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There’s a problem with Giving Tuesday—it’s not what you think it is

November 30, 2021, 9:02 PM UTC

Today is Giving Tuesday, the annual global movement that transfers an enormous amount of money, attention, advocacy, and goodwill toward causes big and small. It falls on the Tuesday after the U.S. Thanksgiving, smack dab in the middle of all sorts of end-of-year holidays and gatherings.

While it’s clearly a money mover—Some $503 million were donated online in 2020, nearly reaching the $511 raised the year before the pandemic—it’s also an attention-getter. According to the organization’s impact report, the movement spurred social media conversations in 145 countries and generated more than three billion impressions on Twitter.

Launched in 2012, it was the brainchild of Henry Timms, then the CEO of The 92nd Street Y, currently the CEO of Lincoln Center, along with Jeremy Heimans, the CEO of Purpose. Both had been thinking about “Black Friday and Cyber Monday, these two bacchanals of consumerism,” Timms tells Daniel Pink on the New Ideas podcast. “Could you reverse the trend? Rather than these two national celebrations of consumption, could you create something about philanthropy and compassion?”

But Timms credits the movements success with the way it was designed—decentralized, transparent, trusting, connecting.

“We designed Giving Tuesday in a ‘new power’ way,” says Timms, a radical shift from top-down, command-and-control, consolidated “old power” tactics. He started by removing his own organization from the mix. “We let the brand be free, and we encouraged people not to do things the same way like a franchise, but to take Giving Tuesday and turn it into whatever it needed to become.”

The movement became the central case study for Timms and Heimans fascinating book, New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World—and How to Make It Work for You. 

But “whatever it needed to become” has also created some critiques. The first, most obvious one is overkill; Giving Tuesday triggers a tsunami of solicitations every year. Also: Low ROI for orgs who scramble to access a piece of the Giving Tuesday pie, a dip in other forms of giving, and an undue burden on “scrappy startups” to compete with the well-funded noise generated by richer non-profits.

But the real elephant in the room is traditional philanthropy itself, now facing some long overdue questions about how it functions and how foundations, corporations, and high-net worth individuals stack the deck to maintain power at the expense of true impact. Few have hit harder than Anand Giridharadas, starting with his 2018 book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World

He says the impulse of Giving Tuesday is a lovely thing, an opportunity to share, support, be kind. “But when we talk about philanthropy, we’re really not talking about that,” he tells Business Insider. “We’re talking about the biggest corporations and the wealthiest individuals engaging in giving at a scale that is quasi-governmental, in ways that often seek to erase and obscure their role in causing many of the social problems that they laterally become interested in solving, and that deepen their hold over power in the society, when what the society most urgently needs is for them to have less of it.”

Is Giving Tuesday in a position to new power the planet out of that moral quagmire? Let’s hope so. 

Last August, the Giving Tuesday organization held their first global summit, giving community leaders from around the world a chance to learn, share tactics, but also dig deeper into the new power themes: movement building, race, and equity. Perhaps an attempt to guide the movement back towards its roots?

And there are powerful voices—and new power philanthropy experts—joining the conversation in fascinating ways. My personal favorite is Alix Lebec, an expert in market-based solutions to extreme poverty, who has created a platform for others to address the issues with philanthropy and impact investing directly. Her “Women We’ve Been Waiting For” video series will introduce you to the investors, experts, and others players in the giving space who are challenging the status quo and sharing power in words and deed. Start here.

But at the end of the day, it all comes down to leadership, right?

I’ll give Henry Timms the last word, as he gave it to the Fortune Connect community when he visited last January. “The big thing for anyone who wants to create change, CEO or otherwise, is how you unleash the agency of others.” Don’t look to anoint the next superstar, it’s time to become a superconductor—of others. “How is it that you actually make people more powerful? Which is a very different way of thinking about how you run institutions.” 

Ellen McGirt

This edition of raceAhead was edited by Wandy Felicita Ortiz.

In brief: Reflecting on two verdicts

Commentator Charles Blow devoted a recent column on the Kyle Rittenhouse trial and verdict. It was white vigilanteism on trial, he says. “Rittenhouse has emerged as a hero and cause célèbre on the right, with people donating to help him make bail and one Republican strategist telling Politico that he could see a future in which Rittenhouse becomes a featured speaker at the conservative confabs where activists congregate,’” he writes. “The idea of taking the law into one’s own hands not only to protect order, but also to protect the order, is central to the maintenance of white power and its structures.” It’s this very operating principle that made the verdict for the killers of Ahmaud Arbery so surprising. “If it sounds ridiculous to say that chasing someone down while armed is an act of self-defense, and then to claim you had to shoot the person you were chasing, because they tried to defend themselves, recall that this was precisely the conclusion the local authorities initially reached,” writes Adam Serwer in The Atlantic. The notion of white vigilanteism is so unassailable, that it took a series of near-miracles to even bring an arrest, let alone a trial.

On Background

What color is your child’s speech therapist? Only 4.5% of speech therapists working with school-age children are Black, which is turning out to be a problem for parents of color, particularly now. “Through research, I learned that children of color are significantly less likely to receive aid with specific language impairment than their white counterparts,” writes Jazmin Towe, as she explains her own journey seeking language therapy for her young son. But cultural questions also loom. “It’s not hard to imagine how many children who speak AAE might be diagnosed with a speech disorder, when a better method would be teaching them how to code switch.”

What technology can learn from the wisdom of the crowd in the age of Zoom This lively analysis from “geek comedian” and commentator Heather Gold takes what she’s learned about communicating in front of a live audience and helps identify what makes for a good conversation. “I believe the single most important element in aiding someone to speak in a group is the feeling of being listened to with interest,” she says. Easy to say, but hard to do. But now, she says, thanks to poorly designed video chat, it will be largely impossible. (This was written in the before times, by the way.) She singles out the main features coded into Google Hangouts and Apple’s new Group FaceTime, which make the image of the speaker REALLY BIG, while making all the listeners equally small. She raises fascinating questions about what this means for marginalized people in the workplace, and then explores a remedy. “Let’s think about what this would look like as a piece of software design,” she posits. What if the design actually helped speakers connect with the most attentive listeners?  

Libraries need to be decolonized, too Dorothy Porter, the longtime librarian for Howard University, helped create Howard’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, a storied resource for black culture. Through her work, she expanded the scholarship she collected–drawing from a wide variety of subjects beyond slavery, to help preserve a wide range of materials that better reflected the global black experience and correct a historical record slanted toward white supremacy. But to do that, she needed did the same for the Dewey Decimal system, which had originally lumped black authors together in just two numerical categories – one for slavery and another for colonization, regardless of the subject of the book. (Poetry was filed under colonization, if you’re curious.) By challenging the Eurocentricity of the library system, she was able to place the rich array of black scholarship alongside their white counterparts on the shelves where they rightfully belonged.
Smithsonian Magazine

Mood board

Virgil Abloh was a legend and a miracle, a man who turned a love of architecture into an early collaboration with Kanye, then his own fashion brand, then ascended to helm Louis Vuitton as its first Black artistic director. Lost too soon to cancer. GQ has the best possible look into his creative brain here. Rest in Perfection, Virgil.


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