For a few years, this was my favorite holiday. I loved when it was started to combat the rampant materialism and capitalism that follows Thanksgiving in the US, and I love that it’s grown into a global day for charitable giving and sharing. Plus, I appreciate fundraising and campaigns; I like being able to move funds from those who have resources to those organizations that are doing good work.
But this year, I have mixed feelings, and not just because I now am, by trade, a fundraiser. I’ve done some reflecting and growing, and I’m sure these thoughts will continue to evolve as I do more of both. I’m processing them openly with you here.
Messy thought #1: Why just a day? Earlier this year, I saw a huge uptick in people who suddenly were shouting Black Lives Matter from the rooftops. They wanted to give–and did– to organizations doing racial equity work, to bail funds, even directly to individuals from marginalized identities. Now, that energy is gone even though Black people are still being killed by white supremacy culture. Does having a day or a moment for giving create the illusion that checking a giving or caring box is enough?
Messy thought #2: Who does #GivingTuesday create obligation for, and is that fair? As Vu Le has written about both with respect to nonprofit boards and staff, I see the givers continuing to give, both of their resources and their networks. Sometimes, this is explicit or implicit obligation, and other times, it’s that damn mission-driven work ethic paired with the related fluid-boundaries problem. There can also be an awkward reciprocity expectation in some cases when a personal contact who gives to your cause also has a cause they’re fundraising for. This soft pressure on development folks leveraging their own networks can be tricky. Overall, I find that the givers keep giving and…
Messy thought #3: The non-givers don’t. #GivingTuesday leverages the power of smaller gifts solicited by peers, but it’s also very easy to tune out. I’ve seen many tweets today and in years past about people deleting their emails today and staying offline because it’s too much….they’re getting marketed to right and left. Ultimately, people who want to give will give anyway–either in the small gift spirit of the day or perhaps as a matching donor if they have the means–and those who don’t typically give don’t seem to suddenly ignite that giving flame today.
Messy thought #4: The social media nature of the day also creates more work with less payoff for development folks. For example: Facebook, which does a great job making it easy to give and actually is itself matching gifts this year (yay!), also doesn’t create a way for donors to sign up for an organization’s newsletter or sharing additional information. If a best practice of creating an engaged individual donor base is to engage during the year, it takes a lot more work for development and communications folks to do so.
Messy thought #5: #GivingTuesday gifts often stem from a person directly asking their network to contribute. Gifts that come in are more likely in support of the solicitor rather than out of direct excitement for the organization itself. The goal for a development team is then to convert these small donors who care about a human tied to the organization into donors who more directly appreciate and understand the work of the organization. This is a challenge I find fun, but also has real cost tied to it. What return on investment makes that cost worth it, especially for a small (or in some cases, nonexistent) development team to do? And if that investment isn’t made, are these gifts helping or hurting the sustainability of an organization if those donors leave without direct solicitation by their peer each year?
To be clear, I love and appreciate #GivingTuesday and the team behind the organization and campaign. But as a development professional and philanthropic leader, I need to question what’s behind it and the messiness embedded in it.
Here’s how I’m participating in #GivingTuesday this year:
- I’m leading a campaign for Disability Rights Fund to raise $5,000 this week, matched dollar for dollar by an anonymous individual supporter. I’m proud to do this in both my professional and personal capacity, because disability inclusion and rights is sorely underfunded. It’s a large part of why I took this job; I wanted to change that. The pandemic has disproportionately affected persons with disabilities, and we’re supporting powerful advocacy work to raise awareness and affect solutions that are inclusive and just. Give to DRF today >>
- I’m also supporting #TuftsGivingTuesday as a leader on the Tufts Alumni Council. Tufts taught me how to think and question, and helped shape my moral imperative to care about the world. You all might have seen the work they’re doing with democracy as the young voter turnout data was widely shared. Give to Tufts today >>
- I’ve donated a lot this year, so I’m supporting fewer organizations on this day than I have in the past. But, I decided to make two local gifts to two organizations that are led by, and in support of, creating societies more inclusive of and safe for marginalized identities. Those organizations I’m giving to are CAIR-Chicago and Chi-Nations Youth Council. I encourage you to think about your values and find local organizations led by people from the communities they serve to give to.
- I’m tweeting and otherwise social media-ing! For those of us with a voice online, it’s really important to use–today and always–to raise awareness and activate giving.
I’ll close with a note of gratitude. The “giving season” always is cause for reflection for me, so my latest blog post on the Jeneralist is a list of 34 humans, places, things, and feelings I’m grateful for. I find that gratitude often helps us to identify those things that really matter to us, which can help identify causes to support and how to invest our time and energy.
I wish you all a reflective and action-oriented #GivingTuesday and year to come.