In 2014, Winters Friends of the Library was struggling to raise the money it needed to keep the doors open at the library it supports in Winters, a rural California town of 6,998 residents.
So when volunteers in Winters heard about the Sacramento area’s Big Day of Giving on May 6, they decided to go all in. In 24 hours, they were able to raise about three quarters of the library organization’s annual $34,000 budget.
"The Big Day of Giving was a godsend," says Sally Brown, a member of the library group board who coordinates the giving day effort.
Sacramento’s Big Day of Giving was part of the first national Give Local America event, in which community funds and United Ways nationwide joined forces to call attention to local groups and build excitement about giving online.
Give Local America raised a total of $53 million during last year’s day of giving, and organizers hope to raise at least $10 million more in the next event, on May 5.
To spur donations, local United Ways and community foundations offer incentives, such as matching money for the donations that groups raise on the day of the event or prizes for groups that do the best in attracting new donors or creatively marketing their missions.
Spurring Grassroots Giving
The idea for Give Local America came from Kimbia, a software company that helps community funds and others set up online fundraising efforts. Many of the community funds who use its software had held successful single-day efforts to rally support for local charities.
"We thought, ‘What if we could do this on a national level?’ " says Lori Finch, Kimbia’s vice president of community foundations. "What if you could do these local events but come together on one day and really invite people to give local?"
Last year’s event not only raised significant dollars but also attracted 300,000 donors, and Kimbia says that at least a quarter of them had not previously supported the charities they contributed money to last May. The day’s return over all was stronger than another prominent national effort, Giving Tuesday, which last year brought in $46 million for nonprofits nationwide on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, according to Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
Kimbia also gets a financial benefit from the Give Local America event. Many of the community funds and United Ways that participate buy a system that collects online donations and offers templates on how to do social media and public relations.
Prices ranges from $2,500 to $15,000, based on the size of an organization and the scope of the services it purchases. About 5 percent of donations go to credit-card processing fees and additional charges by Kimbia for the technology.
Building on a Growing Trend
Momentum for giving days has been growing in recent years.
Both the Seattle Foundation and the Pittsburgh Foundation, which brought in the most money during last year’s event — $12.8 million and $5.7 million, respectively — held giving days for several years on their own and then joined last year’s nationwide effort.
Bridget Wilkinson, executive director of the Bozeman Area Community Foundation in Montana, has spent a year and a half preparing for Give Big Gallatin Valley, the area’s first Giving Day.
When she was hired as the foundation’s first full-time staff member, she conducted research about what was and wasn’t working at community foundations.
"It was very clear that community foundations all over the country were really blazing a trail in these giving days," she says. "They were really effective at bringing together nonprofit sectors in local communities to raise important unrestricted funds but also to provide this safe space for nonprofits to view themselves as a collective sector, even if it’s just for one day."
Before giving days, most foundations hold training sessions to make sure nonprofits are prepared not just to manage the one-day event but also to improve their marketing and fundraising skills.
Priscilla Enriquez, chief giving officer at the Sacramento Region Community Foundation, said her organization knew that groups like the Winters library fundraising unit needed a hand.
"We had nonprofits of wide-ranging sizes participating, from really small and nascent to large institutions. We knew that all of them needed help with social media, in marketing and communications, and essentially telling their story," Ms. Enriquez says. "We really focused on storytelling and using social media to get the word out — and it worked."
Last year the foundation exceeded its $1-million goal by 10 a.m. This year it hopes that more than 500 local nonprofits will collectively raise at least $5 million.
The foundation has adjusted its approach based on what it learned last year. Instead of the one-day "boot camp" it offered last year, the foundation hosted eight sessions earlier this year focusing on social media, board involvement, donor engagement, and other topics.
Though most of the Give Local America events are organized by community foundations and United Ways, some charities go it on their own, especially if they operate in regions where nobody is sponsoring a giving day.
About 1,000 nonprofits registered last year to run campaigns on their own, and this year’s participants are still being tallied.
"We wanted to open this up and allow organizations to participate where we may not have a local sponsor," Ms. Finch says. "We think if we can create a crowd, we can create some excitement for their community and sort of bubble that up."
But that didn’t work for every participant.
Keith Ammann, vice president of the Chicago Chess Center, a nonprofit that wants to offer players a place to train and compete, says his organization didn’t receive a single new gift. The group’s two donations came from Mr. Ammann and a board member.
"We received no helpful information about how the day was supposed to work or how we were supposed to market ourselves on that day," he wrote in an email. "Was the point of the day to help us multiply our reach? It didn’t."
To counter such problems, Give Local America offers online training for nonprofits on how to use social media and take advantage of a daylong event. This year it added a webinar to help nonprofits through a partnership with TechSoup.
Give Local America’s daylong event offers many groups a way to demonstrate their value and bring supporters together in person
Winters Friends of the Library will host a midnight pajama party to encourage donors to give early and get to know one another.
The Sacramento Region Community Foundation is hosting a "half-time celebration" at a local park, where nonprofits will set up booths.
In Bozeman, local businesses will offer free drinks and other incentives to people who come in to make a donation on an iPad. The campaign will wrap up with an evening event at the historic Baxter Hotel in the city’s downtown.
Ms. Wilkinson says she hopes the day will bring local nonprofits together and educate others about why such organizations are crucial to the city’s success.
"What was primarily an online event is really nationwide becoming a community celebration of giving," she says.