Coming Soon: Philanthropy’s Black Friday

The traditional start of the holiday shopping season, the Friday after Thanksgiving, has become something of a media event as well as an increasingly-watched indicator of consumer behavior. “Black Friday” as it is now ominously called, has its counterpart in the philanthropic world – the year-end push to December 31st–the last chance for nonprofits to book gifts for their annual campaigns.

The retail “Black Friday” marketing blitz actually started this past week in some stores and online on Thanksgiving Day and continued all weekend culminating with “Cyber Monday” specials. Of course retailers will keep working hard up right through December 25th to get you into the stores and online with lots of deals aimed at increasing sales for winning year-end sales results. For nonprofits, the run-up to the year-end giving marathon starts now and smart nonprofits are ready with new and old methods to help you choose their cause for this holiday giving season.

Check out Heifer International‘s catalogue of gift opportunities. It’s a powerful example of what works to get people of every age to donate and spread a little joy. Using a traditional marketing technique and applying it online and off line, Heifer turns gift-givers into donors by the opportunity of “selecting” their gift from a whole herd of choices. Even organizations dedicated to addressing social service needs or the arts, or education can think about positioning their cause as a catalogue of “charitable products” that match the interests of their potential supporters.

The Acumen Fund website, offers visitors a variety of ways to get involved and contribute to its projects around the world. From groups to events to personalized fundraising tools as well as a page of tips for getting started, Acumen Fund makes it easy and fun to contribute this season. Its New York chapter hopes to raise an additional $10,000 by the end of the year using a well-integrated, on and offline marketing program.

The Nature Conservancy’s gift of saving nature program gift guide lets you adopt an acre, plant a tree or save a jaguar from extinction.

The Jewish Federation of Chicago has launched a Chanukah Coat Club to assure that needy local children have warm coats this winter.

In St. Louis, the Jewish Family and Children’s Services is running its Hanukkah Hugs and Adopt a Family programs as a way to for people to help those in need during the holiday season. It’s too bad that this program is only promoted online and does not accept online gifts because doing so would not only make it easier for more people give, but the community could capture contributors’ names and broaden support for other important local programs.

I am waiting to see whether some nonprofits will follow the example of the retail world and start Tweeting special deals in individual store locations to drive traffic and sales. Can you imagine a Twitter-driven giving program, time and participation numbers-limited to fund a special project?

Like the retail consumer, the donor market this year is particularly cautious. It’s going to take a lot of innovative effort to move people to give. I hope nonprofits are ready to make this December 31st one that truly ends in the black for all the people who count on them making their numbers.

Gail Hyman is a marketing and communications professional who currently focuses her practice, Gail Hyman Consulting, on assisting Jewish nonprofit organizations increase their ranks of supporters and better leverage their communications in the Web 2.0 environment. Gail is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.