Opinion
November 03, 2015

For Giving Tuesday Success, Emulate Black Friday

Stan Honda, AFP, Getty Images

As nonprofits gear up to promote Giving Tuesday — the post-Thanksgiving fundraising day — they usually highlight it as a counterpoint to the consumerism of the Black Friday shopping extravaganza. But that doesn’t mean it’s smart to ignore all the lessons that successful retailers have learned after years of promoting holiday sales.

Among them:

A sense of urgency is a powerful trigger. Urgency is the essential idea behind Black Friday. Dating back to the 19th century, stores originally refrained from holiday advertising and sales until after Thanksgiving. So that late-November Friday became a huge deal for retailers.

In the past decade or so, Black Friday has vied for the busiest shopping day of the year, with some stores opening as early as 5 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. Stores create urgency by advertising one-day-only, rock-bottom prices on certain items; offering special sales for limited hours; and even pricing some merchandise lower than its actual cost.

Research supports Black Friday’s basic premise: that a set time limit indeed can drive sales. For example, one study shows that displaying a timer countdown on a consumer website can boost sales 9 percent, according to WhichTestWon. Think Amazon.com’s prompt: "Order in the next X hours and Y minutes for delivery tomorrow." In fact, compared to "offer ends soon," a specific time can triple sales amounts, WhichTestWon found.

Translation for nonprofits: A 24-hour window can nudge your well-intentioned but procrastinating supporters to make a contribution.

Before Giving Tuesday started in 2012, the fundraising ticker was set for New Year’s Eve for donors seeking to lower their taxes for a given calendar year. Donors who missed the deadline may have felt remorse on April 15.

Now Giving Tuesday serves as a sort of pre-deadline, before donors get swept up in holiday parties and travel. It offers the "Jack Bauer" model of philanthropy.

Scarcity drives action. While scarcity may be more tangible if Walmart has only a limited supply of flat-screen TVs on sale, it can apply to philanthropy when, for example, a major donor or corporation offers to match donations up to a certain dollar amount by a set deadline. This extra leverage helps to amp up Giving Tuesday results.

Social norms hold powerful influence. "Social proof" is the powerful idea that if we think everyone else is acting in a certain way, we’re likely to act that way, too. People are conformists by nature, and we take cues about how to think and what to do from those around us — especially those with whom we would like to identify. Social norms fuel entire industries. Would the fashion world be able to motivate us to buy a narrower tie or a longer skirt this year if we didn’t care what people thought?

On Black Friday, you can see social proof in action as crowds of people camped out in front of discount retailers and electronics stores. On Giving Tuesday, a nonprofit may generate social proof by displaying the number of donors or even a list of names of donors throughout the day, tweeting and posting on Facebook, perhaps thanking or recognizing specific donors as contributions pour in.

Always spin such statistics in your favor so that giving sounds like "the thing to do."

Consider the study by Robert Cialdini, an Arizona State University marketing professor and author of Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion, on what motivates hotel guests to reuse towels rather than toss them on the floor for daily laundering. Compared with a general message about protecting the environment, guests were 26 percent more likely to reuse their towels if told that other guests were doing so. That’s social proof.

Mobile friendly is no longer optional. Mobile shopping accounted for nearly a third of online sales on the day after Thanksgiving last year. And email marketing drove most online sales that day — roughly 27.3 percent, according to a report by Custora E-Commerce Pulse, quoted in Forbes.

For the 2014 holiday shopping season over all, mobile sales grew 27.2 percent from the year before, according to the IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark. About 25 million more consumers shopped with smartphones than during the 2013 holiday shopping season, according to the research firm eMarketer. And 20.6 million more smartphone shoppers are expected to join their ranks this holiday season.

The takeaway for nonprofits? Failure to optimize a website and donation page for mobile technology may mean passing up possible donations.

No matter how carefully crafted and compelling a nonprofit’s email appeal may be, if the embedded hyperlink takes a smartphone user to a website that’s not legible on a phone, it’s a missed opportunity. A patient and organized donor might file the email in a folder and get back to it later on a tablet or PC. But more likely, she’ll forget about her good intentions.

If that email is mobile optimized, however, and the embedded link goes to a mobile-optimized donations page with options like "donate" or "pledge," that person now can act immediately — make a donation and feel good about participating. Then you’ve won.

On Giving Tuesday, with the clock ticking toward midnight, that ability to donate swiftly and easily from a mobile phone may make a huge difference for a nonprofit’s success.

Like Black Friday shoppers, would-be donors increasingly browse on smartphones as well. At Network for Good, the organization Mr. Strathmann leads to help charities of all kinds collect donations, that is crystal clear The number of people who sought to visit our site’s donation page using a mobile phone — not a tablet or a desktop computer — is nine times higher so far this year than at the same time a year ago.

And while shoppers and donors alike still tend to buy and give on computers or tablets more than on smartphones, all signs point toward an increase in mobile transactions of both types.

Need more convincing? Since last spring, Google now ranks mobile-optimized sites higher in smartphone search results. Its new search-optimization algorithm gives priority to websites that are formatted for mobile phones and puts them at the top of search results — responding to trends showing that people tend to be online more often using smartphones than computers.

How can nonprofits apply these lessons for a Giving Tuesday campaign that gets donors to act in the moment? Here are some ideas:

Think ahead. A carefully planned Giving Tuesday campaign is worth the effort.

Consider whether your giving page needs a facelift. Every nonprofit’s donation page be mobile optimized; consider customizing it to match your brand. At Network for Good, we found that charities that promote their brand well on their giving pages raised an average of 138 percent more on Giving Tuesday than those using generic giving pages.

Count down to midnight. On social media and your website, maintain a constant stream of communications with specific deadlines and "hours left" messaging.

Use fundraising tickers. Show in real time how many people are giving, dollars donated, or thermometer-style progress toward a goal.

Create social proof via social media. Tweet and update your followers about how much interest your campaign is getting, and list or recognize specific donors.

By incorporating the essential ideas behind tried-and-true Black Friday marketing strategies, nonprofits can expect to enjoy their most successful Giving Tuesday yet.

Bill Strathmann is chief executive of Network for Good, a site that helps charities raise money online, and Roger Dooley, is author of "Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers With Neuromarketing,"