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I like the idea of Giving Tuesday very much – there needs to be a day (actually, more than one) dedicated to giving.

That’s why it frustrates me that we are killing it.

And not killing it in the sense of “doing very well.”* “Killing it” in the sense of making it unable to survive.

I know there’s going to be a report coming out after this that talks about how this was the biggest Giving Tuesday ever and white papers talking about how to prepare for 2017. Heck, I might even write one myself.

That doesn’t mean we aren’t killing it with reflexive, dull appeals.

For fun, I signed up for the email newsletters of the 100 largest charities in the United States. (I have a warped sense of fun.). Here are the subject lines from most of the emails I received on Tuesday:

  • A special Giving Tuesday challenge for you
  • Alert: Triple Match
  • DEADLINE: #GivingTuesday gifts doubled!
  • Don’t miss this, Nick
  • Double your impact for #GivingTuesday
  • ENDS TONIGHT: Now up to $15,000 available!
  • Every donation doubled today!
  • FINAL NOTICE: Match expiring
  • FW: Alert: Triple Match
  • fwd: [until midnight] TRIPLE your impact
  • #GivingTuesday challenge
  • #GivingTuesday is here!
  • #GivingTuesday: Your gift DOUBLES
  • Good news: match EXTENDED
  • Happening now: TRIPLE your impact
  • Hours Left: Help Meet Our #GivingTuesday Match Goal
  • Hurry Nick – triple match!
  • It’s not too late: 2x MATCH
  • Last chance: 3x Match
  • Last chance for Giving Tuesday
  • MATCH: 3x
  • Match! Make Bigger Change This Giving Tuesday
  • Only a few hours left
  • Reminder: Give on #GivingTuesday!
  • There’s still time to help – #GivingTuesday
  • This #GivingTuesday your gift doubles!
  • Triple Match Alert: Time is running out
  • TODAY ONLY: Gifts Doubled!
  • UPDATE: We’re So Close to Our Goal!
  • URGENT response needed: All gifts DOUBLED!
  • Your gift can be matched on #GivingTuesday
  • Your #GivingTuesday gift

Three key things to notice about this list:

1. Almost everyone has a match. In an effort to stand out in a noisy email environment with Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and post-Cyber Monday, we’ve all picked the same tactic.

This leads to what I call the Men’s Wearhouse effect. Whenever you see an ad for that store, you see that you get one, two, or three suits free when you buy one. Why would you ever buy something regular price there without a free suit?

Same thing here. If the best idea that all of us have simultaneously is to have a match, you are going to train your donors to respond only to matches. In fact, there’s some evidence here that talking about a lead gift works better than a match (because some people count the match as part of their gift and give lower average gifts). And triple matches don’t work better than 100% matches (which may not work better than 50% matches). Also, they tend to work only for active donors – lapsed donors and non-donors respond better to pitches as to why to give. And that brings me to my second point:

2. These subject lines talk about when to give, not why. And when you do that, you don’t raise new money – you cannibalize revenue from other communications you would have received. We already know that 63% of revenues from an additional communication aren’t new revenues. Why contribute to it by making your primary pitch the time of year, rather than the good your gift can do?

Here is the opening of one of the Giving Tuesday emails – I’ve changed it only to anonymize who sent it (because it is a great organization):

As I’m sure you know, today is #GivingTuesday. But it’s also the end of November, and digital revenue for XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX is behind $XXXXXXXX, Nick. Luckily, every donation today will be TRIPLED. Will you step up?

I’ve run digital campaigns before for nonprofits. I couldn’t get the person two desks down from me to care where digital revenue was for the month of November (just like I didn’t care about their work on the letterhead procurement process). Why would I ever think that would be compelling to a donor?

With my donation, I don’t want to fill a bucket. I want to light a fire.

I want either to save a life or change a life. I do not want to be .037% of whether Kris makes his/her November revenue goal.

At DonorVoice, we would advocate that you first learn what a donor cares about and ask specifically about that through our commitment studies. But at the very least, make a pitch that someone cares about.

To give credit where due, here were a few of the subject lines that actually did this:

  • Help Jewish kids like me this Giving Tuesday
  • Raise your voice for kidney patients
  • Thank a Professor, Save a Scholar
  • This Giving Tuesday, give clean water

These were emails written by someone with an actual ask for a differentiated reason. Which leads to my third point:

3. Most of these emails are snoringly generic. Take a look back at the original list of subject lines. I will bet the entire contents of my wallet ($4, a library card, and a metro card from a city I don’t live in anymore) that you can’t guess which organizations sent any of those emails.

I’ll go one step further – I bet some of the people who wrote those subject lines don’t remember which is which. They are looking at the list saying “did we use ‘#GivingTuesday challenge’ or ‘#GivingTuesday is here!’?”

I’ll talk a little next week about taking the generic out of your nonprofit (sign up below to receive our monthly newsletter so you’ll be alerted when it and other good stuff comes out). But suffice it to say that it isn’t a good thing when you can’t tell what organization sent something from the copy. Here’s one Giving Tuesday email anonymized that fails this test throughout the email:

It’s #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving that brings people together around the values of service and giving back to others.

Will you look into your heart and help a family that’s struggling right here in America? Join your neighbors today and become part of a growing tradition of helping and giving.

Your special gift today will send help to those who need it most — a hungry senior, a homeless family, a veteran struggling to make ends meet after a job loss and so many more.

Make a miracle happen this #GivingTuesday by making your gift today.

Maybe it’s a food bank? Homeless advocates? Umbrella organization for a number of programs like a United Way?  I honestly cannot tell.

Someone who reads this gets a general idea that their gift might do something good. But it’s not something they can picture. And it’s not something specific to them.

So, as we get into end-of-year fundraising, let’s take a step back. Does it hurt to remind people that it’s a season of giving? Absolutely not. But that can’t be your primary message. Otherwise, your donors will complete the sentence “It’s time to give” with “to someone else.”

PS. As I write this, the DMA Nonprofit Federation released its top 10 tips for donors for Giving Tuesday. What’s #1? Don’t be afraid to ask “How will my donation be used?”

PPS. Here’s that place to sign up for the newsletter that I mentioned earlier:

Sign up for tips today!
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* I don’t know if young people still say this, because I’m not one, but just in case.

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