The True Meaning of Giving Tuesday



Food bank givingThis year Giving Tuesday is November 29th. So, soon.

Now is a good time to think about whether or not you want to jump on the bandwagon and, if so, how. There is more than one way to slice this particular piece of pie. And, really, that’s what Giving Tuesday is – just one piece of your total annual fundraising strategy.

You don’t want to blow it out of proportion. But you probably don’t want to ignore it. Rather, plan ahead to put it into a context where it will complement your other year-end communications and fundraising strategies.

Let’s take a closer look.

What is Giving Tuesday?

I confess I’ve been a bit of an apologist for the “holiday.” I like to turn the tables by actually giving to donors, rather than asking them to give yet one more time during this busiest fundraising time of the year.

Plus, I often say if you want gifts, you must give them. What better time to do so than on giving Tuesday?

Of course, asking can also be a form of giving. So, I love appeals on this date that give people the option of giving money or supporting you in other ways.

It’s all philanthropy (aka “love of humanity”).

Key: Approach GT Strategy with a Giving Spirit

What is Giving Tuesday holistically?

I like this definition:

 “A world-wide movement about giving back. And being part of philanthropy is good, and just and true.”

T. Clay Buck

You can give back and/or your donors can do so. You can get great results if you keep fundamentals in mind.

Key: “Giving Tuesday” is Not a Case for Support 

What is your Giving Tuesday job?

Inspiring people to be part of philanthropy is absolutely your job. Giving on a particular date? Not so much. Don’t lead with this! That’s the GT case for support. Rather, lead with your case for support. Just as you would with any other fundraising appeal.

If the subject line of your appeal could come from a hundred other charities, try again.

We’ve tended to treat Giving Tuesday as a one-day event in which charities send their email list a message asking for money. Then, if donors are lucky, they may get another email reporting back on how much money was raised. “One and done” does not build donor files with sustainable lifetime value.

What’s Missing in the Typical GT Strategy?

What is the most typical Giving Tuesday strategy?

It’s one-off.

  • Most organizations send one fundraising mailing, usually an email.
  • They hope it gets opened and acted on. Yet typical open rates average 22%, so 1 in 5 don’t see the message you spent so much time crafting.
  • It’s not bolstered by an advance mailing or email setting the stage for the opportunity to come.
  • It’s not supported by a multichannel campaign including text messaging or social media.

It’s devoid of deep connection to your case for support.

I can’t tell you how many emails I received last year on Giving Tuesday (or sometimes even the day before or after) with “so what?” subject lines like:

  • It’s Giving Tuesday!
  • There’s still time to give for Giving Tuesday
  • Double your money on Giving Tuesday
  • Join our Giving Tuesday campaign

What Might be a Better GT Strategy?

Plan to be generous.

Don’t just ask; give.

It’s about giving, not the made-up “holiday.” Given abysmal donor retention, consider making Giving(Thanks)Tuesday your gratitude strategy pièce de resistance. Putting focused energy into rewarding your donors makes huge sense. Give intangible gifts, and ask for non-monetary gifts. Get ideas here.

Integrate with ongoing marketing and fundraising strategy.

November and December are by far the biggest giving months of the year.  Asking for yet another gift at this time may just substitute for a year-end gift they would have given anyway. Be realistic and, if launching a GT campaign stresses you out, don’t sweat it. As long as you already have a steady stream of fundraising appeals planned, you’re good. Consider GT mailings part and parcel of the robust year-end fundraising campaign you’re already planning. Just don’t forget the follow-up!

A Giving + Asking GT Campaign Example

Plan to be holistic.

Clay Buck shares a terrific example, published on SOFII “I Wish I’d Thought of That,” from Meals on Wheels (MOWSF) San Francisco. I’d like to use it to show how you can give, and also inspire giving, without taking away from the rest of your end-of-year fundraising.

Case for Support and Collateral

They hired a firm and mailed a postcard that included a removable, wearable sticker.

  • The post card stood out from most competitors GT solicitations because it was neither digital nor a typical direct mail letter.


  • It was personalized using the donor’s first name.


  • The primary message – “Remember Your Senior Neighbor with a Warm Meal and Nourishing Visit” — reminded recipients to do something Sure, the charity recommended donating to provide “Meals on Wheels,” but the reminder could also extend to simply stopping by to check in on a neighbor or deliver groceries or a home-cooked meal.
    • A selfless act of giving that makes the donor feel good.
    • A feeling they’re likely to associate with MOWSF.
    • A thought that may lead them to recommend the service to their neighbor!


  • There are several immediate calls to action, not all of which require giving money.
    • DONATE by going to provided URL leading to GT-aligned dedicated landing page.
    • WEAR provided, detachable “I Gave #GivingTuesday” sticker to show your pride (reminiscent of “I Voted” stickers).
    • SHARE the appeal, and your “Vote of Support,” via digital channels.


  • The calls to action engage more than one sense:
    • DONATE– emotional and cerebral – readers can see the photo of someone who needs support, empathize and feel the person’s hunger and loneliness, connecting this to thought in their brain about ways to be of service.
    • WEAR the provided sticker —tangible, easy and evokes pride– which is timely coming on the heels of the 2020 U.S. election. (NOTE: There’s a November election this year in the U.S.). The stickers act as “social proof,” inspiring others to follow in the footsteps of the wearer.
    • SHARE via digital channels. The act of sharing is another form of testimonial proof, hopefully triggering this key Robert Cialdini principle of influence (also known as “monkey see, monkey do”).


  • This well-rounded approach took advantage of multiple communication channels.
    • Mailed postcard
    • Digital link to dedicated website donation landing page
    • Links to FB and Instagram social media accounts

Timing: Before, During and After

Let’s imagine how to integrate this sample mailing with other campaign strategies.

BEFORE: I don’t know if they sent email, social media or text messages in advance of the post card, but it would be a good idea in order to “pre-suade” donors to give. You might try something as simple as:

 “It’s Giving Season! Watch for your “I Gave” sticker, coming just in time for Giving Tuesday. Your support means more than words can express to those who rely on us. Please wear your sticker with pride.”

DURING:  The post card came between Thanksgiving and year-end mailings, acting as a reminder of “giving season.” Good timing! What if they also sent a “day of” text message? Did you know 90% of text messages get opened, vs. approximately 20% of emails?

AFTER: Don’t treat GT actions as one-time transactions; follow up. In addition to all the best practices I generally recommend (sending folks immediately to a thank you landing page; following up instantly with automated thank you email; following up with a mailed thank you letter, and making a phone call to major donors and first-time donors of $100+, don’t forget to send periodic reports letting donors know how their gift was put to work. Make sure these donors are treated just like all other donors. Just because they gave on Giving Tuesday, you’re not “done” with them. Unless you really want these gifts to be one-offs.

This year, decide how you’ll honor philanthropy by giving, not just asking.

Want More Tips on Year-End Fundraising Strategy?

Year-End Fundraising Solution KitGrab my Year-End Fundraising To-Do’s & Checklists. This Solution Kit provides an all-in-one guide for ticking off the things you may be missing or may not quite have finished. This is a 63- page-long comprehensive road map to effective year-end fundraising. It’s designed to help you increase your year-end impact, and also get a jump on retaining the donors you acquire this year for many years to come.

Don’t hesitate. If you’re not happy for any reason, you have my no-questions-asked, 30-day, 100% refund policy.  To your success!

Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash


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