Scott G. Winterton, Dnews
In 1939 Franklin Roosevelt tried to move Thanksgiving back a week, hoping the extra time for shopping would boost holiday sales in the final year of the Great Depression. Although in 1941 Congress moved Thanksgiving back to the fourth Thursday in November, in just two years the holiday weekend had become as much about shopping as it was about gratitude or turkey.
Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, marks the kick off of the holiday shopping season. In recent years, retailers have offered deep discounts on certain items to get shoppers in the door and spending.
Shoppers eager to take advantage of the deals strategically plan their Black Friday expeditions months in advance. Some camp in the parking lots of big box stores to be the first through the doors when a store opens. Others queue up outside shopping malls in the wee hours of the morning. Many even postpone their Thanksgiving meals until Saturday because increasingly retailers are opening their doors on Thursday evenings.
"This is a season that is good for the economy," said Henry Timms, deputy executive director at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, "but why can't it also be about doing things that are good for the soul?"
In an effort to encourage people to make space for doing things that are good for the soul, charitable giving and volunteer work, the 92nd Street Y in partnership with the United Nations Foundation launched #GivingTuesday.
The idea is that as Black Friday and Cyber Monday kickoff the holiday shopping season, and the Tuesday after Thanksgiving should mark the commencement of holiday philanthropic efforts. The organizers of #GivingTuesday are using social media to encourage families, communities and companies to participate in a season of caring for the poor. Their hope is that #GivingTuesday, along with Thanksgiving and Black Friday, will become tradition Americans celebrate year after year.
A recent Red Cross study found that four of five Americans say that giving is an important part of their holiday tradition. Approximately 10 percent of total charitable contributions are made on the last two days of the year, according to Charity Navigator, an independent not-for-profit charity evaluator.
“But why not start earlier?” asked Kathy Calvin, CEO of the United Nations Foundation. “We need a powerful opening to the giving season."
Timms agreed, adding, “The giving season has a big finish, but no start.”
Both Calvin and Timms emphasize the transformational power a formal kickoff can have. Calvin worked at AOL TimeWarner when Cyber Monday was launched.
“At the time, online shopping wasn’t all that common,” she said, “and now people are doing it all day every day.” A day devoted to a particular kind of activity, in this case online shopping, changed people's attitudes. She hopes something similar will happen with #GivingTuesday. “Once people have the experience of giving and sharing that giving, it will change philanthropy in a big way.”
Timms suggests that a kickoff to a season of giving is important because it “helps to tell a story about who we are and what our values are.” There is a lot of focus on the problems in education and caring for the poor, Timms said, but America is also the most generous nation in the world.
“Charitable giving is something we celebrate in this country,” he said. A formal kickoff is a way to shine light on this important part of American culture.
Family is where philanthropy begins, said Timms. Paul Morris, of Beaverton, Ore., and his family understand this.
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