I’m not sure what’s in the water in the Sarasota/Bradenton area, but we need to bottle it up and spread it around. Late last month the region set a new philanthropic record when four FPN members – Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Gulf Coast Community Foundation, Manatee Community Foundation and The Patterson Foundation – came together to put on the 36-Hour Giving Challenge. This first-of-its-kind online fundraising event in Southwest Florida raised a staggering $2,401,601 through 10,705 gifts in just one and a half days, breaking a record for this type of event previously held by San Diego – a city with a population more than eight times that of Sarasota.
Watching the Giving Challenge unfold, I came away with a number of key lessons and observations for our state’s philanthropy and nonprofit field:
Collaboration really can work. A key ingredient in the Giving Challenge’s success, from my viewpoint, was the strong partnership of the four foundations that led this event. The three community foundations were able to tap into their deep connections with local donors and nonprofits, and The Patterson Foundation, a private foundation, provided $334,000 in critical 1:1 matching funds for the Challenge, up to $1,000 per donor per organization. No similar online event has offered this type of gift to incentivize philanthropy and it was clearly a powerful boost – the matching funds were exhausted in less than five minutes! Also key to the event’s success was the partnership with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and other local media that generated buzz for the Challenge through in-kind advertisements and other promotional efforts.
Social media can be a powerful tool for philanthropy. We’ve all seen how social media can be used effectively to raise charitable dollars when a disaster strikes, but the Giving Challenge demonstrated the power of social media as a tool for philanthropy in other situations as well. I have to say that I got quite a thrill from following the Challenge’s Twitter feeds throughout the 36 hours. It was fun to find out when a new fundraising milestone had been reached, to learn which local nonprofit had won the next grant prize, etc. You couldn’t help but get caught up in the excitement of giving.
This was really about transparency. I think it’s important to note that the Giving Challenge was a launching pad for The Giving Partner, an online tool that provides detailed profiles about local nonprofits to help donors and funders make informed philanthropic choices. The Giving Partner is a collaborative effort of the three community foundations, with support from The Patterson Foundation, and only local nonprofits that had submitted a detailed profile were included in the Giving Challenge. The profiles include information about an organization’s programs, management, governance and finances. Another FPN member, the Charlotte Community Foundation, completed its Giving Partner profile and told me it was a valuable due-diligence exercise for the organization. The Giving Partner uses GuideStar’s DonorEdge technology and knowledge platform, and several other FPN members are part of the DonorEdge community. The Community Foundation of Central Florida has used the DonorEdge tool as a resource for Central Florida since 2008, and the Community Foundation of North Florida will be bringing on the tool later this year.
Never underestimate people’s generous spirit. Yes, the Challenge’s $334,000 in matching funds and $167,000 in additional grant prizes certainly provided an important motivation for people to give. But even though the matching dollars were gone in four minutes, people continued to donate an additional $1.7 million over the next 35 hours and 56 minutes, so something else was at play here. Perhaps it was the local citizenry’s determination to beat San Diego, or the fact that the participating nonprofits did a great job of reaching out to their supporters in the run-up to the Challenge. But I think it’s also true that most people are generous by nature, and are happy to give what they can for their favorite causes and organizations. All it takes sometimes is just a little nudge.
Or maybe it’s something in the water.
– David Biemesderfer, President & CEO, Florida Philanthropic Network