#GivingTuesday, a global grassroots movement that started out as a mere napkin brainstorm, has reached ubiquity. And for once in my life, I was lucky enough to be in the “room where it happened”—or at least the moment the founders decided to start sharing their vision.

That room was in Rio de Janeiro at the 2012 Rio+20 Conference, where I was representing clients at an event with 92Y’s then deputy executive director, Henry Timms, and the UN Foundation’s VP of Communications, Aaron Sherinian. When the pair pulled me over to chat about Henry’s “big idea,” they were bubbling over with enthusiasm and a sense of wonder.

They said: “Susan, what if we could pull together a coalition to create an annual day of giving, following Thanksgiving, right around Black Friday and Cyber Monday?“ Instantly, I knew these two were on the cusp of something special. And 5 months later, #GivingTuesday was born.

A hodgepodge of do-gooders, global development executives and nonprofit leaders along with Blackbaud, Mashable, Skype, Case Foundation, Gates Foundation and other interested individuals came together, led by Timms and his team at 92Y, to launch the first #GivingTuesday on November 27, 2012.

That first year saw $10.1 million in funds donated via Blackbaud, the largest nonprofit technology provider. In 2014, that number climbed to $26.1 million – a 159 percent increase from 2012 – as more and more corporations and nonprofits began joining the grassroots movement. This year, Blackbaud reported $47.7 million donated on #GivingTuesday – remarkable growth and a testament to the movement’s increasingly global presence.

So, how did we get here? Five years after the inaugural event, I asked some of #GivingTuesday’s advisors and founding members about the growth of the movement and why they think it’s been so successful.

The community

Timms, the founder of #GivingTuesday, says the movement succeeded “because a lot of people came together to build it. Someone once called #GivingTuesday a ‘barn-raising,’ which seems so right to me. It was made initially by a brain trust of people like Aaron Sherininan and Rob Reich and Sharon Feder, but it scaled because of the creativity of the nonprofit and corporate sector and the essential goodness of people everywhere.”

The Flexibility

What Timms describes about the creativity of #GivingTuesday is thanks in large part to the flexible, decentralized framework that lets anyone easily participate. According to Morra Aarons-Mele, founder of WomenOnline, “The incredible thing about #GivingTuesday is that it’s the most wonderfully flexible concept: Whether you’re the nation’s largest nonprofit or a local food pantry, whether you’re a 60 year old billionaire or a six year old, #GivingTuesday offers a chance to energize supporters and get your story out there.

Beth Kanter, expert nonprofit blogger and a #GivingTuesday influencer, agrees, citing “the distributed nature of Giving Tuesday” as the biggest factor driving its growth. “Anyone can participate and adapt it and it doesn’t require a monolithic entity with a huge amount of resources to drive it.”

Rachel Hutchisson, who has witnessed the 317 percent growth in #GivingTuesday donations as the vice president of corporate citizenship and philanthropy at Blackbaud, echoes these sentiments: “From the very beginning, the movement has allowed everyone from individuals, cities and nonprofits, to small businesses, foundations and big corporations to celebrate generosity – by sharing voice, service and share of wallet.”

Global Adoption

That flexibility also means that organizations, individuals and governments can participate from anywhere in the world. Says Adam Hirsch, global EVP at Edelman Digital, “I continue to be inspired by continual increased adoption of #GivingTuesday globally. This year, while I spent #GivingTuesday in London, I saw phenomenal #GivingTuesday content (emails, social posts, news) across the board. Everyone in our London office knows about the day and helped their clients with activations.”

Timms hoped for global adoption when he dreamed up #GivingTuesday, but didn’t expect it to happen so quickly and seamlessly. He says: “The global reach was a surprise. The way the idea took on its own resonance in different cultures and countries is really inspiring. Singapore turned it into a whole week!”

In coming years, the movement will only continue to grow more global, predicts Chrysula Winegar, senior director, communications & special initiatives at the UN Foundation. “I expect it to be a robust truly global movement in almost all countries. I believe it even has the potential to move the needle on giving as a percentage of GDP over time,“ says Winegar.

Online Giving Technology

Winegar also points out that recent advances in online giving technology also helped bolster the movement’s year-over-year growth. She says: “The online technology for donating has become stronger and stronger every year. Mobile giving used to be so painful and now it’s a snap.  That coupled with the easy of social media makes sharing your giving less boastful and more of an effective added tool to support your cause.”

What’s next in this department? “I suspect we will see more adoption of virtual realty giving, like the experiment that Craig Newmark did on Crowdrise with the Giving Tower,” Kanter predicts.

Social Media

Finally, insiders credit social media for fueling the democratic approach of #GivingTuesday and helping it spread like wildfire. Timms explains, “Social media played a big part. It seems absurd but I remember the argument about having the # at the start of #GivingTuesday, because people were worried that many folks wouldn’t know what it was.” Looks like they made the right choice.

“The world’s largest organizations and small ones all come together with the same message. It’s democracy and the power of social media and online networks at their best, and it gives me hope to think of that right now,” explains Aarons-Mele.

Adds Kanter: “I was totally grateful to have positive energy in my social media feed, especially on Facebook. Giving does make us all feel good.” In the midst of one of the most divisive years in recent memory, that’s certainly something we can all agree on.

A version of this article was originally featured on Forbes


Susan McPherson is a serial connector, cause marketer, angel investor, and corporate responsibility expert. She is the founder and CEO of McPherson Strategies, a communications consultancy focusing on the intersection between brands and social good, providing storytelling, partnership creation and visibility to corporations, NGOs and social enterprises. She’s a regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review, Triple Pundit and Forbes and has 25+ years experience in marketing, public relations, and sustainability communications. She is a featured speaker at industry events including Net Impact, Center for Corporate Citizenship’s Annual Summit, DLD Women, and Committee to Encourage Corporate Philanthropy’s Summit. Susan founded and hosts the bi-weekly #CSRChat on Twitter.

Currently, Susan invests in, and advises women-led technology start-ups, including ZADYTheLi.stLover.lyNews DeeplyHint WaterApoliticalGoldBean and The Daily Muse.  She serves on the boards of USA for UNHCRGirl Rising, a social action campaign/platform funded by Intel to expand girls’ education in the developing world, The PVBLIC Foundation and served on the board of Bpeace, a nonprofit dedicated to assisting women in regions of conflict and post-conflict start businesses from 2006-2012. Susan was selected as a Vital Voices global corporate ambassador and was named as one of 40 Women to Watch Over 40, Fortune’s 55 Most Influential Women on Twitter, Elle Magazine’s Top 25 Women on Twitter and Fast Company’s 25 Smartest Women of Twitter.

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