The Day of Giving and the Commonwealth
December 1, 2015
By John Bloom
December 2, 2014—a Day of Giving. I cannot tell you how many e-mail requests I received yesterday. Each made the case for why I should make a charitable gift for their cause or mission, and to do so at the simple click of a “donate now” button. Giving could not be made easier. And so it should be, except that I felt suddenly on demand. As one who researches money and gifting, and practices within the fundamental assumption that life itself is a gift, I found my head reeling at the unaddressed assumptions vibrating inside these virtual asks. Not that I have any doubts about the worthy work of the organizations participating in Giving Tuesday, or any doubts about the legitimacy of the requests. The state of our culture and the disparity of wealth in our society are glaring indicators that not enough gift money is moving out of private ownership and back through the economy. But, starving the beast is no way to tame it. So one could look at Giving Tuesday as a binge-feeding day, a temporary fix with raised awareness of a host of problems that need to be addressed at a much deeper and more difficult systemic level.
There is a certain marketing savvy behind the concept of Giving Tuesday. It is a little like the invention of Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, but with a tax-deductible twist. It does speak to the in-the-moment crowd-sourced consumer culture in which we live. And I hope that it has generated an extraordinary outpouring of gift along with a broadened and sustainable donor base. But this touches my sadness nerve—the notion of generosity generated through a one-day marketing strategy. How did generosity get so disconnected from the flow of our money and our time? When did gifting get written out of economic life such that we have to market it back in?
Giving is a way of freeing capital, liberating its power to renew and support initiative that has a public benefit, in service to the common good. But this statement assumes that if you have money, you realize that that money, currently in your possession, was made possible by your contribution (and maybe leadership) to the collective economic activity of the commonwealth—even if that money is inherited. This picture of reciprocity, if it is indeed bidirectional, nearly necessitates giving and generosity. I am compelled by the pressure to flow gift money back into the system because in the end that also supports my wellbeing. I don’t control, but rather am part of. I am not a contributor, but rather a “contributary”.
In the short term, let’s celebrate Giving Day. It is a moment to raise awareness and popularize the importance of generosity. And while I can assuage my sadness nerve, I cannot let go of the notion of our commonwealth. Mostly our culture views the capacity to give based upon having more than enough—whether that is money or time. I would propose that the opposite is true—when one gives one experiences the reality that enough does not exist without giving. That is, giving makes us whole. My hope would be that the joy of giving on the Day of Giving begins or continues to rebuild an everyday culture of gift.
John Bloom is Vice President, Organizational Culture at RSF Social Finance