It’s time for my annual Giving Tuesday nonprofit email review! (Part two part three and part four are also online for you to read.)

I analyzed 462 emails from 68 nonprofits that arrived in my inbox from November 2 until December 3. As I do each year, over the next few posts I’ll be sharing with you the good and the bad to help you learn and improve your email fundraising and marketing efforts.

I make no secret of the fact that I dislike Giving Tuesday (GT). But I’m not here to crap all over it. I want to show you how nonprofits (small, midsize and large) view GT, how they market it to their audience and what you can learn from that.

Let’s get started!

Midwest Food Bank offers multiple ways to give on Giving Tuesday

A “Celebration Of Giving”

“GivingTuesday was created in 2012 as a simple idea: a day that encourages people to do good.” – Giving Tuesday website

You’ll be shocked to know that apparently the only way to do good is… donate money! Only ONE nonprofit mentioned other ways to give: Midwest Food Bank mentioned donate, pray for the families they serve and share their emails with friends (so more people pray and donate).

Basically, GT is a cash grab. And it’s one of the major reasons why I’m not a fan.

Here’s how some nonprofits describe the day in their emails:

Trust for Public Land: “It’s only the single biggest global giving day for causes near and dear to our hearts!”

World Wildlife Fund: “Around the world, Giving Tuesday brings out the best in generous people like you- donating what they can and making a huge difference.”

Ocean Conservancy: “Giving Tuesday is a special day in November where people around the world come together to support their favorite causes.”

Make-A-Wish: “Giving Tuesday is one of the most important fundraising days of the year- and it fuels our work to grant as many wishes as we can.”

GT has gone from a “day that encourages people to do good” to “the biggest global giving day.”

The message to the public? The only way to do good is give money.

What a rotten message.

No One Cares

Here’s a fundraising tip: No one cares about your internal fundraising goal.

Whether that goal was pre-determined when the budget was approved last December or 2 weeks before GT some higher up/Board member picked a number out of a hat and told you to raise that amount, your supporters really don’t care.

They care about impact, solving a problem and making their community a better place.

Therefore, don’t lead with your internal goal with language like “help us reach our $518,000 GT goal.” That’s a YOU problem, not a problem your supporter has to solve.

Here’s the opening paragraph in an email I got from Friends of the Earth: “This could be a DISASTER, Friend. We were counting on hitting our goal by yesterday’s deadline, but we fell seriously short. Now we urgently need your help to close the gap before it’s too late.” (Bold and red from original)

It’s like they’re blaming their subscribers and supporters for not hitting their goal!

Or this opening from Action Against Hunger: “The bad news is that last night, we fell just $19,439 short of our Giving Tuesday goal.” (BTW- one of their GT subject lines was “24 hours to hit our goal” 🙄)

Or this ending, also from Action Against Hunger: “If we fall short of this goal, we won’t have the resources that we need to help families facing hunger in the new year.” It’s all about the organization’s goals, nothing about supporters.

And then there was this whopper of an opening from Earthjustice: “Friend, if we hit our $375,000 Giving Tuesday fundraising goal, it would be nothing short of a miracle.”

69% of the nonprofits who emailed me stated their internal fundraising goal in their emails. Amounts ranged from $6,000 to $4,000,000. Some had a goal of number of gifts/donors and Make-A-Wish had a goal of raising enough for 100 wishes.

Did they explain the impact of their ultimate goal? Some yes, some no.

And that’s your takeaway: It’s ok to mention your overall dollar goal. But lead with the impact, lead with who will benefit and how donations will be used.

Leading with dollars makes people feel like cash cows. That damages your retention and relationship building.

Matching Campaigns Work

We know that matching gifts work to help raise more money from more donors.

This year I found more matching campaigns in my inbox than last year.

73% of nonprofits mentioned a matching campaign in their emails. The most common was a dollar-for-dollar match. The highest? Americares with an 8x match and Make-A-Wish with a 10x.

I know that nonprofits use matching gifts during fundraising campaigns. Many used them on GT and I anticipate many will also offer them in December during year-end giving.

Because they work.

Giving The Duracell Rabbit A Run For Its Money

Giving Tuesday is no longer a day. It goes on for much longer than that.

“Kudos” to Americares who emailed me about GT on…. checks notes… November 2, TWENTY SIX days before GT. The following day I got an email from The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. And we were off and running.

