Why I Don’t Do #GivingTuesday

woman rock climbing

Photo by Andreas Fidler on Unsplash

Black Friday.

Cyber Monday.

Giving Tuesday.

I don’t participate in any of them. And while there’s increasing guilt in participating in the first two, there is a shame associated with not participating in the last. Why would you not give on a national day of giving?

The week leading up to Thanksgiving, my inbox was bombarded with ways to spend my money, starting with material goods and ending with charity. The two began to blend seamlessly together until I recognized that they hold opposite ends of the same capitalist spectrum. When one request for money ends the other begins, and both provide a hit of feeling good. As Giving Tuesday has gained momentum, it’s become an opportunity for development professionals at every nonprofit I’ve had contact with to share why I should make a gift to them. It’s created an overwhelming contest for attention on just one day, and I’ve heard from several of these professionals that there is an expectation on their end to participate (from their board of directors, their executive director, other nonprofits or businesses), even though it might not be a part of their annual giving campaign or how they’re already cultivating their donors. (And the shame goes both ways, I noticed, as this year many of these emails started with an apology or recognition of the amount of requests I was receiving).

Giving Tuesday started in 2012 to counterbalance the purchasing pull of Black Friday and Cyber Monday; and while creating incentives to increase community giving is a good thing, being swept into a feel good day of giving once a year can create just another sense of obligation rather than build a foundation of personal philanthropy. Part of my challenge with Giving Tuesday is exactly because it was created in response to Black Friday and Cyber Monday – an opportunity to exonerate ourselves after the hedonism of shopping discounts. A way for the nonprofit sector to capture some of that money that is flying around; a marketing campaign. Giving Tuesday has risen in exact likeness of the thing it attempted to push against, only raising money for another kind of business. And I’m not sure ‘the business of doing good’ should be based on a model of extraction and competition.

I understand the intentions behind the creation of a national day of giving, and good has certainly come of it; not least of which are the conversations it started. By holding up a mirror to Black Friday, Giving Tuesday has shined a light on that madness and directly contributed to major retailers like REI and Nordstrom closing the day after Thanksgiving, and starting campaigns like #optoutside, which encourages people to spend time outdoors instead of shopping. But in order to be impactful, we must first be intentional. And being intentional starts with being informed. Statistics show Giving Tuesday increases donations on this particular day of the year, but there hasn’t been data to show a similar increase in giving or donor activism spread over the rest of the year as a result. On social media, the discussion of Giving Tuesday increases on that day and the week preceding, but I haven’t seen strong statistics that show how that talking turned to further action. For Giving Tuesday to be a truly successful movement, I’d want to see the number of philanthropists grow (and be retained year after year), existing donors increase their annual philanthropy, and most importantly, people begin to develop intentional giving plans that create change to the system.

Giving is a sacred act that starts and ends with relationships, but now there are so many ways to reduce this connection to the transactional click of a button. In this way, the ease of donating holds a positive and a negative: as effortless as paying a bill might make for greater donations on the day of, it won’t necessarily connect you to the mission long-term or deepen your commitment to philanthropy. This is where your own education and personal work comes in. Unless this giving is embedded within a framework of change, it is simply another way to spend money.

All of this has led me to a bigger question: why do we have to make a day of it anyway? Similar to Black History month and Women’s Studies courses in college, I wonder why we remove things that should be layered throughout. Why are these elements considered other? How do we weave them into the dominant narrative? Pulling them out provides initial credibility and brings attention and awareness, but it should only be seen as a first step. In order for us to move the needle, these ‘days’ or ‘months’ should be a first step as we explore our culture, of black and white, women and men, giving and taking. Great ideas always need to be reevaluated from time to time. An iterative design cycle demands that we continue to explore blind spots and move the conversation further, ratcheting ourselves up the side of a rock face, from one vertical edge to another. Best not to stay too long in one place, lest we forget what we’re doing.


