Jonathan Sills, VP Digital & New Media Strategy  ●  12/9/2021

When Down Means Up: Giving Tuesday 2021

Heroic Fundraising Featured Image Giving Tuesday 2021

A decade into the Giving Tuesday phenomenon, digital fundraisers worried about what 2021’s global day of giving back would produce: Giving Tuesday 2020 was so extraordinary, could we even get close to it in 2021?


Naturally, we didn’t spend 2021 just waiting to find out how prevailing market conditions would influence fundraising revenues on November 30. Early on, TrueSense put two specific strategies in place to prepare our clients to help ensure that Giving Tuesday 2021 was as successful as possible.

  1. Because so few organizations had paid to acquire their large cohorts of new COVID-19 motivated donors, we encouraged our clients to invest in strategies to welcome and retain them.
  2. We also emphasized the importance of maintaining high brand and mission-focused awareness to continue acquiring new online donors by increasing their investment in digital advertising.


So, how did these strategies perform?


First, as we predicted, 2020 was a tough act to follow – digital revenues for Giving Tuesday 2021 were down roughly 30% vs. 2020.


While this may feel deflating after the blockbuster performance of last December, let’s remember a couple of things for context:


  1. Giving Tuesday 2019 was up 25% over 2018 across all nonprofit sectors
  2. But 2020 was off the charts


Meaning, 2019 by itself was an incredible success, but it just happened to be followed by a global pandemic that elicited online charitable giving as we have never seen. Allowing for the anomaly of 2020, then, the truer measure of growth is 2019 vs 2021.


For TrueSense clients, Giving Tuesday 2021 was up 138% over 2019! That kind of two-year leap shows phenomenal and sustained growth and cannot be underestimated.



Second, although retention data remains incomplete, early indications suggest that online COVID-19 donors have retained up to 50% better than their pre-pandemic online counterparts.


What does all this mean for year-end giving in 2021?


With the current volatility, it’s hard to predict the future even only a few weeks ahead. However, combined with a softer Giving Tuesday, recent weakness in the stock market might also suggest an underwhelming end to the giving season.


Giving Tuesday Trends Graph


While the Dow is still close to record highs, it has been on a downward trend since early November. The last time a major market downturn coincided with year-end giving was 2018 when annual nonprofit online revenue grew only 1% YOY. That this happened after a record-breaking 2017… you can see where I’m going.


Still, if your focus has been on retaining your new COVID donors, and fortifying your investment in digital advertising, there’s reason to expect your year-end 2021 revenue numbers should exceed year-end 2019 by a significant margin.


So, focus on welcoming and holding onto your new donors, and maintain (or increase!) your year-end digital advertising budgets, even as you expect a lower return on your ad spend (ROAS) than you saw in 2020.


BONUS TIP: Refocus your digital acquisition and retention strategies towards sustainers in January 2022. The more revenue you can bring in before Giving Tuesday next year, the better.      



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