November 20, 2014

Charities Should Give, Not Beg, on Giving Tuesday

"Giving Tuesday" is starting to feel more like "Begging Tuesday," 24 hours of endless donation requests, which risks alienating those we are trying to reach.

In just two short years, Giving Tuesday—the global day of giving on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving—has evolved from an inspirational idea to a worldwide media and philanthropic phenomenon.

And while my organization, which is East Harlem’s oldest and largest social service provider, has used the day with great success to contact our past donors and reach out to potential new ones, this year we are taking a new tack. Instead of asking others to give to us, we will be the ones doing the giving on December 2.

That’s because for all the success of the daylong campaign, it is now becoming 24 hours of endless donation requests, with every nonprofit jockeying for attention, mindshare, and donor dollars.

The unfortunate result is that, in these same two short years, "Giving Tuesday" is beginning to feel like "Begging Tuesday," which risks alienating those we are trying to reach, and potentially harming the entire nonprofit sector.

The initial organizers of Giving Tuesday—the 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation—had a terrific idea when they pitched the concept of creating a counterpoint to spending-focused Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday.

Giving Tuesday has been especially powerful as a demonstration of the impact of social media on giving. Last year, #GivingTuesday raised $19-million, a 90-percent increase over the $10-million raised the year before. The cause was the subject of over 300,000 Tweets in a single day, and Google+ and Mashable lent their support by hosting a 12-hour "Hangout-a-thon" to help connect donors and causes. All of this and more led Kathy Calvin, chief executive of the United Nations Foundation, to say, "#GivingTuesday is not a moment, it’s a movement."

This effort to organize nonprofits, businesses, and government leaders to support giving has been a tremendous accomplishment. But let’s reconsider what giving means, and demonstrate the importance of giving not through pleas, but through our own acts of kindness.

I urge all nonprofits to join my organization in not asking for money on Giving Tuesday. Instead, let’s give to the communities we serve and to the people who support us.

This year, I and other Union Settlement employees will be walking the streets of East Harlem, giving away hundreds of single-ride transit farecards to members of our community. We will then ask each recipient to give in some way to at least three other people, such as visiting someone who is lonely, bringing food to someone who is hungry, or offering a helping hand to someone needing assistance. We’ll also ask them to tell us how they gave and to post their charitable actions online.

By focusing on giving, as opposed to asking for gifts, we aim to inspire hundreds of people to join in helping others.

Imagine if all nonprofits took this same approach to Giving Tuesday. Through our collective action, we could demonstrate the power of benevolence, inspire others to "pay it forward," and create a national wave of altruism that would last long past the holiday season.

David Nocenti is executive director of Union Settlement Association, in East Harlem.