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How charities and donors talk about holiday giving

A box full of gifts alongside a turkey on a green background to represent holiday giving.
A graphic on a green background listing stats that show the importance of charities for the holidays.

The holidays are here, heralding a period of thankfulness and reflection. These emotions stimulate holiday giving, making this the most important time of year for charities and non-profit organizations.

With more than one-third of all US charitable donations taking place after Thanksgiving, organizations need to perfect their messaging and mirror donors’ motivations to stand out in this crucial period.

Non-profits’ communication through social media channels is a key example of getting messaging right. However, cutting through the noise and understanding what audiences are really saying can be challenging. While social listening tools are excellent at gathering and offering an overview of online conversations, they don’t offer the in-depth analysis charities need to build resonant communications.

Text analytics software provides the required depth. Our latest analysis combined both; initially by using a social listening tool to gather messages during the holiday period from three US charities: Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and YMCA. We also collected messages from the public mentioning these organizations to analyze how they are viewed by their audiences.

Then we uploaded these messages to Relative Insight’s text analysis platform. The tool compares two or more data sets, surfacing the topics, words, phrases, emotions and grammar most prominent in each. Using Relative Insight’s software, we not only determined how language differed between each of the charities for the holidays β€” our analysis also identified what aspects of holiday giving mattered most to their audiences.

Contrast in holiday giving priorities for Boys and Girls Clubs of America

Our analysis surfaced key differences between Boys and Girls Clubs of America’s messaging and how social audiences discuss the organization’s work.

Food and partnerships are the charity’s holiday focus

When compared with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs of America’s messaging (BGCA) focused on food and partnerships.

The charity used words relating to ‘food’ 6.0x more, such as ‘meals’ and ‘breakfast’. This was in relation to events held at kids’ clubs, rather more generally providing meals.

Ty @repjoemorelle for stopping by @bgcrochesterny and sharing your holiday cheer! We are grateful for your unwavering support of clubs and #newyork youth! QT @repjoemorelle it was wonderful to attend the @bgcrochesterny’s holiday breakfast and spend time with the future leaders and changemakers of our community.

BGCA also leveraged its ‘partnership’ with other organizations and celebrities. It used the word infinitely more, meaning the two other charities didn’t reference partnerships at all in their messaging.

Hispanic heritage and cultural traditions came alive at last night’s #diadelosmuertos block party at @bgclaharbor. Alongside a mariachi band, dancing and traditional foods, we hosted an arts activity for kids to decorate sugar skulls in partnership with @oldnavy.

Social audiences focus on toys and generosity

Social audiences have different focus areas when they talk about BGCA. Rather than food, general audiences focus on toy donations. They were 7.5x more likely to talk about ‘toys’ and highlighted the charity’s ‘holiday toy drive’ infinitely more.

Today Anthony, Bradley and our friend Cody from great life brewing dropped off the toys from our toy drive to the Boys and Girls Club of Ulster County. Thank you to everyone who donated to help make Christmas awesome for our local kids in Kingston!

The public were also highlighted the topic of ‘generosity’ more than the charity. They were 2.4x more likely to use words related to this, including ‘compassion’, ‘goodwill’, ‘charitable’, ‘provide’ and ‘generous’. In a similar vein, people talking about Boys and Girls Clubs of America were also 1.4x more likely to use the word ‘giving’.

The gift of giving: more than a dozen children from the Boys and Girls Club of Broward County lined up at Rick Case Hyundai in Davie on Thursday to see their brand-new bicycles, thanks to generous donations from the South Florida community.

Celebrating milestones versus how to give money

There were clear differentiators in what Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBSA) and its supporters focused on when it came to holiday giving.

All-encompassing work and first times

BBBSA’s messaging centered around two key areas.

The charity celebrated ‘first times’ enabled by the its activities. This encompassed everything from kids attending their first sports fixtures to ‘Dreamathons’. BBBSA used the word ‘first’ and ‘ordeal words’ such as first, second and last infinitely more to showcase how it impacts lives.

Rt @bbbschi: Big sister sherry and Little Brooklyn went to their first @chicagobears game together thanks to tickets from a generous donor! Even though we couldn’t quite pull out the win, this match made memories together that will last a lifetime #inspirechange #biggertogether.

To encourage holiday giving, the charity continuously used the word ‘than’ to elevate the impact of donations. It was infinitely more likely to incorporate this word into messaging, most often using the phrase ‘more than’.

It’s more than a gift β€” it’s dreaming big. Make a kid’s wildest dreams a reality by donating to BBBS this holiday season.

Donation options for social audiences

Somewhat surprisingly, tweeters other than Big Brothers Big Sisters of America were much more likely to highlight ways people could donate. This appeared to be a mix of partner organizations, such as Macy’s, along with volunteers and donors.

