A charitable slant on holiday spending

San Francisco ChronicleDecember 1, 2013 

SAN FRANCISCO -- You celebrated Thanksgiving, shopped till you dropped on Black Friday and went wild online on Cyber Monday. Now, charities hope you'll commemorate Giving Tuesday, a new day on the holiday calendar, by donating money, time and attention to good causes.

The rapidly growing movement, now in its second year, promotes a day of "personal philanthropy" on the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

"The driving spirit of this season is about generosity and giving thanks," said Henry Timms, interim executive director of New York's 92nd Street Y. His brainstorm last year was the impetus for Giving Tuesday, which went viral on social media and garnered support from Bill Gates to Hollywood stars to the White House. "Giving Tuesday is a celebration of all forms of giving."

More than 7,000 nonprofits nationwide will use the day for a range of activities: soliciting year-end donations, engaging hands-on volunteers, leveraging matching grants, supporting specific projects, and sharing advice with each other.

"Giving Tuesday allows us to go head-first into crowd-funding with momentum and with a platform," said Colin Schmidt, executive director of America SCORES Bay Area, which transforms drab asphalt playgrounds at low-income public schools into green playing fields, and runs free after-school programs combining soccer and poetry. "We hope the day and the excitement around it will double our year-end donations and broaden our donor base."

Like many nonprofits, it's casting a wide net by seeking modest individual donations on Giving Tuesday, although it also hopes to land a "big fish" or two.

"We wanted something accessible to a wide group of people hearing about us for the first time," Schmidt said. "A $15 donation pays for one square foot of a playground transformation. Our message is: We can go from dreary gray to exciting and green."

STRENGTH IN NUMBERS

While pitches for donations at this time of year are common, many nonprofits say that soliciting en masse actually makes their job easier.

"It gets to be almost like you're begging people to make those gifts, sending out emails one after the other," said Sande Smith, a spokeswoman for the Women's Foundation of California, a San Francisco group that does policy advocacy and grant-making related to women's economic security. "This takes it off the shoulders of each individual nonprofit and shines attention on the whole field."

Her group will use Giving Tuesday to try to match a $20,000 challenge grant. It's working with "cause" crowd-funding site Razoo.com, also in San Francisco, "to amplify our effort," she said.

Razoo's foundation has put up $100,000 in grants for groups that use its platform to collect Giving Tuesday donations. The more they raise, the better their chance of garnering thousands extra, including a $15,000 grand prize.

Social media is integral to the movement; in fact, its organizers always include a Twitter hashtag when writing about #GivingTuesday. In a takeoff on "selfie," the Oxford English Dictionary word of the year, the giving campaign urges supporters to share an "UNselfie" on social media that depicts them supporting a good cause.

"The UNselfie idea is absolutely brilliant," said Beth Kanter, a Los Altos-based trainer and consultant for nonprofits who was an early champion of Giving Tuesday. "It comes out of the 'hold the sign' meme. Instead of the narcissistic self-portrait, take a picture of yourself standing up for health care or immigration reform and share it on Twitter or Instagram."

LOOKING FOR NEW DOLLARS

A big question about Giving Tuesday is whether it will spur a net increase in donations, or just divert them to that day.

"The proof is in the pudding," said Aaron Sherinian, vice president of the UN Foundation in New York, which partnered with 92nd St. Y to launch the movement. "Last year online giving to charities was up over 50 percent on that day. Overall giving during the season was also up."

However, events such as Hurricane Sandy also influenced donations in 2012.

"Giving in the United States has been constant for nearly 40 years at roughly 2 percent of GDP," said Rob Reich, co-director of Stanford's Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, who was an early Giving Tuesday supporter. If Giving Tuesday could nudge that up even 0.1 or 0.2 percentage points, "that would amount to $300 million to $600 million new charitable dollars."

Bringing in younger donors is one way Giving Tuesday might help increase net giving.

"We see Giving Tuesday as an important way to engage small donors and particularly Millennials, who are very engaged and interested in making a difference but who aren't reached as well by traditional means (such as) direct mail," said Matt O'Grady, executive director of the San Francisco Parks Alliance. It hopes to raise $2,000 Tuesday for a grant to launch a parks project.

The movement seeks to stimulate gifts of time and attention as well as money.

"It's about giving of yourself in a number of different ways," said Barry Finestone, executive director of the San Francisco Jewish Community Center. "We are doing a tactile, hands-on project to assemble personal hygiene kits for Project Homeless Connect. We'll probably have 100 volunteers throughout the day. I have an aspirational notion that in 10 or 15 years time, the entire city of San Francisco will be giving back by volunteering on that day."

Giving Tuesday has spread internationally, Sherinian said, with movements in Canada, Mexico, Latin America, Australia, Israel and Singapore.

Reich said the rapid-fire growth testifies to the power of the basic idea and the fuel of social media.

"Within 18 months, without a headquarters, without a paid staff member, with nothing but social connections and the eager spirit of volunteers, Giving Tuesday has blossomed into a global movement," he said.

 

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