Thursday, Dec 18, 2014

Scullin: Give to nonprofits this holiday season

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Count me among those who bemoan the creeping expansion of the holiday shopping season. No, I’m not a Scrooge. Just the opposite, in fact. I appreciate the religious and secular importance of the holidays. Who could argue with extending a season that calls us to be more grateful, to spend time with loved ones, to be generous and forgiving, to reflect on the core of our spiritual beliefs and to renew our hopes for life as the new year unfolds?

Of course, none of that is why Christmas lights appear soon after Halloween and more Americans will be working on Thanksgiving this year.

That’s why I was so pleased to discover the #GivingTuesday campaign. #GivingTuesday is an effort to create a national day of giving right after Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The intent is to encourage people to spend at least part of that cash they reserve for holiday spending to support nonprofit organizations in their own communities or across the country.

Frankly, this idea is long overdue. I have found myself desperately searching for something — anything — that would let me check a person off my holiday shopping list. That’s when desperation can lead you to throw away your money on an unneeded, thoughtless gift.

Why not give that money to charity, to groups that are doing important work, and honor that person on my list with a contribution in his name? I did just that for a couple of years. Instead of hastily wrapped bottles of cologne or wine and cheese baskets, people received cards telling them I had made a donation in their names, along with information about all the good work they were helping to support.

You can imagine how well that went over.

I’m glad to see the holiday giving culture is starting to evolve. Even though the movement is still nascent, you’ll find many well-known nonprofit organizations on the list of partners, and you’ll also get to discover groups that are doing good work in your community.

Here in Pinellas County, for example, participating charities include the AIDS Service Association of Pinellas, the St. Petersburg Free Clinic, Goodwill Industries-Suncoast and Lighthouse of Pinellas. You’ll also find cultural institutions such as the Museum of Fine Arts and the Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg.

Organizations are taking part in a variety of ways. On Dec. 3, the Tuesday after Cyber Monday, the Lighthouse, which provides training for blind and visually impaired people, plans to send supporters Facebook and Twitter messages during the day, urging them to donate. The agency’s goal is to raise $5,000 for educational aids and program supplies for teaching Braille to children 6 and younger.

The AIDS Service Association, which provides free HIV testing, case management and children’s support services, will draw attention to its community food and personal needs pantry.

The Pinellas Education Foundation, which raises money for local school efforts, will encourage donors to make contributions in honor of someone or to fund a classroom grant.

“We want to make it easy for those who want to contribute to us at any point in time,” said Jim Myers, the foundation’s chairman and president of Crown Automotive.

“I think people are wanting to do things to help others, especially this time of year, when it’s more at the forefront of everyone’s mind.”

That hashtag in #GivingTuesday is no accident, either. That’s the symbol used in the social media world to make topics and keywords easier to search for. More popular hashtags are flagged as trending topics, drawing greater attention to them.

Focusing on social media means nonprofit groups can harness the power of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter for free and also target young people, who may not be connected to those agencies in other ways. That’s important because nonprofit organizations need to cultivate relationships with the next generation of givers.

“We think it’s important to establish relationships with all ages,” Myers said. “We don’t want to limit ourselves to one demographic. It’s good to have diversification in our giving base.”

To learn more about #GivingTueaday and what organizations are participating, go to community.givingtuesday.org. Don’t forget about nonprofit organizations this holiday season.

jscullin@tampatrib.com

(727) 828-6150

Twitter: jscullinTBO

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