First there was Black Friday. Then Cyber Monday. How about Giving Tuesday?

That's the plan, at least. More than 4,000 organizations in Minnesota and nationally have joined forces to launch what they hope will become a new American tradition. Spearheaded by such heavy hitters as the United Nations Foundation, Unilever Corp. and United Ways across the nation, it's designed to be the antidote to the shopping frenzy that now defines the long Thanksgiving weekend.

"Just as Friday is the beginning of the shopping season, Tuesday will be the beginning of the giving season," said Kathy Hollenhorst, a vice president at Greater Twin Cities United Way.

The idea was hatched around a kitchen table by Henry Timms, a director at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. Timms contacted the United Nations Foundation last year to test its support, Pretty soon, Unilever was on board. Next came, a national nonprofit encouraging teen volunteerism.

These first four "partners" have been joined by 4,000 nonprofits, businesses and schools, said Chrysula Winegar, a U.N. Foundation consultant working on the project.

It's unlikely they'll haul in the amount earned by retailers on Black Friday. But that doesn't deter Minnesota partners, ranging from Pillsbury United Communities in Minneapolis to Second Harvest Heartland food bank in Maplewood, to Kids in Need Foundation in Minneapolis.

Unlike Give to the Max Day, Minnesota's online giving blitz that raised $16 million earlier this month, Giving Tuesday has no central giving portal, no requirement that people donate online. Giving is defined more broadly, as in volunteering, lobbying legislators and, of course, making donations both online and off.

The United Way, for example, has blitzed its 40,000 e-mail, Facebook and Twitter contacts, asking supporters to try a new online game designed to teach players a bit about childhood poverty. Players can make donations to United Way educational programs at the end of the game, and Ecolab Corp. of St. Paul also will make a $1 donation for every player, up to $30,000.

At Pillsbury United Communities, the youth programs will be committing "small acts of kindness" Tuesday, and its board of directors and supporters will be given lists of volunteer opportunities they can participate in during the holiday season, said Chanda Smith Baker, Pillsbury CEO.

That ranges from helping with Toys for Tots to stocking the Pillsbury food shelf.

Baker said she heard about Giving Tuesday months ago, when it was creating a buzz in social media. She signed on right away, disappointed that the Thanksgiving holiday had become more focused on purchases than people -- especially this year, when stores opened on Thanksgiving and workers had to leave their families so other people could shop.

"I feel like it [the focus of Thanksgiving] tipped," said Baker. "To me, Giving Tuesday is the counterbalance."

Starting out slow

Meanwhile, some of Minnesota's largest nonprofits, such as Second Harvest and the Animal Humane Society, signed on but are starting out slowly. They're posting announcements on social media about the day and encouraging donors to give. They're hesitant to push too hard right now.

"Give to the Max Day was such a big deal in Minnesota, so we're taking it slow," said Laurel Feddema, community engagement officer at Second Harvest. "But we wanted to test this out and be part of it. We'll be keeping an eye on it."

For small nonprofits still struggling to raise funds even after Give to the Max, Giving Tuesday offers another reason to connect with the public. The Kids in Need Foundation, which provides free school supplies to teachers, is asking its supporters Tuesday to contribute $20 to buy backpacks filled with school supplies.

"There's always a need for more [funding], and any outlet we can use to let people know we're looking for school supplies is helpful," said Lesley Walton, a manager at the nonprofit.

Winegar, of the U.N. Foundation, has watched Giving Tuesday hatch from an idea to a national movement. Events range from a Manhattan ice skating party, sponsored by J.C. Penney with proceeds going to the Salvation Army, to Groupon matching donations to some charities. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proclaimed Nov. 27 "Giving Tuesday," as have several other mayors, said Winegar, adding, "It's tapping into a nerve. "

"We've always been excited by the generosity of the American people," said Winegar. "But none of us expected it to be so huge during its first year."

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511