that traditionally do well on Giving Tuesday. What about social justice related causes? They’re very much in the public eye right now, they’re a big part of this election. What are your thoughts?

Diana: I do think with, again, the noise that we’ve been hearing domestically-speaking in this country over the past several months, politically-speaking, I think that various nonprofit organizations whose missions surround social justice, social cause related issues are continuing — at least for my clients that I currently have in this space — are continuing to see an increase in revenue, simply because their missions are so relevant and pervasive to what we’re seeing going on in the world today.

Do I think they will continue to see that increase with some of these other historical top causes on Giving Tuesday? Possibly, I just don’t know. I can’t necessarily say, well, people feel burned out in that particular vertical after a presidential election is over. It’s hard to say. I hope not. And certainly we’ll put forth the best strategies possible for the organizations that we serve. But I really don’t know. I wish I knew. I hope not.

Jack: You know, like Diana said nobody really has a crystal ball. I think the best advice is not trying to predict what’s going to happen and base your plan on that, but just go out with the best plan possible in promoting and taking advantage of this movement and doing all the things that Diana suggested is really the best way to put your best foot forward this year.


Giving Tuesday Best Practices for Fundraising

Curtis: And that’s a great segue to the next question I wanted to ask which is: What does IPM recommend for successful Giving Tuesday fundraising? And how have those recommendations changed if at all, given the pandemic?

Jack: So, if you think of it in terms of what I just said and think of Giving Tuesday as a worldwide movement, and, really, it’s success is based on the fact that community, as Diana said, really is the most powerful force to make the world a better place. So what better opportunity than to mobilize now, activate now, the community that support your organization’s cause? So, you know, I know in the midst of this pandemic, planning and organizing yet another event, albeit mostly electronic can feel overwhelming to development folks, but as we’ve been saying in all of our 2020 podcasts this year, while you can’t ignore the impact of the pandemic, doubling down on best practices will help you mitigate the downside.

And in terms of Giving Tuesday, there are hundreds of templates and advice pieces online. In my opinion, the best strategy is to keep it simple. First set a financial goal. Set a goal that is shared in all of your communications with donors. I read a survey last year that said that over 60% of all nonprofits that participated in Giving Tuesday 2019 had a specific fundraising dollar goal, with 44% of them achieving it — almost half. And then another 25% coming really darn close. So that tells me out of the gate that setting and communicating the goal, and sharing what that goal is drives participation in more donations.

Secondly, set a theme. It’s not enough that Giving Tuesday is your theme. You need to do, you need to figure out a creative way and a direct connection with your organization. One of our clients created a “share your story” theme where supporters shared what it was like to live with a very painful disease that that makes it difficult to walk. And in this case, sharing those stories created awareness and not only drove donations but got the attention of corporate and matching sponsors. Because businesses, big and small, are eager to get involved with Giving Tuesday, and so it’s a great way to kind of put it out there and not only attract those individual donations but the big bucks as well.

Curtis: I like this: So you’ve set a goal you’re going to communicate to donors, you have your theme, what’s next?

Jack: Next, figure out ways or techniques that you’ll use to raise money. Sure, a direct ask is always good but consider other methods as well: Crowdfunding, peer-to-peer fundraising, you know, monthly giving — what a great time of the year to ask people to give on a monthly basis versus just one time.

Curtis: It’s interesting you mention monthly giving. I was doing some research today for a blog post and found a study that showed that the number of new recurring donors increased significantly immediately following the 2016 election. So with both Giving Tuesday and the presidential election this year, this might be an especially good time for nonprofits to focus on enrolling recurring donors.

Jack: You bet. You know, people tire of political campaigns and just tire of constantly being asked by that one source, and your mission could be a breath of fresh air. And so asking donors who give once or twice a year to become a monthly sustainer, it’s a very good idea.

And while you’re thinking of those techniques, think multi-channel. Even though Giving Tuesday is mainly on digital platforms, don’t neglect other communications channels like print, specifically newsletters. For the smaller organizations that are regional and local, bulletin boards in local supermarkets and coffee shops. And even direct mail, I think, could be really good techniques as a way to surround sound your donors and prospective donors.

Curtis: I like that idea of local nonprofits doing offline advertising right there in their communities. What about digital? The hashtag “#GivingTuesday” has almost become synonymous with the day itself. What does IPM recommend for email, social media, and even text?


Reviewing Digital Best Practices for Giving Tuesday

Jack: Plan a series of emails, perhaps 3–6, beginning two to three weeks prior to the actual Giving Tuesday day. And on that day, the day of Giving Tuesday, launch at least 3 emails geared to how many hours are left before Giving Tuesday ends. And in those, create urgency; tell them that how close you are, you know, “We’re 80% of our goal or 90% of our goal and we need you in the next four hours to make a contribution to help us get there or get over the goal that we set for ourselves.”

Curtis: Those kinds of messages definitely work for me, speaking as a donor myself to the causes that I care about, for sure.

