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Editorial: Does #GivingTuesday Make a Difference for Dance Companies?

This week, leading up to today, Giving Tuesday, I have received no less than eighty emails asking me to donate to dance companies and arts organizations. Yes, 80! You read that correctly. On reflecting on this deluge of my inbox, I had to wonder if Giving Tuesday was genuinely effective? Did it only benefit larger organizations? Or is this an opportunity for small to midsize dance companies to increase their share of the donation pool?

Statistically, Giving Tuesday is one of the most important crowdfunding days in the US. The data shows that people are giving more and giving more frequently, and to multiple organizations on #GivingTuesday. This year, the numbers are anticipated to surpass $1 Billion raised online since #GivingTuesday’s inception.

It was in 2012 that this crowdfunding, national, giving concept was launched. The idea is that everyone shops in person on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) and everyone shops online on Cyber Monday (the Monday after Black Friday), so why not get people to give some of what they have left to those less fortunate the following day – Giving Tuesday. The non-profit community widely adopted the idea.

So before going any further, let me state that I believe Giving Tuesday to be a great concept and that the holidays should be one in which we should focus on helping others. I do not want my editorial to detract from that charitable notion. But most dance companies in Philadelphia tend to be small to midsize organizations. They do not have the time, staff, and resources necessary to run an effective #GivingTuesday campaign that will truly make a substantial difference in their overall development efforts.

Any development person of worth will tell you cultivating donors is about building relationships. This takes time and cannot be done over a single-day campaign. Individuals and corporations tend to donate to a non-profit because they feel a personal connection to your cause, they want to be a part of something, and they can trust your organization. While donating before year’s end has tax benefits, they still want to see that their donation has a real impact. Relationships and donor campaigns cannot be effectively delegated to a single day.

As I stated at the start, I received over eighty email requests for donations. On average, most Americans will receive 30 or more such requests. So, is your message getting crowded out? In other words, if you sent out the same fundraising email at a different time of year or even just a week later, would you raise more or less than if you sent it out on #GivingTuesday? It turns out that your message sent at another time, when the field is less crowded, is more likely to be delivered and read versus winding up unopened in the trash or spam folder.

The counter-argument to this is that Giving Tuesday is more of a social media phenomenon. Statistics will show that social media platforms are not necessarily the “gold mine” they are made out to be. In addition to dealing with the clutter in your newsfeed and constant bombardment of giving messages, people tend not to click on that donate now button because of a social media post.

#GivingTuesday also encourages what is called spot giving or simply a single, one-time donation. It does not cultivate or retain donors over time. It may discourage donors from giving again or on any regular basis as they feel they have already done their part. Granted, one-time donations on this special day can keep some small organizations afloat during a time of need, but it is more of a band-aid than a cure. Just be sure that the one-time donation does not interfere with running an actual capital campaign or regular year-long fundraising efforts.

Then there is the bottom line. Will you raise a significant amount of money for all your efforts? #GivingTuesday boasts very large and significant numbers raised on this single day. No argument here. But when you divide total donations by the actual number of non-profits participating nationwide, the numbers are slightly different. Reviewing various sources, it seems the average non-profit generates somewhere between $3000 to $5000 for their organization on #GivingTuesday. Small to midsize arts organizations do not fair as well, especially in the dance genre, where the numbers seem to be more in the $1500-2000 range. These are not definitive statistics by any means as reporting is at best inconsistent or non-existent.

So am I trying to put a damper on this day – #GivingTuesday? Not at all. If it is working for your dance organization, I could not be happier and would be the first to tell you so. But at a time when COVID has severely impeded most dance companies and organizations and resources are challenged, it may just be better to focus on other year-end giving campaigns and start planning a more effective strategy for cultivating donors going into 2022.

And now back to my inbox, I just got three more donation requests!

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