November 30, 2021
Today is Giving Tuesday, the annual global movement that transfers an enormous amount of money, attention, advocacy, and goodwill toward causes big and small. It falls on the Tuesday after the U.S. Thanksgiving, smack dab in the middle of all sorts of end-of-year holidays and gatherings.
While it’s clearly a money mover—Some $503 million were donated online in 2020, nearly reaching the $511 raised the year before the pandemic—it’s also an attention-getter. According to the organization’s impact report, the movement spurred social media conversations in 145 countries and generated more than three billion impressions on Twitter.
Launched in 2012, it was the brainchild of Henry Timms, then the CEO of The 92nd Street Y, currently the CEO of Lincoln Center, along with Jeremy Heimans, the CEO of Purpose. Both had been thinking about “Black Friday and Cyber Monday, these two bacchanals of consumerism,” Timms tells Daniel Pink on the New Ideas podcast. “Could you reverse the trend? Rather than these two national celebrations of consumption, could you create something about philanthropy and compassion?”
But Timms credits the movements success with the way it was designed—decentralized, transparent, trusting, connecting.
“We designed Giving Tuesday in a ‘new power’ way,” says Timms, a radical shift from top-down, command-and-control, consolidated “old power” tactics. He started by removing his own organization from the mix. “We let the brand be free, and we encouraged people not to do things the same way like a franchise, but to take Giving Tuesday and turn it into whatever it needed to become.”
The movement became the central case study for Timms and Heimans fascinating book, New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World—and How to Make It Work for You.
But “whatever it needed to become” has also created some critiques. The first, most obvious one is overkill; Giving Tuesday triggers a tsunami of solicitations every year. Also: Low ROI for orgs who scramble to access a piece of the Giving Tuesday pie, a dip in other forms of giving, and an undue burden on “scrappy startups” to compete with the well-funded noise generated by richer non-profits.
But the real elephant in the room is traditional philanthropy itself, now facing some long overdue questions about how it functions and how foundations, corporations, and high-net worth individuals stack the deck to maintain power at the expense of true impact. Few have hit harder than Anand Giridharadas, starting with his 2018 book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World.
He says the impulse of Giving Tuesday is a lovely thing, an opportunity to share, support, be kind. “But when we talk about philanthropy, we’re really not talking about that,” he tells Business Insider. “We’re talking about the biggest corporations and the wealthiest individuals engaging in giving at a scale that is quasi-governmental, in ways that often seek to erase and obscure their role in causing many of the social problems that they laterally become interested in solving, and that deepen their hold over power in the society, when what the society most urgently needs is for them to have less of it.”
Is Giving Tuesday in a position to new power the planet out of that moral quagmire? Let’s hope so.
Last August, the Giving Tuesday organization held their first global summit, giving community leaders from around the world a chance to learn, share tactics, but also dig deeper into the new power themes: movement building, race, and equity. Perhaps an attempt to guide the movement back towards its roots?
And there are powerful voices—and new power philanthropy experts—joining the conversation in fascinating ways. My personal favorite is Alix Lebec, an expert in market-based solutions to extreme poverty, who has created a platform for others to address the issues with philanthropy and impact investing directly. Her “Women We’ve Been Waiting For” video series will introduce you to the investors, experts, and others players in the giving space who are challenging the status quo and sharing power in words and deed. Start here.
But at the end of the day, it all comes down to leadership, right?
I’ll give Henry Timms the last word, as he gave it to the Fortune Connect community when he visited last January. “The big thing for anyone who wants to create change, CEO or otherwise, is how you unleash the agency of others.” Don’t look to anoint the next superstar, it’s time to become a superconductor—of others. “How is it that you actually make people more powerful? Which is a very different way of thinking about how you run institutions.”
This edition of raceAhead was edited by Wandy Felicita Ortiz.