Jack: You bet, you bet. I’d also set up social media. Donors look to others to decide when and where to give. I mentioned that “share your story” campaign — sharing it on all your social media channels, encouraging social sharing, wherever possible. The rare disease client I mentioned earlier decided that their very first email, a month before Giving Tuesday, was going to be a meme contest. So the best memes that were submitted won a small prize. But most importantly, those memes were then shared with the entire community for use in their own online fundraising events and social media. So, it made it really easy for people to do the outreach to family, friends, and those people around a crowdfunding platform.

And lastly, don’t forget texting. You know, there’s no better way to communicate urgency, especially on the day of Giving Tuesday. I mentioned sending out 3 emails on Giving Tuesday itself, consider doing the same for your donors that you have a phone number for.

Hi, this is Curtis from IPM Advancement jumping in for a moment. If you’re a nonprofit professional who has questions about your program, or maybe you feel like you’ve taken your advocacy, fundraising, or membership effort as far as you can and you need some fresh ideas, then we have a special offer for you today.

NPFX podcast listeners can get a free 30-minute consultation with IPM, no strings attached, when you go to ipmadvancement.com/free.

Just enter a few details, and an IPM team member will contact you to follow up. It’s that easy. That website again is ipmadvancement.com/free. Thanks for listening, and we hope to talk to you soon. Now let’s return to the Q&A.

How to Address the Pandemic in Your Giving Tuesday Communications

Curtis: I like that these recommendations are very much about best practices, they’re evergreen and they’re good advice no matter what’s going on in the world. Is there anything we want to add about the pandemic specifically? Should nonprofits address COVID-19 in their Giving Tuesday messaging, and what’s the best way to do it?

Diana: So that’s a tricky question. I know from experience a lot of nonprofits who are not necessarily in social services, public health, education, any of the directly related causes where their missions are just devastated or impacted by COVID-19, and organizations who fall outside of that scope, struggle with that question. And it’s a good one. I think it’s important to acknowledge that there is in fact a pandemic that is impacting everyone because it’s clearly impacting everyone in this world, whether or not it’s going to be directly related to your mission or your purpose. It’s certainly impacting your constituents in some way or another. So you should definitely talk about the pandemic. But I do think that, you know, the pandemic’s impact on beneficiaries and the mission is how you should speak to the pandemic. Not just, “Oh, COVID-19, we have to shut our doors, give us money now.” That’s a terrible message, it’s incredibly disingenuous.

And so what I suggest is you emphasize the pandemic’s impact on your beneficiaries, the people you serve, and the mission, but you do not lead with the pandemic as the primary reason to give. I think that’s where I’ve seen lots of organizations out there who are leading with the reason, “Oh, COVID-19 is impacting all that we do and grant money that we rely upon,” instead of really tying it to how it’s impacting the way that they serve communities. They’re just really talking about, “It’s impact our organization from operating.” And I think that’s a mistake. If the pandemic is directly impacting the communities you serve, certainly lead with messaging through that lens. But if leading with pandemic messaging alone, it may backfire and as I said it can come across as extremely disingenuous.

Curtis: So if a nonprofit’s mission or the people they serve have been directly affected by the pandemic, it’s important to address that in your Giving Tuesday messaging. What about acknowledging that the donors themselves might be affected by the pandemic? They could be out of work, they could have loved ones who are sick. It seems like to not acknowledge that could be perceived as being insensitive to what your supporters might be going through.

Diana: Correct. You don’t want to sound tone deaf by not even acknowledging that this is a very challenging time, and we’re all in this together. And if you refuse to even acknowledge and just think — for example, let’s say we lead with a Giving Tuesday message — if you don’t acknowledge the current environment, the discourse, the exhaustion, and the struggles that we’re experiencing due to this public health crisis, boy, are you living under a rock and operating in a vacuum. That would be a big mistake.


How Nonprofits Can Stand Out on Giving Tuesday

Curtis: We talked a bit about how crowded the fundraising landscape is this time of year with the election and so many great causes worthy of support. What are some ways nonprofits can stand out and really get donors’ attention for Giving Tuesday?

Jack: So I think there are a couple of couple things come to mind related to that. First, I think, you know, making your content timely, relevant, and compelling. In other words, be sure that your content is new, that it’s not old news. Making sure that the content is relevant and directly supports your mission, and making sure the content is compelling enough to engage the donor to take action.

Second, I think in this environment and this year, it’s critical to find a match. We had a client who I encouraged to find a match, year after year. And I was a broken record, and finally in year four — or maybe it was year three — they found a donor who matched all donations one-to-one. And as a result, their pre-match revenue that year went up 30%, and the number of contributions went up 40%. So the year after, we encouraged the matching donor to up their game to a two-to-one match, fully thinking they’d say no. They said yes because they were encouraged by the percentage increases I just mentioned. And that year we saw the pre-match revenue 30% over the prior year’s one-to-one match, and the number of contributions also went up another 35%.

Key learning there: Matching motivates people to give. And so this year more than any other, if you can secure a match, it’s a great motivating tool.

Curtis: Yeah, that’s great advice.

Jack: I also, you know, can I share one other thought?

Curtis: Sure, yeah, please.

