Hi, I’m Eden Stiffman, senior editor at the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

This week, we take a look at nonprofits’ plans for GivingTuesday. Plus, new data shows how foundations are easing grant restrictions and the challenging fundraising landscape for arts groups.

Thanks to sponsor iDonate for supporting Fundraising Update.

Same Strategy, Different Messages

For many people, Thanksgiving will look quite different this year as coronavirus cases surge and some families opt to keep their distance. Maybe, like me, you’ll be visiting with most of your family on Zoom and figuring out what to do with a whole pie.

But if there’s one thing we can count on, it’s that GivingTuesday will go on as planned. Donors can expect the usual barrage of inspiring stories and appeals for support to flood their inboxes and social-media feeds. Although in-person activities were a feature of some campaigns in the past, the giving day, now in its ninth year, was made for this digital-heavy moment.

This year’s celebration of generosity lands on December 1. While some groups are focused on raising emergency support, nonprofits that aren’t on the front lines of the crisis are tailoring their messages to connect with the Covid-19 pandemic or leaning into the heightened relevancy of their causes. Many fundraisers say their strategy for cutting through the noise will follow what’s worked well in the past.

Take the Community College of Vermont, for example. It is participating in the giving day for the first time and focusing its campaign on emergency funding to its Life Gap program to pay for urgent student needs, such as child care or car repairs. The long-standing grant program supplements financial aid and helps ease expenses that might otherwise cause students to drop out.

The college’s GivingTuesday campaign includes a $10,000 matching grant, thanks to one couple’s gift.

On November 13, the college emailed a video appeal to 7,000 alumni that shared the story of Laura Dailey, a grant recipient, and asked alumni to donate to the program and unlock the matching gift. A separate email from Dailey went to roughly 800 past recipients asking them to share their experience as a Life Gap grantee and promote the fundraising campaign on social media. It did not, however, ask them to donate to the campaign.

The goal for the Community College of Vermont’s first foray into giving days was to raise $10,000 above and beyond the promised matching gift, according to Aimee Stephenson, director of resource development. Stephenson says she isn’t sure what to expect, but she thinks the match will inspire people to give.

“If we don’t reach our goal, then I will relaunch the campaign probably the following week and push it through to December 31,” Stephenson says. As it does each year, the college will also send a December direct-mail appeal for additional year-end gifts.

Other fundraisers say the pandemic has brought a new sense of relevancy to their causes. Organizations are tweaking their messages but not their strategy for GivingTuesday and year-end appeals.

Erika Hultquist, caregiver staff at Farm Santuary, with goats.
Erika Hultquist, caregiver staff at Farm Sanctuary.

That’s the case at Farm Sanctuary, says Lisa Fielding, chief development officer.

“We’re not rethinking it too much because everything’s on track. Our donors are still giving with the same kind of pattern they have in past years,” she says. Farm Sanctuary, an animal-protection charity that advocates for farm animals, will offer to match GivingTuesday donations. But the appeal is very of-the-moment. “We are definitely incorporating the Covid messaging into everything we do,” she says.

Contributions from both new and loyal donors are up this year, she says.

“A lot of the issues that Farm Sanctuary talks about have really come to the forefront of people’s consciousness during the pandemic. Our broken food system, factory farming, the potential for zoonotic diseases like Covid, but also issues of farmworker health are really relevant right now,” Fielding says. “The dangers and the inhumanity in our food system have really come to light.”

Even in a year when donors have made record contributions to many of the causes they care about, fundraisers shouldn’t worry that people who gave earlier in the pandemic won’t support them again, says Woodrow Rosenbaum, chief data officer at GivingTuesday.

“Organizations would be making a big mistake going into their end of year thinking that people are tapped out or are less likely to give because they already gave,” he says. “People who give to disaster-relief efforts are more likely to give again, not less likely.” (Make sure to also read Rosenbaum’s article on why fundraisers need to drop the “myth of donor fatigue.” It’s good advice for GivingTuesday and beyond.)

Whether you ask supporters to give on December 1 or to connect with your causes in other ways, I hope the day offers a bright spot for all.

Rosenbaum, for one, is optimistic. “People are looking to generosity as the antidote to their fear and their isolation and injustice and division,” he says. “That’s how they’re responding.”

Read the rest of the story from Emily Haynes and me. Plus, see our collection of tools, articles, and other resources to help you prepare for the giving day.

Hear From You

Year end is always a high-stakes time of year for nonprofits, but 2020 has brought a whole new set of stressors. How are you and your fundraising colleagues holding up right now? Are you concerned about burnout? How are you keeping morale up on your team? Drop me a line and tell me how it’s going.

Need to Know

66 percent

— Share of foundations that have eased restrictions on existing grants since the pandemic started

Covid-19 is forcing foundations to change the way they work, with many increasing their payout, embracing looser grant restrictions, and reducing “what is asked of grantees,” according to a new report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy.

Reporter Michael Theis examines the responses from 236 foundations. Sixty-four percent were reducing what they asked of grantees, 57 percent were making new grants as unrestricted as possible, and 52 percent had contributed to an emergency fund.

The report also asked if, and by how much, foundations were increasing their grant-making budgets. Among groups that had reached a decision in this area, 72 percent said they “had or will increase grant making in 2020 beyond what was previously budgeted for the year.”


  • A new study of 70 arts organizations shows that support in the first nine months of 2020 declined by 14 percent compared with the same time last year. Michael covered the study from consulting companies Purple Seven and TRG Arts. It found that while the dollar amount contributed fell, the number of donations increased — at least until the third quarter of the year. The number of gifts of $1 million or more declined from 17 to seven for the 70 groups in the study.
  • Columnist Joan Garry shares her five-step recipe for major-gift fundraising success in challenging times. The big take away? No matter what the present looks like and however you’re connecting with supporters, “remember that people need to believe that the future holds promise.”

Helping Black-Led Nonprofits ‘Get Some Shine’

During big giving days like GivingTuesday, the largest charities — the Red Crosses and the St. Judes of the world — tend to get the most attention, says nonprofit leader Ebonie Johnson Cooper.

Ebonie Johnson Cooper, founder of the Young Black and Giving Back Institute. (A. Anaiz Photography)
Ebonie Johnson Cooper, founder of the Young, Black and Giving Back Institute.

“Race aside, smaller organizations get kind of swept under the rug,” says Johnson Cooper, founder of the Young, Black and Giving Back Institute. “The energy and the light is on these big organizations, and they’re raising millions and millions of dollars.”

She has consulted with nonprofits on their work with donors and board members of color and started the institute to empower young Black people to change their communities through philanthropy. The nonprofit has evolved from offering educational programs to launching a giving day to spotlight Black-led and Black-serving organizations.

It’s important to highlight the work being done by those charities to “help our organizations to get some shine.” The giving day, now called Give 8/28, raised more than $254,000 for 474 nonprofits this year. To participate in the August giving day, at least 50 percent of an organization’s board members and 50 percent of its staff must be Black.

Read more about Johnson Cooper and her work to bolster Black philanthropists and Black-led nonprofits.

In Case You Missed It

Tips & Tools

What We’re Reading & Listening To

  • “They thought I was kidding.” Transgressive filmmaker John Waters’s bequest of 372 works of art to the Baltimore Museum of Art includes a signature tongue-in-cheek move. A rotunda will be named after Waters, in classic donor-rewarding style, complete with a plaque, but so will two bathrooms. (New York Times)
  • In her Tiny Spark podcast, reporter Amy Costello examines the personal and professional costs to frontline fundraisers who have experienced sexual harassment from donors. The podcast draws on the Chronicle’s own research on the widespread problem fundraisers face.