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‘Valley Gives’ online fundraiser for nonprofits today

A total of 268 nonprofits throughout the Pioneer Valley, including 29 in Franklin County, will participate today in “Valley Gives,” a 24-hour online “e-philanthropy” event.

The online giving day — organized by the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts — aims to raise a total of $1 million by using social media to reach a new group of potential donors, said Katie Zobel, vice president of philanthropic services for the foundation.

All day today, from midnight until 11:59 p.m., users can log on to www.valleygivesday.org, and donate to the nonprofit of their choice, with a minimum gift of $10.

The large majority of each donation, 97.1 percent, goes directly to the organization. The rest covers electronic transaction fees that go to the individual’s credit card companies and to Razoo, an online company managing the electronic giving site.

A ‘new generation of donors’

The event was created in part to help train the valley’s nonprofits in the art of electronic fundraising.

Most local organizations don’t have the financial or staffing resources to provide secure online giving on their own, said Zobel. Others weren’t previously experienced in using social media — like Twitter, Facebook or YouTube — to inspire interest in a fundraiser.

The idea is based on “GiveMN,” an online campaign that began in Minnesota in 2009.

Over the past three years, GiveMN has raised a total of $66 million for the state’s nonprofits. Money hasn’t come only from wealthy donors, said Zobel, but also from “a new generation of donors: people who live online.”

Zobel said that she and Kristin Leutz, the foundation’s other vice president of philanthropic services, began researching online giving last year.

They decided early this year to officially go ahead with the Valley Gives event, and began to recruit partners, donors and participating nonprofits.

The Valley’s three United Way agencies jumped on board in the spring and encouraged their partner agencies to get involved, said Linda Stacy, executive director of the United Way of Franklin County.

“We have a lot of small agencies here,” she said. “It’s a way to really help ... (those that) don’t have a designated technology staff or a social media person.”

Organizations were given social media lessons on how to use the Internet to engage clients and attract electronic donations. The idea, said Zobel, was that the lessons would expand beyond Valley Gives and improve the organizations’ overall electronic fundraising presence.

“If they start to use social media in a robust way, (they can) gain a new generation of donors,” said Zobel. These donors “don’t check their mailboxes, unless it’s a mailbox online. They don’t have checkbooks. They’re giving by credit or debit card.”

And it’s already worked, she said. Some nonprofits have used social media to plan giving parties and publicity stunts today. Others have sent out tweets, posted on Facebook or filmed videos to ask people to donate during Valley Gives.

Each nonprofit was given its own customizable Valley Gives page to include information about its services.

These pages will update throughout the day, as will a leaderboard on the home page. Nonprofits will be able to check their status in real time as the Valley Gives site will update fundraising totals all day, said Zobel.

The final results will also provide a way for organizations to learn from each other’s fundraising efforts, said Stacy.

“We’ll see which agencies do the best at getting donors,” she said. “We’ll be able to look at what their pages look like and what they did.”

Funding an
online giving day

The foundation spent the past year raising $280,000 — from individuals, partner agencies and corporate donors — to fund the event.

During today’s event, the foundation will award nonprofits about $200,000 in bonus money, said Zobel.

Beginning at 11 a.m., the foundation plans to randomly attach $1,000 to one donation each hour. Others will randomly receive “golden ticket” bonus prizes that range up to $20,000. Nonprofits that earn the most money at the end of the day will also receive bonuses.

In addition to prize money, the foundation has paid $80,000 in operational costs for Valley Gives.

The foundation hired Michael Kusek, of the Northampton-based public relations agency Communication Angle, to serve as its project manager.

Kusek, along with Alfonso Santaniello of the Springfield advertising company Creative Strategy Agency, helped facilitate five social media training sessions.

And then, to manage the website, the foundation contracted with Razoo — a company in Washington, D.C., that has managed 23 similar “giving days,” including 13 this year.

Zobel believes the amount of time and money put into the event will be worth it.

“Our community is so much stronger because all these organizations are doing such fantastic work,” said Zobel. “We want to support them.”

The foundation plans to host Valley Gives again in 2013 and 2014. Some donors have already made giving commitments for the next two years, said Zobel.

Valley Gives reps at GCC this morning

Valley Gives organizers will travel today throughout the three counties, equipped with iPads that serve as “mobile giving stations.”

To give an electronic gift “in person,” meet up with the mobile team at Greenfield Community College from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

More information about the event can be found online at www.valleygivesday.org.

A full list of participants can be found on the event’s blog, www.valleygives.wordpress.com, by scrolling down to a Nov. 16 entry.

You can reach Chris Shores at:
cshores@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 264.

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