Thinking about giving back

The elephant in the room

Andrew Breland

In 2012, a group led by the 92nd Street Y in New York City, including the United Nations Foundation, began promoting “Giving Tuesday” in response to the increased commercialization of the post-Thanksgiving holidays—Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. The organizations wanted to promote a culture of giving and donations after the weekend bacchanalia of buying gifts and cheap televisions.

In the two years since Giving Tuesday began, more than 10,000 organizations have joined in, according to the movement’s website. The “Team of Influencers,” the movers and shakers who lead the push for Giving Tuesday, includes the CEO of a philanthropic organization, the Bridgespan Group; a professor at Stanford University; and the globalization editor of The Economist. The movement is supported by the Huffington Post, Lodestar Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Giving Tuesday came to Case Western Reserve University in 2013. Last year, more than 20 organizations participated, ranging from the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) Emerging Scholars Program and Center for Civic Engagement and Learning (CCEL) to think[box] and the Case Emergency Medical Services (EMS). This year, only 16 organizations participated (down from 20). There were new additions to the list, including the CAS Student Scholarship Program and the Graduate Business Students Association.

While most of the school’s efforts in pursuit of a spirit of giving are well-founded and useful, it is unclear that all of them are that way. Unfortunately, including programs that seem irrelevant to the school’s goal changes the message of the entire day.

Giving Tuesday tries to capture a spirit of community and generosity that used to be associated with Thanksgiving itself. While it is not fair to say that this aim has disappeared from the holiday, no one can argue that generosity, once the focus of the last Thursday in November, has been replaced by feasting, a New York parade, and annual Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions football.

We are all guilty of it. On Thanksgiving, I absolutely sat in front of my television to watch the Lions’ tumultuous, but ultimately successful, game against the Chicago Bears. I didn’t get to watch the Eagles beat up on the Cowboys, but that is probably for the better. And I absolutely would have watched the parade, had it not been for the appealing and inescapable enjoyment of sleep, something with which CWRU students might be unfamiliar.
The point is, this new reality is hard to escape. Thanksgiving, for all of us, is about more than giving thanks.

But that is what makes an effort like “Giving Tuesday” all the more important. While I will admit that I bemoan the creation of these fake holidays (Small Business Saturday….oh boy), there is nobility and appropriateness in the attempt to bring generosity back to the holiday season. In a world where the ubiquitous Salvation Army bell ringers are under attack for their discrimination in donating funds, it is a comfort to see others rising above the rabble and making a difference. To a large extent, CWRU’s efforts conform to this image.

Then again, while CCEL, Habitat for Humanity and the Free Clinic all exemplify the community giving that represents Giving Tuesday, others do not. This year, donations going to the CAS Student Scholarship Fund, the Graduate Business School Association, and others seem to run counter to the otherwise singular mission. Even some of the other potential donation sites like the LGBT Center, Case EMS, Chisholm Social Justice Fellowship and Flora Stone Mather Center for Women fail to explain how its donations affect the community outside CWRU. This is not an indictment of these organizations or projects, but rather a call to think about whether their inclusion on a day dedicated to community outreach is appropriate.

What we risk is not a cancellation of these programs. They all deserve and will receive donations this week and in the weeks and months to come. However, what we risk is making a strong movement like Giving Tuesday into another meaningless phrase. Already, Giving Tuesday sounds strange and unfamiliar; it is important we do not let people’s first impressions of it be clouded and unfair.

Andrew Breland, senior, is a weekly Opinion columnist. Contact him at