By Kathleen Addison and Awele Ajufo

Photo of a hand putting money into a donation box.

This year, we mark one decade of an overlooked occasion with outsized impact: Giving Tuesday. During this season, we come together to donate to causes we care about, an altruistic extension of the previous days of indulgence in the United States and a socially conscious way to use any bonus cash we’ve accrued. In 2021, about 35 million Americans donated on Giving Tuesday alone, amounting to over $2.7 billion in collective donations, jump-starting a generous period through December.

At ideas42, we believe in the power of behavioral science to make it easier for people to achieve their charitable giving goals. On Giving Tuesday, many people feel excited about the call to give, but taking action can still feel challenging. In our work with donors, we’ve found that actual giving behavior is not always aligned with the giver’s own values. Instead of giving strategically to causes we care about, for instance, we often donate spur-of-the-moment when a direct solicitation moves us. Yet relying on reactionary donating can bias our decision-making away from deserving and effective charities.

So how can you give intentionally and make the most of your donations? Here are four considerations rooted in behavioral science to help you be more generous and impactful this giving season.

  1. How much can I spend?

    Good news! You probably have more to spend on donations than you think. As a first step, take a few minutes to think about how much of your budget you can set aside for charitable giving. Planning your budget will ensure you maximize your charitable donations while preventing you from spending more than you intend to.

    Try putting your giving budget in tangible terms—ordering takeout once a week, going to the movies twice a month, or taking a cab instead of public transportation a few times a year. This will help you steer clear of mental shortcuts that limit your desire to give.

  2. What causes matter to me?

    Charitable giving is emotional, so it’s helpful to think about what motivates you to give. This will help strengthen your connection to your giving practice and make it more sustainable over time. Once you determine what drives you and what issues you want to focus on, search for organizations that serve those causes, communities, or geographies. To broaden your impact past the most visible causes, challenge yourself to consider organizations that you usually wouldn’t.

    You can direct your whole giving budget to a single organization, or you can distribute it across a few if that feels better to you. With thousands of options to choose from, it can be hard to choose which organizations to support. One way you might consider distributing your donations is by thinking of a range of causes: one cause in need of urgent aid such as a global crisis or natural disaster, one organization in your area that serves a community you care about, and one organization focusing on solutions that address the root causes of societal issues through advocacy and policy change.

  3. How can I multiply my impact?

    Your donation is great, but why not triple it? One of the most powerful mental shortcuts we use when making a decision is to look to what people we trust are doing. Your friends and family may be feeling overwhelmed by the many causes and organizations seeking donations this season. You can help them and increase your impact on the causes you care about by letting your network know where your donations will be headed. To reduce friction that may cause people to give up on donating, make it easy for them: share a direct donation link or post your fundraiser on social media.

  4. How can I have an impact throughout the year?

    So you gave your budgeted amount to your favorite causes and shared these causes with your friends and family. Nice! Now can you keep that up all year? It’s going to be harder than you think. Even if we have the best intentions of incorporating a practice of charitable giving into our lives in the new year, we get busy, and grand plans of finding a new and exciting cause to donate to each month get overshadowed by laundry, doctor’s appointments, and birthday parties.

    But you can stop giving from being crowded out by setting up a recurring donation. Setting recurring donations is a smart way to take the burden of remembering off your future self. Even small monthly donations will make a big difference in your overall giving by Giving Tuesday next year.

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Once you’ve hit that last “Donate” button (and checked “Set recurring donation”), take a moment to pat yourself on the back and feel good about what you did. Giving isn’t a requirement, and it comes from the generosity you feel toward people and causes that need help. The warm glow we feel from giving can be a big motivator for continued generosity, so don’t forget to let yourself enjoy it.


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