#GivingTuesday Illustrates Shift in Philanthropy

Young people are donating more money, time and gifts to charity as it becomes easier through social media and online campaigns.

One such campaign, #GivingTuesday, which was started by a cultural center in New York City, encourages donations on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving as a philanthropic response to the more consumerist Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.

Pitt's United Way campaign enters its final weeks

People across the University also do their part to help the community outside of Pitt and contribute to worthy causes. One way is through the University of Pittsburgh’s 14th annual United Way campaign, which ends Dec. 22.

Read about the reasons employees choose to donate each year or learn more about the program’s details to consider ways to give.

That kind of social media campaign democratizes philanthropy and encourages young people to participate, said Kathleen Buechel, senior lecturer and director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Philanthropy Forum at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA).

“It makes great use of the millennial tendency to give online and give to causes — as opposed to responding to appeals from traditional, mainstream organizations to which their parents may have given,” she said. “Millennials may search online for organizations that advance social justice goals or tackle food insecurity locally and vet them through peers or social media channels. Their support may not center on money alone, but could involve taking an action like retweeting agency messages to friends. These new channels of engagement offer a peer-based connection to philanthropy and make causes both more tangible and experiential for the giver.

Kathleen Buechel in a dark patterned jacket“It's important because it helps to engage young people in causes while growing the next generation of philanthropists and sector leaders,” she added, noting that giving has never been easier thanks to the proliferation of giving online through sites like Kickstarter and You Caring or, more locally, EngagePitt

Cause-engagement actions of young people are increasing in 2017 compared to 2016, according to a report from The Millennial Impact Project. Derrick Feldmann, president of Achieve, a research and marketing agency that put together the report, said the presidential election of 2016 “may well have been a watershed moment for how millennials engage with causes and view activism. Regardless of whether or how they voted, millennials are now part of an often-contentious cause landscape that seems far removed from pre-election days.”

The research findings from millennials included:

  • Their volunteering and giving are increasing as supporters develop ways to help causes they feel are in danger of losing support from traditional agencies and institutions.
  • They are showing far more interest in causes that impact minority, marginalized or disenfranchised groups or people.
  • They are most interested in causes that promote equity, equality and opportunity.

The next generation of philanthropists

For Martina Gesell (GSPIA ’17), #GivingTuesday is a tradition that she knows well. 

Gesell, who received a master’s degree in policy research and analysis, took Buechel's Matching Money With Mission course through GSPIA, which introduced her to the world of philanthropy. The course teaches students how a charitable foundation develops a mission and values statement and how it decides to grant funding to a particular project or organization.

“In class, we explored how charitable giving evolved over time, leading to different models of philanthropy — such as scientific or strategic — and how some of the biggest philanthropists applied these ideas to their own giving styles, particularly here in Pittsburgh,” Gesell said. “For example, we discussed how we often think of philanthropy as giving money, but donating your time or making a gift are also great ways to give back to your community.” 

For Gesell, experiences from Buechel’s class go beyond volunteerism and apply directly to her professional career at the Allegheny County Health Department. 

As its lead hazard communications and policy coordinator, Gesell is managing a Hillman Foundation grant to reduce lead exposure in Allegheny County. She recently launched a mini-grant program for organizations interested in conducting community outreach about preventing lead exposure. 

“The opportunities to bring change into our community are countless — everyone can find options that fit their preferences and means,” she said. “What’s more, initiatives like #GivingTuesday encourage us to share our experiences on social media, which makes it easy to inspire and motivate family and friends to engage in philanthropy.”