A Movement in the Making: #GivingTuesday

Social movements are fascinating for sociologists and anthropologists to study. It’s common knowledge, for instance, how the Civil Rights movement benefited from a close affiliation with Baptist churches throughout the southern United States. Meanwhile, if you analyze the rise of equal rights for women or abolitionism of slavery, you will find hearts, hands, and minds of many Quakers, including Margaret Fell, a progressive writer in the 17th Century, or Anthony Benezet and John Woolman who first asked fellow Quakers: “What thing in the world can be done worse towards us, than if men should rob or steal us away and sell us for slaves to strange countries?”

Abolitionism and equal rights eventually spread throughout the social fabric, often one church, meetinghouse, and pamphlet at a time. We’re obviously living an entirely different era today, where the social fabric has changed dramatically, but it’s always worth asking: how do movements spread?

Perhaps the word “movement” has taken on a different meaning in a world of technological connectivity. The Tea Party, Humans of New York, or Facebook itself are all examples of micro and macro movements.

Because our networks and affiliations are less dependent today on established institutions, Facebook is a great illustration of how movements can spread. Facebook began at Harvard, and before long built a presence in California and New York City. As you can see from these series of visuals, over time the company worked its way gradually inwards and across America from the coasts. After America was well secured, the company moved international.

Given the high degree of social and media connectivity on the coasts, that pattern is a fairly common way new ideas spread, but not the only one. The Tea (“taxed enough already”) Party began when CNBC commentator Rick Santelli was railing against the Obama Administration’s Homeowner Stability Plan and called for “a Chicago tea party in July” to protest. Widespread press and a meme of sorts followed, allowing groups to self-organize around the country.

Against this backdrop, it has been fascinating to watch the rise of #GivingTuesday over the past several years, which was launched as a response to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. (I have been an advisor to the founding group since inception.) What began as a loose posse of misfits has begun to take the inner parts of the country by storm, moving inward much like Facebook did. The results are starting to show, as the #GT team shared:

#GivingTuesday has more than 20,000 partners across all 50 U.S. States, including large corporations like Microsoft, JC Penny, Discover, Toys r Us and Ebay; small businesses like White Butterfly Giftshop and Jump Start Labs, nonprofit organizations like the American Red Cross, YMCA of the USA, cities like Lansing and Anchorage, states such as Maryland and Illinois, as well as 11 countries.
90 percent increase in online giving in 2013 compared to 2012, which saw a 53 percent increase.
40 percent increase in average gift size year-over-year (The average online gift on #GivingTuesday 2013 was $142.05, which was significantly up from $101.60 in 2012)
Henry Timms (credit: Crains NYC)

The early days were fun. Henry Timms, now the Executive Director of New York’s 92nd Street Y, had the original idea for #GT. He called the UN Foundation to partner, and got one of the best public relations hands in America, Aaron Sherinian, to play a leading role, and pulled a number of key advisors and influencers into the fold including Matthew Bishop of The Economist, Stanford Professor Rob Reich, Tom Tierney of the Bridgespan Group, and Libby Leffler of Facebook. Timms and his right hand, 92Y’s innovation director Asha Curran, then carefully recruited key players to help build a social media platform, including Adam Hirsch, now Executive Vice President of digital strategy at Edelman, and Hirsch’s very talented wife, Sharon Feder, then Chief Operating Officer of the popular tech blog Mashable.

That first year was very scrappy, although the 92Y and the UN Foundation did provide strong institutional credibility and support. The Gates Foundation endorsed the idea as did The Case Foundation and a handful of others.

Yet, even despite a good and credible team, we had a hard time getting officials at The White House to take the idea seriously. It took a barrage of lobbying, and a last minute article on Bloomberg before the White House offered its endorsement.

This year, meanwhile, the President offered a written proclamation offering his glowing support.

Today, #GivingTuesday has become a movement strong enough to secure the attention of political leaders, companies, thousands of nonprofits, and the Twitter sphere for a day. The Avon Foundation pledged $1 million to support organizations that tackled domestic violence. Meanwhile, the Coleman Foundation is seeking to use #GT as part of its efforts to engage 100,000 donors to raise $12 million for Illinois nonprofits. And, thousands of nonprofits from Texas to Ohio to Alabama will raise their flags on #GivingTuesday to their networks around a day of giving.

My great hope for #GivingTuesday is that the trend as a movement will continue, deeper and deeper into the fabric and grassroots of America. The team involved has done a superb job of building key partnerships, and a brand that has resonated across the web and social media. At a time when so many so called “leaders” are a part of the problem in America, the important work ahead will be to continue to give people the agency they so richly need to feel like they are part of the solution. To get involved, and take action, go to: http://www.givingtuesday.org/.

Peter Sims is a bestselling author and the cofounder of Fuse Corps, a social venture that gives 10–20 professionals each year the opportunity to spend a year helping governors, mayors and community leaders across the United States bring about social change.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.