Organizers launch ‘Giving Tuesday’ to help charities

First, there was Black Friday. Then Cyber Monday. Then this year, Black Friday became Gray Thursday.

Now there’s a new event vying for the country’s attention during the holiday shopping season — Giving Tuesday.

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Growth in charitable donations
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Growth in charitable donations

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More than 2,000 charities across the country, including several locally, held volunteer, social media and cyber-giving drives Tuesday in honor of what organizers hope will become a “national day of giving” to encourage Americans to donate to their favorite causes during the holidays.

Although it may never approach the hysteria of Black Friday, the event seemed to be attracting buzz: By midmorning #givingtuesday was a trending topic on Twitter.

Locally, the Case Foundation launched a matching-donation campaign with another nonprofit group on the social philanthropy site Crowd­rise and exceeded its goal of $35,000 by noon. Ultimately, more than $120,000 was raised.

“It’s been an overwhelming success,” said Allyson Burns, the vice president of communications for the foundation of AOL founder Steve Case and his wife, Jean.

“Beyond the consumer focus of Cyber Monday and Black Friday, I think people are a little anxious to do something more this holiday,” she said.

Cylia Lowe, 37, a government attorney, was driving to work near Burtonsville on Tuesday when she heard about Giving Tuesday on the radio. She had battled Friday crowds at Wal-Mart and Target to buy stocking stuffers for her family, but there was something more satisfying about going online to donate $75 to support a homeless child, she said.

“After all the frenzy of shopping, it’s pausing and saying, ‘This is what this season is really about,’ ” Lowe said.

Americans, who donated $298 billion to charity last year, gave 2 percent more through September this year, according to Steve MacLaughlin, the director of the Idea Lab at Blackbaud, which is tracking the donor data for the event. Total giving is on the rise but those amounts are still down from the $306 billion given in pre-recession 2007, according to the annual report from Giving USA.

Figures on the total amount raised Tuesday will not be available until Wednesday, but it will be difficult to measure whether Giving Tuesday, as with similar events, will spark an overall increase in giving, experts say.

“I think it will be interesting to see if this national movement does lead to more giving, more volunteering and more advocacy,” said Una Osili, the director of research at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, which puts out the Giving USA report. “I think it’s too early to say.”

The idea for Giving Tuesday was born last year at 92nd Street Y in New York, when Henry Timms, its deputy executive director, began pondering how to harness the brand power behind Black Friday to benefit philanthropy.

“Everybody talks about the giving season. . . . We thought it would be great to give the giving season an opening day,” Timms said. About a third of all charitable donations occur in the last three months of the year, experts say.

They partnered with the United Nations Foundation and assembled a high-profile “Team of Influencers” — including executives from Mashable, Groupon and Facebook — for support. Dozens of Web sites that combine social media and giving are also participating.

Volunteers were urged to donate their time as well as money. Locally, they put up Christmas trees in the lobby of the Four Seasons hotel in Georgetown that will be auctioned to support a pediatric cancer program at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. The Shakespeare Theatre promoted it to their subscribers and donors.

And Bright Beginnings, a D.C. nonprofit group that works with the homeless, urged supporters on its Web site who got “great deals” on Black Friday to open up their pocketbooks and give either $75 or $150 to adopt a homeless child or family for counseling and assistance.

Lowe said she chose to donate to Bright Beginnings because she had previously given it toys during the holidays. She generally spends about $3,000 a year on charitable giving, including in-kind donations, $1,000 more than the average household.

“My family toned down on gifts a long time ago,” she said. “That's kind of what the holiday season is all about, the ability to give back to people who are less fortunate.”

Giving Tuesday also had a far-reaching presence on social media, including a Google “hangout” with organizers on YouTube and a Twitter and e-mail blast called a “thunderclap” Tuesday afternoon that reached 2.5 million.

Organizers are hoping to use social media to tap younger donors such as Vanessa Strickland, 28, an actor and substitute teacher from Olney who gave $25 Tuesday to a program that supports young playwrights in the local schools.

Strickland said she gives between $50 and $100 a year to charity, supporting cancer foundations and art projects or start-up efforts on fundraising sites such as Kickstarter.

“I think it’s a pretty good idea,” she said. “If you’re able to buy a new TV or a TV on the cheap, I know it wouldn’t be hurting you to give a little more. I think we neglect [charity] sometimes in lieu of material things. It’s that time of year.”

 
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