Nonprofits ring in season of giving with #GivingTuesday

While Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday heralded the holiday season of spending once again, today marks a much different kind of season opener.

In its second year, #GivingTuesday has joined the parade of holiday kick-off celebrations with a push to energize charitable activities benefitting nonprofit organizations.

The day, which encompasses a national movement, encourages consumers to get into the spirit of the giving season by spending their dollars and their time on worthy causes.

“In the same way that retail stores take part in Black Friday, we want the giving community to come together for #GivingTuesday. We ask that partners create and commit to a project for/on #GivingTuesday and then help spread the word to their networks,” the holiday’s website reads.

The inaugural day of giving included participation from more than 2,500 partners located in all 50 states and was promoted by more than 50 million people worldwide, according to the site. With backing by national figures like Bill and Melinda Gates and White House officials, this year’s event tallies more than 8,300 nonprofit partners.

Most of the action and buzz generated by and around #GivingTuesday travels through social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter as well as on the websites of individual nonprofits.

Milwaukee’s Penfield Children’s Center was one of the participating nonprofits last year and leveraged the day as an outlet to share its mission to support the healthy development of children with and without disabilities through education, therapy and family programming.

This year, the nonprofit hopes to raise funds on #GivingTuesday as much as it hopes to continue strengthening its identity in the community.

“We saw #GivingTuesday as an opportunity to be able to tell the Penfield story and raise money for a specific item that would directly impact the children we serve here at Penfield,” said Jason Parry, vice president, development and communications, at the center.

That item is a $4,500 Up n’ Go Toddler Gait Trainer, a piece of equipment that assists children in need with strength building, balance and coordination so that “ideally one day (they may) be able to walk on their own,” Parry said.

The device would serve older children and those who have outgrown the center’s existing KidWalk Gait Trainer.

After activating an “Up ‘n Go” Campaign in November, the nonprofit has collected just over $700 in private donations toward the Toddler Gait Trainer. While it plans to run the campaign through the end of the calendar year, the organization hopes to reach the $4,500 mark by the end of today.

“We’ve gotten a great response to date,” Parry said. “People have been very supportive of the idea, and we’ve had many people who have been very generous thus far.”

United Way of Greater Milwaukee also took part in last year’s #GivingTuesday alongside many of its sister chapters across the country. #GivingTuesday coincides with United Way’s 2013 Community Campaign, which wraps up on Dec. 12, and the organization considers #GivingTuesday a catalyst to spark ongoing commitment of volunteerism and philanthropy.

“We hope people look at #GivingTuesday as an opportunity to get started with giving back to their community, and we hope that that start becomes an ongoing commitment,” said Lori Holly, associate director of marketing and communications for United Way of Greater Milwaukee.

One way individuals might consider giving back is through United Way of Greater Milwaukee’s initiative to recruit 3,000 readers, tutors and mentors by the end of next year.

“That’s an opportunity that fits so many lifestyles,” Holly said. “If somebody has one hour just four times a year, they can be part of that movement.”

To Holly and other nonprofit executives like Bob Glowacki, chief executive officer of Easter Seals Southeast Wisconsin, #GivingTuesday helps shine a holiday light on what this time of year is all about.

“For us, this is an opportunity to focus people on the work that nonprofits do in caring for children, taking care of our vets, or finding people employment,” Glowacki said. “And with all the attention that’s focused on shopping, this is an opportunity for really the whole nonprofit community to focus on the reason for the season.”

Easter Seals Southeast Wisconsin, which promotes equal opportunities for area residents and families with special needs, plans to use #GivingTuesday to build on its Jubilee Campaign. The campaign is celebrating the nonprofit’s 80th year of service while collecting dollars to expand its Workforce Training Center with a fully accessible commercial kitchen and an adaptive technology center. Gifts will be matched up to $100,000, thanks to a private benefactor.

Other area nonprofits taking advantage of 2013’s #GivingTuesday include Carthage College in Kenosha, ArtWorks for Milwaukee, and First Stage in Milwaukee.

While attention surrounding #GivingTuesday may not yet rival that of Black Tuesday or Cyber Monday, it has gained traction in its two short years, according to several area nonprofit leaders, who are optimistic about the young holiday’s future.

“Based on the enthusiasm around the initial two years of Giving Tuesday, it looks like there might be a future for this day of giving,” Parry said.

And even if potential donors decide to wait to allocate dollars, #GivingTuesday provides nonprofits a convenient outlet to jump onto their radar before the end of the tax year.

“Even if people don’t give today, it puts it on their calendar about what their end of year (gift) is going to be,” Glowacki said.

To make a donation to a participating #GivingTuesday nonprofit, search “#GivingTuesday” on Twitter or visit the #GivingTuesday website. Donations may not be made through the official #GivingTuesday website but can be processed through the listed nonprofit partner websites.

Erica Breunlin is a reporter at BizTimes.

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