GT trended on Twitter… a week early, as every nonprofit reminded people to get ready for the global day of giving. (Grrrr)

The final appeal from USA for UNFPA arrived in my inbox on December 3, five days AFTER GT.

You may be asking: Why was I receiving GT emails after GT was over?

This goes back a couple of sections to fundraising goals: A bunch of organizations emailed that they didn’t hit their GT goal and they’re extending their campaign beyond GT.

In total, 46% of the organizations that emailed me added an extra day or days to their GT campaign.

On the one hand, I don’t think there’s a problem extending the campaign and giving people an extra day to give. On the other hand, I wonder about GT fatigue. People were besieged with emails, ads and social media posts from any and every nonprofit out there.

From a messaging perspective: If you send emails on GT with “only X hours left today” and “campaign closes at midnight tonight” and then you send an email the next day “we’ve extended the campaign another day!” some people might wonder why. When they open your email and see that it’s because you didn’t hit your internal fundraising goal…

Members of the Second Helpings team making phone calls to donors

The team at Second Helpings making calls to donors

The Good: Part One

I want to highlight Second Helpings in Indianapolis. Each year they do “Gratitude Tuesday” and spend the day calling their donors to thank them. No ask.

It’s an idea I love!!!

Fundraising expert Adam Clevenger is the Vice Chair at Second Helpings and he gladly gave me an update of their 2023 call-a-thon:

  • They called 2,591 donors
  • 30 volunteers and staff made the calls. This includes Board members.

Phone calls work. They boost retention and increase gift sizes.

What could be better than that?!

Second Helpings is a wonderful organization. Over the last 25 years they have delivered millions of meals across Central Indiana through over 100 partner agencies. They have also graduated over 1,000 culinary job trainees. Thanks to their donors, volunteers and staff, the thousands of people who rely on Second Helpings for their daily meals know where their next meal is coming from.

I love when wonderful nonprofits do fundraising right!

The Good: Part Two

Shoutout to my enewsletter subscribers who know about my yearly GT research and send me examples to look at.

Thank you to subscriber Martha Schumacher who sent me a wonderful example of GT corporate responsibility. The Washington Post emailed its readers and suggested giving on GT to three organizations. I love this!

The Washington Post emails subscribers to donate to their partners on Giving Tuesday

The Bad: Part One

Make-A-Wish emailed me on November 25 (three days prior to GT) and started their email with the following paragraph:

“We’ll start with the bad news: We just checked and we are falling short of our $150,000 Pre-Giving Tuesday goal. But the good news is you still have a chance to have your gift DOUBLED for wish kids! Mt. Olive is generously matching all gifts before Giving Tuesday to help us make more wishes come true.”

They lead with their internal fundraising goal. That’s bad news for the organization but it’s not something that concerns donors! Sigh.

This was part of their PRE Giving Tuesday GT campaign. (I’ll discuss it in one of the upcoming GT posts.)

The Bad: Part Two

Friends of the Earth composes really, really long subject lines.

For example: “Final chance: manatees are choking and dying. Can their ocean habitats and planet count on you this Giving Tuesday?”

Or: “[2X MATCH ACTIVE] Vulnerable wolf pups can’t fight for themselves. Will you step up for wildlife and the planet?”

Long subject lines get cut off on mobile and desktop. You’ll only see the full thing if you open the email.

The problem is that 35% of subscribers decide whether to open an email based on subject line alone. If they can’t read the whole (or most) of the subject line so they know what it’s about, they won’t open the email! Fewer opens leads to fewer conversions.

Be very aware of your subject lines being cut off depending on the device. If your subject line is long, make sure to front load it with the most important information so people get what you’re talking about and can decide whether to open.

But sending lengthy subject lines? I’d stay away from that.

And Finally…

This caught my attention.

the image used in Giving TUesday emails by Feed the Children

Besides staff members at Feed the Children, I am probably the only person who remembers that they used the exact same picture in last year’s GT emails!

It’s a GREAT image. I was just surprised a little that they would use it again. But as Avigayil Steiglitz pointed out to me: If it works one year, why not use it again the next? No one will remember.

And she’s right.

I constantly talk about repurposing content for email, blog, social media etc. But I had never really thought about repurposing images/pictures.

The lesson is: If it works, don’t fix it!

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