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Laurence Belfer
Giving Tuesday board member (and Duke parent) Laurence Belfer Photo by Laurence Belfer

Giving Tuesday

How Duke parent Laurence Belfer helped to shape the biggest global day of philanthropy

Giving back is built into Laurence Belfer’s personal story.

He came to understand its importance from his grandfather, Arthur, who arrived in the U.S. from Poland as the Nazis were invading his home country. He rose to create a company on the Fortune 500.

The family, including his own father, never ceded its appreciation for the freedom and business success it found in America. So much so that Belfer, now CEO of Belfer Management, recalls growing up in a red, white and blue bedroom with a reproduced copy of the Constitution on his wall.

The importance of gratitude led Belfer in 2012 to support the creation of a national day of generosity. While consumers embrace the post-Thanksgiving holiday shopping crush of Black Friday and follow that with Cyber Monday, the idea of Giving Tuesday was that the next day should be set aside for individuals to give back to others in their midst.

It was a small idea, incubated at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan where his family had created the Belfer Center for Innovation and Social Impact. Belfer was joined in this venture by collaborators Henry Timms, a former CEO of the 92nd Street Y, and Asha Curran, who was the former CEO of the Belfer Center. Soon after, their joint effort went viral.

Now, 10 years later, Belfer has seen the seed planted on New York’s Upper East Side grow into a global generosity movement with Giving Tuesday endeavors going on year-round and across 80 countries. It is the biggest day of philanthropic giving in the world.

Its mission: Inspiring “radical generosity,” backed by the thinking “that the suffering of others should be as intolerable to us as our own suffering.”

The Giving Tuesday premise remains grassroots — all sorts of acts of kindness from people, non-profits, even companies. But its impact is potent. In 2021, approximately $2.7 billion was raised from nearly 35 million donors across the U.S. alone. Giving Tuesday efforts on behalf of Duke University have raised just short of $5 million from 12,538 donors.

Belfer, an alum of Columbia and Harvard, says his connection to the university is simple. “I’m just the parent of an undergrad student at Duke,” he says humbly. One of his sons graduated from the Sanford School of Public Policy in May. But Belfer was not the kind of parent to sit on the sideline as his son matriculated. True to his nature to go all-in on causes he cares about, Belfer was active in the Duke Parents Committee, an energetic group that works to enrich the lives of students by providing support and learning opportunities through fundraising, volunteering and stewardship.

In 2021, Belfer was honored by the 92Y, as it’s called, for helping to navigate the city’s important community hub and cultural-artistic center through the pandemic as its board chair, and for his work on myriad programs there that give back. In a tribute video highlighting his achievements, his wife, Carolyn, spoke about his passion to serve: “When I met Laurence, one of the things he made clear to me was when he left this planet, he wanted to know he made a difference. And to have helped to start a movement like Giving Tuesday has changed the way the world looks at philanthropy, and that’s incredible.”