This group used words related to ‘retail’ 3.7x more, including ‘store’, ‘transaction’ and ‘shopping’, as well as words relating to ‘payment’, such as ‘donation’, ‘fund’ and ‘proceed’. They also used the word ‘cyber’ 8.7x more within the context of Cyber Monday β€” demonstrating that this day of consumption also includes holiday giving for this audience.

Getting that credit card warmed up and ready for Black Friday and Cyber Monday online shopping? Don’t forget, at no cost to you, you can direct 0.5% of your purchases to Yavapai Big Brothers Big Sisters and inspire the future of a local young person!

While this group’s messaging doesn’t reflect that of the charity itself, advocates show clear understanding of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America’s partnerships and donation information.

YMCA seen as a community leader β€” for swimming

How the YMCA talked about itself and how the general public talked about the organization was the most similar of the three charities. However, there was a key aspect of online conversations where the two groups aren’t fully aligned.

YMCA promotes community, education and health

There were three distinct areas of difference in YMCA’s social communications: educating audiences, referencing locality and prioritizing health.

The charity was 8.5x more likely to use the word ‘learn’. This was used as a tactic in amplifying its website content, with the phrase ‘learn more’ followed by a hyperlink. It’s clear that the YMCA’s social messaging strategy relies heavily on directing audiences to other resources.

Right now is the perfect time to pick up something new, and your local Y is the perfect place to do it. 🀩 Contact yours to learn more about what they have going on:

YMCA also leaned in to locality. Its messaging referenced places 5.5x more, referencing ‘local’ YMCAs and communities. The charity looks to stimulate holiday giving by encouraging donors to associate it with familiar places and communities.

When you give to your Y, you invest in your community’s youth. πŸ‘§πŸ½ πŸ‘¦πŸ» πŸ§’πŸΎ πŸ§‘πŸΌ If you’d like to support your local Y’s efforts, please visit:

Health also plays a big part in the charity’s social strategy. It used words relating to ‘public health’ 13.1x more, including ‘health’ and ‘medical’. This referenced both mental and physical health, and was aimed both at audiences directly and encouraged them to think about friends and family.

Remember, now that the days are shorter, it’s important to: 🀸🏼 move your body 🌳 spend some time outside πŸ‘¨ πŸ‘© πŸ‘¦ connect with others. If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, help is available.

It’s fun to swim at the YMCA

The public observes the YMCA through the lens of health. Just like the organization itself, their conversations reference fitness and weight loss.

This group were 6.1x more likely to use words related to ‘fitness’, such as ‘gym’ and ‘exercise’. They also talked about ‘weight’ 8.7x more, highlighting that they viewed local YMCAs as a good place to get healthy.

I was once living nomadically travelling the US where I went through 17 states and 7 major US cities from Seattle to Phoenix to NYC sleeping outside. “One of the best deals you can get is having access to a club or gym that has 24 hr open doors. Even better if you find a YMCA.

However, there was one key area of difference in how the public discussed YMCA’s services. General audiences discussing the charity talked about ‘swimming’ 41.7x more. This disparity shows that the charity can do to discuss swimming within its own messaging.

That’s hilarious considering nearly every inner city has a YMCA that will teach you for free. If people can check out free after school child care, they can hit up some free swimming lessons. They’re there for everyone.”

Maximizing charities’ effectiveness for the holidays

Analyzing social messaging from charities themselves and the general public has uncovered how each group discusses holiday giving. To maximize donations in this key period, non-profits must understand how their messaging compares to other organizations and how the public perceives them.

Boys and Girls Clubs of America talks about its food and partnerships most prominently. However, general conversations about the charity focus more on toy donations, while Big Brothers Big Sisters of America appears to do a better job of leveraging its partnerships.

BGCA should reflect its audience’s language more closely to increase donations. This means talking about how toy drives and other toy donations impact children, plus emphasizing language relating to ‘generosity’ to provide resonant messaging.

While Big Brothers Big Sisters of America’s messaging also contrasts with that of its audience, advocates absorbing and sharing ways to donate not only proves that the charity’s partnerships and volunteer programs provide easy-to-understand information, it also allows the organization to focus on storytelling.

YMCA’s messaging was most closely aligned with the public. However, the key area of misalignment is around swimming β€” the charity should talk about this aspect of its messaging more to connect with a bigger audience.

Whether around holiday giving or any other subject, charitable organizations wanting to understand social media discourse need a way to cut through the noise. Relative Insight’s text analytics software gets to the heart of social conversations in minutes. Try the tool for free and see for yourself.

Understand how audiences talk on social media