GivingTuesday and Pulsar on How to Measure Cultural Change

The 2 organizations worked together to learn how audiences impact generosity

Even cultural moments can come down to a science.

At least that’s what audience intelligence platform Pulsar and “global generosity movement” GivingTuesday have discovered in researching how audiences and payment platforms impact donations. The two organizations presented those insights to Adweek editor in chief Stephanie Paterik during The Giving Revolution: How Network Effects Are Rewiring Generosity, an Adweek Spotlight virtual event that took place last week.

On Pulsar’s end, the platform wants to reinvent how people grasp the ways society is evolving, why certain things go viral and why culture changes by understanding “both the audience and the content at the same time,” according to CEO and co-founder Francesco D’Orazio.

Pulsar operates on utilizing four signals for its work: media, social, search and web analytics. They’re referred to as “The Attention Trail” and can provide insight into what’s happening across all platforms and channels. D’Orazio said its research found that when it comes to generosity, the space that was once dominated by philanthropists is now one that is a “grassroots phenomenon,” with the potential to create moments that go viral and increase donations.

GivingTuesday director of digital strategy Kathleen Murphy Toms explained that the organization began as an experiment in 2012 to see if people would add a day “that reversed the consumerism trend of Black Friday and Cyber Monday” in November and could leverage a hashtag “as a way to rally people to use social media for good.”


The method behind community organizing

When comparing data from the first GivingTuesday action in 2012 to the one in 2020, Murphy Toms found that different communities across the country and the globe have been developing myriad ways to tailor the one-day event to attract the attention and participation of more donors.

When people feel personally connected to a cause, they feel more inclined to be involved through actions like organizing community fridges, using Google Docs for mutual aid resources, donating money through Venmo and, most importantly, encouraging others to join them.

“In the very early days of GivingTuesday, sharing your generosity might’ve meant posting about a nonprofit or sharing where it was that you donated,” she said. “But today people are more inclined to use their social media in active ways.”

Brands don’t have to be absent from these activities. Murphy Toms cited a recent Horizon Media study that concluded that most people participated in GivingTuesday events because they wanted to “be a part of something bigger than themselves.” In the past, brands like Toms and Patagonia have leaned into that idea by either dedicating days employees can volunteer or by matching donations made to charities.

Despite the fact that 2020 was an unusual year, GivingTuesday chief data officer Woodrow Rosenbaum found that donations grew—not consistently, but that wasn’t unusual—to respond to causes like the fight against racial injustice. Rosenbaum notes that marketers don’t want to make the connection between a cause and donations “transactional” but as an actual “relationship.”

“Those moments are catalysts that raise the bar for what’s going to happen next,” D’Orazio told Paterik. “So once the leap has been made, then the attention has been raised on the subject so you’ll always have an incremental audience that’s going to look at it.”