It’s Giving Tuesday! Or is it just Tuesday?

Today is Giving Tuesday – the start of the most wonderful time of the digital fundraising year.

Or is it?

Just as Scrooge was visited by three visions, I believe that nonprofits are also going to see the ghost of the future this year end…starting today, with Giving Tuesday.  And unfortunately, it’s not a very cheery vision.

From what I see, organizations are continuing to practice their year-end giving mantra of ‘nothing succeeds like excess’ with the same expectation of ringing in the New Year with champagne corks popping.

But this holiday season, things are lining up to play out so differently once the ball drops that a lot of organizations will most likely have to rebalance their budgets. This year the phrase “I gave at the office” is going to be replaced with “I gave at Ikea” or Gap or REI or Amazon.  

We’ve all heard it’s better to give than receive, but it’s even better to give and receive – which is exactly what shoppers are going to do: get that giving high while also receiving a new pair of chinos, the latest Grisham thriller, or a Swedish folding table lamp. Whoever said you can’t have it all didn’t foresee the sea-change that happened to for-profit corporations this past year. 

While non-profits have gone about their business, corporations have quietly built out entire departments devoted to “social good” and now they are getting ready to reap the benefit at our expense. I don’t have to have to donate to Sierra Club to show I care about the wild, I just have to shop at REI; I don’t have to give to UNICEF, I just have to buy my furniture from Ikea.

Yes, there’s a seismic shift happening right under our philanthropic feet.

Welcome to the new normal, where corporations are finding that their profits increase as the perception of their social good increases.  If you’re one of the lucky nonprofits that has a partnership with a corporation, good for you.  Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of those partnerships to go around and the rest are left fighting over the far end of the bell-curve. 

Obviously those who give for tax reasons will still give. And given the economy, they will probably continue to be ever more generous. But these donors, these “true-believers,” are only a small part of the (pumpkin) pie, and the other—much larger— part will believe they’ve done their charitable duty at the checkout line or in their online shopping cart. 

If that turns out to be the case, then this isn’t the ghost of Year End Future — it’s the Present.  And it’s here.