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Co-founder Henry Timms: Why Giving Tuesday matters

Whether we are separated by our politics, the bubbles we live in, or the opposing factions across the Thanksgiving dinner table, we all know we are a nation divided.

The tensions of the election only seem to have intensified with its result. In our headlines, news feeds and conversations, it is hard to turn our minds to anything other than the political.

But as we think through what is next for our country, and especially as we enter the holiday season, we should remember that our democracy relies on more than just our politics.

For all those things that clearly divide us, we share a proud tradition of giving: donating to a clothing drive, supporting a local cause, volunteering at a shelter, or serving meals at a soup kitchen.

Tomorrow, on what we think of as the “other” Tuesday in November, millions around the country will come together to celebrate that tradition.

#GivingTuesday began as a simple idea at 92nd Street Y in New York City: after two days for getting deals – Black Friday and Cyber Monday – how about a day for giving back, an “opening day” for giving season?

From there, a movement was built by individuals, families, organizations and communities across all 50 states. Citizens everywhere came together to demonstrate our common willingness to give.

Acts like these aren’t “breaking news.” Neither are they laced with conflict. The ordinary, everyday act of kindness does not often go viral. The qualities we all share are not often the most “shareable.” Yet they are essential to our democracy.

In 2015, nonprofits raised over $117 million online on #GivingTuesday, and much more was generated offline and through donations of time, clothes, food and other resources. This year, we expect to see people giving more than ever. Just as important, we will see communities across the country coming together.

In Baltimore, 1,000 people with very different backgrounds will split into small groups and perform acts of kindness. Some will bake and deliver casseroles to people in need. Some will collect books and add them to pop-up libraries. Some will clean up local parks. They share one goal: to make their city stronger.

In Bethel, Alaska, a city that serves as a transportation hub to more than 50 surrounding Native American villages, there will be a fill-the-boot campaign at their local three-way stop, the only one in town, that most people pass by each day on their way to work. Donations will benefit local nonprofits and services, from Bethel Search and Rescue to the Tundra Women’s Coalition.

The City University of New York (CUNY) is launching its first-ever university-wide giving day, #CUNYTuesday. It aims to raise $1 million in 24 hours to support students at their 24 colleges, including money for student scholarships and emergency funds.

ORGANIZE, the online organ donor platform, will use #GivingTuesday to encourage people to “Give with your Heart” by registering as organ donors online. Last year, they registered thousands of Americans, making it by far the biggest digital donor drive in US history. And World Relief is encouraging folks to help build “Welcome Kits” for refugee families, which includes kitchen supplies, bedding, and other household items.

We shouldn’t overstate the impact of a single day dedicated to philanthropy. Most of us vote once every two or four years. But we define our country every day through the ways we all contribute to a strong and healthy civil society. Our philanthropy showcases the benevolence, entrepreneurship and communitarian spirit that still lives at the heart of our national spirit, even if it is missing from our national news.

We need our democratic society to be strong every day of the year, but we cannot understate the significance of collective national rituals. When our politics push us into opposing camps, and when our social networks can nudge us into like-minded bubbles, it is critical we celebrate and catalyze the fundamental goodness of people and reaffirm those essential qualities that we all share.

So this year, consider turning out on the “other” Tuesday in November. Join citizens of all backgrounds, religions and viewpoints in reaching out to help others. Give of your time, your resources, your dollars — everyone has something to give, be it big or small.

And unlike elections, which can be hard to predict, the results of giving are virtually guaranteed. You will emerge more connected to your community, more satisfied with your life, and a symbol of the generosity and compassion at the very heart of our nation’s promise.

 – Henry Timms, Executive Director of 92nd Street Y and a co-founder of #GivingTuesday. The views expressed here are his own.