Online giving pays for nonprofits

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Nonprofits found themselves more than $525,000 richer last week thanks to an intense, 36-hour campaign of online giving.

To mark its 90th anniversary, the Waterbury-based Connecticut Community Foundation issued a challenge called Give Local Greater Waterbury and Litchfield Hills.

Starting at 7 a.m. Nov. 12 and ending at 7 p.m. Nov. 13, 125 nonprofits from 21 towns jockeyed for donations through a website that ultimately processed more than a half-million donated dollars. 

Making the challenge all the sweeter? An additional $100,000 in matching money was also up for grabs. Nonprofits that raised the most money stood to receive the biggest proportion of matching money from the $100,000 pool.

All told, 3,728 “gifts” were contributed during 36 hours.

“I am overjoyed,” Paula Van Ness, president and chief executive officer of the Community Foundation, said as the challenge wound down Nov. 13. “In the car a while ago, I stopped and peeked at my phone. When I saw we were approaching $500,000 I started to tear up, because it has surpassed every expectation. What a generous community.”

Instead of soliciting donations for its own coffers, Van Ness said the foundation wanted to give back to the community through this incentivized, online contest similar to others staged nationally. The foundation paid for transaction costs associated with donations made throughout the 36 hours. Organizers called it a good “dress rehearsal” for a national online day of giving planned for May, with more matching money.

The effort marked the first online giving challenge of its kind that the Connecticut Community Foundation organized, and the inaugural one for many nonprofits.

Before it launched, many involved said they didn’t know what to expect. Afterward, several organizations said the period marked the biggest spurt of donors, save for perhaps annual galas or events, their organizations had seen.

“As far as our organization is concerned, it’s the best we ever did as far as fundraising,” said Michael Mackniak, executive director of the Naugatuck-based Guardian ad Litem Services.

Guardian ad Litem Services’ signature program is Melissa’s Project, which helps individuals with severe, chronic mental illnesses to live independently in the community.

According to figures on the challenge’s website, www.givelocalccf.org, Guardian ad Litem Services received 64 “gifts” totaling $6,861.

That figure doesn’t include matching funds pledged by the community foundation. All donations of $10 or more will be matched proportionally based on the percentage of the total raised by each group. If an organization raised 2 percent of all the donated money; they will receive 2 percent of the matching money.

Mackniak expected his organization raised closer to $10,000 through the event. He said some people donated through Guardian ad Litem Services’ website and a woman also pledged to donate $1,000 in December.

Mackniak added the event was a good team-building exercise for the organization’s staff as they worked to get the word out about the challenge. In all, he was very pleased with the challenge and said it afforded nonprofits the opportunity to raise money without spending any.

“For small organizations fundraising is a challenge because it costs money to fundraise,” Mackniak said.

The Naugatuck YMCA emerged as one of the biggest winners from the challenge. The Naugatuck YMCA received 54 “gifts” that totaled $23,245, not counting matching funds, and finished with the fourth highest total raised.  

“It went really well. It surpassed out expectations actually,” Naugatuck YMCA CEO Susan Talbot said.

The YMCA also won five “bonus” prizes, which were intended to spur donations by offering awards to groups that, say, raised the most money during the first two hours of giving.

The giving challenge came a week after the YMCA’s 10th Annual Auction Dinner. In seven days, Talbot said, the YMCA raised about $45,000.

Talbot said the staff and volunteers at the YMCA really got behind the idea of the online giving challenge, and everyone at the YMCA is looking forward to the national challenge in May.

“We can’t wait to be a part of it again,” Talbot said.

For more information on Give Local Greater Waterbury and Litchfield Hills and a full list of nonprofits that participated, visit www.givelocalccf.org.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this article.