In case you haven't heard, charity has a day too

For charities that count on donations to survive, the best gift of the year is likely to arrive before Santa Claus climbs into his sleigh or menorah candles are lit.

#GivingTuesday comes on the heels of Thanksgiving, a holiday notable for mass consumption of food, and Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which are aimed at whipping up consumers into a frenzy of spending. A joint partnership of the 92nd Street Y, a New York cultural institution, and the United Nations Foundation, the movement has ridden a wave of social media as it heads into its fourth year.

Last year, the event drew a slew of "unselfies," where people posted pictures of the causes they aligned with or had donated to, with nearly 40,000 tweets or retweets of people "talking about what matters to them," according to Aaron Sherinian, chief communications and marketing officer of the UN Foundation.

"The hashtag in the name is intentional -- it's part of a social media conversation and the democratization of media over the last few years, which is taking place alongside a democratization of philanthropy," Sherinian said. "You may not be on the board of directors, but via social media you can still have a seat at the table."

The table includes President Obama, who on Wednesday lauded the grassroots campaign in a letter; Malala Yousafzai, shot in the head by the Taliban for promoting girls' education; and professional basketball player Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors. The athlete last year marked Giving Tuesday by honoring each of his teammates with "Gift a Net," a campaign to protect families in sub-Saharan Africa from malaria, a preventable disease that kills more than than 500,000 children a year.

Among the UN Foundation's campaigns, it makes the case for a $10 gift, which covers sending a net that can protect an entire family from malaria, which nine years ago claimed a child's life every 30 seconds, or more than 1 million kids a year. This #GivingTuesday, thanks to an unidentified sponsor, every donation to the campaign for an insecticide-treated net will be doubled.

"He's made gifting nets part of his holiday tradition," Christopher Helfrich, director of the "Nothing But Nets" campaign, said of Curry, a guard for the Golden State Warriors.

"They then went on to win the NBA championship -- I am not sure of the cause and effect, but still," he quipped.

Kids have also pitched in. In 2012, for instance, a nine-year-old named Jordan Freer jumped into the chilly waters off Alcatraz Island and swam to San Francisco to raise $3,120 for the anti-malaria campaign.

"Jordan became the youngest female to do this 1.5 mile swim through choppy, freezing water where there are sometimes sharks, to help save kids her own age from malaria," Helfrich said. "Children are attracted to Nothing But Nets because of its simple message, and they think, 'I can do something about this.' It offers kids the ability to protect kids their own age in developing countries who are at risk of dying of a mosquito bite."

Along with donations, there is one thing Giving Tuesday can use more of: exposure. By at least one account, less than a fifth of Americans, or just 18 percent, are familiar with #GivingTuesday, as opposed to the 93 percent who have heard of Black Friday. That's according to a poll of more than 2,000 Americans questioned earlier this month in research commissioned by the John Templeton Foundation.

And, while #GivingTuesday doesn't yet have the brand recognition of Black Friday, numbers belie the notion that Americans are embracing the concept.

giving.gif
Human rights campaigner Malala Yousafzai is but one public figure who has done promotional work for the Giving Tuesday campaign.
Tanya Malott

In 2012, its first year, more than $10.1 million in online donations were processed on #GivingTuesday by payments firm Blackbaud, which handles about 80 percent of the contributions to U.S. charities. The 2012 number was up 53 percent compared to the Tuesday after Thanksgiving in 2011, a year Blackbaud views as a baseline for online giving before #GivingTuesday was created.

The upswing continued, with 2013's #GivingTuesday bringing in more than $19.2 million in donations tracked by BlackBaud, up 90 percent from the prior year. Last year, #GivingTuesday netted more than $26.1 million in online donations, an increase of 36 percent.

"Blackbaud has been involved in the movement since the very beginning," Rachel Hutchisson, vice president, corporate citizenship and philanthropy at the company, said by email. "We value how the movement is for everyone and encourages involvement by people of all ages, nonprofits, big business, small business, cities and so on."

Among the retailers participating in this year's Giving Tuesday, JCPenney (JCP) plans to donate $100,000 to Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and host shopping sprees for more than 500 kids from several local chapters of the organization. The children will each get a $100 gift card for one of 11 of the company's stores, with local celebrities making surprise appearances at the gatherings. Professional football players Sean Lee of the Dallas Cowboys and Kenny Stills of the Miami Dolphins are among those volunteering their time.

"It's a way for these kids to learn it's not just about buying gifts for themselves, but also for their families," Kate Coultas, JCPenney's senior manager of corporate communications and public relations, said. "A lot of them go straight to Nike."