by Alexa Broida
Director, Mitzvah Corps
Tuesday, November 29, 2016 marks the fifth year of #GivingTuesday, a worldwide day of giving. #GivingTuesday harnesses the power of social media and collaboration to support initiatives that work toward positive change. Directly following Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday – and still in the wake of an election cycle that motivated many to mobilize on behalf of their communities and values – #GivingTuesday provides an opportunity to act with intention and make an impact.
You don’t need to have excess money to donate, or time to give; opportunities to engage in #GivingTuesday are accessible and as varied as the people who take them on. Before you get started, try to commit to two guiding principles:
Give because you mean it. Don’t give to causes that don’t inspire you. There are enough to go around! Listen to your instincts, allow something to truly resonate, and engage with something that you’ll want to continue long after #GivingTuesday is over.
Support sustainable efforts. There are plenty of well-intentioned people looking to make a difference, especially if they’ve recently been inspired by a cause, but many others have been in the field, making progress for decades or longer. Find them, listen to them, work alongside them.
Having an influx of volunteers or donations over a short window, like #GivingTuesday, can be overwhelming for organizations. Allow this to be a starting point; remember that most of these organizations have existed long before you found them, and will continue their work long after the holiday season has ended. Your support is valued on this day, but your ongoing commitment can make a lasting impact. And with that, let’s get ready to make it happen!
Give your time, either on #GivingTuesday itself, or use the day to commit to something in the future.
#1. Volunteer in your community. Find a local organization that addresses an issue you feel passionately about. Give them a call and ask if they have a need for volunteers. Do they have a lot of volunteers signed up already? Ask if there is a time when they’re usually short-staffed, when they could really use the help.
Bonus challenge: Can you take advantage of a partnership that already exists? Does your congregation, local Jewish Federation, or a local school have an ongoing relationship with an organization that you could take part in?
#2. Volunteer in another city, state, or country. Make a plan to leave your comfort zone and explore another community through the lens of social justice. There’s much to be gained by exposing yourself to new ideas, cultures, and perspectives. What might you want to learn to take back home?
Bonus challenge: Authentic social justice travel can be hard to distinguish from voluntourism. Ask questions of any trip organizer to make sure they are supporting local, sustainable efforts, and that the service that short-term volunteers can provide is welcomed by and utilized effectively by the local community.
#3. Make your voice heard in local, state, or federal government. With a quick phone call to your congressional representatives in the House and Senate, you can advocate for policies you believe in. You don’t need to be old enough to vote, you just need a phone and an extra two minutes. Staffers actually do keep tally of which issues constituents are calling about, so they won’t ask you for details or argue with you – they’ll just mark down that you called.
Bonus challenge: Make it a family affair. Use your cell phones to make a call before dinner, then unplug together for the meal.
#4. Engage in gimilut chasadim, acts of love and kindness. When was the last time you went out of your way to make conversation with someone outside of your social or family circle? Read an article or had a conversation in order understand a perspective different than your own? Refrained from speaking so that a quieter person may have a moment to shine? Do something that involves listening, understanding, and committing to “walking the walk.”
Bonus challenge: During your lunch break, find someone eating alone and ask if you can join them.
Give your dollars, either by donating directly to organizations, or by changing the way you spend.
#5. Charitable donations. Whether you give to local organizations in your area, or to those that operate on a larger scale, ask the right questions of them. Do they adhere to high ethical and sustainable standards of practice? Do members of the communities being served hold leadership roles within the organization?
Bonus challenge: Don’t judge nonprofits based solely on what percentage of their donations go direct-to-program. While yes, they should be transparent in how they use their funds, they also need to pay their bills and hire talented, dedicated staff to maintain the integrity of their work, and get the word out so more people can be involved and supportive.
#6. Shop at small businesses. Shop locally-owned stores when buying holiday gifts, frequenting stores and shops that are owned by people who you’d like to support in or near your community. This doesn’t need to be limited to the holiday season!
Bonus challenge: When you go into a locally-owned business, take a few extra minutes to chat with the person working there. What’s their story? How are they connected to the business owner?
#7. Shop at ethical companies. Companies have to make choices regarding their environmental impact, hiring and labor practices, use of sustainable materials, financial support to politicians, involvement with corporate social responsibility, and much more. And often by ensuring a high ethical standard in one area, they have to sacrifice something in another. What’s most important to you?
Bonus challenge: Watch this short video about Patagonia’s culture of transparency with consumers. How can you ask the same questions of the stores where you shop?
#8. Utilize Amazon Smile. Can’t give up the benefits to online shopping? Log in to your existing Amazon account through Amazon Smile, and select a nonprofit that you’d like to sponsor with your purchases. You don’t need to do anything else – same great products, same great prices – but Amazon will donate 0.5% of your eligible purchases to the nonprofit of your choice.
Bonus challenge: Combine all of the above by using Amazon Smile to shop from a locally-owned retailer of your choice, support a cause you care about, and an organization working hard to make it a reality.