Jack: Consider investing in advertising. Specifically, Facebook ads, if you haven’t done them before. You might be hesitant to, but this is a good way to kind of dip your toe in a digital advertising tool to see if it makes sense for your organization.


Integrating Direct Mail into Your Giving Tuesday Strategy

And then one other thought, Curtis. While probably over 90% of nonprofits are communicating digitally during the Giving Tuesday season, what would happen if you landed on a postcard in your donor’s mailbox a couple days before Giving Tuesday? I can tell you from experience that we had, last year for one of our clients, they did just that where it was a pretty small investment on their behalf but they were able to track the results of donations that came in via that postcard, and 30% of their total Giving Tuesday revenue could be attributed directly from the URL that drove them from the postcard to the website donation page.

Curtis: I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a Giving Tuesday related postcard from the organizations I support so that would definitely stand out for me. Since we’re talking about it, how else can direct mail play a role in Giving Tuesday fundraising?

Diana: I think this is just a page out of our traditional playbook. Giving Tuesday or not, we firmly stand on the pillars of executing integrated strategies, whether it’s integrated stewardship strategy, whether it’s an integrated fundraising strategy, an integrated advocacy strategy. We stand strong on the fact that we believe you’re using multi-channel campaigns that inter-work with each other in order to uplift one single channel. So for example in this instance, an online Giving Tuesday strategy — direct mail, and social, and other aspects, even sometimes phones, if you want to follow up with phones, all work in tandem and work together.

The direct mail role that it can play offline is: On Giving Tuesday, at least in the weeks and days leading up to the day, I’m getting anywhere between 100 to 200 different emails from different causes. And after a while, it’s very exhausting, and it’s hard to break through the clutter and stand out. But if I’m skimming my emails, and I see, “Oh, well this looks interesting, one of the causes that’s near and dear to my heart,” and then I open my mailbox and I see the same themes visually expressed, as well as the same sort of top line messaging expressed, that sort of reaffirmation of a campaign — I’m seeing it in two different places — it’s going to stand out to me way more than if I just received an email in my inbox along with the 200 emails that I’ve received over the course of a couple of weeks. So I do think that, again, pandemic/non-pandemic, you should continue to do an integrated strategy that utilizes multi-channels to be able to continuously pound home the message that you want to get across, and to break through the clutter and the noise.

Curtis: Let’s talk a little bit about timing. Jack, in your recommendations earlier you suggested nonprofits should start emailing two to three weeks before Giving Tuesday. How soon before that should they start, you know, preparing and planning?

Jack: The plan should be put together September, October. And then specifically to answer your question about messaging, I’m a fan of the adage that says effective messaging is all about frequency and intensity of message. So hit hard early. And don’t be shy about multiple messages. I always tell clients a general rule of thumb is a minimum of 3 hits, maximum of 7, 30 days out from Giving Tuesday. That’s been the sweet spot for most of our clients.


What to Do If Your Giving Tuesday Campaign Underperforms

Curtis: Excellent. Now, as we’ve already discussed, projections for Giving Tuesday this year are positive but no one has a crystal ball. So let’s say there are some nonprofits who don’t see the same level of giving this year that they’ve seen in the past. What advice do we have for them if the response they get isn’t maybe what they were counting on?

Diana: I would honestly say: Don’t panic. Focus on your best practices. Remember that fundraising has always been a long game. That means, you’ve got to keep your foot on the gas. And more fundamentally, if it doesn’t pan out the way — if you do not meet your budget goals, look to the calendar year-end to strategize on how you’re going to recoup those projections.

Curtis: I like it. Don’t panic and focus on a strong plan for calendar year-end. Thank you, and thank you both for all of the great advice. Before I let you go, I want to ask you for takeaways. Is there something we’ve discussed today, or something that hasn’t come up yet, that you think is particularly important about Giving Tuesday fundraising during COVID-19 that you want listeners to take away from this episode?


Takeaway Advice for Nonprofits

Jack: If you don’t take anything else away, I would take away how important a donor match is to your to your campaign this year, particularly in light of the pandemic. It will get you over that goal line, or even maybe help you make up some of, any kind of lost fundraising revenue up and through this point. So, to me, that’s really key. And then the other thing is, really do put together a plan, folks. Think about your strategy. Think about your messaging. You’re going to be in a much better position if you do.

Diana: And if I could, I’d like to add the two major things that I want people to take away is to acknowledge the current environment to avoid sounding tone deaf. That’s first and foremost because you don’t want that to backfire. And then secondly, make sure that whatever you do, and in your execution, that giving is mobile-friendly, make sure those donation options are mobile-friendly so that people can effortlessly give without any barriers.

Curtis: Yes, that idea of making the giving experience as frictionless as possible is so important, especially on Giving Tuesday.

Well that wraps up our conversation on Giving Tuesday during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Thanks to the panel for sharing their insights and expertise. For any resources that were referenced in our discussion today, we will link to them in the show notes. If you liked this episode, please subscribe in Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, or your favorite podcast app. And leave us a review. We also invite you to explore our growing library of whitepapers, infographics, and blog articles in the Resources section of the IPM website. That address is ipmadvancement.com/resources. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.


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