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Material handlers work in the warehouse at Second Harvest Heartland on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011.

David Joles, Star Tribune

Second Harvest Heartland’s Donyell Madison at the warehouse Tuesday. The Maplewood-based food bank had the most donors in the metro during last year’s Give to the Max Day.

David Joles, Star Tribune

Cordova Lawary at St. Paul’s Dorothy Day Center. Donations made to Catholic Charities will go to the center

Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

24-hour charity blitz starts with an online click

  • Article by: JEAN HOPFENSPERGER
  • Star Tribune
  • November 16, 2011 - 11:03 AM

Minnesota charities will begin working at midnight to cash in on Give to the Max Day, the biggest one-day fundraiser of the year.

From the dozens of comedians performing a 24-hour "improv-a-thon" in Minneapolis, to the citywide party at the Red Wing YMCA, or the Mall of America rotunda, where shoppers can use laptops at "GiveNGo" stations, charities will be benefiting from events across the state.

"Our goal is to raise millions of dollars for thousands of Minnesota nonprofits," said Dana Nelson, executive director of GiveMN, the website that oversees the event.

The two previous Give to the Max Days raked in $10 million and $14 million, setting a national record. They also put Minnesota on the map -- again -- for its philanthropic trailblazing.

States and cities across the nation have been contacting Nelson to learn how to pull off a one-day online giving blitz. Minnesota was among a handful of states to run with the idea in 2009. Roughly 20 cities and a handful of states now have launched similar events, she said.

"I'm flattered that eyes are on Minnesota and we are leading the way," said Nelson.

Earlier this month, for example, the Washington, D.C., area pulled in more than $2 million during its first Give to the Max Day, she said. Last week, nonprofits in Park City, Utah, raised $332,000 during a "Live PC Give PC" event.

Incentives to give

More than 3,500 nonprofits have received donations during Minnesota's Give to the Max days. This year, as in the past, they've bombarded their supporters with tweets, e-mails and Facebook postings to remind them to give and give often.

The financial advantages are many. Hundreds of nonprofits have drummed up nearly $6 million in donation matching funds. The event sponsors, a coalition of foundations and the Mosaic Co., have put up prize money.

For example, $15,000, $10,000 and $7,500 prizes will be awarded to the three nonprofits pulling in the most cash Wednesday. The same amount will be given to top fundraisers in the "small" nonprofit category with budgets of less than $750,000.

Plus, every hour, one donor will be randomly selected to get an extra $1,000 for the cause.

"This is a very big deal [for nonprofits]," said Lenore Franzen, spokesperson for Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners, a Plymouth-based nonprofit that provides food, housing and other family supports in eight western suburbs.

"We're hoping to break our all-time record this year," she said.

Like many nonprofits, Interfaith Outreach has seen its fundraising explode. It received $48,000 in donations during the kickoff year of the event, she said, and $175,000 last year. But with matching grants, that figure jumped to $325,000.

This year's goal: a half-million dollars in donations and matching grants.

Getting creative

As more and more Minnesotans learn about Give to the Max Day, nonprofits have responded in new and creative ways.

Circus Juventus, for example, is hosting a "cirque-a-thon" from noon to 9 p.m. under its St. Paul big top.

The Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis is launching "an experiment in online writing," allowing donors to designate a line of dialogue or character and watch as writers work it into the play "no matter how absurd."

The president of the Sajia Foundation, a Maple Grove-based nonprofit that fights childhood obesity, is taking a 30-mile trek from her home in Maple Grove to the Mall of America.

"For every $1,000 in donations, I get someone to walk a mile for me," explained Melissa Hanson, foundation president. "After $5,000 I get a 'ticket' and can ride my bike for five miles. ... We hope to get people excited to track my progress, and to support our work."

Hanson's words are echoed by other nonprofits. Give to the Max Day is not just about raising cash, they said, but about letting the world know about their mission and their work.

"People know this is the future of giving," said Nelson. "The whole purpose is to grow giving and awareness."

To donate online, go to www.givemn.org.

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511

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