Give to the Max Day sweeps across Minnesota on Thursday, an annual online giving blitz that last year reeled in more than $16 million for 4,400 charities and schools.

Charities and nonprofits have spent months gearing up for the day, concocting fresh ideas to attract donors and blasting e-mails to donors to remind them to give.

Several school principals will swim with the sharks at the Sea Life Aquarium to try to net new donations. The Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery will run online advertisements from the extremely cute winners of their "spokesbaby" contest.

College Possible will be sending "Superheroes" out to personally thank donors, reminding them "to find the hero in you." Hundreds more are experimenting with games, contests and entertainment.

More than 50,000 Minnesotans donated last year during the 24-hour giving spree, now in its fifth year. Dana Nelson, executive director of GiveMN, sponsor of the event, hopes even more turn out this year.

"This day has truly become a giving holiday for Minnesota-based nonprofits," Nelson said. "The money raised will help sustain many organizations throughout the year."

Nelson and other GiveMN organizers have set up their headquarters at the Mall of America, providing round-the-clock commentary, entertainment and guest speakers on Thursday.

All will be live-streamed at, the website that donors must visit to make their online contributions.

Every hour on the hour, donors will be randomly selected by a computer to get an extra $1,000 for the nonprofit they supported. The same will happen for donors to public schools.

Many nonprofits have arranged donation incentives themselves. The Minneapolis-based Microgrants, for example, received a record $20,000 in matching funds.

"Our donations have been going up every year, from $3,000 to $6,000 to $8,000 last year — matched by an $8,000 grant," said Joe Selvaggio, founder of Microgrants, which gives small loans to low-income folks to retain jobs or to start businesses. "People get used to it as a form of giving."

Other nonprofits are having fun with the day. The Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery, for example, was grappling with how to stand out. It came up with a spokesbaby contest, and more than 1,000 votes were cast this fall for the 12 finalists.

The contest produced a 33 percent increase in the Crisis Nursery's Facebook followers, said Joel Bergstrom, development director at the nursery.

Meanwhile, Helping Paws, a Hopkins nonprofit that trains service dogs for people with physical disabilities, is holding a "Yappy Hour" with demonstrations of how dogs are trained to turn on lights, open doors and such.

GiveMN's website will track the nonprofits and educational institutions receiving the largest volume of donations throughout the day. The final tally will be announced on Friday, along with the winners of two $10,000 prizes.