After Cyber Monday frenzy, Giving Tuesday taps the quiet impulse to give

Giving Tuesday, launched by New York's 92nd Street Y, the United Nations Foundation, and 2,000 corporate and nonprofit partners, aims to make giving as fixed a holiday feature as shopping.

Ross D. Franklin/AP
Packages ready to ship move along a conveyor belt at the fulfillment center in Phoenix on Nov. 26, expected to be the biggest online shopping day in history. Giving Tuesday, launched today, aims to put the focus on charitable giving.

Name days are the newest holiday trend, but don’t worry if you didn’t know that Nov. 27 is Giving Tuesday. This is the kickoff year for what may seem self-evident – a day of being charitable with your dollars rather than ticking off items from your shopping list.

While many people already include charitable giving in their regular holiday gifting, organizers hope that Giving Tuesday will launch a new kind of seasonal money madness that makes giving a big part of early and regular money outflow for everyone.

Giving Tuesday is the brainchild of New York’s 92nd Street Y, which trademarked the handle. It teamed up with the United Nations Foundation to leverage its broader clout. Before launch, Giving Tuesday had nearly 2,000 partners, corporate and nonprofit alike, cheerleading the idea into the national – and global – consciousness via the website,

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Bill Gates tweeted, “Everyone knows about #BlackFriday & #CyberMonday. Now help me spread the word about #GivingTuesday.”

By midday Tuesday, nonprofits and corporations alike were waving the flag in support of the idea, using Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.

Some might question the wisdom of asking for donations just as consumers are responding to the barrage of early shopping deals from Black Friday and what is now being called Cyber Week. But just as the early bird gets the $78 flat screen TV, early reminders about what is truly important might help to change the way people give throughout the entire season, says Devin Hermanson, senior marketing director for World Vision, one of the early supporters of Giving Tuesday.

“My blue sky idea is that one day you will report that Giving Tuesday eclipsed both Black Friday and Cyber Monday,” he says with a laugh, “Why can’t we aspire to that?”

According to a new Harris Interactive Poll commissioned by World Vision, some 83 percent of Americans do aspire to donate to charity, yet when asked the more practical question of will they give this holiday season, the number actually dropped from 51 percent in 2011 to 45 percent this November.

This turning away from charity is due in part to the economy, which is why it's even more important to make giving as painless as possible, says Melody Badgett, director of marketing for 1% for the Planet (FTP), a coalition of some 1,200 companies in 45 countries that donate 1 percent of their annual sales to FTP member charities. She notes that many of their firms are touting the day with special incentives to promote giving from consumers, such as providing a way for consumers to make donations when they make purchases. She notes the entire company is Tweeting throughout the day, adding, “it’s just a great way to engage both customers and employees.”

The biggest obstacle, even for the most cheerful giver, is often knowing which charities are the most effective, points out Tori Hogan, author of “Beyond Good Intentions: A Journey Into the Realities of International Aid."

The groups that can afford the marketing to provide all the background consumers often needed to feel comfortable with their donations, she notes, “are typically the large ones that don’t need dollars anywhere near as much as the small grassroots ones do.” Yet, she points out, these are the groups that are often the most effective but very difficult to assess for the average consumer. She urges people to make the effort with such resources as the website, which does background research on groups she says. Another site for the truly diligent, she says: MIT’s, which dissects a wide range of information about a group, producing a comprehensive assessment of its effectiveness.

While the bargain-hunting madness kicked off by Black Friday may seem somehow quintessentially American, so is the urge to give back, points out Catherine Wilson, who teaches nonprofit management at Villanova University in Philadelphia. Giving Tuesday not only affords Americans the ability to refocus their energies during this holiday season, she says, including taking time to give rather than to get, but it also provides an important teaching moment.

The United States has had a long tradition of philanthropic activity, she points out, as chronicled in the mid-19th century by Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville in his famous work, "Democracy in America.” Tocqueville observed that community involvement was the best prevention for a culture steeped in individualism. According to Tocqueville, notes Professor Wilson via e-mail, “such involvement reminds Americans that it is both their duty and interest to 'make themselves useful to their fellow creatures.' "

"This is exactly the kind of public sentiment being advanced on Giving Tuesday," she adds. 

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