I was so excited when Sacramento put its toes in the water last year with its first online giving blitz, Arts Day of Giving, catching the wave of national enthusiasm for this viral approach to inspire charitable giving. But (to stick with the beach metaphor) I was blown away by the tsunami of support.
The headline: Sacramento raised over $3 million — $3,020,000 to be exact — from 18,915 donors, benefiting 394 local nonprofits.
One of the striking findings from this region-wide philanthropic event was the diversity of the nonprofits that were attracting donations. In late morning, I tweeted that @PlacerLandTrust, @TFTGreaterSac (The First Tee of Greater Sacramento), and @YMCASuperiorCa were all rocking it.
According to the Giving USA 2013 report, food banks and human services grew disproportionately during the Great Recession, but donors began to return to their historical preferences in 2013: education, arts, environmental and animal nonprofits. (Religious organizations continued to rank number one in donations, receiving 32% of all giving.)
Look what categories “won” in Sacramento (based on a cursory review of nonprofits receiving over $20,000): public media, animals, arts, human services, health (a yoga collective), land/environment (including the Sacramento Tree Foundation), libraries, programs serving low-income kids, the LGBT community (yay Sacramento LGBT Community Center!), legal assistance programs, housing, adoption programs, and a museum (The California Museum).
In terms of dollars raised, the biggest winners were:
- Sacramento Ballet — $91,776 from 334 donors
- Placer: Placer Land Trust — $54,896 from 246 donors
- Yolo: Winters Friends of the Library — $20,799 from 184 donors
But it was clear from the leaderboard throughout the day that lots of nonprofits — big and small — were “winning” in terms of energizing their base and achieving their goals.
- Effie Yeaw Nature Center, for example, had a timid goal of $2,500. They raised $12,200 from 136 donors. I bet they’re in shock!
- River City Food Bank set a goal of raising $10,000. They surpassed that even before the lunchtime challenge, one of two challenge prize periods that they encouraged existing friends to support. Now it was my turn to be timid. I tweeted, “@RCFoodBank, “Time to set a new goal! $12,500 is in reach.” At that moment, their tweet came through setting $20,000 as their new goal, along with this explanation of their thinking to me, “Go big or go home!” They finished the 24 hours with $25,460 from 162 donors.
- I thought the California Food Literacy Center was overly ambitious in its out-of-the-chute goal to raise $10,000, but they, too, surpassed their goal by mid-day and set a new $20,000 target. They expressed their joy with brand-centric posts that were so cute they made your cheeks hurt: “We can’t wait to give you thanks with a double pea pod cartwheel!” They ended with $18,145 from 99 donors. This, for a nonprofit that’s only been around two years, has California in its title and isn’t obviously dedicated to kids (although childhood nutrition is its primary programmatic focus).
As I watched the action on the leaderboard and my Twitter feed, this question burned in my mind: How were some of these nonprofits succeeding? What was their tactical strategy?
Clearly, some nonprofits had donors in the wings, ready to snap up those matching funds when the day began (at 12:01 a.m.!). At 11 a.m., Placer Land Trust already had $30,646 in the kitty. I suspect the same was true of a few others who had a fast start to the day, raising more than $20,000 by 11 a.m. before leveling off: Cottage Housing, YMCA of Superior California, St. John’s Shelter, and The First Tee of Greater Sacramento. I’m pretty sure that Social Venture Partners of Sacramento also encouraged its shareholder partners to take advantage of this opportunity to leverage their support for its portfolio of nonprofits (clue: they only had 17 donors).
Watching the numbers jump during the 12-1 hour, it became obvious that some nonprofits had encouraged their supporters to donate during certain challenge periods. Capital Public Radio and Sacramento Ballet were among those I noticed had big jumps during this period. I plan to ask both whether they nudged their fan base, or it just fell out that way.
In the days ahead, I’ll connect with a few nonprofits — hopefully Sacramento Ballet and the DCI Sacramento Mandarins (an expected star and an underdog, both of which were big rainmakers) — to see if I can get some insights into their position going in and their tactical strategies. I know many nonprofits made good use of pop up windows on their websites, mailed materials, emails and social media, but what worked best for which kinds of charities and fan bases?
I’m also curious about which charities didn’t do as well as I expected. With the exception of the Mandarins, a drum and bugle corp, where were the music nonprofits? I would have expected WEAVE to have a little stronger total, so I’m curious if they didn’t push the BIG Day of Giving. Same with Sacramento Habitat for Humanity, WIND Youth Services and Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Sacramento area. Hospice and disease-related organizations (such as the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society) typically have pretty loyal bases, so I wonder why they didn’t generate much interest.
When I think about it a bit more, I realize this is such an unknown beast for nonprofits. Strategically, they may wonder if this will cannibalize their existing base of support or if they’ll lose control of it by having it go through the Give Local Now online donation system. Or they may not know how to organize an integrated communications plan — and staff it — so that they can succeed.
For those who did succeed, how much did they have to invest in staff time or out-of-pocket costs (e.g. for a mailing)? How did they feel about the ROI? They may not know until they see how many new donors they attracted, or how many lapsed donors they woke up.
As the then-director of Give Local Now told me last year, online giving events were part of a strategy “to increase the regional average of households that give to charities; increase the average household contribution of households that give; and increase the share of giving that stays here in the area versus benefiting national or international charities.” She went on to say, “If information about the cool things that are happening here were more broadly known, there would be a greater sense of pride in philanthropy.”
Sacramento certainly has reason to feel proud this morning. I’d say Give BIG got the word out!