#GivingTuesday: How effective is it?

After Black Friday and Cyber Monday holiday buying sprees, along comes #GivingTuesday – a day of generosity promoted around the world. But is a single day dedicated to giving enough?  

Jo Yong-Hak/Reuters/File
Participants dressed in Santa Claus outfits run together toward a finish line during a charity run to help the poor around Olympic Park in Seoul December 10, 2011.

Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday have come and gone. Now it’s #GivingTuesday – a new day for charity the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

#GivingTuesday is a 24-hour online campaign that was created just three years ago by the 92nd Street Y, a cultural and community nonprofit center in New York City, and the United Nations Foundation, as a way of galvanizing support for nonprofits to ensure that consumers remember those in need during the busy shopping season.

The idea quickly attracted attention among national organizations like the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and the United Way. That kind of visibility also brought big donors, with support from corporations like Microsoft, Skype, JPMorgan Chase, and Sony.

In a recent interview with Reuters, Henry Timms, who is executive director of the 92nd Street Y, explained why #GivingTuesday has caught on.

"It speaks to the most American of values. America is the most generous country in the world. Giving Tuesday was a beneficiary of that strand of DNA. It spoke to a sense of a lot of people around the holidays that we need to ritualize how we think of others. And you never need more than six words to explain what giving Tuesday is: Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday.”

Since its launch, the event has expanded to countries like Australia, Singapore, Canada, much of Latin America, and Israel. Last year, more than 30,000 organizations, from non-profits to corporations to governments in 68 countries, took part in #GivingTuesday.

According to Blackbaud, a group that puts together a report on #GivingTuesday each year, the average online gift size is $100. Blackbaud says it processed more than $26.1 million in online donations during #GivingTuesday 2014.

But the Web-based movement also includes acts of kindness that go beyond donating money.

For instance, residents in Watertown, N.Y., are encouraged to donate their time to the Volunteer Transportation Center, a nonprofit organization that helps those who have no transportation get to medical appointments, grocery stores, and other important locations.

But the movement does have critics. In a 2013 article in The Huffington Post, Brady Josephson, founder of Shift, a Vancouver-based agency that helps nonprofits raise money, argues that #GivingTuesday is not about the donor and fundraising that's not about the donor is bad fundraising.

"What is in these #GivingTuesday appeals and communications?" he wrote. "A great new story? A special giving opportunity that I can be a part of to do something powerful, unique or impactful? Again, generally speaking, no. They are cash grab emails."

He added, “I want to see #GivingTuesday be so awesome that people start giving on random Wednesdays, and Thursday afternoons because they can experience the joy, happiness, power and impact that giving to charities can bring.” 

Josephson also wishes that a day dedicated to giving didn't have to be in December. December already takes the top spot for giving, with 31 percent of donations occurring in that month, in part due to the holiday season, and in part because many donors are looking to claim an additional tax deduction for charitable giving before the year is out.

"The timing is unfortunate. December is already a great giving month. The charitable sector doesn't need help in terms of giving," he told NPR. "They need it in spring or summer, when donations are down."

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