Bless This Mess: Fixing Giving Tuesday

A view from the inbox of Aimee Woodall: Tuesday, November 27, 2018

8 a.m. 
38 unread emails with the subject line #GivingTuesday, Give This Tuesday, Giving Tuesday is Here or some variation. 

11 a.m. 
82 unread emails with said subject lines. 

By the time you read this sentence
Give or take a billion unread emails with—yes, you guessed it—a Giving Tuesday subject line.

What began as a novel way to remind people that life exists beyond Black Friday and Cyber Monday (both of which are out of hand, too—don’t get me started) has turned into an avalanche of similarly tuned marketing megaphones honking into the void. While there is no denying that Giving Tuesday is doing a whole lot of good, raising a whopping $274 million in 2017 and growing by statistical leaps each year, that doesn’t mean it is not in imminent danger of losing the plot. 

The origin of Giving Tuesday is a powerful story about impact, gratitude and the spirit of the holiday season. What it is starting to look like is Britney Spears before she shaved her head and whacked all those paparazzi with an umbrella: A well-meaning, people-pleasing soul on the brink of breakdown. It is the exact problem illustrated in the Tragedy of the Commons. It started with some appropriately paced, thoughtful donor fishing spread out among a community of causes and has become a free-for-all of bad marketing practices from what seems like everyone, everywhere. While it seems to be working now, it is not a sustainable system. Pretty soon the donor lake is going to be barren, with all the tiny, small, medium and large fish either being caught or heaving themselves onto land to get away from all the hooks. 

So, the two-hundred and seventy-four million dollar question is: How do we fix Giving Tuesday so that it can continue to be relevant, exciting donation dynamite? I have a few ideas for fellow cause marketers looking to cut through the barrage of emails and head straight to the heart of your donors. 

Think Beyond Tuesday

There are a lot of Tuesdays in a year (around 53 total, if anyone is counting) and 365 days that donors can support your cause, but you wouldn’t know that by looking your inbox today. So that’s 364 missed opportunities to inspire people to think about your cause. For all the good Giving Tuesday does in terms of a big push to fill up those coffers before the end of the year, it sure is eroding your brand’s ability to really connect with audiences year-round. We need to train our audiences to think about a cause in the context of their daily life, not just click “donate” because they feel bad about trampling someone at Wal-Mart the week prior. 

This year, the only Giving Tuesday message that I really connected with was from charity: water. Yes, I love their mission and what they do for the world—each of which inspired me to open their email in the first place—but the content of the email blew my socks off. It wasn’t a plea for more money, it was a note of gratitude for supporting the cause this year, a moment of reflection and a showing of collective impact. It was like a little love note in a sea of demands, sirens and car alarms. They did a great job bringing together their mission and a donor’s action, making people feel like part of something great and inspiring them to give even more to keep the good vibes going. 

Get Creative

I run a creative agency, so this is my go-to solution for anything daunting. Yet, creatively solving problems is a lot harder than it looks—like doing one of those flips in figure skating. It should seem effortless to the audience, bringing them surprise and delight, but know it will be a lot of hard work behind the scenes before you get it right. 

I’m telling you this because it is much easier to check off that board member’s demand that you “do something for Giving Tuesday” than it will be to create something lasting and meaningful. How much simpler would it have been for REI to just do a big Black Friday sale as a retail cash grab instead of closing all their stores for a day, paying their employees for the day off and encouraging customers to #OptOutside? I can’t imagine the response to the first pitch for this campaign—”Wait, so you want us to lose money and tell people to go outside? NO WAY.” Whoever greenlit that campaign was a genius and knew the lasting brand power of going against the sea of “SALE!”

Plan Ahead

Think about Giving Tuesday as dessert, not an entree. It should be a day to revel in the spirit of giving, show your donors where their money is going and inspired them to feel good about your cause. Like a good dessert, it’s an opportunity to talk about how delicious the meal was and leave your guests with a little something sweet. 

What message could you be teeing up all year that would be that much sweeter by Giving Tuesday 2019? Set up a story and use Giving Tuesday as the punchline. I can think of a few more metaphors for this, but I’ll stop there. You get it by now. A successful, impactful Giving Tuesday is one that starts nearly a year before. You think charity: water was just like, “Send out an email or whatever”? No! They pumped out their impact story all year long, then sent a little love letter to delight their donors and inspire others to give back, too. Take your creative idea, organize it around some key activities throughout the year and polish it off with a big slice of impact on Giving Tuesday. 

People are hipper to marketing tactics, clever subject lines and plea after plea for attention today. Cause marketing, like marketing in general, is a crowded space with a lot of brands competing for eyeballs and dollar dollar bills, y’all. To break through the noise you don’t go louder, you step out of the fray and find a quiet space to have a conversation. While Giving Tuesday is churning some impressive numbers now, that doesn’t mean your audience isn’t already feeling post-holiday frenzy fatigue. Adjust your sails now and you’ll be well prepared for when the wind changes.

The Black Sheep