#GivingTuesday: a Substantial Movement for Philanthropy?

As this year’s Thanksgiving weekend shopping extravaganza drew to a close, a surprising number of consumers kept their credit cards out and purse strings loose. What changed, however, was the focus of their spending: it had shifted from online promotions and enticing door-busters to nonprofit donations and charitable causes. This December 3 marked the second year of #GivingTuesday—the rapidly growing crowdgiving initiative that seeks to tack a thoughtful finale onto the year’s busiest weekend of shopping—and, despite only being its second year, the day posted some impressive results.

The roots of #GivingTuesday trace back to a New York City apartment in 2012, where the Executive Director of the 92nd Street Y, Henry Timms, dreamed up a bold, far-reaching call for social good in the holiday season. After forming a partnership with the D.C.-based United Nations Foundation, Timms and his team focused in on the Tuesday after Cyber Monday—a day during which the hype of the Thanksgiving weekend retail binge would be in retreat. In strategically choosing the unclaimed Tuesday, Timms hoped to engage Americans and spur a sense of holiday giving that surpassed that of material gifts for family and friends, instead prompting Americans to volunteer their time and give online to the charities and nonprofits of their choosing.

Even in its first year, #GivingTuesday encompassed an ambitious scope. By way of successful social media and outreach campaigns, the group secured 2,600 participating charities and nonprofits in 2012. This year, that number rose to 8,300, and it includes big names from the business and nonprofit worlds alike such as Wal-Mart and FINCA International.

In terms of the day’s success in pulling donations, the year-over-year results have been notable. Blackbaud, the nonprofit technology provider—and one of #GivingTuesday’s original partners—tracks around 10 percent of U.S. online giving. In 2012, the firm noted $10.1 million in online donations on #GivingTuesday, with the average donation coming in at $101.60. This year, it documented a 90 percent spike from 2012’s total: the U.S. online donations it tracked hit $19.2 million on December 3rd, with the average gift rising to $142.05. These numbers fall in line with PayPal’s records, which highlight a 123.8 percent year-over-year rise in U.S. charitable mobile and online donations for #GivingTuesday 2013.

With this significant rise in volume, and with many nonprofits and charities reporting their largest single day donations ever, it certainly appears that Timms and his team may have been correct: Americans may well be ready for #GivingTuesday. While giving itself has been slowly recovering since the recession, the Blackbaud Index documented overall giving through October 2012 was up 4.4 percent compared to a year before. Online giving also grew 14 percent in 2012. Still, despite 2.5 million social media hits and nearly a thousand press mentions and shout-outs from the likes of USA Today, the Washington Post, Bill Gates and the White House, it will take several more years before we understand the full growth potential of #GivingTuesday and whether or not it will be solidified as a legitimate philanthropic movement.

So far, however, the momentum it’s achieved through the promotion of fundraising, volunteerism and social good has been admirable, and it’s largely due to the practices employed by its founders. Essentially, the initiative is based on a flat, transparent model that fully leverages digital platforms. Digital has proven itself an attractive conduit for giving, as donors find it convenient and transparent and charitable organizations consider it efficient. Additionally, instead of a top-down approach to philanthropy, #GivingTuesday positions organizations on a level playing field, which  promotes healthy competition among organizations that are vying for funds, while also encouraging nonprofits to continually engage and attract existing and potential supporters with social media. This engagement is the basis of long-term relationship building that can help generate committed and loyal bases of volunteers and donors for organizations, not only for #GivingTuesday, but every other day of the year, as well.

Regardless of #GivingTuesday’s future, it has already generated both an impact and a model that are worth aspiring towards. As the holiday giving season progresses, what initiatives is your organization attempting to leverage for year-end giving and philanthropy?