Giving Thought to Giving Tuesday

November 16, 2023
4 min read

Kelsey Janz

Does Giving Tuesday help or hurt Canadian charities?

Giving Tuesday comes in hot on the heels of Black Friday and Cyber Monday to steer us away from consumer indulgence and toward the common good, like a designated driver responsible for our moral and financial safety. For Canadian charities, this day has become a crucial opportunity to secure much-needed funds, and as charitable donations continue to drop in Canada while demand continues to rise, the need for funding can’t be understated.

Ironically, the day has grown to effectively underscore what’s not working in the charitable sector. The percentage of Canadians engaging in philanthropy has been steadily dwindling for decades while fundraising costs have skyrocketed. This evolution prompts the question: does Giving Tuesday move the needle or just make a lot of noise?


The origin story

In 2012, Henry Timms was in his  92nd Street Y (92NY) office in the Upper East Side of New York, chatting with a colleague about the consumer-driven days filling up calendars in November. First, there was Thanksgiving. Black Friday came along in the 1950s. Next came Cyber Monday, which debuted in the 2000s. “The way the calendar was developing, someone was going to grab Tuesday,” Mr. Timms said. “We wanted to make it about philanthropy.”

So, 92NY teamed up with the United Nations Foundation to create Giving Tuesday in an effort to counteract the preceding days of indulgence. With the hope of going viral, they created the #GivingTuesday hashtag and were off to the races. 

No doubt, the intention behind Giving Tuesday is sound. It offers a rare invitation to engage in discussions about our relationship with giving and use the power of social media for good. But sometimes, when good intentions meet the internet, it’s like moving a meaningful conversation into a monster jam arena. It’s loud in there.

What gives?

Between the fundraising frenzy and pressure tactics, Giving Tuesday has evolved into the giving equivalent of a sugar rush—sweet while it lasts but lacking long-term nourishment. Overemphasizing fundraising and transactions has turned charitable efforts into a short-lived numbers game. 

But this fundraising conundrum wasn’t born from Giving Tuesday. Giving Tuesday is simply the offspring of a longstanding system fixated on immediate financial needs rather than a thoughtful engagement strategy focused on long-term sustainability.

It’s like playing an endless game of whack-a-mole—a constant scramble to react to pressing demands without addressing the root causes that persistently pop up. In this frenzied pursuit, we find ourselves perpetually chasing after the next fundraising initiative. The urgency of meeting immediate financial needs inadvertently perpetuates a cycle of reactive measures. 

Canada’s charitable sector hinges on a collective effort to reshape how we give. Investing in a culture of generosity that goes beyond fleeting moments means shifting focus from yearly fundraising goals to meaningful, engaging, long-term (dare we say enjoyable?) relationships.

Is 2023 the year to start breaking the routine?

The question isn’t whether Giving Tuesday is a hero or a villain but whether we can ditch the knee-jerk reactions for a more thoughtful, long-term approach. It’s the difference between lighting a match and building a lighthouse—one of them will eventually leave us in the dark.

Restructuring our giving habits from sporadic encounters to something marbled into our lives is a major undertaking, to say the least. There is no quick fix, and change takes time, but here’s what we know for sure: when we find a cause that resonates, it sparks a sense of purpose and fulfillment that is likely to last.

When we genuinely care about a cause, giving brings us joy. When it brings us joy, we do it more often and look for more areas to give. Connecting donors with causes that they care about benefits everyone, especially the charities that need support. 

As we gear up for this year’s Giving Tuesday, we invite you to use this day as a time to reflect on your relationship with giving. Discover what sets your soul on fire, explore causes you find meaningful, and consider your capacity to give. If nothing connects with you, take a moment. Let it marinate. No one’s here to strong-arm you into giving on a designated day. Giving isn’t a singular event; it’s an open-ended invitation.