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5 Questions for...Henry Timms, Executive Director, 92nd Street Y

June 30, 2015

#GivingTuesday was established in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y in New York City and the United Nations Foundation as a sort of corrective to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, two post-Thanksgiving "holidays" dedicated to spending and consuming. The idea, according to Henry Timms, executive director of the 92nd Street Y, was simple: "We were really just trying to say, look, everyone talks about the holiday season and the giving season, and we think there's space for the philanthropic community to make a statement, amongst all the consuming and buying, that giving is important, too."

PND recently spoke to Timms about a new report that provides an in-depth look at #GivingTuesday fundraising trends since 2012.

Headshot_henry_timms_cropPhilanthropy News Digest: A new analysis by Blackbaud shows double-digit year-over-year growth in #GivingTuesday donations for three years running. Is it your sense that the growth in donations is in addition to the usual giving that happens at the end of the year, or is it coming at the expense of traditional year-end giving?

Henry Timms: We haven't seen evidence of the latter. In fact, the data we have seen has been quite positive with respect to the additive value of #GivingTuesday, both in terms of gift size, which has been meaningful, and also from an overarching perspective. Our own #GivingTuesday campaign has been hugely beneficial in terms of additive donations. It would be naïve to suggest it doesn't happen, occasionally, but the overall trends are very positive. Steve MacLaughlin at Blackbaud has actually been very good on this topic and has written some really interesting pieces on how Americans think about giving, and one thing he talks about is that we do have this kind of default fear of scarcity in the nonprofit sector. It’s a kind of Oliver complex, where we tremble whenever we get up the nerve to ask for more. I wonder how healthy that is, especially this year, when we see first-half fundraising numbers coming in pretty bullish. It seems to me like it’s a good time to be asking for more. I was at an event in Westchester County recently, and someone there said to me, "You know what, I love #GivingTuesday because it gave me the confidence to ask, which is something I never had." Many of us recognize how important that permission is, and I think we need to encourage our colleagues in the field to ask more regularly. Not just on #GivingTuesday, but all year long.

PND: Was there anything in the Blackbaud study that surprised you?

HT: The finding which jumped out at me was mobile. Something like 17 percent of the online donation form views on #GivingTuesday were from mobile phones. But how many nonprofits are ready to accept mobile donations in a meaningful way? It's a wake-up call. If you've spent any time in Silicon Valley, you know that everyone is building for mobile. The same can't be said of the nonprofit sector, so I hope that finding starts to get people really thinking about mobile. I was also pleased to see a lot of smaller organizations report positive #GivingTuesday results, because one of the early criticisms of the campaign was that it would only work for large organizations. Generally speaking, the data in the Blackbaud study is quite interesting, and one of the many good things about #GivingTuesday is that, three years on, we have richer data and a lot more of it.

PND: Does the data show any crossover from the online to the offline in #GivingTuesday campaigns?

HT: One of the great myths of #GivingTuesday is that it is an online event only. I suspect, however, that the majority of money given is actually given offline, and I think the people who crunch the data believe the same thing, too. One of the things your readers should know about #GivingTuesday is that it actually is an excellent time to think about the offline. In fact, some of the campaigns which have been most successful have been offline campaigns. The majority of the money raised by our own campaign here at the Y was raised offline, not online.

PND: #GivingTuesday organizers are getting an early start on this year's event. What can we look forward to?

HT: I think we'll see a lot more locally focused efforts. Lots of towns, cities, and states are coming together to work on joint #GivingTuesday campaigns, which is promising. In addition, more people are thinking about how they can get matching gifts in place for #GivingTuesday, and that's an incred­ibly positive idea. There's just a lot more creativity in general around the movement. You know, we've only been doing this for three years; it's still a young campaign and movement. But it's beginning to mature, and more people are starting to think about #GivingTuesday as part of a broader portfolio of fundraising activities. We've also made some inroads in terms of adding it to the national calendar, and I think another successful event in 2015 will go a long way to establishing #GivingTuesday in the national consciousness. We've been overwhelmed, really, by how much traction the idea has gotten. We've watched as people all over the country – and, increasingly all over the world – have taken the idea and turned it into something more interesting, more impactful, and more creative. And to have come together and delivered that, in a more or less decentralized way, is a big achievement for the sector.

PND: Longer term, how big in dollar or percentage terms do you think #GivingTuesday can be? Can it grab, say, 20 percent of year-end giving? And if it becomes that big, what are the implications for nonprofit organizations?

HT: It's early days. Ask me in another three years. We've made some good progress and there has been a lot of shared learning, which is probably more meaningful longer term than the amount of dollars raised on the day itself. The learning piece is really important. But we've got a long way to go, and I think nobody at #GivingTuesday central is declaring victory.

– Mitch Nauffts

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