The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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November 25, 2012

Black Friday, Cyber Monday ... now Giving Tuesday?

PHILADELPHIA — The day after Thanksgiving has become synonymous with people camping out, fighting, and occasionally trampling each other in pursuit of a bargain. This year, a group of nonprofit and socially conscious organizations hopes to harness that energy for the greater good.

Their national campaign — to brand the Tuesday after the holiday as an annual day of giving — is a product of the digital age, so steeped in social media that its name is a Twitter hashtag: #GivingTuesday.

The movement's founding partners include traditional organizations such as the United Way and American Red Cross as well as Microsoft, the online bargain site Groupon, and Mashable, the technology and social media news blog.

The goal is to create a charitable counterpoint to retail efforts like Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.

Each of the campaign's hundreds of official participants has been encouraged to adapt the #GivingTuesday concept to its needs.

"I'm trying to use #GivingTuesday as a reason for people to help others," said Dave Girgenti, founder and executive director of the Voorhees, N.J.-based Wish Upon a Hero Foundation.

"I want the true holiday spirit to come out, not the 'help a charity out for the holidays' spirit. That comes out anyway," he said.

Wish Upon a Hero's website is a platform for people to post "wishes," requests that range from school supplies to free Lasik surgery. Donors determine how to make the dreams come true.

From 80 to 100 wishes a day are granted by people who offer money or their services, Girgenti said. The foundation typically funds five; on Tuesday it will try to increase that number to 25.

For many organizations in the region, #GivingTuesday will be a day for increased fundraising, marking the start of the final lap in the race to solicit year-end charitable donations.

"The noise is so loud around retail, retail, retail. How is it possible for us to break through that noise?" said Aaron Sherinian, vice president for communications and public relations at the United Nations Foundation, which funds projects aligned with United Nations goals. The group, based in Washington, helped organize #GivingTuesday.

"If the (campaign's) founding partners have done anything, it's to offer an opening day for people to talk more loudly about what they're doing," Sherinian said.

The Camden County (N.J.) Animal Shelter, Covenant House New Jersey, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Burlington, Camden & Gloucester (N.J.) Counties — all (hashtag)GivingTuesday partners — plan to send a blast of tweets, emails, and Facebook posts to prospective donors in an attempt to kick-start holiday giving.

In Philadelphia, the Mann Center for the Performing Arts will conduct a one-day drive to raise $10,000 for transportation associated with its summer children's programs. It aims to have 200 donors sponsor school bus seats at $50 each, said Nancy R. Newman, the Mann's executive vice president.

"We're like everybody; the end of the year is important for us," Newman said. "Thanksgiving is the beginning of the time you think about gifts."

Mayor Michael Nutter is expected to officially declare the day "Giving Tuesday" in Philadelphia, Sherinian said.

In its inaugural year, #GivingTuesday is competing for attention with Superstorm Sandy relief efforts, but the efforts should easily coexist, said Girgenti, of the Wish Upon a Hero Foundation.

"I think for people, there's a difference. One was for emergency giving, emergency relief," he said. "I think that people who give for holiday reasons or pay off 'layaway wishes,' that's for a different kind of emotional connection."

Whether they volunteer their time Tuesday or donate to storm relief or cultural organizations, Sherinian said, he thinks people will embrace the day and make it a tradition.

"#GivingTuesday has said, 'Let's raise the volume around the creativity and the generosity of Americans,'" he said. "We just came off an election season that was fairly divisive, but we think giving is something Americans agree on."


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