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How Giving Tuesday became a worldwide phenomenon

Now in its sixth year, the antidote to Black Friday and Cyber Monday spurs the donation of hundreds of millions of dollars.

How Giving Tuesday became a worldwide phenomenon
[Source Image: yewkeo/iStock]

The first Giving Tuesday started in 2012 to fight against Thanksgiving’s commercial corruption: The fourth Thursday of November was becoming less about feeling grateful and more about strategizing for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, those nationally recognized days for shopping deals.

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“The very basic premise of it was, could we turn people’s attention from two days of consuming to a day of giving,” says Asha Curran, chief innovation officer at the Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact at 92Y,  the New York-based community nonprofit that first dreamed up the idea. “Could there be a sort of counterpoint to Black Friday and Cyber Monday that brought us back to what is really a very, very long American tradition of giving and generosity, but for this age of social media and shifting behaviors?”

More than 2,500 nonprofits participated the first year, which brought in roughly $10 million in online fundraising. Tens of thousands of groups have since joined in, with donations increasing 3,000% since then: People gave at least $300 million in 2017, according to transaction data from online giving platforms and payment processors like PayPal, Blackbaud, and Facebook.

[Source Image: yewkeo/iStock]
Based on a recent survey by 92Y at least 58% of Americans who are online know about Giving Tuesday, which encourages people to act generously toward each other by donating to charity, volunteering, or simply doing good deeds, even small ones, for those in need. Roughly 67% of those who have heard about it also participate in some way.

And over the last seven years, the idea has spread to a formal network in 55 countries, globalizing the concept. In many of those spots fewer people overall may be aware of the push than in the U.S., but those who are tend to embrace it even more emphatically. For instance, in India recognition hovers at 49%, but 94% of those participate. (Methodology note: These findings come from the responses of between 500 and 1,000 people per country.)

In 2012, one of 92Y’s key decisions was to take their message digital. The group initially worked with the United Nations Foundation and encouraged nonprofits to promote their stories, needs, and donor support through what at the time seemed like a novel way to build a movement: the #GivingTuesday hashtag. It’s since popularized other hashtags like #UnSelfie and #MyGivingStory that let more groups and people find interesting ways to share their messages.

[Source Image: yewkeo/iStock]

One of the keys to Giving Tuesday’s success has been that 92Y didn’t try to brand it as an in-house initiative. “We were very much platform agnostic and cause agnostic right from the beginning, so encouraging people to give to whatever they found meaningful,” Curran says. That has encouraged other fundraisers to riff on the concept: During the first year, a nonprofit called Dress For Success launched “Giving ShoesDay” to outfit women rejoining the workforce. Meanwhile, in Baltimore, the mayor and nonprofits banded together to create the city-wide Bmore Gives More challenge to become the most generous city in America. In one day, the effort raised more than $5 million for local groups. Those sorts of community-wide campaigns have since been replicated in 150 places ranging from small towns to other major cities and even some states.

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For 92Y, the goal now is to continue reimagining both the meaning and mechanisms of community support. Leaders who’ve joined up from other countries even share ideas through a dedicated WhatsApp channel, leading to surprising results. When an organizer in Taiwan recently shared entries from a crowdsourced competition to redesign their logo there, for instance, another organizer in Chile liked one of the finalists so much that they adopted it as their own symbol.

[Source Image: yewkeo/iStock]

In Curran’s view, this sort of collective momentum is often missing in the nonprofit space, where cause groups sometimes hoard good ideas because they view others as competitors instead of collaborators. “We say, ‘You know something is a movement if it moves without you,'” she says, crediting that mentality for Giving Tuesday’s exponential growth.

And the movement still has plenty of room to grown. For first-time donors looking to be involved, Curran suggests reviewing the list of groups on GivingTuesday.org or any of the hashtagged stories from people in your own social network. To vet the quality of participating groups, donors may also want to often visit charity evaluator Charity Navigator or review additional information posted on GuideStar. Many platforms may offer matching gifts to incentivize more action, including the $7 million available from Facebook and PayPal, although those funds will likely be spent quickly.

Unlike the preceding days of commercial mayhem, Curran hopes that Giving Tuesday participants will focus on far more than money. This is a chance for people, organizations, and communities to focus on all the ways they might improve humanity. As she puts it: “If there’s the same level of public awareness eventually of Giving Tuesday as there is of Cyber Monday, the world can only benefit from that.”

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About the author

Ben Paynter is a senior writer at Fast Company covering social impact, the future of philanthropy, and innovative food companies. His work has appeared in Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the New York Times, among other places.

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