5 Years On: How #GivingTuesday Reached Ubiquity
By Susan McPherson, CEO of McPherson Strategies
#GivingTuesday, a global grassroots movement that started out as a mere napkin brainstorm, has reached ubiquity. And for once in my life, I was lucky enough to be in the “room where it happened”—or at least the moment the founders decided to start sharing their vision.
That room was in Rio de Janeiro at the 2012 Rio+20 Conference, where I was representing clients at an event with 92Y’s then deputy executive director, Henry Timms, and the UN Foundation’s VP of Communications, Aaron Sherinian. When the pair pulled me over to chat about Henry’s “big idea,” they were bubbling over with enthusiasm and a sense of wonder.
They said: “Susan, what if we could pull together a coalition to create an annual day of giving, following Thanksgiving, right around Black Friday and Cyber Monday?“ Instantly, I knew these two were on the cusp of something special. And 5 months later, #GivingTuesday was born.
A hodgepodge of do-gooders, global development executives and nonprofit leaders along with Blackbaud, Mashable, Skype, Case Foundation, Gates Foundation and other interested individuals came together, led by Timms and his team at 92Y, to launch the first #GivingTuesday on November 27, 2012.
That first year saw $10.1 million in funds donated via Blackbaud, the largest non-profit technology provider. In 2014, that number climbed to $26.1 million – a 159 percent increase from 2012 – as more and more corporations and non-profits began joining the grassroots movement. This year, Blackbaud reported $47.7 million donated on #GivingTuesday – remarkable growth and a testament to the movement’s increasingly global presence.
So, how did we get here? Five years after the inaugural event, I asked some of #GivingTuesday’s advisors and founding members about the growth of the movement and why they think it’s been so successful.
Timms, the founder of #GivingTuesday, says the movement succeeded “because a lot of people came together to build it. Someone once called #GivingTuesday a ‘barn-raising,’ which seems so right to me. It was made initially by a brain trust of people like Aaron Sherininan and Rob Reich and Sharon Feder, but it scaled because of the creativity of the non-profit and corporate sector and the essential goodness of people everywhere.”
What Timms describes about the creativity of #GivingTuesday is thanks in large part to the flexible, decentralised framework that lets anyone easily participate. According to Morra Aarons-Mele, founder of WomenOnline, “The incredible thing about #GivingTuesday is that it’s the most wonderfully flexible concept: Whether you’re the nation’s largest nonprofit or a local food pantry, whether you’re a 60-year-old billionaire or a six-year-old, #GivingTuesday offers a chance to energise supporters and get your story out there.
Beth Kanter, expert nonprofit blogger and a #GivingTuesday influencer, agrees, citing “the distributed nature of Giving Tuesday” as the biggest factor driving its growth. “Anyone can participate and adapt it and it doesn’t require a monolithic entity with a huge amount of resources to drive it.”
Rachel Hutchisson, who has witnessed the 317 percent growth in #GivingTuesday donations as the vice president of corporate citizenship and philanthropy at Blackbaud, echoes these sentiments: “From the very beginning, the movement has allowed everyone from individuals, cities and nonprofits, to small businesses, foundations and big corporations to celebrate generosity – by sharing voice, service and share of wallet.”
That flexibility also means that organisations, individuals and governments can participate from anywhere in the world. Says Adam Hirsch, global EVP at Edelman Digital, “I continue to be inspired by continual increased adoption of #GivingTuesday globally. This year, while I spent #GivingTuesday in London, I saw phenomenal #GivingTuesday content (emails, social posts, news) across the board. Everyone in our London office knows about the day and helped their clients with activations.”
Timms hoped for global adoption when he dreamed up #GivingTuesday, but didn’t expect it to happen so quickly and seamlessly. He says: “The global reach was a surprise. The way the idea took on its own resonance in different cultures and countries is really inspiring. Singapore turned it into a whole week!”
In coming years, the movement will only continue to grow more global, predicts Chrysula Winegar, senior director, communications & special initiatives at the UN Foundation. “I expect it to be a robust truly global movement in almost all countries. I believe it even has the potential to move the needle on giving as a percentage of GDP over time,“ says Winegar.
Online Giving Technology
Winegar also points out that recent advances in online giving technology also helped bolster the movement’s year-over-year growth. She says: “The online technology for donating has become stronger and stronger every year. Mobile giving used to be so painful and now it’s a snap. That coupled with the easy of social media makes sharing your giving less boastful and more of an effective added tool to support your cause.”
What’s next in this department? “I suspect we will see more adoption of virtual reality giving, like the experiment that Craig Newmark did on Crowdrise with the Giving Tower,” Kanter predicts.
Finally, insiders credit social media for fueling the democratic approach of #GivingTuesday and helping it spread like wildfire. Timms explains, “Social media played a big part. It seems absurd but I remember the argument about having the # at the start of #GivingTuesday, because people were worried that many folks wouldn’t know what it was.” Looks like they made the right choice.
“The world’s largest organisations and small ones all come together with the same message. It’s democracy and the power of social media and online networks at their best, and it gives me hope to think of that right now,” explains Aarons-Mele.
Adds Kanter: “I was totally grateful to have positive energy in my social media feed, especially on Facebook. Giving does make us all feel good.” In the midst of one of the most divisive years in recent memory, that’s certainly something we can all agree on.