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On #GivingTuesday, Focus on Connecting—Not Marketing

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In the barrage of holiday shopping commercials so far, only one has really stuck out to me: Barnes & Noble's new ad shows people reading books (and only one Nook!) all over the place, reminding us of the experience of discovering and gifting one. "A book is a gift like no other... and a gift they'll remember long after the holidays are over," a voice-over tells us.

The ad resonates with me because I'm a huge bibliophile, but what caught my eye is that the commercial wasn't about 40% off, Black Friday, or being the best bookseller. The commercial was about the experience of finding the perfect gift for yourself or a loved one, and the connection it creates, which lasts well past the moment of exchange.

As more brands tweak their marketing to convey experiences, connections, memories, and stories (see Apple, New York Life Insurance, and more), nonprofits have an opportunity to do the same—just in time for their own holiday, the third annual #GivingTuesday, on December 2.

This 24-hour giving challenge, created by the UN Foundation and 92 Street Y, has raised millions of dollars (mostly online) for thousands of nonprofits, and helped to bring focus back to some of the original sentiments of the holiday season: generosity, hope, goodwill, and community.

Organizations can easily fall into the same marketing traps as retailers, relying on banner ads, oddly paired incentives and rewards for donating, and the same tired message asking people to "give this holiday season to make an impact."


Instead, how can nonprofits employ the inherent warm fuzzies that come with doing good and make #GivingTuesday an experience, a moment to be remembered and cherished, just like giving and receiving a book?

Set the Scene

As with many brand products and services, the technical and the logistical can get in the way of what really matters: Why do I need this? How will this change my life?

Good marketing crafts a series of moments that show this without having to get into the nitty-gritty of processes and data. We see a montage of all the things we can do with a new iPad Mini or flash forward to future memories of spending time with our grandchildren because we saved for retirement.

Nonprofits can do this, too: show a child growing up with an adopted shelter dog, or the potential life lists for survivors of cancer. What is the longevity of a gift beyond #GivingTuesday—for the nonprofit and the donor?

Get Emotional

This season isn't a time to shy away from the sentimental and nostalgic. Though everyone else is hawking discounts and clearances, nonprofits should come in with the soft touch.

The last thing people want is another thing being "sold" to them. That doesn't mean that you should only use puppies and babies in your stories and visuals, but do use all five senses, which strongly tie to our emotions.

Can a memory of cooking with grandma be an entry point to get donations for a soup kitchen or food delivery service for seniors? Do images of having s'mores around a campfire and fishing in a stream push adults to give to a youth organization? When #GivingTuesday rolls around, people are already in a giving mood—evoking a specific sense or feeling takes them one step further.

Be Different

Though many people enjoy traditions of giving and receiving the same gift every year, others like to mix it up. The same goes with charity; folks look for new organizations to support as their interests evolve or as they become more educated about philanthropy.

Nonprofits have an opportunity here: How can you provide a unique giving experience? Perhaps you can revisit the method of giving. Are you trying out a new crowdfunding platform? Are you offering something to donors in return that they can't get elsewhere? Just because it's #GivingTuesday doesn't mean that donating is automatic. Have a solid answer to "Why should I give to this nonprofit?"

You're not too late to go back to the basics and focus on connection instead. Isn't that what giving is all about? Check out our #GivingTuesday Campaign Center for more tips.


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Jenna Sauber is a crowdfunding and digital marketing expert at CauseVox, a peer-to-peer fundraising software for nonprofits.

LinkedIn: Jenna Sauber

Twitter: @cajunjen

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