October 28, 2012

400 Groups Sign Up for National Day of Giving

Organizers of #GivingTuesday hope the spirit of holiday giving and the fervor of big end-of-the-year shopping days will entice people to make charitable contributions and volunteer. Charities, corporations, and other groups are participating.

Leaders of a new movement to make the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving an annual day of giving say they have enlisted more than 400 charities, corporations, and other groups to participate in this year’s inaugural event, called #GivingTuesday.

That’s far more than organizers expected—and many more groups could still join in.

“We’ve already beaten one of my expectations. I thought that if we signed on 100 partners, we’d be doing well,” says Kathy Calvin, chief executive at the United Nations Foundation, one of #GivingTuesday’s founding partners.

Event leaders hope to tap the spirit of holiday giving on November 27, as well as the fervor created by the Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping days that precede #GivingTuesday, by using text messages and social networks like Twitter and Facebook. (The campaign’s title itself includes a Twitter hashtag.)

The nonprofits participating in #GivingTuesday say they are enthusiastic about the new opportunity to reach donors and are gearing up to take advantage of it.

But some charities say they are keeping their fundraising expectations modest for this first event.

Hangouts and a Blog

Charities make up the majority of the campaign’s participants, and they can sign up to take part anytime until November 6.

Corporations or schools that are working to benefit at least one charity on November 27 can also join the drive.

With the help of an online “partner tool kit,” charities and other participants can post press releases about events they have planned for that day on the campaign’s Web site,

The site includes a blog that will help participants share ideas on how to take advantage of the event.

#GivingTuesday’s organizers also plan to hold weekly online “hangouts” on Google+ to get more charities and companies involved and to spur collaboration among those that have already committed.

“We’ve tried to make this as easy as possible. This is about involving as many groups as we can sign on,” says Henry Timms, who devised the idea for #GivingTuesday and who serves as deputy executive director of the 92nd Street Y, a Jewish community and cultural center in New York.

Tapping Social Media

Charities that are participating in #GivingTuesday are offering a wide range of programs. Not all are geared to fundraising.

The American Red Cross is encouraging its 600 local chapters to hold volunteer events on November 27.

“It gives us a great chance to bring together our chapter networks and volunteers in a spirit of giving and discuss how we’re reaching people,” says Wendy Harman, director of social strategies at the American Red Cross.

The charity will also attempt to tap into its 777,000 followers on Twitter, 455,000 Facebook friends, and readers of its blog.

It will ask them to donate blood on #GivingTuesday, take part in a sales drive based on the charity’s holiday catalog, or make a donation online or via text message.

'A Brilliant Idea’

Even though the American Red Cross, like many other charities, is in the midst of gearing up for its own annual holiday campaign, it has set aside time to prepare for #GivingTuesday.

Organizers of #GivingTuesday sought out media-savvy companies like Groupon and Mashable to serve as “social-media ambassadors” to help nonprofits use new technologies, get in touch with each other, and share ideas, and that has encouraged charities to participate.

“We feel like we haven’t had to do this all ourselves,” Ms. Harman says. “One of the plusses is having both charities and companies involved. Everyone is bringing their own communities to this. The chance to be in contact with all of them is exciting.”

After the event is finished, Ms. Harman says the Red Cross will evaluate whether it generated more social-media traffic, as well as donations of blood and cash, than it did during the same week last year. “There’s no real risk in doing this,” she adds.

Other groups aren’t banking on huge gains but are taking part because they believe #GivingTuesday will raise the profile of charities in general.

“We’re not going to spend a lot of money on this because we don’t expect a flood of donations from it,” says Nancy Lublin, chief executive of, an organization that encourages young people to volunteer. “But it’s such a brilliant idea that I’m planning to be part of it, to look around and to write some checks of my own. This is the first year, so it’s all about getting the date set in people’s minds, not raking in a lot of money.”

The group does have one #GivingTuesday fundraising event in mind, however. It will ask its 2.2 million members to send text messages to people over 25 that include a five-question quiz about the charitable interests of teenagers and young adults.

Included will be multiple-choice questions like “What are the two hottest causes for young people?” If the adult doesn’t text back the correct answer—in this case, animal rights and homelessness—he or she will be asked to donate $10 to the group., which depends heavily on corporations and private foundations for its $8-million annual budget, receives only 2 percent of its income from individuals,

Ms. Lublin isn’t counting on #GivingTuesday to reverse that trend. “We’re involved with this because it will raise people’s consciousness about philanthropy,” she says.

Wasted-Food Drive

Some organizations are still kicking around ideas about their #GivingTuesday programs.

Oxfam America, a national antipoverty charity, is trying to decide whether to fold its fundraising campaigns into #GivingTuesday events or to come up with new ideas, says Victoria Marzilli, the group’s new-media specialist.

Oxfam America is considering starting a #GivingTuesday program focused on making people more aware of Thanksgiving leftovers and wasted food, as well as another called “Skip-a-Meal,” which encourages people to donate the cost of a meal they may have gone without.

“We’re debating how to spin this,” says Ms. Marzilli. “Maybe we could sell the idea as 'If you haven’t found the perfect gift while shopping, why not give where it makes a difference?’”

The group has what Ms. Marzilli calls “soft goals” for the event, in part because of a worry that people may not have much money left after shopping to give to charity.

“The only challenge for us, really, is we’re promoting ourselves through social media, which isn’t always an easy way for nonprofits to raise money,” says Ms. Marzilli.

“Just because they received a tweet or word of a campaign online doesn’t mean you’re going to see a swell in donations. You have to be more holistic in your approach. We’ll be looking to see how well GivingTuesday goes.”

As will the event’s organizers.

“We’ve created a brand new network around the U.S. in only three or four months,” Mr. Timms says. “Our ultimate goal is to make this an annual happening, to establish this in the national consciousness.”