Alumni News

Giving Thanks, Then Giving Back

Aaron Sherinian is using his communications prowess to encourage people worldwide to become involved in philanthropy. Photo by Bradley Slade.

With help from alum Aaron Sherinian, #GivingTuesday is taking the charitable world by storm.

Global extrovert Aaron H. Sherinian (BA ’96) is using his natural exuberance—as well as a lot of hard work—to promote #GivingTuesday, an international movement he works on year-round.

“We have a day for giving thanks on the fourth Thursday of every November,” says the chief communications and marketing officer for the United Nations Foundation. “Then with Black Friday and Cyber Monday immediately following, we have two days for getting deals. Now we have #GivingTuesday, a day dedicated to giving back and a perfect way to express generosity.”

The concept is simple. On the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, individuals, families, companies, and other groups are encouraged to donate time, money, or additional resources to the charities and causes they believe in. Then they share how they have been part of the movement through social media. And though there are needs year-round, #GivingTuesday shines a spotlight on giving for 24 hours every year.

Those behind the movement, created in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y in New York and the U.N. Foundation, are gearing it toward a broad, worldwide audience—not just those with deep pockets.

“I believe we live in an era when the concept of philanthropy is being reinvented,” Sherinian says. “You don’t have to be a millionaire to make a difference. You can give back in many ways. This is a day for giving online and showing your capacity for caring.”

In #GivingTuesday’s inaugural year more than 2,500 organizations participated, and by 2014 close to 18,000 groups from around the world had joined the effort in varying ways, including MadewithStudio.com, which, under the direction of Bradley D. Hagen (’06), created an app that allows people to use the #GivingTuesday logo on their “unselfies”—photos of themselves holding signs showing their support for the movement.

For John W. Dye (BA ’94, MA ’97), director of digital media for Bonneville Communications, the decision to become involved was an easy one.

“Aaron is probably the most connected person I have ever met,” Dye says. “When he invited us to be part of #GivingTuesday, he absolutely convinced us that we wanted to work with him.”

Sherinian calls the core of the effort a “PR potluck for good.”

And it’s a potluck he was well prepared to lead. Since 2009 he has led public-relations, media-relationship, strategic-outreach, and online efforts for the U.N. Foundation, and his causes have included the Social Good Summit and the Momentum1000 social-media rally. He believes innovative communications can help change the world and is passionate about encouraging a younger generation to become involved in global activism and philanthropy. So #GivingTuesday, he says, “is a natural fit for me.”

It’s also a natural extension of his time at the Y. “When I left BYU, I took the motto ‘The world is our campus’ seriously—whether that meant being a Foreign Service officer for the U.S. Department of State or a press attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Ecuador,” he says. “#GivingTuesday is clearly a way to make the world our campus.”

Tens of millions have spread the #GivingTuesday word through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms. Endorsements have poured in from the White House and big names including Bill Gates, Kevin Bacon, Charlize Theron, and Hugh Jackman. And the movement’s increased visibility has led to surging participation: Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy estimates that #GivingTuesday raised nearly $46 million in 2014, up from an estimated $28 million in 2013 and $13 million in 2012.

“People look for ways to do good things,” Sherinian says. “Here is one way to accomplish that. The choice is theirs, and they make it without pressure.”

web: Watch the #GivingTuesday story at more.byu.edu/givingtuesday.

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