Giving Tuesday and Sunday Christians

Very likely you had much the same experience I did on “Giving Tuesday” -- being pressed all day long to make a donation to various causes. It started when I bought my early morning coffee at my local coffee shop and was asked to make a donation to a charity along with my purchase. When I arrived at work and opened my email inbox, there were already a few emails from various organizations whose email lists I subscribe to, each asking for a donation. More such messages poured in over the morning. One suggested that I not only make a donation but tweet, “perfect antidote to overspending on #BlackFriday, try #GivingTuesday.” I almost felt sorry for the hapless nonprofit whose request for a donation didn’t make it into my inbox before 3:30pm: what was its staff thinking, getting last in such a long line of worthy organizations asking for my money?

Giving Tuesday is a brand-new addition to the ever-extending train of days after Thanksgiving: Black Friday (so-called from the 1970s onward), Small Business Saturday (coined in 2010), and Cyber Monday (coined in 2005).

What’s next? Wrapping Wednesday? Exchange-and-return Thursday?

Giving Tuesday was initiated with good intentions. As explained in an ABC News report:

The idea for the campaign sprung from Henry Timms, deputy executive director of the Jewish community center 92nd Street Y, and Kathy Calvin, CEO of the United Nations Foundation. Timms began thinking about the concept during the holidays last year, and the idea gained momentum this past spring.

“When 92Y’s Henry Timms called he explained the opportunity this way, ‘We have a day for giving thanks, two days for getting deals. Why shouldn't there be a day for giving back?’” Calvin said.

She said the UN Foundation loved the idea.

“There are so many creative ways that people can volunteer and donate in today's world of social media,” Calvin said. “A national day of giving back around the holiday shopping season just makes sense. It helps people everywhere make the most of their philanthropic side.”

I can see why one would think Giving Tuesday “just makes sense,” and, indeed, the ABC News report noted that, as of Monday, 2,106 nonprofits had enrolled as Giving Tuesday partners at the Giving Tuesday website.

Still, I wish more nonprofits had just said no to this idea. Here’s what’s wrong with Giving Tuesday:

----Giving Tuesday extends the pernicious blending of consumerism and philanthropy. By putting philanthropy in the same chain of days as those devoted to consumer spending, it subtly suggests that good works are just another thing we can buy. This is already too frequently suggested by opportunities to support good causes by buying consumer goods (think of pink items to support breast cancer research or buying wristbands to support various causes). It’s no coincidence that #GivingTuesday is partnering with some big corporations -- such as Unilever, the Gap, Discover card, among others. Those corporations understand the marketing value of connecting their brand to philanthropy impulses.

----By suggesting that there’s a day for giving, Giving Tuesday also risks suggesting that giving isn’t so important on other days and thus creating the philanthropic equivalent of “Sunday Christians” who keep the form of Christian worship on Sunday mornings but neglect their Christian duties the rest of the week. But, as Ebenezer Scrooge declares near the end of Dickens’s Christmas Carol, learning that he must care for others means that he must “honor Christmas in [his] heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

----We’ll need to see the numbers, but there’s no guarantee that Giving Tuesday will boost total giving to nonprofits. Not only is it coming on the end of a series of days when people have emptied their pockets in consumer spending, but I’m probably not alone in not responding to any of the many requests I received on Giving Tuesday. Not that I won’t support some of those organizations another day—but being dunned all day for donations makes me disinclined to sort through them all today and pick out ones to support.

----Giving Tuesday meant, for many organizations, forgoing the chance to say thanks to their supporters at Thanksgiving. I hadn’t thought about it before today, but last week my email inbox had fewer Thanksgiving messages from various organizations than I usually receive. Although those messages usually also have a request for a donation, that request is made subordinate to a message of thanksgiving for the organization’s supporters and successes over the past year. I think many organizations must have calculated that they could send either a Thanksgiving message or a Giving Tuesday message -- and opted for the Giving Tuesday one. But isn’t it important to pause and make an expression of thanksgiving?

Giving Tuesday is meant to promote philanthropy. But will it?

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