By Robert Evans
#GivingTuesday – a recent addition to the philanthropic lexicon – represents an enormous, still largely untapped opportunity for Jewish nonprofits to reach new donors, galvanize their supporters, and join in the conversation at the water cooler and on social media to raise money. And it will be here soon, just a few days after we all put the finishing touches on Thanksgiving Dinner. There’s still time to prepare and be part of the phenomena, but now is the time to prepare and implement plans.
In just its third year, #GivingTuesday falls this year on December 2nd. Here’s a little review for those who missed 2012 and 2013: The #GivingTuesday idea was hatched by the creative minds at New York’s 92nd Street Y and promoted by the United Nations Foundation. #GivingTuesday was designed to follow “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday.” Is the day about taping into feelings of guilt from consumer spending or to entice them to give? No. Instead, #GivingTuesday is about harnessing the joy of the giving season and bringing philanthropy into the center of the conversation. It exists first and foremost on Twitter: try typing in the hash tag right now and see what comes up! Despite the hashtag embedded in its name, #GivingTuesday is really about a call to action, not the medium. And if done properly, donors are likely to respond!
Last year, #GivingTuesday was tweeted as much as 700 times per minute and trended for 10 hours straight, reaching more than two billion users of Twitter and more than 300 million people on Facebook. Charitable donations associated with #GivingTuesday grew 90 percent from the inaugural year and the average gift size grew 40 percent, from $101 to $142. Still, both inside and outside the Jewish community, only a small percentage of nonprofits have taken part. Collectively, we should not want to miss the chance to start a new public conversation about the centrality of philanthropy in the digital age. Last year, at the time of #GivingTuesday, nearly all of the oxygen within the Jewish community seemed to be sucked up by “Thanksgivakah”, the extremely rare convergence of the holidays of Chanukah and Thanksgiving. This year, there’s nothing preventing the Jewish world from embracing the challenge.
In my conversations with Jewish nonprofit professionals and volunteers, I have found some excitement about the idea, but a fair amount of confusion and even some trepidation about how to take advantage of a special national event featuring philanthropy. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
1. Nonprofits have generated buzz and donor excitement by securing matches for contributions made on #GivingTuesday.
For example, last year, the American Jewish World Service obtained a matching grant promise. If it managed to raise $36,000 on #GivingTuesday, the total would be matched. It raised $57,000, meaning that it netted $114,000. The Jewish National Fund raised $150,000, with the total matched by the Gene and Marlene Epstein Humanitarian Fund.
2. Donors are more likely to participate in #GivingTuesday if an organization they support highlights a specific project and tells exactly how the dollars will be spent.
For example, this year the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Lower Manhattan is using the day to highlight its Interfaith Living Museum Project. This program brings together Muslim and Jewish fifth graders for six months of cross-cultural learning and exchanges. The museum has already announced that, this year, they are aiming to raise $8,000 to pay for student activities such as bowling and a celebratory dinner for the kids and their families. This leads right to my next point.
3. #GivingTuesday is not a one day affair or even a one-week affair.
Nonprofits need to start as early as possible by formulating a plan, perhaps seeking a match, finding a specific project to highlight and then taking to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email and possibly direct mail to let stakeholders know about the campaign. Ideally, a nonprofit should use its social media presence to build interest and excitement about #GivingTuesday over the course of weeks and months. I scanned the Twitter feeds and Facebook pages of a number of Jewish organizations, including a few mentioned in this post. Even the ones that appeared successful did not generate nearly enough content on their social media accounts. I’m hoping that this year, groups have learned their lessons and will be more diligent about promoting #GivingTuesday through multiple channels.
It’s easy to see how major Jewish organizations with broad missions that defy geographic boundaries can take to #GivingTuesday. But what about membership-based organizations such as synagogues, which by their very nature have a limited geographic constituency? I am often asked whether or not it makes sense for synagogues and other membership based organizations to take on #GivingTuesday. Synagogues already make repeated asks of their members and many are afraid of going to the well one too many times. And while an organization like the American Jewish World Service might draw support from donors everywhere, there is little chance that someone in Los Angeles will be inspired on #GivingTuesday to give to a synagogue in New York.
I contend that #GivingTuesday represents an untapped opportunity for synagogues. But I acknowledge that congregations must truly be creative to make it work. Even more than larger organizations, synagogues must use the day to highlight a specific program, perhaps even one that is communitywide. It’s possible that #GivingTuesday isn’t a fundraising day at all for synagogues, but instead an opportunity to mobilize volunteers on a given project. There aren’t a lot of successful models to choose from, at this early stage in #GivingTuesday’s history. I’ve asked around my network of Jewish professionals and there’s only one congregation I’m aware of that attempted a #GivingTuesday program last year, and that was Temple Oheb Shalom, a Reform congregation in Baltimore.
Maxine Lowy, the synagogue’s development director, said “I don’t know if we did it right or well, but I wanted to give it a try.” Oheb Shalom used the day to raise money for a community-wide, grassroots umbrella organization to which it belongs called Baltimoreans United for Leadership Development (BUILD.) The synagogue raised $1,000 from ten donors: that covered one fifth of the synagogue’s annual BUILD dues.
She said that her #GivingTuesday program failed to generate more excitement among congregants and elicited complaints from several members about being asked to give yet again. Yet she admitted that the congregation could have posted much more on social media and done a better job of explaining what it is all about. She also noted that they have not focused attention on building up Facebook addresses from the majority of congregants.
I encourage Jewish organizations of all types and sizes to experiment with #GivingTuesday this year. Jewish nonprofits are in the business of championing philanthropy. Popular culture has handed our community an entire day focused on philanthropy. Not only would we be foolish to pass it up, we would be ungrateful.
Robert Evans, President of the Evans Consulting Group, has more than 35 years of experience advising nonprofits on fundraising campaigns and strategic planning. A member of the Giving USA editorial review board and the national steering committee for #GivingTuesday, Mr. Evans is frequently quoted in media outlets such as The New York Times and is a regular contributor to eJewishPhilanthropy.com.