The days following Thanksgiving have traditionally focused on shopping with Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. Then in 2012, #GivingTuesday was launched. The day not only celebrates giving money to support nonprofits—it also underscores everything else we have to give, including our time, knowledge, kindness, and respect, says Rebecca Riccio, director of Northeastern’s Social Impact Lab, a hub of innovation experiential curricula, programming, and events designed to empower social change and civic engagement across disciplines and around the world. “Our power to make a difference isn’t limited to the size of our bank accounts, and we can exercise it year-round,” she says.
We asked Riccio about how successful the #GivingTuesday campaign has been and the impact social media has had on philanthropic movements in general.
How have nonprofits and brands embraced #GivingTuesday and how successful has the movement been?
The attention generated by extensive traditional and social media coverage would qualify #GivingTuesday as a successful awareness campaign, but there is evidence that it has fueled a significant jump in giving as well. The technology provider Blackbaud analyzed the year-to-year fundraising performance of 3,800 nonprofit clients on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving and found a 40 percent increase in the size of online gifts and a 270 percent jump in online giving from 2011 to 2013. The movement is growing in size as well. In just the U.S. this year, 18,000 partners have joined #GivingTuesday, double last year’s total, and there are additional partners around the world.
Those figures are impressive, but I am far more excited by the creativity of the movement and the diversity of its members. The community includes nonprofit organizations of all kinds, foundations, community groups, families and individuals, small businesses, large corporations, student groups, religious institutions, and towns and cities. Nonprofits are building creative fundraising campaigns; retailers are encouraging giving; families are learning how to talk about giving at the dinner table; and community organizations are inspiring people to do good in their neighborhoods and around the world. #GivingTuesday even mobilized Congress to agree on something. The House of Representatives recently passed a resolution to recognize the day as “an opportune time for people in the United States and the world to come together and show how powerful humanity can be when we unite to give to promote causes that promote peace, progress, and prosperity for a better world.”
What role has social media played in philanthropy and the spirit of giving around the holidays?
Social media unleashes the power of personal networks, which are critical to philanthropy because we know that people are highly motivated to give when they are asked by a friend or relative. People can use social media to share their own giving stories and inspire others to take action during the season of giving. As a philanthropy educator, I appreciate the potential for social media and the Internet in general to democratize and facilitate giving, but I can’t refrain from adding a cautionary note. It may be quick and easy to make a donation with a few mouse clicks, but reflexive or spontaneous giving isn’t necessarily effective. People should spend a little time researching the organizations they support to ensure that their money will be used effectively. Collectively we donate more than $300 billion a year to charity in the United States. Nonprofit organizations are dealing with too many important issues in their neighborhoods and around the world for us to make random decisions about where all that money goes.
What are students in The Social Impact Lab doing to give back between now and the end of the year? How can other students on campus get involved?
Philanthropy is one of the levers of social change we explore in the Social Impact Lab, with an emphasis on purposeful and informed giving. One of our programs, Northeastern Students4Giving, allows students to explore the intersection of social change and social funding by giving $20,000 a year to local nonprofit organizations using rigorous standards for impact and sustainability. Students can enroll in two human services courses to participate in the process: “Human services professions” and “Strategic philanthropy & nonprofit management.” My students have just decided to invest in nonprofit organizations using advocacy and lobbying to achieve lasting systemic change for vulnerable and under-represented populations. Their request for proposals will be released at the end of this semester; spring semester students will review the proposals, conduct site visits, and select grantees.