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After the turkey and stuffing have become leftovers, after the WalMart aisles have been raided and pillaged, and after Amazon has convinced you to buy it all (with just one click!), the nonprofit world will turn its eyes next week on “Giving Tuesday.”

After the turkey and stuffing have become leftovers, after the WalMart aisles have been raided and pillaged, and after Amazon has convinced you to buy it all (with just one click!), the nonprofit world will turn its eyes next week on "Giving Tuesday." Created as a response to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, this “holiday” was established to “celebrate and encourage charitable activities, volunteer opportunities and advocacy to support non-profit organizations.”

Here at Philanthropy Daily, we have covered Giving Tuesday since its inception. This year, however, the critical voices have amassed quite the choir, with a wide range of vocalists bemoaning themes like guilt giving, boorish begging, and creeping corporatism.

In 2012, the 92nd Street Y spearheaded Giving Tuesday, and later, partnered with the United Nations Foundation to expand the event’s reach. Today, Giving Tuesday boasts of widespread support both domestically and abroad. Organizations like the American Red Cross, UNICEF (US Fund), Robin Hood, March of Dimes, and the It Gets Better Project support the event, in ways such as through CrowdRise’s Giving Tower, which seeks to integrate social networking, giving, and fundraising.

Since its launch two years ago, Giving Tuesday has always had its critics. Leading the charge was Timothy Ogden, writing a number of articles from 2012 to 2013 in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, revealing his skepticism. Ogden’s early arguments (like those expressed in his “Curmudgeon’s Guide to Giving Tuesday”) doubt whether Giving Tuesday will actually increase gift giving. Instead, Ogden writes, “What it could do is shift more giving to the week of Thanksgiving from other times of the year.”

Ogden introduces a good point – one which philanthropic studies have yet to empirically test. Despite all the Giving Tuesday success stories (e.g., USA Today: “[O]nline giving was up 50% on last year’s first Giving Tuesday over same day in 2011,” etc.), we are quite unsure whether it “cannibalizes year end giving.” (I will note, however, that Connected Nonprofit identifies that testing from before Giving Tuesday concludes November giving does not “dilute year-end giving.” Whether this pattern continues through the Giving Tuesday era remains an open question.)

Other criticisms of the event have pointed to the alleged inappropriateness of using guilt to motivate fundraising. On this charge, CNET declared in 2012, “Giving Tuesday: Your Penance after Black Friday, Cyber Monday.” The Nonprofit Center at LaSalle University introduced nuance to this argument:

When giving to charities is a salve for something that made us feel guilty, that giving to charities becomes a punishment or penance rather than what it should be – a free-flowing desire to help, give back, make a difference, etc.

(I will note, though, that the guilt argument somewhat curiously assumes that consumers should feel guilty for Black Friday or Cyber Monday shopping --- shopping that is ordinarily to buy gifts for loved ones during the holiday season. But I digress. . . . )

The most recent addition to the choir of criticism comes from an opinion piece in last week’s Chronicle of Philanthropy. David Nocenti, executive director of an East Harlem nonprofit organization, charges the philanthropic world to use this opportunity as a truly Giving Tuesday, that is, rather than use the day for fundraising appeals, to use it for altruism. To quote Nocenti:

"Giving Tuesday" is beginning to feel like "Begging Tuesday," which risks alienating those we are trying to reach, and potentially harming the entire nonprofit sector. . . . By focusing on giving, as opposed to asking for gifts, we aim to inspire hundreds of people to join in helping others.

Beggars may not be able to be choosers but, as Nocenti argues, beggars can become givers.

Nocenti’s perspective on the status quo of Giving Tuesday is right: A quick Twitter search of the heavily advertised “#GivingTuesday” finds that nearly 90 percent of tweets include donor appeals by both individuals and nonprofits (the remainder are largely commentaries about the day). Whether this will change before next Tuesday remains an open question.

The Giving Tuesday website offers a two-part challenge: “to give something more” and “then tell everyone you can about how you are giving.” While the event organizers are unmoved by the criticisms, the opposing voices initiate a healthy discussion surrounding this event’s impact on the broader philanthropic agenda.

I anxiously await next week’s Giving Tuesday, and look forward to seeing how these broader discussions alter the landscape, both in terms of nonprofit giving and with regard to altruism and generosity, during this time of thanksgiving.

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