Giving Tuesday — Have We Become A Donation Nation?

The United States has its long-time Thanksgiving Thursday, and in recent years businesses have encouraged buying holiday shopping sprees with Black Friday and Cyber Monday. With that in mind there is now Giving Tuesday. This more thoughtful follow-up was founded in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, partnering with the United Nations Foundation. Is Giving Tuesday a great idea, meant to spur Americans altruism, or is it a cynical, media savvy way to guilt Americans into donating? Or is it something in between?

The main goal of Giving Tuesday has been to encourage people to donate money, as well as volunteer time and goods, to non-profit groups and charitable organizations. It also aims to raise the profiles of such groups, particularly in the social media realm. Groups using the Giving Tuesday logo or at least the concept have contacted potential donors via email, Facebook postings, Twitter, Instagram and and other modern sources. As well, some have utilized the Giving Tuesday concept in more traditional mailings and via phone calls.

In the days prior to Giving Tuesday, I received emails from dozens of non-profits and charities. Museums, cultural institutions, schools, religious groups, food banks, environmental groups, and many others sent me appeals. Among the ways they tried to pitch their cases are these samples:

1. Mazon, a group aiding the hungry: “In honor of #GivingTuesday, our payment processor will waive all transaction fees for today’s donations.”
2. The Nassau County Museum: “We have a day for giving thanks. We have two for getting deals. Now, we have #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back.”
3. The American Red Cross: “No ordinary Tuesday.” “If you donate using Visa Checkout today. Visa will make a special donation of $15 to the American Red Cross.”
4. BRIC, a cultural group in Brooklyn, NY: “Happy #GivingTuesday!” “On a day that celebrates giving love back to community organizations, please consider donating to BRIC.”, the group that spearheads this movement, has its own website that showcased celebrity Tweets from Selena Gomez, among others. In addition to the 8,170 Tweets and 28.7K followers they amassed, they promoted the “#UnSelfie,” and asked those interested to “Take a pic, tag it #Unselfie and “GivingTuesday”, and upload to your Instagram, Twitter or Facebook account…”

Should non-profits and charities take this route to promote their causes and ask for donations? Is it effective and up-to-date for these groups to use such campaigns? Beau Heyen of Masbia, a charity based in New York City that provides soup kitchens and meals for the needy, wrote to me that Giving Tuesday “leveraged our relationship with different celebrity chefs like Ted Allen and Jose Andres. Beyond increased donations, we received a good amount of exposure to new people. In fact, 1 out of every 3 donors yesterday was new to our organization.”

Many non-profits and charities find their budgets stretched thinner and thinner these days, as their public funding decreases and their goals expand. They find it necessary to try a variety of avenues to bring in funding. Thus #GivingTuesday is but one way for them to raise funds. Although it may seem heavy handed after the barrage of “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” advertisements, it is a way to appeal to Americans’ giving natures.

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Ellen Levitt is the author of The Lost Synagogues of Brooklyn (2009), The Lost Synagogues of the Bronx and Queens (2011) and The Lost Synagogues of Manhattan (2013), all published by Avotaynu. She is a lifelong New Yorker, a veteran public school teacher, writer and photographer. Bird lover as well.