Minnesota nonprofits rack up $15 million during Give to the Max Day

Thousands of Minnesotans came out in droves Thursday to support their favorite charities, churches and schools.

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Jessie Masterman painted a flower on the cheek of Lauren Larson, a patient at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis, as part of Give to the Max Day on Thursday.

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

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Tapping fundraising ploys ranging from PedalPub marathons to roller-coaster blitzes, Minnesota nonprofits racked up more than $15 million during Give to the Max Day Thursday -- a record for the state and the nation.

Likewise a record, 50,000 Minnesotans logged on to their computers and made donations to their favorite churches and charities during the 24-hour giving blitz -- at times hobbling the system with their Web traffic.

Among the biggest winners were Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners, a suburban anti-poverty group that was bombarded with more than $345,000 in 24 hours, and Cretin-Derham Hall of St. Paul, which saw more than $287,000 pour in.

Meanwhile public schools, for the first time, were eligible to tap the fundraising power of the day, and principals from more than a dozen schools endured marathon roller-coaster rides at the Mall of America to challenge donors.

"I was on for almost an hour," said Mark Quinn, principal of Emerson Spanish Immersion School of Minneapolis, taking a break a few steps from the roaring ride. "It's not bad -- until you get off."

The exact volume of donations won't be available until Friday, but organizers of the 24-hour giving blitz were thrilled with Minnesotans' generosity. Last year, the event raised nearly $14 million.

"It broke records all over," said Dana Nelson, executive director of GiveMN, which coordinates the day. "We had a record 4,200 nonprofits [receiving donations] and more than 50,000 donors."

The giving spree, launched four years ago by several Minnesota foundations, has become a "nonprofit holiday," said Nelson. "It's become more than a fundraiser. It's a day when people want to celebrate and hang out together.''

On Thursday, people "hung out" in the world, as well as online. Nonprofits across the state spent the day blitzing their supporters with e-mails, tweets and Facebook postings.

How to stand out in the fray has become a major question for many small nonprofits. Spare Key, a Bloomington-based group that provides emergency mortgage payments to families dealing with extremely ill children, decided to work with the owner of PedalPub to drum up attention for their organization. Working with several partner businesses and supporters, it arranged a 24-hour "Pedal to the Max" ride along the Mississippi River in St. Paul. It plans to enter its feat as a possible world record for PedalPubbing.

"For a small organization like ours, you have to be creative," said Erich Mische, executive director. "We have 110 riders, 85 from CrossFit [his gym]. These are 110 people with their own Facebook accounts, Twitter accounts. If they reach just 10 people each, suddenly you could have 1,000 new people who know about you."

Spare Key's goal was to raise $5,000, which would be matched by the Otto Bremer Foundation. But across the river in Minneapolis, Children's Hospitals and Clinics set the bar at $100,000. To celebrate the day and attract some donors, the hospitals offered entertainment ranging from dog trainers to portrait artists.

"We see this as the kickoff of the end-of-the-year holiday tradition," said Annie Waters, director of annual giving for the hospitals. "For a 24-hour period, $100,000 is nothing to sneeze at."

Nonprofits are particularly drawn to the matching grants they're able to generate on the big day. Wealthy donors and foundations pledged $6 million in matching grants to hundreds of nonprofits. Interfaith Outreach received two $75,000 matching grants, doubling most donors' gifts and creating a buzz through the day, said Jill Kohler, development director of the Plymouth-based nonprofit. "People love matching grants," she said. "It gives real momentum to the campaign."

People also love their animals and pets. This year, the Animal Humane Society remained near the top of the fundraisers in the "Large Nonprofits" category, bringing in more than $197,000. And the Wildcat Sanctuary of Sandstone, which raised at least $70,000, ranked near the top of the midsize groups.

Tammy Thies, executive director of the Wildcat Sanctuary, said her staff spent the day updating their Facebook page and posting before and after photos of rescued animals. Said Thies: "We have really passionate donors."

Most nonprofits knew their rough total donations by midnight Thursday. But Nelson and her staff will be tabulating the final winners, including their matching grants, on Friday. She will also announce the winners of the top prizes for the three biggest fundraisers, $12,500, $5,000 and $2,500.

The top fundraisers are eagerly awaiting the result. Said Kohler: "We're sitting on pins and needles."

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511

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