Where the heck did #GivingTuesday come from?

By Rachel Kropa

To all the folks who don’t work in the nonprofit world (but who also don’t live under a social media rock): you’ve probably become familiar with the concept of #GivingTuesday over the last several years, but maybe you don’t remember how this concept arrived in your life. Now, it just feels like Mother’s Day — it’s always been here, and nobody owns it, but everyone with a heart has a soft spot for it.

The official heart logo of #GivingTuesday

A quick refresher (in case you haven’t been trolling the #GivingTuesday hashtag today) lives on the site of the originators themselves:

#GivingTuesday is a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration. Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving. Since its inaugural year in 2012, #GivingTuesday has become a movement that celebrates and supports giving and philanthropy with events throughout the year and a growing catalog of resources.

The site also explains that the idea was created by the team at the Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact at the 92nd Street Y (or 92Y).

The CAA Foundation’s first introduction to the new holiday came almost six years ago through friends of ours and of 92Y, the United Nations Foundation. Here’s how I remember our first meeting about it, and my memory was buoyed by our friend Danielle (Dani) Zapotoczny, UN Foundation Partnerships and Communications & UN Creative Community Outreach, who was also there at the beginning:

Early in 2012 (but not that early, I was reminded, because we didn’t have tons of lead time), Henry Timms, Executive Director of 92Y, and Asha Curran, Chief Innovation Officer and Director of the Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact, came to our Los Angeles office with Dani and Aaron Sherinian, then Chief Communications and Marketing Officer for the UN Foundation.

Our CAA Foundation team sat with them around a conference room table, and the pitch went something like:

“We need to take back the holidays for the purpose of good. Thanksgiving has become a trying time, where people now obsess and hurt each other over shopping sprees, and we want to remind people about the spirit of thanks and giving. So after Black Friday and Cyber Monday, we’d like to implement…Giving Tuesday. People will be reminded to be charitable, to do their end-of-year giving, and will have a better taste in their mouths after all the consuming that they’ve done.”

The logo and materials weren’t finalized, and even though we saw that the ship was still being built, it was a rare moment when the group of us in the meeting thought, “Okay, totally. That seems obvious enough. We’re in.”

There was no immediate ask; our job was simply to socialize the terminology with everyone we could. The UN Foundation would be the back end of the platform for the first two years — building the movement, helping with meetings like ours, doing outreach with other agencies, celebrities, and high-profile influencers — and then 92Y would ultimately house it. Until finally, people would just see it as good marketing for causes.

The concept has worked so well because it is, and always was intended to be, truly open source — a pure holiday that you can celebrate however you want. None of us was getting paid to promote it or was hoping to see any returns other than a shift in the thinking of humanity. Easy.

Now that #GivingTuesday has a Cannes Lions under its belt, and now that it has untold numbers of participants each year (here are a handful of examples from last year: Kerry Washington, Tony Goldwyn, Drew Barrymore, Mindy Kaling, Matthew McConaughey, Eva Longoria, Reese Witherspoon) our inboxes are all flooded with the hopes and dreams of every nonprofit and every worthy cause. #GivingTuesday has made it.


For our part, at this time of year, when CAA employees across the board are:

  • doing holiday volunteer activities with their departments
  • choosing families for our Adopt-A-Family programs
  • hosting holiday parties in our offices with children from local schools
  • wrapping presents for those same children and families
  • bringing in local, social businesses for our “Merry Market” events
  • sending out our holiday gift donation project to thousands of people globally
  • and more, not to mention doing their personal end-of-year giving…

…the CAA Foundation likes to support our colleagues’ favorite nonprofits. For #GivingTuesday, in each of our three domestic regions — southeast, northeast, and southwest — we offer a chance for our people to tell us what they care about, and nominate their cause of choice into a drawing to win a $10,000 grant.

This year’s #GivingTuesday theme at CAA

This year’s theme is TAKE ACTION, and employees are submitting suggestions under the headings of Peace & Justice, Education & Opportunity, Environment & Community, and Equality & Human Rights. I’ll throw my hat in the ring for Peer Health Exchange LA, under Education & Opportunity, for example!

Here are some of the lucky winners from last year, when the theme was EDUCATION programs: Pencils of Promise in New York, Aviva Family & Children’s Services in Los Angeles, and the Global Village Project outside Atlanta.

Last year’s #GivingTuesday entrants in Los Angeles

We’ll keep you posted about this year’s winners! Now, get out there and celebrate #GivingTuesday.