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What Giving Tuesday Can Teach Us About Viral Campaigns

November 21, 2023 (8 min read)
In those weeks leading up to Thanksgiving 2012, no one could have predicted how the first #GivingTuesday would fundamentally change the fundraising landscape, offering an opportunity for people all over the world to come together for the greater good.

Focused on collaboration and community, the day was an instant success, and continues to provide valuable lessons on how to engage donors and prospective donors year-round.

In this article, we’ll explore how #GivingTuesday got its start, what lessons nonprofits can learn about its success, and how to leverage those lessons for increased donations this Giving Season.

How #GivingTuesday got its start

We all grew up with Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year and the kickoff to the holiday shopping season. Cyber Monday was created in 2005 and Small Business Saturday followed in 2010 to include all types of businesses. Then, in 2012, the 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation wanted to offer people a chance to give back during this time of rampant consumerism. And so, the hashtag #GivingTuesday was born.

The first #GivingTuesday was a massive success and went viral on Twitter. It raised more than ten million dollars for nonprofits. Now, over a decade later, its popularity has only grown. In 2021 it hit a record high, bringing in 2.7 billion in donations in the US alone, with over 35 million adults participating. It has become a global generosity movement, with 90 countries partaking. Nonprofits, volunteers, and donors all over the world celebrate it to showcase their generosity.

MORE: How to optimize peer-to-peer fundraising during Giving Season

Lessons from #GivingTuesday's viral campaign

There are many things that nonprofits can learn from the way #GivingTuesday started its campaign for viral success.

Tap into year-end generosity and spirit

For most nonprofits, November is the sprint to the of the year for their giving campaigns. #GivingTuesday is an opportunity to showcase all the good work they’ve done throughout the year and make an urgent, same day ask for contributions on social media. This is especially meaningful during the holiday season when many donors could be feeling more generous.

Additionally, many individuals and companies are looking at their year-end finances and weighing possible tax benefits. According to Classy, one-fourth of annual nonprofit donations are raised in December, with 10% of all giving happening in the last three days of the month. 12X more donors join nonprofits on #GivingTuesday than an ordinary day of the year.

Uniting nonprofits under one branded campaign 

Since its inception, #GivingTuesday has rejected the idea that there’s a set amount of money that can be raised for nonprofits. Instead, it has called for peer learning and co-creation to push the global community to surpass its fundraising goals. The founders made a deliberate choice not to create IP, instead branding the movement with a single shared logo that is not copyrighted.

Organizations can alter it as they see fit. #GivingTuesday costs nothing to join and provides participants with an abundance of resources, whether you’re a school, foundation, healthcare organization, arts nonprofit, or an individual looking to donate or volunteer. This approach levels the playing field and sets the tone for collaboration and innovation.

Leveraging partnerships for cross-promotion

The #GivingTuesday movement recognizes the endless opportunities that arise when people come together for the collective good. As such, partnerships and cross-promotion are paramount, providing organic publicity for everyone involved.

For example, a corporation might publicly match all donations to a cause up to a certain amount or encourage their employees to give by matching individual donations. Small businesses may want to give a percentage of sales to their favorite nonprofit on Giving Tuesday or become a drop-off location for donated items. These types of engagement strategies often multiply the impact of donations.

Multichannel strategies to engage donors

Though its only one day of the year, nonprofits often engage donors and prospective donors on #GivingTuesday in a variety of ways. For example, an organization might livestream an event with music and audience participation while also approaching major donors in person. Another might might run Facebook ads, post inspiring videos online, and create a viral fundraising challenge.

Engaging donors several different ways, especially through social media, can help you appeal to a broader audience and reach your goals faster.

Building a Visual Identity and Branding

Giving Tuesday has an iconic heart it uses on all its branding. That said, it encourages creativity and innovation, especially when it comes to its logo. Most nonprofits at least change the color to match their existing branding, but some have taken it a step further, finding fun ways to play with the form. Beyond individual organizations, each country combines their flag and the Giving Tuesday logo, which creates a cohesive global look.

MORE: Why a nonprofit’s reputation can make a difference during Giving Season

Applying these lessons to your Giving Season campaign

Now that we’ve gone over the lessons from Giving Season, let’s look at some specific ways you can apply them to your campaigns this year.

Engage donors early and provide easy call-to-actions

Every Giving Season campaign should have a set goal before it begins, and a step-by-step plan to reach that goal. Begin planning in September or October, then let #GivingTuesday officially kick off your year-end campaign. Be certain your donation page is foolproof, and offer prospects different ways to engage with the organization, whether it be by donating, volunteering, or sharing content online.

