David 'Mas' Masumoto

David Mas Masumoto: Giving Tuesday bucks shopping frenzy

Special to The Bee

It doesn’t matter how much you give or what you give, only that you give.

The holiday race begins with Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Billions of dollars are spent as the annual march toward material satisfaction is launched. We chase the next sale or elusive impossible-to-find gift. Our spirit is drained, and we’re quickly exhausted. That’s when we should stop for Giving Tuesday.

On the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, a day is set aside to pause from shopping and instead think of supporting others and helping our communities. This is a moment to give from the heart.

Initially, Giving Tuesday was a program started in New York in 2012 with the purpose to create a national day of supporting nonprofits and community organizations. Since its founding, thousands of partner organizations, including Walmart and United Way, have also sponsored promotions to help promote the giving. Exact totals are hard to determine, but the amount of giving on this day has tripled in two years, from $13 million in 2012 to $45 million last year.

Giving Tuesday founders sought to create a response to the commercialization and consumerism in the post-Thanksgiving season. They believe it’s an opportunity for donors, a permission to give and share with others.

I’m looking for an option to balance the holiday shopping frenzy. So on Giving Tuesday, I’ll wage my personal campaign to join the ranks of philanthropists, even if it’s small amounts.

We in the Valley face challenging situation: a place with the greatest need and yet the least amount of organized giving. Citing a report by the Irvine Foundation in the San Francisco Bay Area, there are over 1,000 foundations that support numerous communities. Annually, they award over $250 per capita in giving.

This is in sharp contrast to the Valley, where only 139 foundations exist and the average of about $33 per capita in giving. We lag so far behind, perhaps we need a week of giving to launch a Valleywide campaign to capitalize on guilt for the holidays.

According to a review of how America gives by the Wall Street Journal, the world of giving is changing and those impacts play out in different ways for the Valley.

For example, nationwide, total giving for 2014 was up 22 percent since the official end of the recession in 2009. Yet the Valley starts from such a low level, doubling or tripling our giving still leaves us far behind the rest of the state.

The responsibility to give back and help the less fortunate remains the main driver of giving. Except here in the Valley, those in need are spread over much larger geographic areas and many are undocumented who remain invisible for many reasons. Identifying yet alone reaching many of the poor is complicated.

In the near future, expect more changes. Giving to religious organizations remains high with the older population and much less with youth. How will that alter small Valley communities with their churches and aging populations? Will giving dollars shift with the millennials, who rank health and educational causes much higher than boomers?

Values are important, especially for a younger generation. In a modified theory of giving, they will buy from companies whose philanthropy align with their values. How does that play out in the future with Valley agribusiness? Might these companies change how they help those in need and it becomes part of a new branding identity?

The new role of online giving also allows remote, isolated communities a place at the giving table. “The forgotten” may gain new visibility, the Third World communities here in the Valley may compete for dollars alongside international campaigns.

Social media has radically affected how we give. We often share information about causes with our social networks. One of the biggest drivers of giving is personal relationships and the social pressure to contribute. Could this revolutionize our pool of donors and donations, or are we in the Valley faced with new competition from better and more sophisticated development campaigns?

A new culture of giving may be born on Giving Tuesday. It’s both local and universal. Sharing information can expose our needs and help broaden funding with a different base of donors. We can no longer hide our poor, nor should we.

And organizations will have to be smarter with more competition for the limited giving dollar. I believe solutions will be rewarded, not simply recognizing the problem among us. Telling the world we are the Appalachia of the West doesn’t work: we need to offer answers and ideas.

Experimentation and innovation demands new, bold approaches. I hope then failures will be tolerated and pilot projects tolerated as we address the huge needs in our communities. We need to begin by first asking what those in need want rather than outsiders imposing their ideas.

A new spirit of giving may find a home here in our fields, small towns and emerging cities. The answer is not simply curing poverty: A single day of giving won’t fix that. Rather, we may simply want to examine well-being and offer the greatest gift: hope.

Award-winning author and organic farmer David Mas Masumoto of Del Rey writes about the San Joaquin Valley and its people. He is a member of the National Council on the Arts.

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