Giving Tuesday serves as stepping stone to long-term philanthropy

Band students jam at Settlement Music School's Germantown branch. In four years

Band students jam at Settlement Music School's Germantown branch. In four years

Have you checked your email yet?

You might notice your inbox is filling up with requests for donations.

This is “Giving Tuesday,” an online movement started five years ago to encourage philanthropy on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Almost everybody does it because it’s so easy: Just send out a mass email and watch the donations roll in.

It can be done well, or not so well.

“I think a lot of organizations could stand to learn from those who have done well,” said Neville Vakharia, an assistant professor in arts administration at Drexel University who tracks nonprofit fundraising. “Just saying it’s ‘Giving Tuesday’ and putting a badge on your website and sending an email isn’t enough. This is part of a longer strategy an organization needs to have.”

Ultimately, Giving Tuesday is a small piece of the overall fundraising pie. Last year it generated about $100 million in donations — which is significant, but compare that with the $240 billion individuals gave over the course of the entire year.

Most donations in the nonprofit world come from individuals, by far. According to Giving USA, in 2015 individuals gave almost three times more money than foundations and corporations, combined.

Giving Tuesday is often the starting point. And Vakharia said the trick is to engage the individual into the mission of the organization, then leverage a Giving Tuesday donation into a long-term patronage relationship.

It’s not always about making money. At the Philadelphia Museum of Art, it’s about getting the word out. Giving Tuesday is, essentially, a social media phenomenon, which the Art Museum uses to push its educational mission.

“The messaging is the same we use throughout the year,” said Jonathan Peterson, the museum’s director of development. “But since Giving Tuesday has developed this critical mass of the public tuned into what nonprofits from all sectors are doing, it’s an opportunity to speak with a very focused message to a somewhat focused audience.”

On Giving Tuesday the art museum will broadcast a message of “What Can $5 Do?” Basically, it can give a day at the museum to a one schoolchild.

The Arden Theatre in Philadelphia’s Old City is also pushing its educational mission. It will be spending the day on social media pointing people toward its classes for children, Arden For All, and inviting people to browse a prepared wish list on Amazon of class supplies: stage makeup, set materials, etc.

“It gives us a license to experiment,” said the Arden’s director of development, Lauren Hughes. “People are much more accepting and open to seeing really fun things on Giving Tuesday, because it is a social campaign.”

The Arden has prepared for the end of the tax year with matching donation, in which a board member will match all gifts up to $50,000 for the next five weeks. The end-of-year giving season will launch with Giving Tuesday.

“Eyes are on charitable organizations on this day,” said Hughes. “We look at it as a day where we can share information about our programs and it will get seen more broadly than it might on a normal day.”

Settlement Music School, headquartered in South Philadelphia, has been around for 108 years. Some of its older patrons have been donating since the Swing Era. Giving Tuesday is a chance to use social media to identify newer, younger patrons who may not have given before.

“It’s about growing the donor base, and people understanding the importance of philanthropy of all size gifts — from the smallest gift to the largest gift,” said CEO Helen Eaton. “This is a day to think about philanthropy.”

The number of gifts on Giving Tuesday has doubled every year since she started four years ago, Eaton said. While that amounts to about 4 percent of Settlement’s overall contributed income, it represents the most donations received on a single day.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.