It's being called a movement. Something big. For Aaron Sherinian, vice president for the United Nations Foundation, it's changing his view of a global world.
Giving Tuesday, an annual day of giving slated for the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, seeks to rival Black Friday and Cyber Monday by celebrating the philosophy of giving during the holidays, and by kicking off the giving season on a specific day: Tuesday, Dec. 3. In a sign of the day’s connection to social media campaigns, the group uses the Twitter hashtag symbol in front of its name – #GivingTuesday – as a way to spread the cause.
"There's a day for giving thanks, a day for getting deals, and a day for shopping online,” said Sherinian, who spearheads communications and public relations for the U.N. Foundation, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization supporting the U.N., and originally founded through a gift from media magnate Ted Turner.
"There's really no day to give back. We're putting giving back on the map," said Sherinian.
Giving Tuesday aims to be this national day of giving. It was unofficially added to the calendar last year, on Nov. 27, 2012. The initiative works through partners to innovate better and smarter ways to donate monetarily, primarily to nonprofit organizations.
Last year, there were more than 2,500 partners from every state that participated in the special day. Through more than 50 million participants, #GivingTuesday was a top trend on Twitter last year.
All told, more than $10 million in online donations were gifted last year, as calculated by Blackbaud, a software company that tabulates donations to nonprofit organizations. Blackbaud's records show a 53 percent increase from Tuesday after Thanksgiving in 2011.
A community’s brainchild
Giving Tuesday started with a question: “What if the giving season had an opening day?”
That inspirational question, posed by Henry Timms, interim executive director of the 92nd Street Y in New York City, took off in collaboration with Sherinian and Kathy Calvin, CEO of the United Nations Foundation.
"It was [the UN Foundation’s] strategic insight and communication savvy that turned Giving Tuesday from a nice idea into something that began to look like a movement," said Timms, whose 92nd Street Y has been a pivotal anchor of the Jewish community, and through interaction with people of all backgrounds.
"People in all 50 states, from local stores to national companies, are coming together to celebrate the great spirit of giving in this country," he said.
Giving Tuesday has some ambitious goals this year. The city of Baltimore is looking to raise $5 million online on that one day through the help of their local partners. The United Methodist Church has put up a $500,000 matching grant to challenge their global congregation to match funds made for the Methodist church.
One of the ways Giving Tuesday is revolutionizing the giving industry is through its efforts to make philanthropy more accessible.
Rachel Hutchisson, head of corporate citizenship at Blackbaud and a partner with Giving Tuesday since its inception last year, is focusing on three initiatives: one each aimed at customers, employees and small/mid-size businesses.
Blackbaud is producing free webinars about Giving Tuesday as a teaching tool for customers to learn how to leverage the event as part of their year-end fundraising, Hutchisson said.
Through a Flickr feed on its website, Blackbaud is documenting the ways that its 2,700 Blackbaud employees are giving back, including as writing to soldiers and volunteering at pet shelters.
On Giving Tuesday, Blackbaud will also be launching a new website at BusinessDoingGood.com. The website will help small and mid-sized businesses build a give-back business, teaching them how to create strategic plans for incorporating philanthropy into their businesses.
"We really wanted to use our broad social networking to spread the good message about Giving Tuesday," she said. “It really is for everyone."
For its creators, the aim of Giving Tuesday is to propel philanthropy globally and to take the responsibility for giving off the shoulders of nonprofit organizations alone. They want to build on the historically charitable nature of Americans. According to the World Giving Index, produced by the Charity Aid Foundation, the United States was the most charitable country in 2011, although that ranking dropped to fifth in 2012, behind Australia, Ireland, Canada and New Zealand.
"(Giving) is something we agree on,” said Sherinian. “You can't help but realize that this is a country of generous people. Generosity is found in every ZIP code and in every community around the world."
But because Giving Tuesday is not a centralized entity, the sum total of the giving cannot be measured by any one specific entity such as the 92nd Street Y, or the United Nations Foundation. Instead, they aim to measure giving through multiple platforms of online donations tabulated together.
"We really wanted people to have a direct relationship with their donors and supporters," Timms said.
A new partner of Giving Tuesday is The Family Dinner Project, a nonprofit that encourages families to eat together and engage in conversations about gratitude, giving and connecting within a community.
For Timms, these add-on movements are an essential component to the overall success of Giving Tuesday, because it strategically implements the grassroots movement of giving — the family.
"Talking about philanthropy with children couldn't be more important," Timms said. "I don't think you can measure that kind of thing now, but you'll be able to measure it in twenty years' time. We need to think about the next generation of philanthropists."
The rise of the 'unselfie'
Another initiative of the Giving Tuesday movement is the concept of the “unselfie,” or photo of someone or something giving back that is shared via social media.
With less than two weeks to go before Giving Tuesday, social media platform and photo sharing application Instagram has nearly 2,000 photos attached to it using the social media hashtag #unselfie.
After all, social media sites like Instagram and Twitter are like the oxygen animating the charitable donation lifeblood in Giving Tuesday’s effort to revolutionize philanthropy.
“We are so lucky to live in a time when you can leverage” social media in philanthropy, Sherinian said.
And with more than 100 million Instagram users, according to the Instagram official site, the #unselfie is a trend that's bound to catch on.
"People share images of what they ate for dinner and what they're wearing and what concert they are at,” said Sherinian. “The unselfie says I want to catch me or my friends doing something to show us giving back. That's not braggy. It's just smart."
The positive peer pressure like the unselfie will encourage a nation, and perhaps a globe, to give back.
"We're living in extraordinary times. You don't have to be famous or a billionaire; you don't have to be an expert to be a really good, authentic giver," Sherinian said.