How Tech Philanthropy Propelled Giving Tuesday

Lately, we dedicate special days to everything from pie to knives to strange music, and New York’s 92nd Street Y had a very simple idea: a day dedicated to giving.

Playing on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the market-designated start of the holiday shopping season, the event creators wanted to remind people what the holiday season is actually supposed to be about, and to encourage people to “find a way for your family, your community, your company or your organization to come together to give something more [and] be a part of a national celebration of our great tradition of generosity.”

If a different community organization had come up with the idea, it may have remained a local phenomenon, but the 92nd Street Y has powerful friends and a storied tradition. The program came to the attention of the United Nations Foundation, and a partnership was born, ultimately bringing together more than 2,600 organizations, resulting in a 53% increase in online donations relative to the same period the previous year.

That was 2012. This year, more than 8,300 organizations participated, and the total amount raised through online donations nearly doubled, from $11 to $21 million, thanks in no small part to tech philanthropists.

Part of the reason for the increase may have been the matching gifts, which are not included in the totals, but helped spur donations. The largest came from Facebook co-founder Dustin Muskovitz’s Good Ventures Foundation, which announced a $5 million matching gift to GiveDirectly. Former AOL CEO and Chairman Steve Case made a $75,000 matching gift for funds raised by organizations supported by the Case Foundation, a challenge that was met by their grantees in just 25 minutes; Crowdrise, an organization that sits at the intersection of tech and philanthropy, also pledged $75,000 in matching gifts and prizes for participating non-profits.

Perhaps even more important than the matching gifts though was what tech companies and foundations have done to promote the event. Google was promoting it on their homepage, and hosted a Googe+ Giving Tuesday hangout. Twitter users made #GivingTuesday a trending topic globally, Instagram was flooded with Giving Tuesday #unselfies, and organizations such as the Gates Foundation and Mashable heavily promoted the event.

This year’s Giving Tuesday also had many more international participants, indicating that Giving Tuesday is going global. At a certain point, however, more charities observing the event and raising funds means more competition, and to offset this effect, more organizations like Good Ventures will need to step up and offer greater incentives donation if Giving Tuesday’s trend is to continue upward.