How Giving Days Connect New Donors With Community-Based Nonprofits

Community foundations often get headlines for their work leading large-scale efforts that aim to tackle major problems in their communities.

But what’s often overlooked is the work community foundations do to connect smaller nonprofits with new donors — and the steps these foundations take to help community-based nonprofits to build their capacity and donor pipeline.

One way community foundations do this is through giving days. Giving days are organized, community-wide events in which donors are asked to pledge money or time to charities. In many communities across the country, community foundations take the leading role in staging these events — providing everything from a centralized website that collects donations, to the marketing and publicity, to enlisting corporate sponsors and donors who provide matching gifts.

Of course, not all giving days are led by community foundations. Giving Tuesday — held annually on the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving — is the best known and largest giving day, raising an estimated $300 million worldwide in 2017 through more than 2.5 million individual donations. Giving days have also become popular among colleges and universities, which attempt to build excitement among alumni and other supporters around giving on a specific day.

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But a significant number of community foundations also lead and support massive community-based giving days each year. Some are statewide or center on large regions. Others are more concentrated in specific counties or towns.

What they all have in common, though, is that they are fueled by community foundations that have taken the lead to organize these efforts to help support the operations of nonprofits — most of which do not have the resources to play host to a concentrated effort to raise money and awareness.

With the success of the recently completed North Texas Giving Day, which raised a massive $48 million in just 18 hours for nearly 2,700 nonprofits in North Texas, we decided to take a closer look at just how much community foundations are doing to lead successful one-day giving campaigns across the United States.

North Texas Giving Day — which is led by the Communities Foundation of Texas — has now raised more than $240 million during its 10-year history. And the impact of these donations on local nonprofits cannot be overstated. One nonprofit, North Texas Food Bank, this year raised more than $645,000 during the single-day event.

But while it is one of the largest and longest-running giving days in the country, North Texas Giving Day is just one of a long list of successful events nationwide. Here are 10 other examples from across the U.S.:

Erie Gives — Erie Community Foundation

Tucked in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania, the Erie Community Foundation has been one of the pioneers of the community foundation giving day movement.

The foundation built its own online giving platform to process donations, has built an expansive list of corporate sponsors, and has seen the campaign’s fundraising totals increase significantly each year since its first event in 2011.

The 2018 edition of Erie Gives raised nearly $4.5 million — with 213 nonprofits receiving donations totaling $1,000 or more.

Giving Challenge — Community Foundation of Sarasota County

The Community Foundation of Sarasota County has been playing host to the Giving Challenge since 2012 — and it has raised about $40 million in unrestricted funds to nonprofits in Florida’s Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto counties.

The 2018 event, held in May, raised $11.7 million — an impressive total for this relatively small region.

MontereyCountyGives! — Community Foundation for Monterey County

No two communities are the same — and the same can be said for community-based giving campaigns.

That’s especially true in Monterey County, Calif., which has chosen to structure its campaign not around a single day, but instead around a season.

MontereyCountyGives! is a year-end giving campaign that begins annually in early November and runs through December 31 — meaning that donors have plenty of opportunities to make choices about where they’d like to give.

That approach has paid off quite well — with nearly $4.9 million raised in 2017 and a total of $16 million raised since 2009.

GiveBIG — Seattle Foundation

Since 2011, the Seattle Foundation has been leading GiveBIG, which has raised more than $113 million for more than 2,000 nonprofits during its eight-year history.

With donations as small as $5 and as large as $180,000, the campaign has captured the imagination of donors at all income levels — and it has become a big and successful enough program that the foundation is now spinning it off to a group of nonprofits that will work together to ensure that it continues to address community needs in the future.

The decision to spin off the program aligns with the foundation’s longtime goal of creating self-sustaining programs — then redirecting its resources to address other emerging needs.

“After a successful 2018, we believe it will be time to look forward with our nonprofit partners to identify new ways the Seattle Foundation can support the sector’s capacity to meet our community’s needs,” the foundation said in a statement.

 Community Foundations like the Community Foundation of Collier County provide online platforms, staff support, and an array of other resources and services to stage giving days that raise money to support the operations of nonprofits in their communities. Photo courtesy of the Community Foundation of Collier County.

Community Foundations like the Community Foundation of Collier County provide online platforms, staff support, and an array of other resources and services to stage giving days that raise money to support the operations of nonprofits in their communities.
Photo courtesy of the Community Foundation of Collier County.

East Texas Giving Day — East Texas Communities Foundation
East Texas isn’t a large region, but its annual giving day — held each April and led by the East Texas Communities Foundation — has become a popular event — raising a robust $755,000 in 2018, up more than 50 percent from a year ago.

The next East Texas Giving Day is slated for April 30, 2019.

Give Where You Live Collier — Community Foundation of Collier County
The Community Foundation of Collier County takes a somewhat unique approach with its giving campaign — choosing to spread it out over two days instead of one.

During its first four years, the campaign has raised more than $13.4 million for nonprofits — and organizers are hoping to raise $5 million when the 2019 campaign kicks off on Feb. 20.

The Big Give — The Columbus Foundation
The Columbus Foundation has also chosen to follow a somewhat different path for its giving day campaign. Rather than making it an annual event, The Big Give happens every other year — a move that helps avoid some of the donor fatigue that is common when individuals and companies are asked repeatedly for donations.

The most recent Big Give — held in October 2017 — raised more than $18 million to support 906 nonprofits in Central Ohio. The foundation also covers all of the credit card fees for the campaign, which means 100 percent of the donations go directly to each donor’s chosen nonprofit.

Since its inception, Big Give has raised $52.2 million for nonprofits in the region.

Give STL Day — The St. Louis Community Foundation

Give STL Day is a relatively new community foundation giving day — but it’s been generating significant community support. The campaign, which began in 2014, has raised a total of $9.9 million for St. Louis nonprofits, including $2.4 million in 2018.

This year’s effort, sponsored by TD Ameritrade, generated more than 23,000 individual donations. One nonprofit — ThriVe — reported more than $112,000 in donations that day.

Give Local Waterbury and Litchfield Hills — Connecticut Community Foundation

Hailing from local towns and such far-flung places as China and New York City, 4,465 donors from around the world contributed a total of $1.34 million during Give Local Greater Waterbury and Litchfield Hills, the sixth-annual 36-hour online giving campaign hosted by the Connecticut Community Foundation on April 24-25, 2018.  All donations supported the work of 257 nonprofits serving communities in the region.

San Angelo Gives — San Angelo Area Foundation

In 2019, the San Angelo Area Foundation in Texas will celebrate the fifth year of San Angelo Gives. The campaign has thus far raised more than $4.5 million for organizations serving San Angelo and the Concho Valley — including more than $1.6 million in 2018.

Together, these 11 giving days campaigns represent just a sampling of community foundation-led giving days. Many others exist in communities across the United States.

And it’s clear that the impact of these campaigns on nonprofits is significant.

These 11 events alone have collectively raised more than $500 million — money that has been helping nonprofits of all sizes build their capacity and make a difference in their communities.

Peter Panepento