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Giving Tuesday has turned philanthropy into an event for everyone

Participating in the online giving phenomenon makes altruism simpler


In 2019, the philanthropic event known as Giving Tuesday raised nearly $2 billion. And eight years after its inception, what began in the United States as a day focused on monetary donations has expanded across the globe and transformed to include volunteering, finding ways to show gratitude, and educating people about the value of altruism. For Rotary, as for many other nonprofit organizations, Giving Tuesday has become an important part of the philanthropic calendar.

In 2019, Giving Tuesday saw:

  1. $511 million

    in online donations in 24 hours

  2. 20.1 billion

    social media impressions worldwide

  3. 27 million

    U.S. adults who participated in some way

  4. 7.6 million

    U.S. adults who performed volunteer service

  5. 60

    countries that had an active #GivingTuesday movement

The idea came out of the 92nd Street Y (short for the 92nd Street Young Men’s and Young Women’s Hebrew Association), a 146-year-old New York City institution similar to the YMCA that is well known for its cultural programming. The organization’s reputation helped it get 1,400 other entities on board for the first Giving Tuesday. Several months before its 2012 debut on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving in the U.S., the idea was rolled out on Mashable, a tech news website that had partnered with the 92nd Street Y on previous undertakings.

“The idea was extremely simple,” says Asha Curran, CEO of GivingTuesday, a spinoff nonprofit that organizes the event. “Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday: a day to give following two days of consumption.” The organizers reasoned that a weekday would work well because people are more likely to be in front of computers and on phones, making it easier to donate in response to a reminder. And the late-in-the-year date has another advantage: Research shows that philanthropists make a higher proportion of donations in the last three months of the calendar year, whether it’s because they are focusing on tax write-offs or attuned to the arrival of the holiday season.

The event tapped into online giving culture by making the idea open to all. Giving Tuesday was shared and open-source: Beyond the event’s thousands of partners, anyone could take up the Giving Tuesday banner and carry it forward for their own organization or any group they wanted to support.

“We were thinking about the idea of co-ownership: When you build things, those things are far more powerful when you build them in coalition with other people,” Curran says. “If you came up with a concept and you gave it to the world and said, ‘Change this, do what you want with it, make sure you’re doing something good, but use it in the way that you want to. Change the name, change the logo, be creative,’ you’re going to end up with something exponentially better than if you create an idea and guard it and send lots of cease-and-desist letters.”

Make a donation to The Rotary Foundation
this Giving Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Rotary has embraced the concept, encouraging the use of Giving Tuesday as a fundraising opportunity for clubs and for The Rotary Foundation. Since 2017, Rotary has also used Giving Tuesday to reach out directly to prospective and current donors, and the campaign has grown each year. In 2019, Rotary raised over $550,000 from donors all over the world in response to a Giving Tuesday email campaign.

And though financial giving is central to the movement, many people have taken the idea of giving in a different direction, using the day to volunteer or otherwise focus on altruism. In 2019, for instance, elementary schools in Guam participated in #GivingTuesdayKids by introducing a kindness curriculum, in which students organized food and toy drives and visited nursing homes. In Liberia, because many couples lost their wedding pictures during the civil war, GivingTuesday leaders found donors in the United States to send wedding dresses to Liberia and worked with local photographers and salons to re-create wedding photo shoots in remote parts of the country.

Thanks to its organic, flexible nature, Giving Tuesday has spread to at least 70 countries, adapting in profound ways to different cultures. “In the United States, there’s a lot of focus on generosity as a form of civic engagement,” Curran says. “A lot of our Giving Tuesday leaders here are using it as connective tissue at a community level. In Russia, they have a strong ethic of donation, but no one talks about it. So one of the interesting things they’ve done is to run a whole campaign around people confessing to what they’ve given … and they have moved the needle on taking giving into the public square, and donations have increased. Colombia and Venezuela — two countries that are really in crisis — are some of the most fascinating examples, because they’re seeing Giving Tuesday as a way to rebuild society post-conflict. It’s nothing that we ever would have anticipated. When something like that starts happening, you realize this has the capacity to be so much more meaningful and impactful than this fun, one-day viral idea we had.”

• This story originally appeared in the November 2020 issue of Rotary magazine.

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Rotary Voices: SHARE this #GivingTuesday

Six reasons you should give to Rotary on Giving Tuesday (2017)