NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Human compassion may be woefully absent on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but it's set to bounce back the following Tuesday stronger than ever.
Dubbed #GivingTuesday, this year's event on Dec. 2 is expected to smash old records for charitable donations as it has each of the last two years, a result of the marketing and social media muscle surrounding the event.
Founded in 2012 by New York Jewish community center the 92nd Street Y, and the U.N. Foundation, #GivingTuesday is a simple idea that dedicates the day after Cyber Monday to charitable works. Online giving on the day has risen 50% from 2011 to 2012 and another 90% year over year from 2012 to 2013.
More importantly, according to Asha Curran, director of the 92nd Street Y's Center for Innovation and Social Impact, #GivingTuesday has started an important international conversation about caring.
"The number of dollars raised is really important," Curran told TheStreet, emphasizing that the founders of the movement want to see all charitable groups succeed in their fundraising goals. "But I think that seeing people talk about giving in a whole new way and seeing them talk about it all kinds of different contexts and in all kinds of different geographic locations is equally meaningful."
That conversation itself speaks to #GivingTuesday's success in answering a deeper human need. Like the famously viral ice-bucket challenge, #GivingTuesday offers people an opportunity to do good in any way they can. That impact can be impossible to measure but hints of it exist in real dollars, as donations to the charities that carry the torch of our concern for one another have shot up in the last two years.
According to The NonProfit Times, donations on #GivingTuesday in 2013 amounted to $32.33 million processed on five online platforms: Blackbaud, PayPal, Razoo, Network for Good and DonorPerfect. Blackbaud, which handles contributions for large nonprofits, reported that it processed $19.2 million in online donations on the day, a 90% increase over the prior year. Blackbaud also reported the average donation it processed rose by 40% in 2013 to $142 from $102 in 2012.
#GivingTuesday had more than 2,500 partner entities in 2012. That shot to more than 10,000 global partners in 2013 and greater than 16,000 partners in the U.S. and more globally.
Quoted in The NonProfit Times, Blackbaud's director of corporate citizenship and philanthropy Rachel Hutchisson said #GivingTuesday "didn't just borrow. It didn't take people's giving on December 31 and have it happen earlier. The data strongly suggests that #GivingTuesday was additive" to most groups' fundraising efforts.
In addition, the event has caught fire beyond U.S. borders, where it is often more about community service and caring than about dollar donations. In the U.S., a big part of #GivingTuesday's appeal is as an antidote to the rampant consumerism of the biggest U.S. holiday shopping weekend of the year. But its popularity overseas proves it is more than that.
"Global expansion has been really inspiring, especially because it shows that creating a shared day for giving has a role in places where Black Friday and Cyber Monday don't even exist," Curran said, emphasizing that the invitation to help one another strikes an important chord in people everywhere.
"A lot of those global examples are not based around fundraising, but are entirely volunteer efforts," she said.
Designed from the outset to be a decentralized movement rather than a PR campaign led by 92Y, #GivingTuesday last year outstripped Cyber Monday for mentions on social media, Curran said.
"That is working exactly as it should be," Curran said, "people really taking it on themselves to spread the word."
High-powered backers have lent important support, like #GivingTuesday co-founder the U.N. Foundation and the White House. But Curran said much remains to be done. Studies show the annual event is still in its infancy, with only between 15% and 20% of the U.S. population aware of it.
"We would obviously like to see that grow a lot this year," Curran said.
Still, 15% to 20% national recognition in only two years is huge accomplishment. People respond in part because it is human nature to want to help others, in part because it is a social participation event, and in part because it is open-ended.
"Each year we are continually surprised by the imagination of the campaigns that people keep coming up with," Curran said. Using the day to drive fundraising for a specific charity is one way, but companies use it as a way to galvanize support for their operations within communities where they operate, and individuals find countless ways help that don't necessarily involve money.
As the word spreads, companies, nonprofits and individuals are starting to flock to the #GivingTuesday campaign. Hyatt Hotels (H) signed on this year, using the event to raise awareness of its community grants program, where 31 grants worth between $5,000 to $20,000 are donated to organizations in communities where its hotels are located, nominated by local staff.
H&M department stores has launched an effort to donate $7.5 million worth of clothing to people in need, in partnership with K.I.D.S./Fashion Delivers, an organization that delivers donated clothing to more than 800 charities. H&M is also using the day to raise money through in-store donations to K.I.D.S./Fashion Delivers.
Crowdfunding site IndieGogo, this year offered reduced fees and added support for customers participating on its platform for their own #GivingTuesday campaigns. Currently the site has 175 active #GivingTuesday-branded campaigns, with a total raised so far of $5.5 million.
Discover (DFS) has pledged to add 2% to all cashback bonus donations and donations made with Discover to its cashback bonus charitable partners. Discover will also add to its employees' donations to any charity on Dec. 2.
Microsoft (MSFT) , an important early partner for #GivingTuesday, has been building its involvement, ramping up its activities each year. This year, the company's YouthSpark #GivingTuesday campaign is reaching out to U.S. and international organizations listed on www.globalgiving.org and www.globalgiving.co.uk, offering $350,000 in funds to match up to $500 per donor per project.
One of the more exciting aspects to develop, Curran said, is the use of state governments using #GivingTuesday, including Arizona and Maryland -- the latter grew out of Baltimore's successful 2013 #GivingTuesday campaign, which raised more than half a million dollars beyond its goal.
Along with the growing involvement of Microsoft and other companies, such activity "shows me that these campaigns are not only great in and of themselves, but they have a great opportunity to scale," Curran said.
-- Written by Carlton Wilkinson in New York