Snap An “Unselfie” And Join In On A Day Of Giving, Not Buying

Here’s the story of how Giving Tuesday (now in its second year) is becoming a real event on the holiday calendar, and how it can help boost the cause of your favorite charities.

By now, you may have shopping fatigue after Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday, Black Friday, and now even “Gray Thursday” on the actual day of Thanksgiving.


Today, for only the second year in a row, organizations around the world are working to reclaim the season of giving with one more day–Giving Tuesday–that is not about consumerism or shopping at all.

#GivingTuesday started last year as the brainchild of two organizations, the 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation, to boost the charitable donation season. Traditionally, about one-quarter to one-half of all donations in the U.S. occur during the holidays.

“We’d been thinking a lot about interesting ways to drive community and create community, not just locally on the Upper East Side of New York,” says Henry Timms, executive director of the 92nd Street Y and the creator of Giving Tuesday. “If we do a good job, we’re going to give the giving season a really good kickoff. So much of the giving is focused on the very end of the year. If we can start it earlier, that can make a bigger difference.”

Last year, 2,500 partners–including nonprofits, community groups, small businesses, and larger corporations–participated through the hashtag #GivingTuesday. There is no centralized platform, says Timms. Anyone can host an event or simply promote their cause. The goal is to be inclusive. In a style similar to Black Friday sales, “we really designed this to be a movement rather than an initiative,” Timms says.

This year promises to be even bigger as word spreads about the day and as people grow more weary with endless shopping promotions. The White House has written to mark the occasion, and Bill and Melinda Gates are jumping in too–with Melinda Gates posting her first Vine video and Bill Gates offering his endorsement for his favorite charities. So far 8,000 partners around the U.S. and even around the world have signed up to promote the day and take part, and Timms expects a final tally of around 10,000 groups. Specific events tied to the day range from a U.N. blood drive in Burundi to big brands like AT&T and Lucky promoting and donating to their pet causes.

In a fun twist on the term selfie, which is this year’s Oxford English Dictionary word of the year, people who give and who want to encourage others to give can also snap an “unselfie” to show their support. You can see a few examples above (or look up the hashtag #UNselfie on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram).


All of the activity of giving, especially earlier in the holiday season rather than closer to Christmas, is producing results, says Timms. For example, after the 2012 event, platforms that help nonprofits accept online donations measured a 50% uptick in giving during that day compared to the previous year. Matching grant and donation programs can also be more successful when people give earlier, he notes, and ultimately he believes #GivingTuesday can actually boost the overall levels of charitable giving in any given year.

Timms, for his part, will be spending the day at the social media command center for #GivingTuesday at the 92nd Street Y, where staff will try to amplify and direct the messaging around the #GivingTuesday hashtag and @GivingTuesday twitter account as the Y hosts a few community drives of its own. Even though Timms helped found the day, he never wanted ownership: “From the start we’ve encouraged people to really play around with the idea, making it their own.”

About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.