By Henry Timms
November 27, 2017
IDEAS
Timms is the executive director of the 92nd Street Y

It is easy to despair of the incivility and division in America today. In our newsfeeds and daily lives, many feel the rising anger and tension. A recent poll shows that our politics are more divided than ever. Another showed that biggest cause of stress for Americans is the future of our nation.

There are no easy fixes, but one powerful antidote we can all administer is giving.

It is often buried beneath the headlines, and it rarely rises to the top of the Twitter trends, but every day in every community, Americans perform simple acts of compassion and kindness that bring us closer together. Philanthropy is one of our great traditions. America is consistently ranked as one of the most generous countries in the world. Our mega-donors get a lot of the attention, but the core strength of our philanthropy is in everyday giving.

The power of giving may be understated, but it should not be underestimated.

Psychologists have found that giving promotes social connection, the kind that’s crucial to our physical and mental well-being. Ichiro Kawachi, a professor of social epidemiology at Harvard’s School of Public Health, found that after a disaster, community social connections are as important for resilience as medical supplies. Volunteering benefits not just the receiver, but also the giver.

We launched #GivingTuesday as a celebration of giving. After the consumerism of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday sees people rally around community spirit and gratitude. After two days for the economy, one good for the soul.

This idea began at the 92nd Street Y, but the way it has grown says a lot about the state of our country’s generosity. Last year, more than $180 million was raised online alone with an average gift of just over $100. Enough toys were collected to break a Guinness world record, and one organ-donor registration drive was so successful that someone donated a kidney. DonorsChoose.org reported 17,000 donors, 3,210 completed projects and $1.8 million raised for classrooms—then the single biggest day in the organization’s history. University of Michigan’s #GivingBlueday campaign raised $5.5 million with 2,000 new donors. Importantly, data suggests that the holiday doesn’t just shift charitable giving from one day to another; #GivingTuesday enhances end-of-year giving.

This year on #GivingTuesday—November 28—millions of people across the country, of all different political views, religions and backgrounds, will come together and do the same thing: give. Middle school students in Indiana will hold a dance-a-thon to bring electricity to a Kenyan village, where children just like them cannot study after dark. Fathers in almost a dozen cities will deliver baby food to families in need. Volunteers will fill and distribute backpacks full of food, clothing and hotel room vouchers to homeless veterans. Giant corporations like Facebook, PayPal and T-Mobile have all made significant commitments for #GivingTuesday, so have local businesses, from accountants to pizza parlors. Entire states, including New York, Illinois and Georgia, are running state-wide campaigns that foster collaboration between hundreds of organizations in support of their most urgent local issues.

Though this campaign began in the US, the movement has now scaled to 98 countries around the world – from Brazil to Tanzania to Russia. In 2015, 4.5 million people took part in #GivingTuesday in the UK. Last year in Canada, two million people donated their time. This year in Kenya, volunteers will transform jeans into 300 backpacks for children who rely on plastic bags to carry their books to school and will also pack the bags with school supplies. Though the languages, logos and campaigns may all look different, they are all connected through a spirit of kindness and compassion.

The darker forces of politics and platforms can easily divide us. One way to reunite is by re-affirming those values we should all share: our capacity to understand the challenges of others, our desire to help those most in need. And although each of our individual acts will often feel small in the face of some of our national issues, millions of simple acts – joined together—add up to real impact.

As we enter the “Giving Season”, whether you’re reaching out to someone on the other side of your town, or the other side of our world, it is the act of reaching out that can help to re-connect us all.

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