If you choose to use Giving Tuesday (or any other large scale funding opportunities) as part of your funding cycle, my suggestion would be to make it a planned part of your annual philanthropic strategy – in order to maximize matching gifts on that day, and to use it as an opportunity to encourage others to create their own intentional plan for giving (not just to buy what you’re selling).

Stay tuned! My book, Philanthrobe: The Design and Practice of Philanthropy will be released in 2019. Sign up for the mailing list to be the first to know, and receive these articles straight to your inbox.


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The Call From Inside the House

red phoneRemember that story, told ‘round the campfire, of the girl alone in her house who answered the phone to a voice saying ominous things about death and destruction? There was the usual mounting suspense as this person called back several times, until the girl finally rings the operator and discovers, “the call is coming from inside the house”.

I think of this story more often than I’d like to admit. That line takes the wind out of me, a simple utterance that portends immense horror and sets a new story into motion. What happens next is never illuminated, the last line being the punchline to unspeakable fear and shock. There is a moment of stillness and then, time to act. When my children were still babies and my husband was traveling all the time, I would lie in bed at night mapping my exit strategies from the 2nd floor of the house if I ever awoke to the sounds of someone climbing the stairs. The 3 year old would survive a drop from the balcony better than the 6 month old. Should I jump first and run to the neighbors? What if I jumped with both of them in my arms? Or gathered them into the bathroom and locked the door, calling 911? There is something so sinister about it, so foreboding and foretelling: the danger is inside the house. And all of our locks and alarm systems can’t protect something from coming in if it’s already arrived.

And I thought of this line the other day, with new meaning, when I was noticing again the comments about white women needing to own their shit. Needing to step up and recognize their complicity in the elections of white supremacists. “White women, talk to your sisters. This is your fault.” My fault? How is it my fault if someone is elected in another part of the country where I know no one? How can I be held accountable for something I had no part in? And it popped into my head: the call needs to come from inside the house.

For a narrative to shift dramatically, for the story to jump the rails and elevate to the next level of understanding, the call needs to come from inside the house. This is where the tension is, where the terror lies. And it’s where our national conversation of racism must exist. White women need to be calling each other from inside the home of our whiteness. The urgency from the outside can be held at bay, can be locked outside and ignored. We’re still safe here, inside this guarded home. The operator relaying this information is not saying to the young girl, you are a bad person for having this evil in your home; she is conveying important information for the girl’s survival.

When you are harboring a fugitive of ugliness, these remnants of a dying system with its long, arthritic fingers slowly curling around the door as it peers out from the upstairs hallway, it’s time to act. Take a deep breath and recognize that the home of your whiteness is not a safe place to hide. Hiding here, in ways we see and especially those we don’t, are dangerous for everyone and the planet. And all of us who are realizing this fact must keep making those phone calls to each other. Only then will we escape the danger and find shelter.


These topics continue to be a journey for me and they’re being informed by my desire to be a better philanthropist. In acknowledging that philanthropy is built on a construct of patriarchy and colonialism, I need to look deeply at myself and my role in perpetuating the stereotypes of ‘giver and receiver’.  Philanthropy is one of many systems that need to be rebuilt from ‘inside the house’. If you also find yourself on this philanthropic journey, I highly recommend Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas, as well as Waking Up White by Debby Irving and So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. The potential of shifting the narrative is so great, and it’s thrilling (and terrifying!) to be moving past the warning from the operator to the action of doing something about it. If you’re interested in joining me in this inquiry, sign up to receive my latest posts straight to your inbox!

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Giving Compass launches giving planner (and it’s awesome)

person using white tablet computer

For years I’ve puzzled over the lack of technological options for planning our giving. The opportunity to connect with others who are also making strategic and thoughtful gifts of time and money seems like a no-brainer in our social media connected world. It’s also an integral first step in creating systems change, as informed individuals create intrinsic shifts in behavior.

