Asha Curran, CEO, #Giving Tuesday

Asha Curran, CEO, #Giving Tuesday

SARS-CoV-2, a novel coronavirus that causes an often-fatal respiratory disease known as COVID-19, has spread rapidly since it first emerged in Wuhan, China, in December. More than two months after the World Health Organization first documented evidence of human-to-human transmission and declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the virus has infected more than 3.25 million people, caused over 230,000 deaths, and dealt a generational blow to economic output in countries around the globe. The resulting job losses have been staggering.

In response to the pandemic, governments around the globe have taken extraordinary actions to provide liquidity to markets, replace lost income, and bolster the safety net; funders have stepped up their giving and altered their practices to accommodate the changed circumstances of grantees; and doctors, frontline healthcare workers, and emergency responders have done extraordinary things to keep the rest of us safe.

On Tuesday, May 5, Giving Tuesday, the organization behind the international day of charitable giving that, since 2012, has helped kick off the Christmas and holiday season, will be hosting #GivingTuesdayNow, a "day of unity" aimed at addressing the unprecedented need caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, PND spoke with Giving Tuesday CEO Asha Curran about the thinking that informed the event and her hopes and expectations for it.

Philanthropy News Digest: For readers who may not have heard of #GivingTuesday, can you give us some background? What is it, when did it start, and how has it evolved?

Asha Curran: Sure. #GivingTuesday was created in 2012 at the 92nd Street Y in New York City as a very simple idea: create a day of giving as a sort of antidote to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the two days right after Thanksgiving that kind of shamelessly celebrate mass consumption. From those humble beginnings, it has grown to become a global generosity movement with a presence in seventy countries. On the last #GivingTuesday, in 2019, nearly $2 billion dollars was donated, most of that from everyday givers. But #GivingTuesday also puts a spotlight on acts of non-monetary generosity, simple acts of kindness, and every year we see examples of that all over the world.

PND: Earlier this month, you and your team announced a new event, #GivingTuesdayNow, a global day of giving to address the unprecedented need created by the coronavirus pandemic. When did it first occur to you that the #GivingTuesday brand could be leveraged in a way to respond to the pandemic? Did the idea come to someone in a flash, or was it the result of a more deliberative process?

AC:  Well, I wouldn't go so far as to call it deliberative. [Laughs.] What we do at #GivingTuesday, generally speaking, is try lots of different things, and that's what we did in response to this crisis. We created a daily generosity alert. We blue-skied internally about the kind of response that would be most valuable to greatest number of people. At the same time, we started noticing these inspiring acts of spontaneous grassroots generosity popping up all around the world, in every walk of life — not specific to the social sector, just human beings kind of yearning to help their neighbors and communities and who were coming up with these amazingly creative ways to help.

We like to believe that #GivingTuesday rallies people around generosity at a particular moment in time. And so it seemed to us, after a number of conversations — not just internally, but with many of our constituents and partners — that this was a moment when people were feeling generous and wanted to help. We didn’t need to encourage anyone; people were more than ready to give. What we could do, however, was to help channel that generosity into something that #GivingTuesday kind of symbolizes, which is a day of hope, a day of optimism, a day of feeling that one is part of something bigger than him or herself, and that that would be a very good thing for the world at this very anxious moment.

PND:  You're partnering with others on the event — organizations like the United Nations Foundation, CDC Foundation, Facebook, PND's own parent organization, Candid, and so on. What are your partners bringing to the table, and is it too late for other organizations to sign on?

AC:  Our partners are doing all sorts of interesting activations around #GivingTuesdayNow and it absolutely is not too late for anybody to join in. We've tried hard to supply plenty of tools and resources and ideas so that this is not a heavy lift for people and can be adapted in the few days remaining between now and May 5. We welcome any nonprofit, for-profit, house of worship, or individual to take part — there's still time. 

You know, important to this sort of effort is not just the launch partners you see on the site but the kind of spontaneous grassroots activities organized by members of the broader community. #GivingTuesdayKids, for example, a global network of children who themselves are in need of help, or #GivingTuesdayMilitary, which hopes to inspire global acts of generosity in support of members of the military, with a focus on non-monetary giving. It's really important that people understand that while we would love to see organizations have great fundraising success on May 5, for us, as a movement, the primary objective is to elevate generosity as a value.

PND: Do you have any concerns the event might end up being too U.S.-focused?

AC:  It's funny, when we first created #GivingTuesday, I think we were too U.S.-focused, mostly because the event was created in response to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which are uniquely U.S.-focused holidays. It didn't occur to us in 2012 that #GivingTuesday would end up crossing borders and being adapted in all these other countries, without any prompting from us. It just underscores the idea that generosity is celebrated and valued around the globe, literally in every community, and yet drives so many different kinds of behaviors. And I think May 5 we’ll have an emphatically global feel about it. The crisis is global — it's a pandemic, right? We are all experiencing it at the same time, and we're going to have to pull together, as a collective and in solidarity with each other, to defeat it.

PND:  Do you have any concerns the event on May 5 might dampen enthusiasm for the main #GivingTuesday event, which this year is scheduled for December 1?

AC:  Well, I might be biased, but if organizations decide that two #GivingTuesday events in a year is too heavy a lift, that's completely understandable, and they have all the flexibility in the world to decide that for themselves. From a civic point of view, what we’ve heard over the past few years from lots of regular people is that every Tuesday should be #GivingTuesday. Wouldn't it be an amazing thing if Tuesday was the day of the week on which we all woke up in the morning and thought, "What good can I do today? What act of generosity can I work into my day today?"  In fact, not only do I not think that taking two days a year to celebrate generosity and giving is too much, I think society is actually moving to a place — maybe slowly but moving — where generosity and giving become more or less ingrained habits. It's so easy to give these days, the need is so great, and the rewards — psychological, emotional, and practical — are so great. I encourage everyone to give it a try.

 Mitch Nauffts

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