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Nonprofit researcher discusses rise of Giving Tuesday, tips for making most of donations

Giving Tuesday
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Created in 2012, Giving Tuesday has grown into a giant day of good — with more than $2.47 billion given in donations in the United States on Dec. 1, 2020, alone. For potential donors, however, the day can be overwhelming as inboxes fill up with donation requests and questions abound about where to donate and how donations can make the most impact.

For Danielle Vance-McMullen, an assistant professor in the School of Public Service, these questions are part of her research into donor and nonprofit behavior in new charitable giving contexts. In this Q&A, she discusses the rise of Giving Tuesday and offers advice to potential donors as they gear up for this year’s edition on Nov. 30.

How has Giving Tuesday changed philanthropic giving for both the organizations and potential donors?

For donors, Giving Tuesday is a helpful reminder of the importance of year-end giving and the needs of the community during a season of lots of personal shopping. It can also be a bit overwhelming, with many organizations soliciting donations at the same time and competing for attention.

Organizations have two challenges on Giving Tuesday: They have to try to stand out on a very “noisy” day of solicitations and they have to make sure they still have energy for fundraising for the remaining weeks of December, which is the biggest fundraising month of the year.

Danielle Vance-McMullen
Danielle Vance-McMullen is an assistant professor in the School of Public Service. She researches donor behavior, fundraising and nonprofit competition in new charitable giving contexts.
How has Giving Tuesday grown since it began in 2012?

The community recognition of Giving Tuesday has grown since 2012, and so have the gifts. There is now over $800 million given online and more than $2 billion when offline contributions are included. Because of the big dollars given on this day, most nonprofits feel compelled to participate, so it has become a very busy day. Giving Tuesday has also expanded to other types of generosity, including volunteering and activism — all forms of making a difference in your local community.

What’s your advice to potential donors as they consider their plan of action on Giving Tuesday?

It can be overwhelming to see all the emails and social media posts. I recommend for potential donors to first consider the causes and organizations most important to them. Don’t forget smaller local organizations – they can often get overlooked on a big noisy fundraising day like Giving Tuesday. After you have an idea of your priorities, then look at these organizations’ Giving Tuesday pitches and give to the ones most compelling to you. Some organizations offer Giving Tuesday matches, which is a nice way to see your money go further.

Also, consider whether to make a one-time or recurring gift. Organizations need support throughout the calendar year and not just at the end of it. Between 20% and 30%​ of gifts occur in December, and many organizations could use a steady stream of income throughout the year. If it’s an organization important to the donor, they might consider turning their one-time Giving Tuesday gift into a monthly contribution. For the donor, spreading the gift out over the course of the year also might feel more manageable than one lump gift right before the holidays.


Danielle Vance-McMullen

Media contact:
Russell Dorn