The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
November 28, 2017

What Twitter data reveal about the most successful regional giving days

November 28, 2017

Giving days like Giving Tuesday, which kicked off today, have seen tremendous growth in recent years. In 2016, Giving Tuesday raised more than $168 million for philanthropic causes, compared with $10 million in 2012.

A (surely inexhaustive) web search, supplemented by a handy list provided by T. J. Bowen of CiviCore, yielded over 50 giving days in 2016. This includes several with a national reach, like Giving Tuesday, but the majority were local or regional, like Give Miami Day, Colorado Gives Day, and North Texas Giving Day.

While Giving Tuesday has become a household name, regional giving days have enjoyed considerable success. Colorado Gives Day and North Texas Giving Day both raised over $30 million last year. Giving days have thrived in part by using social media to grab the public’s attention in a short period and converting this attention into donations. Most giving days use hashtags to encourage public participation and link individual donations into a broader movement.  

But it’s difficult for researchers to determine how an organization’s social media presence affects a giving day’s success. Better-established organizations tend to have more followers and attract more attention, and their social media presence could be the result—rather than the cause—of a strong network.   

Further, even within the same giving day event, nonprofit partners that have fewer resources to devote to planning and executing their fundraising strategies have struggled to raise the same donations as their larger peers. In these cases, the quieter social media attention and the fewer donations received could both be driven by a lack of resources available for fundraising.     

In 2016 and early 2017, Twitter users sent around a million tweets in association with giving days. Using a 1 percent sample of all tweets sent in the past year, I found and analyzed about 10,000 tweets referencing various giving days to better understand how social media shapes their success.

Getting the word out early may be social media’s biggest benefit

Of the 10,000 tweets in the sample, Giving Tuesday accounted for 9,000 tweets. But the tweets associated with regional giving days hinted at some important trends, particularly about timing. Giving days that used Twitter to get the word out early—up to six months before their giving day—tended to perform better than giving day campaigns that began tweeting (or only tweeted sparsely until) closer to their date.

getting the word out early has positive impact on donations

Note: The figure above was revised to only include giving days that received less than $20 million in donations, and to show that Give NOLA Day received approximately $5 million.

There were also positive correlations between donations received and the following:

  • The number of tweets referencing a giving day
  • The number of followers these tweets reached
  • The amount of activity by the official social media accounts for the nonprofit organizations (often community foundations) that organized the giving day   

Again, this could be related to the underlying capacity of the giving day organizer. Organizations with the technical expertise to devote to a strong social media campaign are likely to have more resources to support a giving day effort, including other outreach strategies. But the data show a positive relationship between the strength of a social media campaign and a successful giving day.

This quick analysis reinforces what many organizations are already doing on social media to support successful giving days. By raising the profiles of local nonprofits doing important work, creating a thoughtful dialogue among donors, and reminding donors to save the date, nonprofits that organize giving days can continue to drive a new wave of involvement in the philanthropic sector.

Illustration by Marcus Butt/Getty Images.


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