MORE: Why nonprofits should treat Gen-Z as investments

Promote peer-to-peer fundraising opportunities

The average peer-to-peer campaign raises $22,026, making it an extremely effective way to fundraise. Consider asking your community members to create DIY fundraising campaigns that replace holiday gifts. They could highlight personal stories from the individuals your organization serves or just personalize the landing page, explaining why they’re passionate about the cause.

Share organizational and donor impact stories 

There’s perhaps no better advocate for your nonprofit than a donor who gives year after year. Let your community members share what your organization means to them and why they feel so strongly about the cause.

Post videos where donors tell meaningful stories about the organization, host a volunteer Q&A on X, or use graphics and testimonials to quantify the impact donations have. What does music programming mean for underserved students? How many meals can a $50 donation fund for unhoused youth?

Maximize social media and email outreach

During Giving Season, a multichannel approach is best. Think about which donors you’d like to reach and plan accordingly, engaging them with social media posts, in-person asks, emails or newsletters.

Ideally existing and prospective donors are being approached many times over Giving Season in organic, meaningful ways. For example, your newsletter might share a video of volunteers chatting with seniors at a community dinner, or an older person expressing gratitude for the elaborate meal they were served on Thanksgiving. Make each post and email count by highlighting stories that show your organization’s impact.

Monitor your social media mentions to track your reach

While creating content and maintaining a social media feed can already feel like a daunting task, it’s important to use social media analytics and tracking to understand your impact and maximize your efforts.

Consider a social media analytics program like Nexis Social Analytics that provides data visualizations for virality mapping and hashtag tracking. It compiles data from ten social media networks and over one hundred and fifty million web sites, so you can focus on “social listening,” to hear what people are saying about your brand. This will help you understand just how far your campaign is reaching.

MORE: How donor prospecting technology can streamline your Giving Season workflow

Sustaining momentum year-round

Having a successful Giving Season is great, but it’s even better to capitalize on that momentum and encourage year-round donations.

Steward donors through thank you’s and updates

One aspect of #GivingTuesday’s mission is to build a world where generosity is part of everyday life. As such, think about how you can keep your donors engaged throughout the year and continually bring them new opportunities to participate.

First, many nonprofits use #ThankyouWednesday, the day after #GivingTuesday, to show gratitude for peer-to-peer fundraisers and volunteers. Regardless of when you decide to reengage your community, it’s important to summarize your #GivingTuesday campaign and explain the impact those donations had. Be sure to include new donors in your remaining year-end giving campaign and then follow up, providing options for recurring donations throughout the coming year.

Host virtual events or campaigns during slower seasons

#GivingTuesday is a tremendous opportunity to create a sense of urgency with your year-end ask. Every organization has a goal they’re trying to reach that day, and they appeal to their networks to help them reach it by the day’s end.

To create a similar sense of urgency in otherwise slow times, center your asks around a virtual concert or panel or a more traditional fundraising gala or 5K. These are opportunities to reengage existing donors and their networks and remind them why they’re passionate about your cause.

Continue storytelling and community engagement

Impact is everything. Regular newsletters, social media posts, and events are all great ways to keep your community informed about your success. If you partnered with a celebrity or influencer during Giving Season, you can summarize the impact that collaboration had and share videos of the influencer engaging with your community.

Always show donors the real-life impact their contributions have. For example, a dog rescue might’ve found homes for over 150+ dogs because of time and money that was donated to the cause. People want to know that they helped you reach their goal, so sharing that story with them will go a long way.

Analyze data to optimize future campaigns

After Giving Season, your nonprofit will have an influx of new data that shows donor’s giving habits and preferences. Review and compile reports, carefully evaluating the number of new versus existing donors, online versus offline donations, social media metrics, and which donations came through fundraising collaborations.

You might want to hold a Giving Season debrief with your organization to maximize your efforts in the coming year.

MORE: Create the full picture of your donor prospects

Leverage #GivingTuesday lessons for maximum impact

As an organization, Giving Tuesday believes that everyone has something to give and every act of generosity counts. This global movement has reinvigorated the nonprofit community, surpassing all expectations and funneling a seemingly limitless amount of donations into worthy causes.

By capitalizing on this energy, and perfecting your donor prospecting processes, you can be sure that your Giving Season will be a smashing success.