THE BLOG
12/08/2014 02:54 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

#GivingTuesday Movement: A Metaphor for 21st Century Power

Two years ago, I wrote about #GivingTuesday when it first launched, calling it the "kind of wave that will launch and sustain us on a new journey." Created as a response to "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday," #GivingTuesday was spearheaded by the 92nd Street Y in partnership with the United Nations Foundation and other admirable organizations. Back then, the movement consisted of around 1,400 American charitable groups; this year, #GivingTuesday has spread to all 50 states and dozens of countries. From participating in coat and blood drives, to volunteering, to making donations, people of all ages, religions and opinions united in the spirit of giving. It is capturing people's imagination in ways no one has anticipated because it is tapping into a new source of power: our values.

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The leaders who catalyzed it did not envision it as a rigorously engineered or scripted plan, but rather, a true movement that would transcend all expectations, if not their own imaginations. It was, in other words, designed to be a wave that would build on itself, compound, and perpetuate in its energy. Preliminary estimates from this past Tuesday show that over 15,000 nonprofit organizations and more than 20,000 partner organizations took part in this year's activities, up from the 9,500 nonprofit and 10,000 partner organizations that participated in 2013. This year saw a 63% growth in donations over the last, raising an estimated $45.68 million thanks to an inspired effort that spanned more than 65 countries around the world. Clearly, this movement has brought together kindred spirits worldwide and channeled their energy into some truly impressive efforts.

I have described #GivingTuesday as a "wave" because the human wave - that unison of raised hands and hearts when we cheer on teams - is a perfect metaphor of what it looks like when power is not exerted over people, but rather generated through people who willingly stand up together for what they collectively believe in. On #GivingTuesday, you can feel the pulse of human energy flowing out of our workspaces--online and on the street. The energy comes not from a movement that is scaling a philanthropic program or even a hashtag, but from a movement that is about scaling values.

One of the main reasons why #GivingTuesday has been growing in a sustainable way is because the leaders who first catalyzed it, and so many others that have joined it, understand that the sources of power have shifted in our rapidly reshaping world - one that has gone from connected to interconnected to interdependent.

As I've often argued, throughout most of human history, the sources of power were finite. In the land-based economy, the more land people owned, the more rent they could charge. In the capital-based economy spawned by the industrial age, the more capital people had, the more interest they could charge. In these zero-sum economies, people accumulated and hoarded the sources of power in order to impose their will upon those who had less. In today's knowledge - or, perhaps, human - economy, the sources of power (e.g. information, ideas, values, ingenuity) are infinite because they are rooted in human capabilities and qualities.

Exerting power over others through discipline and rewards alone was highly effective when the sources of power were finite. Today, leaders have to shift from "command-and-control" to "connect-and-collaborate," from exerting power over people to generating power through them. Some thoughtful people have been writing on this shift, most recently, Jeremy Heimans, CEO of Purpose, and Henry Timms, executive director of the 92nd Street Y. They argue compellingly in the Harvard Business Review that "old power" works like a finite currency that must be guarded, but today "new power" is more like a current, created in an "open, participatory, and peer-driven" manner. Whereas "old power" relies on values such as institutionalism, secrecy, and competition in order to accomplish its objectives, "new power" more nimbly relies on open-source collaboration, transparency and sharing. #GivingTuesday is a self-sustaining wave because those who are catalyzing it are harnessing new and not old power. We are now in a world where increasingly a pure focus on scaling products, business models or even philanthropic programs is not nearly as powerful, and certainly not as enduring, as scaling values, which is at the heart of #GivingTuesday.

One of the ways that they are doing so is by encouraging all of us, regardless of resources, to give in a way that authentically flows from our values and capacities. It could look like a financial planner who advises low-income communities on personal budgeting, or an advertising designer who volunteers at an after-school arts program for children. In the New York office of my company, LRN, where I work, we offered our analytical services to help assess the program effectiveness of Leave Out Violence (LOVE), a nonprofit created to promote non-violence in the lives of youth. Throughout all our offices, from Mumbai to London to Los Angeles to New York City, we leaned into this movement with sincerity and earnestness. Each time we give authentically, we grow through reinforcing and deepening our connection to our values. When we give, we get. We come out ahead. In this way, we are redefining giving, moving from a zero-sum logic of I-give-you-receive towards a model of shared participation and benefit. If old giving was about offering a transactional handout, new giving is about joining our hands to collaborate to do something greater together for the long run.

The spirit of #GivingTuesday is not one that should ultimately be relegated to one day of the year; it is, in fact, a lifestyle, ingrained into our daily mindsets and habits. As famed anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko said, "The power of a movement lies in the fact that it can indeed change the habits of a people." ("Habit" and "give," interestingly, both come from an ancient proto-indo-European word, "ghabh.")
So, this past Tuesday, I invited everyone, including my colleagues at my company, LRN, to pause and reflect on what it would mean to live out the true spirit of giving on a consistent basis, in every facet of their lives and interactions with others.

I volunteered at LOVE, but my other NYC colleagues were with GrowNYC, which provides fresh and locally grown produce to under-served communities, and Team Red, White and Blue - whose mission is to enrich the lives of American veterans by connecting them to their communities through both physical and social activity - together with See Spot Rescued, which strives to provide a permanent loving home for every homeless dog.

Our Los Angeles colleagues were assisting with a range of organizations, such as Union Rescue Mission and P.A.T.H., both of whom work to help those who have faced homelessness, Operation Gratitude, which provides care packages to Active Duty and Veteran communities, and Downtown Women's Center, which provides safe shelter to women without a home.

Internationally, my colleagues in Mumbai had lunch with children at an orphanage as well as distributed clothes and food to members of the local community. In London, colleagues supported the Pink Ribbon International Foundation, an organization that is committed to raising breast cancer awareness and supporting survivors. Colleagues in our remote locations supported a whole host of organizations across the United States, such as the American Cancer Society, the Boys and Girls Club, Doctors Without Borders, U.S. Marine Reserves and the YWCA.

What is so promising about this wave is that while it starts with the symbolic and real act of giving during a given day, when one truly internalizes the values and spirit behind the act, it will start to inform our mindsets and actions every day--waves will start happening within our own lives. What's more, giving will not stop with us. In wave-like fashion, giving authentically inspires others to give in the same way. #GivingTuesday is a means of scaling values throughout our world, a true manifestation of 21st-century power, and, more importantly, leadership that understands, exemplifies, and harnesses this power.