As we reported last year, there’s a new entrant into the “holiday days” tradition – #GivingTuesday. The brainchild of New York’s 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation, #GivingTuesday is a movement to create a national day of giving to kick off the giving season and is celebrated the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

Participating nonprofits encourage donors to make an online gift on #GivingTuesday and to share stories about their gift and the causes they support on social media, tagging each post with #GivingTuesday. In 2012, the initiative’s first year, #GivingTuesday participants comprising more than 2,500 nonprofits from all fifty states saw more than $10 million in total donations. That’s a forty-six percent increase over online donations on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving the previous year. And the size of the average gift increased by twenty-five percent.  This year, Blackbaud is reporting a 90% increase in donations over last year.  In addition, below I had the chance to discuss this year’s results in length with Henry Timms, Interim Executive Director at 92nd Street Y.

So what led to #GivingTuesday? It started with Black Friday, named because it was the day a store’s profits turned from red to black. As retailers pushed their Black Friday opening hours to before midnight, Thanksgiving itself became Grey Thursday, with Cyber Monday becoming the day shoppers went online to make the purchases they didn’t get to over the long Thanksgiving shopping weekend. And then there’s Super Saturday, the last mad rush of shopping and sales on the Saturday before Christmas. The holiday shopping season can account for as much as forty percent of a retailer’s annual sales. In 2012, shoppers spent almost $60 billion on Black Friday alone.

The Way I See It

  • I see a continuing resurgence of charitable giving since the economic downturn. In 2012, Americans gave more than $316 billion. That’s up three and a half percent from 2011, and the third year of increasing contributions in a row.
  • I see mobile and online giving becoming an increasing part of the philanthropic landscape. Online donations grew by fourteen percent in 2012. That’s four times the rate giving has grown overall.
  • I see social media campaigns being the new wave of peer-to-peer giving, with donors using their social networks to find out about and develop trust in new causes and organizations.

The Way the Industry Sees It

I sat down with Henry Timms, Interim Executive Director at 92nd Street Y, to discuss the creation of #GivingTuesday and their goals for the upcoming holiday season and beyond.


92nd Street Y and the UN Foundation had a sizeable group of “influencers” contributing support and expertise to the project. How did that group come together, and what did the members bring to the table?

When we first thought of #GivingTuesday, we reached out to experts in the philanthropy and social media worlds who could help us turn this idea into a successful and constructive initiative.  The notion of “a day for giving back” after Black Friday and Cyber Monday resonated with people immediately, who were really forthcoming with critical pieces of advice that set us on the right course. One big idea came from Matthew Bishop, US Editor and NY Bureau Chief for The Economist, who emphasized the importance of #GivingTuesday being the “opening day of the giving season.” Other suggestions we received early on were incorporating education and toolkits into the campaign, and creating an open-source movement. Our early advisors included my mentor Kathy Calvin, President and Chief Executive Officer of the United Nations Foundation, who has been an extraordinary partner in these efforts and her expertise and digital savvy have been at the heart of getting this to scale.   We also engaged our networks by taking the idea on the road to Chicago, Silicon Valley, and elsewhere. We invited people in those areas to brainstorm, help us shape the concept, and spread the word.

What were the biggest hurdles you had to overcome in the launch of #GivingTuesday?

We needed resources and amplification. Both of these challenges were met – and overcome – with the help of a tremendous number of people who lent their time and expertise to #GivingTuesday.  In our first year, we launched seventy days before #GivingTuesday, and having enthusiastic and influential ambassadors like the White House and Bill Gates were especially helpful in putting us on the map. In addition, by making the movement open-source, we tried to empower leaders and influencers in their respective fields to take the movement on as their own and spread the word through their networks. The creativity and entrepreneurialism we saw around #GivingTuesday is really inspirational.

How did the results meet with your expectations? What went better than you expected? Or not as well?

The results of the campaign remind us how generous people really are. On Wednesday last week, Blackbaud reported online giving was up ninety percent over #GivingTuesday in 2012. Obviously these kinds of results exceeded all of our expectations.  We could not have imagined seeing this kind of impact in the second year of this initiative, and we want to thank the countless people around the world that helped to make “giving back” such a proud start to the giving season. In the United States, 8,500 partners (and a total of 10,000 worldwide) – nonprofit organizations large and small, along with their corporate and business supporters – demonstrated how innovative and entrepreneurial that sector is. The range of partners is also extraordinary – international corporations and nonprofits like Microsoft, Unilever, Care and United Way; local food banks and animal shelters; campaigns in developing countries (in partnership with the UN Development Programme) that celebrated local heroes, including a group in Burundi holding a blood drive.

How has what you learned last year shaped what you’re planning this year?

This year, we focused more on being a hub for education. We gathered the best resources and voices across sectors to provide nonprofits, corporations, religious and learning institutions, and families and individuals with a framework for sharing best practices and helping people to come up with innovative ways to raise funds in better, smarter ways. We offered Google hangouts and Facebook Q&A’s, and Google teamed up with Mashable to hold the first-ever Google Hangout-a-Thon on #GivingTuesday, where the individuals who were running campaigns could share their successes and spread the word about their causes.  One of the messages we emphasized this year was the importance of integrating #GivingTuesday into an organization’s overall year-end fundraising campaign.  With more time for organizations to plan, we saw much more of that this year.

How has social media shaped the way people give?

Social media is providing a space in which a whole new generation of philanthropists is essentially coming of age.  It’s clear that “sharing” has become part of our culture, and it’s also clear that people are interested in sharing their passion for causes they believe in.  The “#unselfie” is a great example of this.  As you may know, “selfie” was chosen as the word of the year by the Oxford Dictionary.  #GivingTuesday turned that idea on its head with the “unselfie,” encouraging people to take photos the share how and why they were supporting the causes they believe in.  More than 7,000 photos with the tag #unselfie were posted around #GivingTuesday on Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and Facebook.  Social media campaigns like the #unselfie delivered the #GivingTuesday messages that every act of giving helps and you don’t have to be wealthy to give back.

What kind of data are your participants collecting from #GivingTuesday donations, and how are they using it?

One kind of data, which came in right after #GivingTuesday last week, was reported by the companies who process online giving, and that data showed huge increases in giving on #GivingTuesday 2013 when compared with #GivingTuesday 2012.  Blackbaud reported a ninety percent increase in giving among the nonprofits using their service, and DonorPerfect reported a one hundred sixty-two percent increase among their clients.  Paypal reported a 99.9 percent increase in total online and mobile charitable donations this year, compared with #GivingTuesday last year. But #GivingTuesday is also about shift in thinking, and we will be gathering data from our partners to tell their stories.  We are collecting photos, videos, and anecdotal evidence that will ultimately provide a picture of the campaigns and initiatives that took place on #GivingTuesday.  We are also monitoring social media for results posted by partners, and for feedback that comes in via social media.  (The hashtag #GivingTuesday was used 269,000 times on December 3 and #GivingTuesday trended on Twitter for a good part of the day.) In addition, we’ll be surveying our partners in the coming months and ultimately sharing that information with them so we can all continue to build on the best, most successful ideas and campaigns.

What’s the most interesting thing in your office?

Really, the most interesting thing in my office is the meetings that happen there. We have an incredible team at 92Y, and the way they are re-imagining what our organization can deliver is really inspiring.