Pulse of Philanthropy: ’Tis the Season of ‘Giving’

by BRET BICOY, President and CEO, Door County Community Foundation

As many a commercial tells us this time of year, “’Tis the season of giving.” Although those advertisers want us to think Christmas is about generosity, their idea of “giving” is for us to go out and buy something.

While many of us were still digesting our Thanksgiving turkey, Black Friday began in the wee hours of the morning. The day was so named because it’s the time of year when the cash-flow statements of the big department stores finally turn profitable as they move into “the black.”  That’s what Black Friday is really about: returning big retailers to profitability.

Small retail stores didn’t want to be left behind, so Small Business Saturday was created to encourage holiday shoppers to spend money at the little retail shops in their neighborhood. 

Of course, with all this “giving” going on, online retailers wanted a piece of the action, too, so they cleverly came up with Cyber Monday: the Monday after Black Friday and Small Business Saturday when we are barraged by email, text and social-media messages telling us of all the great deals available if we spend money online.  

A decade ago, some clever folks in the charitable world wanted to remind people that shopping should not be the center of the season of giving, so Giving Tuesday was created as a way to encourage us to give to our favorite charity after we had spent the previous days shopping.

In Door County, I was the first advocate for Giving Tuesday. I wrote several columns about the idea. The Door County Community Foundation ran a Giving Tuesday social-media campaign featuring donors and the charities they support. 

Over the years, however, my enthusiasm for Giving Tuesday has waned. Perhaps I’m becoming a grumpy old man, but the entire experience of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and even Giving Tuesday seems to me to be increasingly removed from the spirit of Thanksgiving, Christmas and the entire holiday season.

For some, this time of year is rooted in Christ’s teachings about love and compassion. For others, a secular spirit of kindness and sharing is pervasive. Whether we are deeply religious or committedly secular, there is an almost universal consensus in our country that this season is about generosity. 

Thanksgiving is a reminder that all of us have benefited from other people’s generosity. For that, we should be grateful and give thanks. Christmas is our opportunity to then “pay it forward” as we share our blessings and are generous with others.  

However, from Black Friday to Small Business Saturday to Cyber Monday and even to Giving Tuesday, it feels to me as though the spirit of generosity has been replaced by a big marketing campaign.

Now I’ll admit that I’m a complete hypocrite on this issue. During those few days, my wife and I planned to spend some money at the mall down the highway, walk along the shops in downtown Sturgeon Bay, maybe buy a few things online and indeed, support some Giving Tuesday campaigns. We aren’t immune to the powerful pull of today’s marketing messages.

Yet I cannot help but think back to what my father taught me about generosity. He told me to be generous with my friendship, to greet everyone with a full heart and an open hand. Dad also wanted me to be generous with my time, to be willing to pause and listen to the stories that are in people’s hearts. He taught me to be generous with my labor as well, volunteering whatever skills I may have to help those in need. Most of all, my father wanted me to be generous with my love, to never be afraid to be the one who loves the most.

Now I work for the Door County Community Foundation. It’s my job to encourage you to make charitable contributions for the betterment of our community. Those donations help our neighbors who are struggling and help to maintain Door County’s quality of life. 

I also fully understand that spending money, particularly at our local shops, generates the wealth that makes charitable giving possible in our community. Yet I cannot help but think that my father’s definition of generosity is the best distillation of what this time of year should be about.

’Tis the season of giving. Imagine how wonderful it would be if what we gave most this Christmas was our friendship, our time, our labor and our love. Even if there were fewer presents under the tree, I suspect that ours would be a very merry Christmas indeed.

Contact Bret Bicoy at [email protected].