Giving Tuesday is a movement that began two years ago to create a national day that would kick off the giving season each year. With spending hyped up through Black Friday and Cyber Monday, why shouldn’t charitable giving get in on the action? And it seems that so far, declaring a day that will kick-start holiday giving has paid off: according to Giving Tuesday’s website, last year saw anywhere between a 46- to a 53-percent increase in charitable donations on Giving Tuesday from the previous year.
But do we need an actual day to remind us that we should donate to charitable causes? Ideally not. Ideally, we would be cognizant enough of the need that exists in our communities—for children, for veterans, for the homeless and the hungry, for the disadvantaged—because the circumstances through which most people find themselves in a position of need are generally out of their control. And at the very least, we as humans can have some empathy for fellow human beings. That being said, recognizing a day to actively remind us of this need doesn’t hurt either.
For me, it comes down to what we identify as charitable giving. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, philanthropy is “the practice of giving money and time to help make life better for other people.” That means that it can come in many forms and doesn’t have to be tax deductible. There are plenty of studies that look at giving patterns, identifying how much households at a certain income threshold give, how much religious affiliation plays into giving patterns, the role geography plays in charitable giving and even which days and what time during the day has garnered the most donations. But ultimately, it comes down to the individual. The numbers also prove this: in 2009, individuals made 75 percent of all charitable donations.
The role of the individual is further reinforced when we look at philanthropists and their work. In the past month, The Commonwealth Club hosted different philanthropists who have found very different ways to give back. Father and son Howard G. Buffett and Howard W. Buffett spoke about their book, 40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World, and their efforts to reduce food insecurity around the world. Adventure philanthropist Erin Michelson talked about her two-year trip around the world through which she connected with local NGOs and donated her time and expertise. Though both efforts have different methodologies of gauging need and meeting it, different focus areas and different means of implementing their goals, the common current is the drive to help others and use their own resources to do so. In order for charitable giving to work, that’s exactly what we need: a constellation of people who are interested in helping different causes in different ways through different mechanisms. Those differences allow the focus to be widespread so that multiple causes have the support systems they need to succeed.
These examples are also a reminder that, as cliché as it sounds, each of us can help in our own way, one that doesn’t have to be some burdensome sacrifice on our part, but simply a part of who we are and what we do. Being a philanthropist shouldn’t mean that you have to travel around the world and spend a ton of money to help other people. Philanthropy in and of itself comes in many forms: it can be as informal as helping a friend move, or helping a family member prep for an upcoming job interview. It can be as easy as buying an extra can of food for the local food drive while you’re grocery shopping or digging through old clothes and donating what you don’t wear anymore. Many of us may not have discretionary income to donate to charitable causes, but volunteering our time and expertise and helping others—both people we know and those we don’t know—all counts.
Ultimately, that’s what philanthropy is about: helping to make life better for someone else. So while it helps to have national days like Giving Tuesday to remind us to do the big things and the little things, my hope is that for the other 364 days of the year, we’ll remember to do the same anyway.