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#GivingTuesday: From moment to movement

Asset 1 4 min Case Study

A moment on Twitter can become a movement felt around the world, and it can all start with one hashtag.

In recent years hashtags have united communities and become synonymous with global social justice campaigns, such as #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, but one of the first hashtags to gain momentum in this way began over eight years ago. #GivingTuesday is a global annual generosity event that takes place on the day after Cyber Monday — one of the most popular online shopping days of the year — and since 2012 it has inspired people to give through donations, collaborations, and volunteering.

“When we launched the #GivingTuesday hashtag in 2012, it was an experiment to see whether social media could be used to harness participatory energy for something radically good. That was a big bet, and the truth is, GivingTuesday could have failed within the first year if that bet was wrong,” says Kathleen Murphy, digital strategy director for GivingTuesday.

Luckily the hashtag took off, and was used over 145,000 times that first year, generating “10 times more interest” than Murphy and the team had imagined. Now it’s a highly recognized event across social media, particularly on Twitter, and the day itself is used as the kickoff for end-of-year giving campaigns for charities, museums, organizations, and foundations.

Since its inception, the goal of GivingTuesday has been to create a more just and generous world where generosity is essential to society. The nonprofit has utilized Twitter not just to drive awareness — through visual countdowns, sharing impact reports, and amplifying participating campaigns — but also as a tool for organization. “We've used Twitter to connect with communities that are organizing local GivingTuesday movements, to connect with potential country leaders, and organize on the ground activities all over the world,” says Murphy. “We teach our grassroots organizers to do the same: They've used Twitter to connect with sponsors, get celebrities interested in their local movements, and collaborate with people they never would have had access to.”

In 2019, a whopping 27 million adults participated, and $511 million online donations were made in the US alone, within 24 hours. The world has changed drastically since then, and in response to COVID-19, GivingTuesday created an additional day of giving, #GivingTuesdayNow, to encourage unity and give people a way to express support for their communities. “The first place we announced it was on Twitter, two days after our team decided we were going to do this,” says Murphy. “The world embraced the idea and organized in five weeks what we normally take all year to prepare.” The day saw global participation, with “social activity in 145 countries, 3 billion Twitter impressions, and action from millions of individuals, businesses, nonprofits, and global brands.”

Speaking prior to GivingTuesday 2020, Murphy says the organization has “gone back to our roots a little bit, pivoting to actions people can take virtually or from their couch.” One thing that’s not changing is the use of the #GivingTuesday hashtag, which Murphy believes helps people see power in gathering for a common purpose. “If you look at hashtag movements, what you see is the power of collective voice. It’s people realizing their strength in numbers [...] and I think with GivingTuesday, you see the same thing with a generosity lens. When you take action for your community, you realize you have more agency than you thought.”

When it was first created back in 2012, the goal was simple: create a day that encourages people to do good. To date, GivingTuesday’s hashtag has been used more than 7.1M times, and the annual campaign has generated billions of dollars in donations. “Collectively, people realize that they have the capacity to make a much bigger impact than they ever would have thought,” says Murphy. “And when they see the impact of that collective generosity, the difference that it makes becomes obvious.”