Field Notes: Should Every Tuesday be a Giving Tuesday

As #GivingTuesday becomes an online sensation, what are the implications for our perception and action on charity?

Following the footsteps of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday was created by charitable groups to help “launch the holiday charitable giving season.” The goal? Raising awareness on the importance of charity in our society and to “get people excited in the same way they might get excited about a big-screen TV at a bargain price,” according to Pam Fessler of NPR. As nonprofit donor retention has dwindled and development officers implement ever more strategies to counteract that trend, Giving Tuesday sets out to “break the cycle of poverty” through the giving season of holidays. Giving Tuesday as a non-commercial branding for corporate as well as personal charity trended number 1 on Twitter last year, and even the White House blog gave #GivingTuesday a shout-out due to its immense impact on raising people’s awareness on the concept of giving. According to Crain’s New York Business, 10,000 nonprofits participated this year, as compared to 2,500 in 2012. But is it effective in invoking the charitable spirit in everyone and increase donors for nonprofits over the long term? Forbes’ Tom Watson remains skeptical of the fundamental effectiveness of this advocacy strategy of giving back. One item he talks about, for example, is the problem of engagement:

“If you’re pushing #GivingTuesday and a big day of American giving – aren’t you really pushing …. uh …. #GivingTuesday and a big day of American giving. And by that I mean not pushing (as much) your central mission of feeding the poor, improving schools, healing the sick etc.? Yes, it’s possible to do both well. But I wonder about the level of long-term, deep engagement with a small or mid-sized nonprofit that goes all in on the #GivingTuesday message – does it dilute what’s important in favor of the feel-good December slogan?”

Another is his take on Giving Tuesday’s social impact:

“But my question is this: is #GivingTuesday a well-meaning marketing promotion – or is it a real, organic movement for change? And what kind of change would that mean? To me, the only change a national giving movement should embrace at the top of its priorities list is the one that seeks to increase U.S. giving from 2% of GDP (where it’s been stuck for two generations) to some higher point, a great societal commitment to solving our major problems. Sure, the contrast with consumerism is worthy – but will #GivingTuesday change #GivingEveryday?”

What are your thoughts on how Giving Tuesday influences people’s perception and action of charitable giving? Is such a movement proactively using social media to create real-world change, or is it misleading in terms of genuinely attracting and retaining nonprofit donors and impact investors? Should every Tuesday become a “Giving Tuesday?”

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