As we head into the holiday season, I’m thankful to Giving Compass for launching a tool that will allow me to plan and track our family giving into 2019. The Giving Compass giving planner allows you to create your annual philanthropic plan, and manage and analyze your contributions (cash, in kind and volunteering). In addition, they provide input about what others in your demographic are funding and at what levels, which builds philanthropic community and personal accountability.  All of these elements encourage more informed and greater giving. And if you’re like me, having all of this in one place that can be shared with family members is the greatest gift of all.

Giving Compass is a Seattle based nonprofit organization, compiling high-quality, curated content on philanthropy and the social sector, in order to help individuals give better.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com


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Philanthropy is dead. Long live philanthropy.

We can no longer pretend that we’re doing good by going to auctions, sponsoring families in foreign countries, or purchasing something that gives a percentage back to society in some capacity. These are all elements of a philanthropy built on a broken economic system, a system that benefits some while punishing others. It is a system rooted in inequity, that favors the already powerful, that has found a way to hide behind ‘doing good’. We all know that the road to hell is lined with the tears you shed at that keynote speaker’s talk on ‘poverty’, ‘homeless children’, ‘the uneducated’. Not often enough do these speeches prompt us to ask ourselves, not only why these circumstances exist, but what role we play in supporting these circumstances.

And why would we ask these questions? They highlight complicity and poke holes in the foundation on which we stand. There’s comfort in everyone believing that the emperor is wearing clothes. As soon as someone begins to doubt it, and calls attention to it, it forces a new conversation. It forces a level of inquiry into what we believe is right and true.  And these conversations disrupt. They hold up a mirror and invite imagining a different way of doing business, which, let’s be honest, is hard work. It’s much easier to go about the day, heads down in our own business, and then send off our donation or post a frustrated call to action on Facebook.

But there is a growing movement of people who are beginning to understand, not just that the emperor has no clothes, but holy shit, none of us have clothes. Now, those that have been fighting for their basic rights have known this all along, and have been cautiously and courageously trying to point this out. The problem is that many of us who make it our job or our passion to ‘help others’ or ‘heal the world’ have been kidding ourselves by assuming the problem is out there somewhere. Because after all, we’re good people, doing good things. But what if those good things were doing more harm? What if we were pawns in a system, the yes men to the emperor, unaware of our folly?

This is uneasy territory, not merely because it makes us uncomfortable to consider our actions flawed, but because when you’re immersed in a system (and are being taken care of by that system) you can’t see otherwise. To do so would be to undermine your own safety and security. However, once you witness your nakedness (this power and privilege that allows you the ability to ‘help’ others) you step into the difficult duty of posing the questions to others. Have you worked harder, or been kinder? Are your children more deserving? Your appetite more evolved? Is it only you that would enjoy a summer vacation or health care? Are you just lucky or blessed?

If you are ready to step outside of these circles, you’ll begin to find the truth tellers. Those people who are willing to risk alienating the world they know in order to create a world rich with possibility, but full of uncertainty. My journey into this conversation deepened immensely when I had children and realized that my love for them is a universal experience for parents all over the world. Yet I get to sit on the sidelines of a soccer game, pick up groceries at Trader Joes, get a pedicure, listen to the news and shake my head, without ever being truly afraid of having my babies taken from me. I can feel the grief of it deep in my chest, the way all parents do. But not really. Not in the very tangible way black and brown mothers do. And this is privilege.

This privilege can also be my power if I am self-aware enough to see through the guise of ‘doing good’. If I can use my privilege as a resource, and show up in the conversation with a listening voice, in order to make a different world. We are past due on a new conversation. One that questions everything we believe to be true about our world and our society, about our families and ourselves. A conversation that invites more voices in, and truly listens to the pain and joy and varied life experiences. These are conversations that take courage and community, and quite frankly a bit of faith. What will happen if we look down and realize we aren’t wearing any clothes? What if we realized that philanthropy is dead?

