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Charities Kick Off Holiday Season With Giving Tuesday

We preview Giving Tuesday, the annual online campaign to raise money for charities, and examine the overall outlook for charitable giving this year.

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Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In the pattern of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, tomorrow is labeled Giving Tuesday. Charities want to attract new donors. It's the third Giving Tuesday and the biggest so far, as NPR's Pam Fessler reports.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Hundreds of clearly excited children, from tiny tots to preteens, filled a theater at Imagination Stage in Bethesda, Maryland, on a recent weekday morning. They were there to see the group's newest production - "101 Dalmatians."

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "101 DALMATIONS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (Singing) And the thing about humans, they may be kind.

FESSLER: And it's human kindness that Imagination Stage hopes to tap into on Giving Tuesday, so it could keep entertaining local schoolchildren. The arts' nonprofit is one of more than 18,000 groups participating in the campaign. And like others, Imagination Stage wants to broaden its base of support. Chelsey Christensen is associate director of development.

CHELSEY CHRISTENSEN: We're going for 101 donors coming in on Giving Tuesday.

FESSLER: She hopes the new show will help attract some of those donors. They've also made up signs covered in paw prints that supporters can use to take Un-Selfies - those are pictures people post of themselves online holding messages saying why they back a particular cause.

CHRISTENSEN: It's a really fun way to try to engage new donors - people who maybe haven't heard about us. It's our current parents and subscribers who aren't yet giving. It's our current students that are sharing this with a whole new group of people.

FESSLER: And that's what Giving Tuesday is really all about - creating a buzz that nonprofits hope will translate into long-term backing, especially among younger donors who are often harder to reach by more traditional means.

RON BUSROE: We've got a very special program called #RedKettleReason. This is to give people the opportunity to share why they give.

FESSLER: Lieutenant Colonel Ron Busroe heads Community Relations and Development for the Salvation Army. He says they hope to raise $150 million this year with their iconic Red Kettle Campaign, but he says increasingly donations arrive online rather than being placed into kettles.

BUSROE: And so we're constantly looking for ways to engage a newer generation on how to give.

FESSLER: Which includes telling supporters they can also donate their time as volunteers. Organizers of Giving Tuesday say the event is about more than raising money.

HENRY TIMMS: We all know about Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

FESSLER: Henry Timms is executive director of New York's a 92nd Street Y. He's credited with coming up with the idea.

TIMMS: It was around the holiday season and we were thinking there's all these opportunities to buy things, but what about a day committed to giving.

FESSLER: And it quickly took off. Now groups are participating in more than 40 countries and the campaign does seem to be having some impact on fundraising, although it's not clear how much. Organizers say online donations on Giving Tuesday last year were 90 percent higher than the year before. They hope that number will grow even more this year.

KATHERINA ROSQUETA: I think any campaign that is a celebration of giving and generosity overall is a great thing for philanthropy.

FESSLER: But Katherina Rosqueta, of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania, says there are some risks for nonprofits as the campaign expands and people's inboxes start to get flooded with requests.

ROSQUETA: If Giving Tuesday is used solely as yet another time to pitch donors, then it can lead to donor fatigue and actually turning off the very donors you're trying to engage.

FESSLER: She says charities might think about also using the day to do a little giving themselves, thanking existing donors and telling them what impact they've already had. Pam Fessler, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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