Non-profits analyze Give to the Max Day

A logo from the GiveMn site
Image courtesy GiveMn

More than 3,300 Minnesota non-profits raised in excess of $14 million in charitable contributions earlier this week in the first known attempt to raise money for non-profits statewide in one day, on one Web site.

Just a few days ago, Susan Haas, producing director of Open Eye Figure Theater in Minneapolis, knew nothing of

"It came up really suddenly," she said. "I heard about it middle of last week."

The brand new Web site was offering to funnel charitable contributions for all Minnesota non-profits, and cover the cost of processing credit card transactions.

Seeing this as an opportunity too good to pass up, Haas went to the site, found the page for her theater, and filled it up with pictures and company information in preparation for "Give to the Max Day" - the Web site's promotional launch event.

In those 24 hours, Haas' theater company raised more than $8,000 without really doing much work.

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"To my mind I am just blown away by the tool that has been handed us." Haas said. "It was really easy to use. It's a real service as far as I'm concerned."

Sommers and Haas
Michael Sommers and Sue Haas, co-founders of Open Eye Figure Theater stand outside their south Minneapolis venue. The theater attracted $8,000 through GiveMn,org, but Haas isays she will watch to see if it has an impact on year end donations.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

Haas said of the 80 people who contributed on her GiveMn page, approximately half of those names she'd never seen before. And now she has their contact information. But Haas still doesn't know exactly how much of a win this has been for her company.

"Because I would say that almost 40 percent was from board contributions that would normally be at the end of the year," she said. "So I think it drove a lot of end of the year giving into this because of the idea of the match." got $500,000 from local foundations to use as a challenge grant.

Initially, GiveMn stated it would match the first $1 million that came into its Web site on Give to the Max Day. It promised 50 cents on the dollar.

"This is just being ready for how people are going to want to do their giving. It's what they'll expect."

But late in the game, GiveMN changed the rules hoping to avoid crashing servers, or blowing through the matching funds within the first few minutes. Instead, GiveMN decided to spread out the matching grant across the entire day. But the word didn't get out to donors fast enough.

Donor Wendy Helgeson said she was inundated with e-mails telling her to "double her impact" or "turn her $20 gift into $40."

"I thought 'Man, my $40 is going to be $80' and for most of the organizations I support that is a huge significant impact," Helgeson said.

Helgeson decided that even though she hadn't planned to do her charitable giving this month, she would bite the bullet. She gave to several of her favorite causes. Then, as Give to the Max day progressed, she noticed a change in tone in the e-mails.

"They started to use more of the language that a portion will be matched. Or we will be able to secure a share of the matching funds," she said.

Helgeson said if she had known that from the very beginning, she wouldn't have whipped out her checkbook so readily.

Because GiveMN took in more than $14 million on Give to the Max Day, it only matched 4 cents on the dollar, far less than what Helgeson had been led to believe.

GiveMN Executive Director Dana Nelson said her organization simply couldn't anticipate the overwhelming generosity of Minnesotans.

GiveMN is funded by a group of local foundations, and by public donations. The most successful similar fund drive to date, in Dallas Texas, raised $4 million.

So Nelson said GiveMN, to be safe, set aside the money to pay for credit card transactions on $8 million worth of donations. This may turn out to have been a costly underestimation. What Nelson anticipated would be $380,000 in fees has instead amounted to $665,000.

"While we're incredibly pleased at the success and overwhelming generosity of $14 million coming in the door," Nelson said, "we're asking our funding partners if they're able to step up and help cover some of the those fees. We're taking from our 2010 budget to cover that."

Carleen Rhodes
Carleen Rhodes is President and CEO of the St Paul Foundation
Image courtesy St Paul Foundation

Carleen Rhodes, president and CEO of the Minnesota Community Foundation and The Saint Paul Foundation, was an organizer of GiveMN.

She said GiveMN is looking into renegotiating its fees with Network for Good, the non-profit that's handling all the credit card transactions.

Regardless, Rhodes said GiveMN is a new tool for non-profits that is helping them to stay with the times.

"Ten years ago, a lot of us didn't do online banking, but we do now - a lot of people didn't ever buy things online but we do now," Rhodes said. "This is just being ready for how people are going to want to do their giving. It's what they'll expect."

Open Eye Figure Theater's Susan Haas agrees. She said she plans to continue to use the site to handle her credit card donations.

"I sort of look at like how we do things here at Open Eye - it's like 'Well it's not perfect yet, but you've got to start somewhere," Haas said.

In the meantime, Haas said she'll be looking at her year-end donations to see just how much GiveMn has really helped.