To understand our role in the philanthropic system of inequity is to first step back and recognize that, philanthropy, at its core, means to love humankind. If you love humankind, you love the families trying to get over the border. You love the heroin addict living in the tent along the highway. You love the single mother working her ass off to provide for her children. You love the ocean and the mountains, and all the animals and plants that live there, because they sustain us all. And we, all together, are humanity. There are no exceptions to this rule: you love. And in this love you see a vision of a different way of living, for each one of us, every living thing. And in seeing you recognize that you can no longer continue doing things the way you’ve been doing them.

Philanthropy needs a refresh. It needs to break down the falsely constructed walls between the haves and have-nots, between those that get to attend the auctions and those that benefit from them. It is painful to realize you’ve been complicit in a game that is rigged against others, especially if you felt you were part of the solution. Yet it’s only when we are able to acknowledge this that we can begin to heal the severed part of us and construct a new system.

I don’t come with textbook answers, or simple instructions. Humanity is messy and mean, just as it is ordered and kind. But I do know the way in is through connection, solidarity, and humility. It demands we lean down low and listen to each other, cultivating our belonging to each other and the earth by working together on things that matter. It is the dawning of hive philanthropy, a way of being in the world that allows resources to flow where they are needed. The work has already begun. Now we need to find each other and elevate our voices so that the hum of our hive vibrates a new philanthropy into existence.

Long live philanthropy.

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Social Justice and the Cloud

cloud_social justiceLast week I picked up Thomas L. Friedman’s book, Thank You for Being Late, and today I came across the NPR article, Could You Help Rewire Income Disparity? Both address the monumental shift in network science and how cloud computing and the connectedness of our world is altering the landscape of everything around us: Friedman’s book a giant, global perspective and the NPR article a tangible, in-the-moment example of how the power of computing will continue, at ever increasing rates, to put social justice into our individual hands.

The NPR article tells how four French network scientists looked at the question of income disparity in the context of neighborhoods and shopping trips. They asked some key strategic questions:  “What if people changed their shopping habits and picked up that cat food somewhere else? In particular, what if those paper towels were bought in a less economically advantaged neighborhood? Could just changing shopping trips change the city’s map of economic disparity? If so, how much change was needed to make a difference?”

Their results were fascinating. They found that individuals only need to alter 5 out of 100 shopping trips to create significant change. “The addition of small changes in the shopping destinations of individuals can dramatically impact the spatial distribution of money flows in the city, and the frequency of encounters between residents of different neighborhoods, even if the total number of changes remains small.”

When asked about the implications of their study, one of the researchers “spoke of the possibility of developing apps that might give people different shopping options to rewire the economic health of different neighborhoods”, enabling participative solutions for individuals to create the change they wish to see in their communities.  This is the possibility of philanthropy I find thrilling: that as our networks become smarter, and provide us with the tools to act more effectively in our world (whether by calling a taxi or rethinking where we shop), we have the increasing ability to question the status quo and find individually powerful ways to give back. Not just a transaction of money and time, but a way of being in the world that allows our doing to be impactful. A transformational way to align our actions with our intent.

Granted, there are messy implications to Big Data. No solution comes without unintended consequences. But by harnessing the power of this data, we have the potential to understand and solve social problems in new ways, enabling us to make thoughtful and intentional choices to help others, not to mention humanity at large. Which makes the work of a philanthropist ever more important and timely. By grappling with our concept of what enough looks like in our life and creating personal giving plans, we can begin to answer what kind of world do we want to live in? And what are we willing to do in order to achieve it?

The tools are being built faster than we can manage, but as we catch glimpses of this future, we can prepare ourselves to create a just and peaceful world. The tipping point is yet unseen, but it’s coming.

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I went for a walk last weekend, through drizzly rain against the backdrop of Lake Washington, on a stretch of road I was unfamiliar with. I came across a gathering of wowomen carrying watermen collecting water and I stood crying, thinking of all the women throughout history loving babies, caring for families, supporting each other to make the world safer and saner. We take turns carrying the load, whether grief or groceries. And we carry each other when one of us can no longer walk.

And I thought, How we show up for each other is all there is. That’s it, full stop.

