Shared power: a GivingTuesday invitation for nonprofit leaders
I am a career social worker turned nonprofit communications professional. Some would call me an “industry outsider.” Once in a while, this leaves me feeling as if everyone in the boardroom knows more than I do. More often, however, I’m grateful to be clueless about “the way it’s always been done” because I have learned to recognize this phrase as the arch-nemesis of collaboration and innovation.
As a “nonprofit newbie,” I am deeply grateful to those who have shared their knowledge and enthusiastically welcomed me into the conversation. But the business of good is not immune to its share of power struggles, competition, and scarcity mindset.
Early in my nonprofit consulting career, I had the good fortune to interview David Simpson, the retired CEO of Hospice of the Western Reserve, a nationally recognized leader in the hospice movement. Simpson shared a core belief that guided him through his 30+ year career, beginning when hospice and comfort care were just starting to be recognized in the United States. “We are not competitors,” he said of the other hospice providers cropping up throughout Northeast Ohio after HWR had been leading the way for over a decade. “The more people who know about hospice, the better that is for all of us.” The real goal, he explained, was to educate patients, families, and the medical community about quality end-of-life care, not to compete against each other in the pursuit of that goal.
If nonprofit leaders want to survive and thrive in a new, more equitable world, then a commitment to shared leadership and collaboration is a minimum requirement for the job. Can we be bold enough to imagine what we can co-create by refusing to see our nonprofit peers as competitors? Are we willing to redefine our goals and culture to make that happen?
Image by GivingTuesday
Nowhere is the potential of this cultural shift more evident than in the way we celebrate GivingTuesday in the United States. When I began working in nonprofit communications, I saw how small to mid-sized organizations and grassroots movements often got lost in the noise of GivingTuesday while larger nonprofits with an abundance of resources, staff, and funding were able to capitalize on the movement.
“Can’t we do things differently?” I wondered out loud when I first shared the idea of a collaborative, city-wide giving campaign with my team. Yes, we give up something when we share the spotlight of a campaign—but what we lose is much greater if we focus only on what GivingTuesday can do for any single organization’s bottom line.
This is especially true when you compare the United States to #GivingTuesday celebrations around the world. Often with far fewer resources, global organizations have enthusiastically embraced the “open source” information sharing and collective action inherent to GivingTuesday. Our global partners are ready and willing to teach us what’s possible. All we have to do is pay attention and be inspired.
The GivingTuesday logo and branding? Feel free to copy. Edit as much as you like. Use it freely. Make it your own. Impressed by our tools, resources, worksheets, and presentations? Borrow away—just leave the original there for others to benefit from, please. It is all there for the sharing! No, really. Please do.
One of the biggest mental barriers around GivingTuesday for longtime development professionals is the inclination to view financial goals as the only measure of a campaign’s success. In this year’s virtual summit organized for GivingTuesday nonprofit community leaders around the globe, GivingTuesday chief strategy officer Jamie McDonald encouraged participants to think beyond dollars and cents and instead imagine the kind of generous, more equitable world we are poised to create through our work. And yes, this includes redefining what we consider a successful campaign.
Not only is kindness a priceless commodity, but “money is a very latent measure of success,” asserts Woodrow Rosenbaum, GivingTuesday’s chief data officer, who insists that we need to capture countless other data points throughout the planning process in order to reach our biggest dreams and most ambitious goals. The collaborative data collection, with more than 70 countries and 40 global data labs, built into GivingTuesday’s data commons project is unlike any other generosity thermometer available to the philanthropic community.
People are generous. This can be measured in social media shares, winter gloves donated, “blessing bags” organized, hours volunteered, meals prepared, and promises kept. Let’s celebrate and count these things instead of, or at least in addition to, financial contributions. In Ukraine, where Thanksgiving is not celebrated, they designate Giving Tuesday as a Day of Good Deeds with a kindness curriculum in schools and a fun online quiz to inspire (and measure) a successful campaign.
In the United States, where racial inequity and systemic injustice present our most urgent collective goal, success means placing the power, money, and decision making into the hands of marginalized communities. Success means uplifting the work of grassroots nonprofit leaders who may not have the resources to reach new audiences and donors. And shared leadership means letting go of “how it’s always been done” in favor of “what do you think we should do?”
Want to learn more?
Join my colleague Nic Abraham and me at Candid’s September 24 webinar, “Committing to Racial Equity and Youth Empowerment for #GivingTuesday.” We’ll talk about how nonprofit leaders can set goals that go beyond fundraising, recognize potential partners in your community to join your campaign, determine if your organization should participate in #GivingTuesday, and identify opportunities to involve youth in your campaign. Register for the webinar.