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December 12, 2018

Colorado Gives Day: Blip or Bellwether?

Everywhere I went yesterday, the day after Colorado Gives Day, I heard about the results.

You’d kind of think on a day where $35.1 million was raised in one day from over 157,000 donors across the state, the conversation would be upbeat.

But alas, the revenue from Colorado Gives Day, after 9 straight years of steep growth in both dollars and donors, the amount raised on the day fell short of the year before by $1.45 million dollars or 4%. And many philanthropists, fundraisers, and observers were wondering: is this a sign of some kind?

As I hopped around Boulder from meeting to meeting yesterday, I heard several interpretations. Some thought the results told the future, and some thought there were other reasons why. Here’s a quick snapshots of some theories:

The Economy: You may have noted that the Dow Jones Industrial Average (an indicator of stock market health) was down nearly 800 points on December 4th – Colorado Gives Day. And that’s just one day in a pretty unstable and downward year. Are donors feeling the losses and holding back on their charitable giving?

Giving Tuesday: In one of my meetings, the idea was raised that maybe the success of Giving Tuesday, a national giving day, is starting to chip away at some of the returns for Colorado Gives Day. Giving Tuesday this year raised a record $380 million on November 27th (just one week before Colorado Gives Day). Six million donations were made across the country. This was a big jump from the $300 million raised from 2.5 million donations in 2017. Also, Giving Tuesday has enormous resources and a worldwide reach. Could its growth have taken some of the luster from Colorado Gives Day a week later?

The Tax Law: This is certainly a looming issue for all fundraisers across the nonprofit spectrum. And that’s not because we know that the tax law will be bad for fundraising. It’s because we know virtually nothing about how this tax law will affect fundraising returns this year. I’ve spoken with financial advisors, attorneys, philanthropy experts and they all say that it’s just not clear. And that’s what might make the difference in the end. If donors are unsure about how the new tax laws will affect them, might they sit some giving opportunities out?

It had to happen sometime: Exponential growth like Colorado Gives Day has seen over the last decade isn’t really sustainable. For some time, people in the sector have been saying that there has to be a leveling off or a down year. Nearly every kind of fundraising channel reaches a place of maturity where growth is no longer assured. Could this have just have been the year when things cooled?

What do you think? I’d love to hear what your Colorado Gives Day numbers are telling you. Maybe you have another theory!


  1. Mary Golden says:

    Leslie, one of Cool Girls’ advisers told me that he and his wife have notified all the groups they donate that due to the tax law changes, it is wiser for them financially to give nothing this year and to double what they give next year.

    Another reason that giving may be down is that there may be more nonprofits like Cool Girls that are not allowed to participate in Colorado Gives because even though we have been here for more than ten years, their board doesn’t think an organization is worth their support if its budget is less than $50,000 a year. This would exclude many organizations like ours that focus on providing scholarships for children whose parents can pay very little. We have three sessions a week, including one at a mobile home park in Longmont where parents pay nothing.

    Thanks for sharing your expertise.


    Mary Golden, Founding Director
    Cool Girls Science and Art Club

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