It’s been a tough week, as our community tragically lost a young mother, a friend from my son’s preschool. I’ve been overwhelmed with grief for her family, her two little girls wide eyed and searching. And I won’t lie, it’s terrifying to be reminded how quickly you can be gone, regardless of how important you are to your kids and husband. We’re always one day away from the possible unthinkable. That’s just how these things happen.

Then I started reading Anne Lamott’s new book Hallelujah AnywayToday I got to this passage and it warmed me:

I’ve lived through times when a connected group of humans in grief and shock stayed together as things unscrolled, when a person was dying too young, or after. What could we do? We showed up. When our best friends’ teenagers disappeared, when their fathers lost their minds, or their babies or mates were in the ICU. We lay beside them in bed and held them in our arms. We brought the bereaved a sandwich. We let them vent, maybe watched a little TV together. We offered our presence, our warm bodies, and the willingness to feel like shit with them. One even bigger gift: no snappy answers. We could nod, sigh, cry with them: maybe go to a park. Against all odds, these things work, however imperfectly, when a closed system breaks open and turmoil ensues: this collective, imperfect, hesitant help is another kind of miracle.

As with any tragic loss of life, ‘a closed system break(ing) open’, we are reminded of our need for each other. To take the time today to appreciate the people around you, to flash easy smiles and listen with interest and compassion. Our individual experiment of living is brief, some more so than others. How important it is to treat each day as an entire snapshot of a life, birth through death mirrored through awakening and sleep. How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives, as Annie Dillard said.

So I’ll channel a little of what I came to know of Adriana: I’ll be present, direct, no nonsense and kind. I’ll step into that vulnerable space of generously giving, reaching out in anticipation of need. I’ll show up for the grieving around me, however imperfect and hesitant it might be.

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Establishing Our Resources For Giving

2410-closeup-of-a-bee-with-pollen-flying-by-a-flower-pvWe all have something to give, and our potential to give is equal to anyone else’s, depending on how we acknowledge and structure our giving. Just as we breathe in and out, exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide with the plants and animals around us, we are constantly in this dance of giving and receiving with everything in our world.

We often don’t recognize the giving that we’re doing as ‘gifts’ or place them within a framework of philanthropy, because they don’t fall into the classic philanthropic category of money spent. But our time and attention, our networks, our skills and stuff are all aspects of giving. Taking stock of our resources is an essential step in deciding what we have available to give and creates clear boundaries around that giving.

It also provides us with an opportunity to cultivate and nurture certain areas. After doing an inventory, you might decide you want a higher paying job to provide more financial support to the causes you care about, or that you want a less stressful job so you have more time to give to your family. For the first time, you might view your networks or your interest in a certain hobby as viable sources of giving and include them in your philanthropic plan.

Consider the following examples in order to do a personal audit and make a comprehensive inventory of the things you have available to give. 

     Your time and attention:

  • You allot your mornings to focused playing with your children.
  • You set aside 2 hours a week to do the books for a low income day care center.
  • You visit elderly patients at a retirement community and listen to their stories.

      Your skills and strengths:

  • You make people laugh and put them at ease.
  • You can design websites and marketing materials.
  • You enjoy fixing bikes.

      Your networks and influence:

  • You instigate and inspire others to come together.
  • You know people with untapped resources.
  • You have a wide social network and influence on twitter and Instagram.

      Your money:

  • You set up a personal plan for tithing 10% of earnings.
  • You build a ‘giving back’ philosophy into your business plan.
  • You pay off the unpaid lunch fees at a local school.

      Your stuff:

  • You have a garage full of sports equipment that you don’t use anymore.
  • You’ve collected an assortment of designer purses that sit in your closet.
  • You have multiple sets of china that have been passed down to you that go unused.

I advocate being insanely creative with what you have available to give, because essentially, philanthropy is our desire to give away our life energy to make something better. Think about that for a minute. You are exchanging bits of yourself to create something outside of yourself. This is the totality of what life is: an exchange of energy and resources. Trusting the flow of this energy exchange is the heart of philanthropy.

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