Advancement Blog

6 lessons learned from Giving Tuesday 2017

by Dena Schwartz

If you glanced at Facebook, Twitter, or even your email yesterday, Giving Tuesday was everywhere. The day that raised $180 million in 2016 is on track to surpass that total in 2017. Yet, more focus each year on this post-Thanksgiving day of giving means more competition for donors' attention and dollars.

To get a firsthand look at successful Giving Tuesday efforts, we interviewed our Advancement Forum colleagues, who donated to a variety of their favorite nonprofit organizations, to see what drives a successful Giving Tuesday campaign. Here are our six top takeaways from the experience.

  • 1. Time your communications to stay top-of-mind for donors

    Donor: James Hurley, Consultant
    Gift Destination: Fulbright Association

    I received an email last Thursday wishing me a happy Thanksgiving from the Fulbright community, sharing pictures of current Fulbright scholars around the world celebrating Thanksgiving, and informing me of Giving Tuesday activities for their capital campaign. They also sent me an email early this morning, so it was at the top of my inbox when I got to work. But I forgot to give. Luckily, they tweeted a reminder later this morning!
  • Fulbright Tweet Giving Tuesday
  • 2. Set goals that resonate with small donors

    Donor: Dena Schwartz, Senior Analyst
    Gift Destination: University of Pennsylvania

    All of the Giving Tuesday outreach I received emphasized Penn’s goal for the day: to bring in 1,500+ alumni donors. By counting overall donors instead of total dollars raised, Penn made it clear that every contribution mattered, regardless of how big or small it was.

    Plus, their goal was small enough that I felt like I had a meaningful impact on reaching it. Since Giving Tuesday’s mission is to encourage giving across the board, this is a great time to show that annual fund donors can make a difference.

  • Gain more dollars and donors with this one change to your campaign

  • 3. Use time-sensitive matching campaigns to make the case for giving—now

    Donor: Liz Rothenberg, Managing Director
    Gift Destination: Heifer International

    I am a new donor to Heifer International (which allows donors to send livestock to communities in need around the world), so I didn’t get advance notice of Giving Tuesday. However, their homepage had a big banner announcing all gifts on Giving Tuesday would be matched. There was also a match countdown clock once you selected an animal to donate.

    Their website allowed me to sort gift options by dollar amount. For under $100, I was shown a range of options, like goats, alpacas, and chicks. Once I decided on a flock of chickens, the site informed me my gift would be matched. Plus, they even accept Bitcoin for donors who don’t want to give via credit card or PayPal.
  • Heifer International Website Banner
  • 4. Show the concrete results of giving

    Donor: Tierney Keller, Analyst
    Gift Destination: The Humane Society

    Although I have two rescue dogs, I had not previously contributed to The Humane Society. What drew me to their cause against all of the other “noise” on Giving Tuesday was how they showed examples of the concrete impact my gift could have.

    On the giving page, the organization provided a running ticker of what gifts of various sizes could support: "$25 provides toys and blankets for an animal," "$100 rescues and animal from a puppy mill or other cruelty situation," and so on. These figures gave me a clear vision of how the Humane Society could use the gift—and it made me want to give even more to support additional priorities.


  • Engage diverse alumni: A toolkit to expand your donor pool

  • 5. Provide "can't miss" incentives

    Donor: Maria Morrison, Analyst
    Gift Destination: Furman University

    This year’s tagline was "Give back to Furman, and Furman will give back to you," which aptly summarized the University's strategy—incentivizing me to donate based on the rewards I could receive. For example, two donors between 9 and 10 a.m. were able to have a cup of coffee delivered to their favorite professor—no other nonprofit would let me do that.

    A list of all of the incentives was publicized before the day began, and donors were only eligible for the incentive if they had given in that hour, ensuring that donors didn’t forget to donate throughout the day.

  • 6. Make sure donors can give from any device

    Donor: Jeff Martin, Senior Consultant
    Gift Destination: Bread for the City

    I've been a supporter of Bread for the City ever since I interviewed them for our 2013 research on Disruptive Innovations in University Fundraising. My Giving Tuesday was a whirlwind, and I didn’t find the time to donate until I was standing in a very long grocery line at the end of the day.

    Luckily, Bread for the City’s online giving page was easy to navigate from my smartphone. The donation amount buttons were big and easily clickable. The form asked for just the most need-to-have information. Its cookie-enabled features meant that I could auto-populate a lot of the fields without, say, pulling out my credit card.

    The one piece of bad news is that donating was so quick that I had to find some other way to occupy my time until I got to the front of the line!

While there may be no slowing of the popularity (and increased competition for donors) of Giving Tuesday, ensuring your campaign incorporates these attention-grabbing strategies can help ensure your cause stays top-of-mind.

Learn more strategies for staying top-of-mind—year round

Explore our infographic to learn how to boost alumni participation rates and win more donors in today's competitive attention economy.

Access the Infographic


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