How #GivingTuesday Transcended Borders: A Conversation With Asha Curran

Get an inside look at the evolution of #GivingTuesday, an international celebration of charitable giving, with Asha Curran, one of its chief architects.

Asha Curran

Chief Innovation Officer and the Director of the Belfer Center for Innovation + Social Impact at 92nd Street Y

Who She Is:

Asha Curran is spearheading projects with national and global reach, including #GivingTuesday, Women in Power Fellowships, and the Social Good Summit. Asha is an advocate for women’s health and is the recipient of the 2015 Social Capital Hero Award from Social Capital Partners, LLC.

Q: So many countries around the world now celebrate #GivingTuesday. What is fueling its global spread?

A: The simple idea of a day of giving is so powerful and so resonant all around the world, which speaks to the fact that generosity is a universal human value. #GivingTuesday is an adaptable movement that was created to be changed and evolved and used by people and organizations and countries in whatever way is relevant to them. It doesn’t have to be a one-size-fits-all movement. It can be its own completely unique thing in Tanzania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Brazil. It’s not that people are taking an American day and trying to implement it in these other places. In those places, it is inherently a Brazilian giving day or a Tanzanian giving day or British giving day.

Q: Wow! Tell us about what #GivingTuesday looks like in one of those countries.

A: In Brazil, for example, the name is actually different. It’s called Dia de Doar. It’s being used in Brazil as a way to grow what they call donor culture. In the US, we have a strong and established history of individual giving, but in Brazil, and in many other places, for many different reasons, that’s just not true.

In Brazil, the people who are leading the movement are really using it as a way to build awareness about the good work that NGOs do—how important that work is to social justice, individual liberty, the welfare of humans and animals, and so forth.

Their campaign is really brilliant. It’s not about guilting people or shaming people into giving. It’s about making the giving scene fun and cool and responsible and addictive. It’s very joyful and celebratory. They use relationships with businesses and marketing companies and with celebrities and influencers and do an amazing job—as many countries do—with pretty low resources.

Q: What top #GivingTuesday tips do you share with nonprofits just getting started with their campaigns?

A: See if there’s already a regional #GivingTuesday movement that can be joined. If so, that means there are all kinds of tools, resources, and support available.

I also recommend that nonprofits use #GivingTuesday as a day to experiment—a day to try something new. That ‘something new’ should involve some experimentation around digital, if possible, and some experimentation around collaboration because that’s a muscle that nonprofits around the world really need to exercise. The sector is not collaborative enough and tends not to be experimental enough.

And I always encourage people to look at things that have been done in the past. We have tons of case studies on our website. Other country leaders do, as well.

There’s absolutely no harm in trying someone else’s idea and seeing how it works.

An original idea is great, but the whole ecosystem of #GivingTuesday—the whole purpose behind it—is a peer-learning ecosystem. We’re all learning from each other. We’re all figuring out what works, trying to discard what doesn’t work, and trying to update our best practices. That’s really best done as a global network.

Q: Tell us about a promising idea that nonprofits could adapt this #GivingTuesday, which will be celebrated on Nov. 27, 2018.

A: Try story listening, instead of storytelling. What are your donors, your audience, your community thinking? What do they care about? People want to be heard these days, and they want to tell their own stories.

We’ve seen organizations do amazing things around asking people instead of telling people what to think. We’re launching a great campaign called “My Giving Story,” which is a storytelling contest and social media campaign asking people what they give to and why. People are using it in about 10 countries all over the world now, using #MyGivingStory.

It’s lovely and meaningful to hear how people express their generosity. Instead of thinking about storytelling as ‘where can we slap our brand everywhere,’ instead try listening to other voices—it can be a really powerful way to engage people.

Q: You were part of #GivingTuesday’s start in 2012. What factors were critical to the day’s success?

A: #GivingTuesday was the idea of Henry Timms, who I worked very closely with then and still work very closely with now. He came into work one day and mentioned it, and we started to build it right away. That first decision—to launch it right away—was really important.

Traditionally, in the nonprofit world, it would be common to talk about that idea, discuss it endlessly for a year, run it through different committees, get all sorts of approvals, write up different concept papers, and then edit the concept papers.

We thought there was a real value in getting it out into the world. We knew that it wasn’t going to be perfect, but that we would learn to make it better and better from the people who would engage with it.

Q: How have you refined your strategies to fuel the movement through the years?

A: We continually refine our strategies to support what is emerging organically out of the movement. We see what works, and we’re always be open to changing what doesn’t.

In the very beginning, our strategy was much more about identifying people who were influencers, or companies that we thought should be on board, or major nonprofits that we thought should do a campaign. Even that was a misguided way to look at it.

Our strategy now is what we call a hand-raising strategy.

We wait for innate leaders who raise their hands and say, ‘I like this idea. I think I can do something creative around it.’ Then we support them—whether that’s a nonprofit, or in an entire country, or in a tiny town.

For example, in the nonprofit world, it turns out that colleges and universities do very well with #GivingTuesday. That wasn’t a strategy. We had no idea that would happen. It simply emerged as a continual theme. We saw that it was happening, so we pivoted some resources to support that growth.

Q: What insights about the nonprofit sector as a whole have you gained from being so close to the #GivingTuesday movement?

A: I think it’s really important for the nonprofit sector to take a good hard look at everything it assumes is true. And do experiments to try to understand whether it still is. I say that because as I look around, I see a lot of clinging to things that were true 10-20 years ago. It’s really important to understand that everything about the nature of the way that people engage, communicate, consume, and give has changed. We are at a tremendous moment of opportunity, if we can really understand and leverage that change.

I think that people are fundamentally generous, which places the burden on us to excite and inspire them to give.

Q: What do you hope #GivingTuesday will look like around the world in 10 years?

A: I hope #GivingTuesday continues to surprise me. I hope that in 10 years it’s something I can’t even imagine now. I do hope—and on balance it would be a great thing for the world—if the first global day was a day celebrated in generosity. There is no day, no ritual that the whole world celebrates together, with the possible exception of Olympics. A day of giving is something that would exclude absolutely no one. Every single person in the world could participate in a day of giving. If we get to that point where you have the whole world rallying in this ritual of celebration of generosity, that would be amazing.

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A #GivingTuesday celebration in Libera. Photo courtesy of 92nd Street Y.

Featured Photo: #GivingTuesday is an international celebration of charitable giving by 92ND STREET Y
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