Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, full of food, family and festivities, the procession of faux holidays (like faux fur and leather) has begun: Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.
There’s a joke I’ve seen floating around on Twitter—“Black Friday: because only in America, people trample others for sales exactly one day after being thankful for what they already have.” While it’s mostly a cynical cheap shot at consumerism, there is something deeper at play that resonates with people. Just as there is a kernel of truth within all humor, this meme suggests a reflexive impulse toward reflection, a desire to question how and why our society has gotten here, that we can see unfolding in the larger world.
Today marks the fourth year of an inspiring new celebration, one that reacts to this trend by putting value over price and values over value and one that, I believe, deserves to become an enduring part of our global culture: #GivingTuesday.
While the winter holidays are a season of giving and receiving gifts, it is also the season in which we recognize the inherent humanity in others and strive to greet each other with warmth and compassion. With this in mind, in 2012, a coalition of organizations lead by the 92nd Street Y — an organization with a 141-year history of helping people connect with and develop their human values—in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, established #GivingTuesday—a day set aside for contributing back to the larger global community.
Through the continuing expansion of communication technology, our world has been dramatically reshaped faster than we have yet been able to reshape ourselves, our leadership and our institutions. The world has gone from being merely interconnected to being irreversibly interdependent. Now, we rise and fall together and the actions of a single individual—from a Pakistani 15-year-old with a message to a hacker with a stolen twitter account—can set off massive ripples around the globe. At its core, #GivingTuesday seeks to harness this quality for the greater good, reminding us of the increased responsibility that comes with our unprecedented ability to affect more people—positively and negatively—than ever before.
In its first year, around 1,400 American charitable groups participated in the #GivingTuesday movement. Last year, #GivingTuesday was celebrated by over 15,000 nonprofits and 20,000 partner organizations in 65 countries, amassing donations totaling over $45 million. Additionally, the #GivingTuesday hashtag was mentioned more than 750,000 times, resulting in over 32.7 million Twitter impressions and 1.2 million Facebook likes. In all, this on and offline engagement has translated to a 470% increase in online charitable donations on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Though the numbers for this year are not in yet, even President Obama acknowledged #GivingTuesday in his Thanksgiving message—recognizing that “in the holiday season, what you give is as important as what you get.”
This virality reminds me of another emerging trend.
Despite sales doubling between 2005 and 2012, Black Friday’s profits have been declining steadily every year since as more consumers avoid the stores altogether to shop from their phones. This year alone saw a decline of over $1 billion.
A recent study of Millennials—who will make up 50% of the workforce in five years and will inherit $60 trillion over the next 50—suggests this might just be the beginning. Despite a majority of the rising generation enjoying the rush of a good discount, 68% would support stores closing for Black Friday all together. Additionally, other studies show that Millennials value purpose and meaning above everything else. Interestingly, 83% of millennials surveyed say #GivingTuesday “represents what the holiday season should be about.”
Place these trends side by side, and a pattern I’ve noted for years becomes clear.
No amount of money, no deal, provokes such genuine and authentic inspiration in others as the knowledge that what they do has a higher significance. Fundamentally, #GivingTuesday is a celebration that taps into this deeply felt desire among all people to do more and serve a higher purpose.
From participating in coat and blood drives to volunteering and making donations, people are uniting in the spirit of giving because they know #GivingTuesday is a wave worth spreading. As an idea #GivingTuesday channels something deep inside of us, coalescing an increasingly diverse and growing group of participants into a single, unified movement. It asks all of us to consider our impact on the world and how we can do more to make it the kind we want to live in.
What makes my company LRN’s participation most special to me is how naturally #GivingTuesday aligns with and allows us to live our values. For more than 20 years, LRN’s mission has been to inspire principled performance in how businesses relate to their employees and society. In that same spirit, #GivingTuesday reaffirms for all of us how important and necessary it is to meaningfully participate in our interdependent world where each of our efforts have never carried more weight and the cost of failure has never been greater.
As the CEO of a global company, it gives me immense pride to be able to participate meaningfully in #GivingTuesday across several continents. In New York, LRN will be partnering with Per Scholas, a Bronx-based adult education program that provides IT job training, inviting prospective candidates into our offices for mock job interviews and other practice exercises to better prepare them for a meaningful job to support themselves and their families.
In Los Angeles, our colleagues will be volunteering at the Downtown Women’s Center, which has been providing assistance to the homeless women of the Skid Row neighborhood for 37 years, and participating in Operation Gratitude, pulling together care packages for US service men and women currently stationed overseas. In London, our colleagues will spend Tuesday volunteering with the Thames Valley Hospice and the Children’s Society Charity Shops, raising money for the care and assistance of young and old alike. And in Mumbai, our colleagues will be collecting and distributing food and clothing to members of the local community in need, taking a break at mid-day to share a lunch with the orphaned students from the Anand Niketan School.
#GivingTuesday represents a chance to look beyond our own tables, families, big screens and homes to the greater world. Even more than that, however, it asks us to look beyond this single Tuesday. The collective efforts of #GivingTuesday’s participants represent a global wave for good—an online movement that uses the power of technological interconnection to construct a new reality. It calls upon us to reconsider how we act in the rest of the year, asking questions about how we can better forge and foster the kind of healthy interdependencies that will best serve our global community.
The first step, then, is gratitude—the ability to recognize the good things in our lives and to thankfully acknowledge their often varied and diverse origins. Cicero once said that, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” With that in mind, the greatest gift of #GivingTuesday might just be the chance for each of us individually to develop the kind of habits and qualities—like gratitude for what we have been given—that inspire real collective change.
Genuine gratitude is not found in a greeting card, but in behavior. It takes hard work and action. It isn’t cheap. Through our commitment and participation, we have a chance to create a tradition—one that is not just annual, but daily. In truth, it is an ethos and a mindset we carry with us, one that animates and aligns all our behaviors and attitudes toward gratitude that will make the world a better place.
Should you choose to participate, remember, it is not just about the hands you help, the mouths you feed, the parks you clean or the clothes you donate. With every good deed that you do, you are creating a virtuous cycle where giving begets more giving.
Through your actions you are helping lay the foundation for the kind of world you choose to live in—one where every day carries the true spirit of the holiday season.
Originally published on Forbes.com.