Generosity during crisis: why retreating from engaging supporters during this time is a mistake


As we continue to struggle with the global pandemic, what will GivingTuesday look like this year?  How do you plan when there’s so much uncertainty and noise from all directions?  There’s still opportunity in challenging times, and you can use GivingTuesday to increase community resilience and rally support for your cause.

While we continue to face challenging circumstances, the data from this year and historical trends suggest plenty of opportunity to meaningfully connect and empower supporters to take action. So don't throw in the towel by pulling back on solicitations or skipping campaign opportunities like GivingTuesday--in fact, the temptation to retreat expressed by many charities may be the biggest risk looming over this year’s giving season.

Giving is an important way that people address their uncertainty. Expressing generosity, whether through acts of kindness, volunteering, or charitable donations, gives people agency. This allows them to feel hope and connection in a time that many feel hopeless and disconnected.

Here are five lessons for mobilizing your community in turbulent times - courtesy of The GivingTuesday Data Commons:

1. Resist the Myth of Donor Fatigue

First, and most importantly: Don’t retreat!

People are currently more motivated to give than in perhaps any other time in history and across all cause areas. The biggest risk to this giving season is that organizations will step back by not reaching out, filtering out donors who already gave, or reducing their campaign touch points. Many worry that their donors may be tapped out or cite that they want to be sensitive to stress and financial concerns, but retreating from solicitation will be the biggest risk to organizational success. Now, more than ever, GivingTuesday is a great time to engage your supporters.

2. Make Sure Your Message Meets the Moment

We know from disaster fundraising that big unexpected events shift people’s focus. So, causes should find ways to be relevant in the moment. Show how you are working to combat the effects of COVID-19, the economic crisis and other issues that are top of mind for your constituents. Even if you are not part of the front-line response, you are still providing valuable services to your community and those who are connected to your cause during this time. 

There is a high grassroots response to the current need and based on survey data, we’ve found the more people are concerned about things like COVID-19 the more likely they are to give. Highlighting the individuals and communities that you serve can help your donors connect with your work, see the impact they can have, and dig deeper or engage with your organization in different ways.

3. Diversify Who, What and How You Ask

Diversifying who you ask and what you ask is important during times of crisis--don’t restrict your outreach to only major donors or focus only on institutional funding. Remember, we’re seeing increases across the board at all levels of giving.

In 2017, we found that donors give and get involved with organizations in many ways during GivingTuesday. Of those who donated, 29% talked about the organization on social media while another 29% discussed it with others. These social effects are powerful and can bring in new sources of fundraising.

Supporters want multiple ways to give and this correlates with higher donations. This is especially important when money is tight. If supporters feel they have reduced capacity to give a financial contribution, engaging them in other activities such as virtual volunteering, advocacy efforts, or kindness campaigns, will help strengthen their feeling of connection to your work.

4. Embrace Small Dollar Donors

We’re seeing a surge of activity by donors giving gifts under $250, and evidence from GivingTuesday donors also teaches us that there is tremendous potential for return when engaging small dollar donors. When small dollar donors return, they tend to  give more than their original donation.

Data from past GivingTuesdays shows that recurring donors were more likely to have a lower household income than one-time donors. Recurring donors are ultimately worth over 5 times more than one-time donors over time. Now is the time to engage and foster relationships with small-dollar and new donors, especially if your message highlights how your organization is directly helping mitigate effects of the current crisis or how it impacts your community or cause.

5. Tap Into Community

In a  2019 Horizon Media survey, 52% of people who reported participating in GivingTuesday said they do so because it allows them to be part of a bigger group of people doing good together.

People are thinking about who’s in their community, how they can help them and how they can have agency over difficult circumstances. These are positive indicators of giving and suggest that we are heading into a year-end giving season that still holds a lot of opportunity. To tap into this sentiment, communications should highlight the ways that supporters can be a part of a larger community of givers and underscore the connection between giving and the impact it will have in their community.

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