Why We Shouldn’t Be Content With #GivingTuesday

Tuesday was a watershed day in American philanthropy.

GivingTuesday, in just its third year, has captured the imagination of fundraisers and donors nationwide.

If you’re like me, it took over your Twitter timeline, Facebook feed, and email inbox like Black Friday and Cyber Monday had in the days that preceded it. More importantly, organizers expected GivingTuesday to raise upwards of $40-million for U.S. nonprofits — a massive sum for an event that is still in its infancy.

By most accounts, it marks a tremendous victory for those who champion the idea that Americans should be thinking less about themselves and their stuff and more about helping those in need.

And it’s giving many charities an opportunity to raise needed funds during the crucial year-end giving season.

But while we should be celebrating its success and the vision of its organizers — the United Nations Foundation and the 92nd St. Y — I’d also like to issue a new challenge to the philanthropic world. Let’s think about how we can build something more strategic, something that will actually build a collective movement.

What do I mean?

Well, for all of its success, GivingTuesday isn’t about strategic philanthropy. At its core, it’s an event that raises awareness about the act of giving. Its beauty lies in its democracy. Any charity can take part and benefit — and those that are the best at getting out the word and marketing themselves are the ones that will benefit the most.

The great news is that it is conditioning more people to give and, as Tom Watson noted recently, it could inspire those people to give more in the future.

On the flip side, GivingTuesday rewards the charities that already have the biggest networks, the most prominent corporate supporters and celebrity spokespeople, or the most clever attention-grabbing gimmick.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it’s also not going to cure cancer, reduce hunger. or improve pre-K education.

We can address these problems, though, by combining the best elements of GivingTuesday,  issue-specific events like Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and crowdfunding into a new campaign called __________ Awareness Month.

Every year in May, charities, foundations, companies, and donors will fill in that blank with a different word and lead a dedicated effort to raise money and awareness to address that word.

In 2015, for example, we might decide that __________  Awareness Month should be Ebola Awareness Month, or Childhood Hunger Awareness Month.

How will we decide on what word fills in that blank?

I propose having an independent panel that hears pitches from teams of nonprofits and foundations that are working on a specific issue. If we use Ebola as an example, charities and foundations will collaborate to develop the case for advancing that issue in 2015. The best pitches would likely include corporate and government partners, plans for how to use the proceeds, and metrics for measuring their success.

It would be like Shark Tank for the social good set.

But instead of getting Mark Cuban to buy a stake in your company, the winning team gets the support of the broader philanthropic community in campaigning for its project for an entire month.

This model would create unparalleled levels of cooperation among nonprofits and foundations around important issues, would lead to creative efforts to solve timely problems in new ways, and would help create a focused, national giving campaign that wouldn’t compete with GivingTuesday.

It's an idea that can work -- but it will require the full support of the philanthropic community to make it succeed. We'd need nonprofits, foundations, infrastructure groups, and social entrepreneurs to back it with the same level of enthusiasm and creativity that they've put behind efforts like GivingTuesday and Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Who wants to help me fill in the blanks surrounding this idea?