November 29 is Giving Tuesday, a recently created secular "holiday" that speaks to a strong interest in creating new and more positive traditions. How can we lean in to the best parts of the venture?

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I like to say I’m not one for ritual, but I fall into seasons of celebration and reflection as much as the next person. I also understand folks who, having grown up with religion, long for secular equivalents to cherished childhood traditions.

One of the five pillars of Islam is Zakat, charity from those who are financially solvent, which many Muslims give in the days around Ramadan, when they’re already tasked with another mandatory donation. Jewish folks are also called to tithe their income, and to give to charity on or around days of repentance and celebration, especially before Yom Kippur. Christianity doesn’t have the same rigid mandate (2 Corinthians 9:6-7 offers a lot of flexibility), but many Christians donate to charities around Christmas, and consider year round donations to their churches an equivalent practice.

Giving Tuesday is one way that the secular world practices similar, calendrical giving. It’s only ten years old this year, having been launched in 2012 by a New York community center in conjunction with the United Nations Foundation and socially conscious artists’ collective BLK SHP. And like many new rituals and movements, it’s had its growing pains.

One of those growing pains shows up pretty prominently when you look at its date. Despite aiming to be a “global generosity movement”, Giving Tuesday takes place on the first Tuesday after US Thanksgiving. This means that our collective act of “giving” comes right after the mad Western phenomenon of “getting” known as Black Friday (and Black Friday weekend sales). Kind of like a collective atonement for a spree of greed, no?

But hey, it’s a start.

In its best formation, though, Giving Tuesday does not call upon us to think solely in financial terms. It can simply be a day to reflect on how we contribute to making the world a better place. You can “celebrate” by giving of our time to volunteer work, or showing up in your communities and with extended family. If you can, donate blood or plasma. Lean into kindness and let go of any anger or grudge that only makes the world a worse place. Pass on a kindness done to you to someone else. Spend time advocating for a good cause.

There are, of course, now whole industries focused on helping us find ways to connect our dollars with worthy causes in need of financial aid—and where industries get involved, there’s always a risk of commercial exploitation, or simply waste. Even free sites like GiveWell, a project with strong longtermist roots, have made plenty of mistakes, and met with serious setbacks, while trying to help people optimize donations.

Moreover, the whole concept of “charity” is a patchwork fix: a concession to the fact that the main structures of society are not functioning well (if at all). This is certainly an inevitable consequence of war and conflict in many regions, but we would do well to be cautious about how we balance investment in non-profits and state action elsewhere. To normalize charity is also to normalize diverting resources from more comprehensive state reforms.

But on the whole, the drive to create a secular movement around days and campaigns like Giving Tuesday hasn’t just yielded the redirection of billions of dollars to charitable causes. It has also encouraged a vital humanist re-frame in our deeply disillusioned and hurting world. Giving Tuesday is an annual reminder that we can choose to lean into proactive and constructive causes. We don’t have to rally solely around hate and anger, fear and despair. We can (and do) gather for positive, innovative, and dynamic communal work as well.

Social media spheres often drive us to act from outrage, but that’s never been a healthy or sustainable modality for change. Maybe Giving Tuesday isn’t for you, then—maybe you’re not a fan of having a “day” for everything, or feel it’s already too commercial. But can we build on the best of this still-nascent secular concept, and develop other social systems that motivate us to do more for the world, and others in it?

Give it some thought, at least, today.

(And maybe even after the hashtag has stopped trending, too.)

Where we give, and why

For now, here are some nonprofits recommended by myself and fellow participants in the OnlySky community. I asked folks what causes you support, and you answered with some excellent options for contributing to a better world ahead.

Not included below are also a range of local food banks, bail funds, queer support services, veteran aid organizations, diaper banks, outreach groups for the unhoused, and emergency funds for global-local crises caused by pandemic, climate change, inflation, and war. So please only think of this list as a starting point, and look for causes of note closer to home.

Nonprofit recommendations from the OnlySky community

  • San_Ban recommends HerFlow, ActionAid, and Bloody Good Period: organizations that aim to “reduce period stigma and address period poverty” (and in the case of ActionAid, also target poverty pressures more broadly).
  • Like San_Ban, I don’t agree with every position forwarded by the causes I support, which is why I’ve started recommending Refugees International alongside UNHCR. The UNHCR has done excellent baseline work for many of the world’s displaced people, but its bureaucratic nature also leads it to not engage as deeply as it perhaps should in many crisis zones. Refugees International, by sidestepping government and UN funding, has more autonomy to speak out when it sees injustice done. Both have their place and function.
  • Likewise, World Central Kitchen serves an important on-the-ground function in feeding people in crisis zones, including Ukraine, but also ran into trouble a few years ago due to treatment of its workers, which the organization needed to reckon with before it could go forward. We humans are a complicated bunch. Do your research first, always.
  • Maltnothops recommends Women For Women International, an organization that provides aid to women from war and conflict zones, empowering and educating people to move forward with their lives.
  • BLZ-Bub recommends Girls on the Run, an organization that promotes the link between physical and emotional health in girls, and which is always looking for volunteers as well as donations to help “run” local programming.

Any others you support and recommend?

Whatever you give, wherever you’re able: thank you for doing what you can.

GLOBAL HUMANIST SHOPTALK M L Clark is a Canadian writer by birth, now based in Medellín, Colombia, who publishes speculative fiction and humanist essays with a focus on imagining a more just world.

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