Pa. charitable organizations rally behind online effort

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Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania today plans to send out an email blast urging people to make contributions -- but the nonprofit isn't soliciting the usual donations of second-hand clothes and household goods that it sells in its stores.

Goodwill wants to raise its profile as a worthwhile charity and score some cash donations as one of more than 8,000 organizations participating in the second annual Giving Tuesday -- an online event designed to kick-start the holiday giving season and provide an antidote to the consumer spending frenzy that includes Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.

"We're always looking for new ways to get involved in monetary donations ... not just donations through our stores," said Kristen Furlong, development and special events specialist for the Lawrenceville-based entity that uses profits from its 30 retail stores and other ventures to provide education and job training for individuals who are at risk or have disabilities.

After Ms. Furlong received approval from the Goodwill board of directors to get the organization involved in Giving Tuesday, employees formed teams and set goals to raise pledges online, much like a charity walk-a-thon.

"It's a good way to get the employees excited, and it's a national movement. We're not in it by ourselves," she said.

Giving Tuesday has its roots at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, and the United Nations Foundation in Washington, D.C., which together spearheaded the idea of a day devoted to philanthropy -- either through financial donations or good works -- that would be promoted chiefly through social media.

When it launched a year ago on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, the event had about 2,500 partner organizations including nonprofits, faith-based groups and businesses. By noon Monday, the Giving Tuesday website reported more than 8,300 organizations had signed on as participants.

Even the White House blog gave it a shout-out last week in a post that said Giving Tuesday "is intended to encourage Americans to reflect and give back ...and provides a wonderful opportunity for a national conversation about the ability of all Americans to participate in positive action."

Besides more than doubling the number of groups involved this year, Giving Tuesday has gone from a U.S. event to a global one, said Aaron Sherinian, vice president of communications for the U.N. Foundation, with the addition of partners in Canada, Mexico, South America, Europe and Asia. "That's the beauty of social media: They saw a message that resonated."

Among the big corporations offering to match donations or sponsor special giving promotions this year are Microsoft, eBay Inc., Discover and Unilever. Facebook, which offered participants an online toolkit to help develop social media strategies, today will sponsor a live Q&A session on global hunger.

Mr. Sherinian couldn't say how much Giving Tuesday generated in its inaugural year because the gifts went to many different organizations.

Even if it's tough to track how much will be raised worldwide today in response to Giving Tuesday promotions, online charitable giving in general is growing. Online giving increased by nearly 10 percent for the three months ending in October compared to the same period in 2012, according to statistics released Monday by Blackbaud Inc., a South Carolina-based company that tracks giving trends and provides consulting services to nonprofits. Overall giving rose by 2.3 percent during the same three months.

"Giving is very dependent on the stock market, which is at an all-time high," said Chuck Longfield, Blackbaud's chief scientist. "People tend to donate more when they feel wealthier, and the stock market helps with that."

Since the financial crash of 2008, charitable giving has experienced a sluggish rebound.

For all of 2012, American individuals, corporations and foundations donated $316.2 billion, up 3.5 percent from the total amount in 2011, according to "Giving USA," an annual report on charitable contributions compiled by the Giving USA Foundation and the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

But last year's total was still well below the peak of $344.5 billion donated in 2007.

An event like Giving Tuesday can spur donations because, "Americans have self-acknowledged how the holidays have gotten about consumption and how much you can buy," said Eileen Heisman, chief executive of the National Philanthropic Trust in Jenkintown, Pa. "The stores being open on Thanksgiving Day is a real sign of consumption. Giving Tuesday provides a balance ... and it hits a chord with people that the holidays are way too much about buying and consumption."

Because Giving Tuesday falls early in the holiday season, it's a good time for donors to exercise caution about how and where they commit their charitable contributions, Ms. Heisman said.

Among her top tips: Do not give on impulse -- either online or over the phone. "Even if the name of the organization sounds familiar, look it up to find out the real name and see if it's what you think it is," she said.

Other advice from Ms. Heisman:

* When a charity solicits via phone, ask the caller to send something in writing to confirm it is a certified organization;

* Do not provide credit card information over the phone and don't provide it online unless you have conducted a thorough search of the organization;

* Be especially careful when donating to disaster-related causes such as the recent typhoon in the Philippines because many fraudulent organizations pop up to capitalize on those events.

"The impulse to give is great. But don't get pulled in," said Ms. Heisman. "Give yourself a day to think about and research something you see or hear about."

Joyce Gannon: or 412-263-1580.

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