THE BLOG
12/01/2014 06:49 pm ET Updated Jan 31, 2015

Have You Heard of #GivingTuesday?

It's hard to believe the holidays are here again. Every year they seem to come a little earlier. Black Friday now starts on Thursday, and the most popular gifts are often sold out online on Cyber Monday before they even hit the shelves. This is the eager opening to the season, and for many people the beginning of the search for the perfect gifts for those they love. But to me the most important opportunity the holiday season offers us can't be found amongst sales and discounts. This is a chance to remember all we have to be thankful for, and not only to get but to give, especially to those struggling in poverty this holiday season.

I'm proud to say I'm not alone in my desire to enjoy the spirit of giving. Right now, a movement is growing throughout the country as people rethink how to best honor those they love. The result has been #GivingTuesday, which falls on December 2 this year.

Conceived of in 2012 in the midst of the economic downturn and now in its third year, it's become not only a day to remember giving, but a movement. Ten thousand organizations participated last year and more than three million people spread the word on social media. The message is simple: One of the greatest gifts we can give is the gift of giving back.

As president of Heartland Alliance, the Midwest's leading anti-poverty organization, it's the nature of my work that I see the faces of those who need this support. In the last few weeks I've met Kimberly, a mother of three, one of her sons just two weeks old, who left her abusive partner and found herself in desperate need of housing, healthcare, and a job. I've met Mohammad, his wife Jiana, and their four beautiful children, refugees from Iraq who fled to America as refugees with nothing but the clothes on their back. And I've met Mary Pat, a Navy veteran and LGBT senior unable to afford a safe place to live, on the verge of homelessness.

And in the end, that's who #GivingTuesday is about - the people, like Kimberly, Mohammad, Jiana, and Mary Pat - who so often go unseen. This day gives us an opportunity to honor our loved ones by giving a gift to the causes that matter to them, and to bring back the spirit of the holidays.

So this year, as you're searching for the perfect gift or stocking stuffer, consider that it may not be a sweater or the latest gadget. It can be as easy as sharing that moment of change through #GivingTuesday and changing the reality we see every day on the streets.

It's easy to support local nonprofits through #GivingTuesday if you are so inclined. Visit givingtuesday.org and find a cause that moves you. You can review reports on how effective each nonprofit is and support them at a level you're comfortable with. You can also choose to volunteer through the site and learn how to participate in the #GivingTuesday promotional campaign through social media.

To view Heartland Alliance's #GivingTuesday campaign, click here or visit us on Facebook, Twitter (@heartlandhelps) and YouTube (HeartlandAlliance).