Giving Tuesday: The Catch-22 of Philanthropy

Every year I dread the Tuesday after Thanksgiving – the day now known as Giving Tuesday.

It’s not that I don’t want to support deserving organizations. Rather, it’s that my inbox and social media feeds are inundated with pleas for assistance. Family, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances apply pressure. I’m overwhelmed by the deluge of requests and, more often than not, I find myself paralyzed.

It winds up working this way: I question whether I’m a bad person because I don’t want to support a particular charity – like the ASPCA (I’m not, but…) Then I ask aloud if it fits into my philanthropic strategy (it doesn’t). (Though I know I’m not alone). Somehow I wind up clicking that donate button anyway, and you know what? That feeling of guilt melts right away.

The Impact of Giving Tuesday

For the uninitiated, Giving Tuesday started in 2012 as a way to encourage individuals to do good. Though it’s now viewed as a day to donate financially to causes you love, it was first envisioned as a more encompassing idea. It ranged from volunteering to helping out a neighbor, or even a stranger.

Those aspects of Giving Tuesday didn’t take off, but the financial giving part sure did. Let’s look at a few statistics:

  • Over 3.6 million donations were made on Giving Tuesday.
  • In 2018, $280 million gifts were raised online. This year, they predict that number will climb past $500 million.
  • The average gift was $105 dollars.

All great numbers. By almost any measure, Giving Tuesday continues to be a success.

Facebook is by far the biggest platform for donations on Giving Tuesday. People see their “friends” posting about the organizations they just gave to and all the good that donation will do. That leads people like you and me to feel pressure to participate.

In fact, last year, Facebook leveraged that and upped the ante. My social media feeds and email were overrun with posts and emails about Facebook and PayPal offering to match gifts up to $7 million. I saw this throughout the day offered as reason to give now. However, as I read message after message, I couldn’t help but wonder how people didn’t realize this match was already gone. In fact, that match had been exhausted before most people rolled out of bed.

Toward More Strategic Giving

The main reason I don’t like Giving Tuesday is that I don’t care for spot giving. Spot giving is any fundraising tactic that is tied to an external event and takes donors out of their normal giving pattern. Giving Tuesday falls squarely in this category.

It’s not that all spot giving is bad, but true philanthropy needs to be well thought out.

It took me several years to get to the point where I felt I had clarity and could focus my philanthropic ambitions. Once that happened, I found that I’m less willing to deviate from the things that are important to me.

I have no doubt that on Giving Tuesday you will see nonprofits that you have never been exposed to in the past. You will read emotional pleas for funding and see videos that bring tears to your eyes. When this happens, instead of clicking that “Donate” button, stop and ask yourself:

  • What is motivating this gift?
  • Does it fit into my larger philanthropic goals?

These questions are particularly important for younger philanthropists who are still finding their way. The impact of your giving goes up when you have a focus or a goal for your philanthropy. It may not be fully formed, but as you look at giving options on Giving Tuesday – or any day for that matter – ask yourself how the gift fits into what you really care about.

Giving Giving Focus

One of the most effective tools for focusing one’s philanthropy is a donor-advised fund. DAFs offer simplicity in the grant making process, if just from the mere fact that all your charitable records are in one place. A well-chosen DAF can also offer helpful philanthropic expertise at your disposal.

For example, at DonorsTrust, we can do the vetting of potential grantees and, if you realize that one doesn’t fit your giving priorities, we can suggest others for you to consider. We can even help you get to the point where your philanthropic goals are more clearly defined.

For one-off, guilt-assuaging gifts, Giving Tuesday has a valuable role. If you’re ready to increase your impact, however, use this Giving Tuesday to say “no” to impulse and say “yes” to a more strategic approach to charitable giving by exploring a donor-advised fund.


  • Gordon Cummings

    Gordon Cummings joined DonorsTrust in January 2018. His focus at DonorsTrust is to help increase our impact by helping develop and implement new ways to engage with both our clients and grantees. Prior to joining DonorsTrust Gordon spent 19 years in various fundraising positions throughout the liberty movement. He was the Director of External Affairs at National Taxpayers Union and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Director of Development at Capital Research Center and held various development positions at the Cato Institute. He also served on the Europe/Eurasia Advanced Area Studies team at the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute. In addition Gordon ran a successful fundraising consultancy for several years. Cummings received a Bachelor’s of Arts in English from the University of Virginia. Gordon lives in the DC area and is an avid Caps fan.

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