Giving Tuesday: Magnify Your Generosity This Year

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared that the last Thursday in November should be a national day of "Thanksgiving and Praise." Barely a decade later, department stores established the following day -- now known as "Black Friday" -- as the official beginning of holiday shopping season, and it has become American retail's biggest and most important day of the year. Fast forward to 2005, when internet retailers created "Cyber Monday" to persuade customers to shop online, and then to 2010 when American Express launched "Small Business Saturday," in an effort to encourage people to support local small businesses during the economic downturn.

In homage to the true spirit of Thanksgiving, last year saw the launch of "Giving Tuesday," a new, unofficial holiday devoted to charity. Created by the 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation, Giving Tuesday is a movement to popularize a national day of philanthropic activity on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. (This year, the date falls on December 3.)

The initiative struck an instant chord -- last year over 2,500 partners from all 50 states led charitable giving campaigns, and more than 50 million people worldwide spread the word about Giving Tuesday, as evidenced by milestone trending about the day on Twitter.

As the Executive Director of East Harlem's oldest and largest social service provider, I can attest to how important and inspiring these kinds of creative, grassroots campaigns can be. Indeed, this year Union Settlement Association is grateful to one of our valued corporate sponsors, AT&T, for launching a special Giving Tuesday Twitter-based social media campaign in support of our organization. Over a two-week period, AT&T is sharing stories of lives changed through our work, and thereby recognizing the importance of neighborhood-based organizations like Union Settlement in helping residents of underserved communities.

While everyone is encouraged to make a donation to their favorite charities on Giving Tuesday, there are many other ways in which people can support non-profit organizations without reaching into their wallets. This Giving Tuesday, I'd like to suggest the following ways in which people can magnify their generosity:

• Activate Your Network: Tell five close friends, family members, or work colleagues about your favorite cause or philanthropic organization. The fundraising maxim that "people give to people, not organizations" is as true today as it ever was. Identifying sympathetic, like-minded potential donors from among your personal network and telling them the story of your history with an organization is perhaps the surest way to get others involved.

• Launch a Local Charity Drive: Organize a food, toy, or coat drive in your office, school, neighborhood or apartment building to benefit a favorite non-profit organization. All it takes are a few well-placed signs, a sturdy box, and reserves of goodwill.

• Volunteer: Take a shift at a nearby soup kitchen or food pantry. Share your know-how by tutoring underprivileged schoolchildren or holding a professional training session at work. Participate in a school or neighborhood clean-up, renovation or gardening project. There are countless ways in which to contribute to good causes without writing a check.

Write to Your Local Electeds: Low-income neighborhoods were especially hard-hit by the economic downturn of 2008, and local nonprofits organizations are still facing great strains in trying to address the needs of local residents. Giving Tuesday is an ideal moment to write to newly elected officials as well as incumbents about the importance of maintaining appropriate levels of funding for the social services organizations closest to our hearts.

• Solicit Corporate Matching Funds: If you are in a position to make a financial contribution to a charity or non-profit this Giving Tuesday, ask your employer to consider providing corporate matching funds. Even if you can't persuade your company to participate in an official matching campaign, consider contacting friends and relatives to ask them to contribute to and/or match your particular fundraising goal.

Giving Tuesday performs a vital role in the holiday season by inspiring our collective thinking and shifting the focus from shopping to charity. We can all be thankful for that!