Give to the Max Day, a 24-hour online giving marathon annually designed to spur generosity, instead fueled frustration Thursday as donors and nonprofits dealt with seven hours of website problems that took the zip out of giving.
The main website — GiveMN.org — crashed about 8:15 a.m. and was replaced with a bare-bones contingency site that processed donations but did little else. It showed no up-to-the-minute totals or leaderboards with carefully crafted information compiled by 5,700 participating school and nonprofits.
The full site was restored at about 3:15 p.m., but by then critics had taken to social media to rail about the problems.
“It’s been a disaster. Three out of the last four years, it’s gone down or had technical glitches,” said Paul Meunier, executive director of Youth Intervention Programs Association in the north metro suburbs. “We are done using them. I don’t trust them.”
Seeking to quell discontent, GiveMN’s Executive Director Jake Blumberg said that giving totals were comparable to those of previous years despite the glitches. By 10:30 p.m. Thursday, donors had contributed about $18.5 million, surpassing last year’s grand total of $18.1 million.
Blumberg vowed to refund the 6.9 percent transaction fees that GiveMN charged nonprofits on the $3.5 million collected during the seven hours that the website was on the fritz. He declined to elaborate on the technical problems, saying only that they would “continue to diagnose this after the dust settles.”
“We can appreciate the frustrations organizations and donors had with the technology not working the way we expected or intended it to, despite all the intentional efforts we made for the day,” Blumberg said. “Donations continued to come through at the same pace as they did in years past.”
The Minnesota Community Foundation, trying to smooth things out, pitched in an additional $50,000 in prize money that GiveMN doles out to nonprofits throughout the day in the form of “golden tickets.”
First fear, then joy
It wasn’t the first time that Give to the Max Day, now in its eighth year, has wrestled with technical problems. That has some nonprofits, which spent time and money promoting the day and rallying their donors, rethinking their involvement with it.
Scores of nonprofits sent out e-mails midday redirecting their most loyal donors to their own personal donation portals.
“In the last couple of years, GiveMN has not delivered the type of product they promised us,” said Melissa Kaufenberg, development director with Brainerd-based Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity. “They know they are going to have an enormous amount of activity that day, yet we still run into the same problems.”
Kaufenberg said she sent out a mass e-mail to more than 5,000 supporters early Thursday directing them to the GiveMN.org site. When the site crashed, she sent out a second e-mail directing folks to Habitat’s own online donation site. But she believes that people frustrated with GiveMN.org walked away.
By late afternoon, they had raised $10,000 through GiveMN.org, well short of the $24,000 they needed to secure a matching donation. Only $225 had come in through Habitat’s private donation site.
“I believe [GiveMN] should count this day as a loss for them and do the right thing and refund the processing fees for all the nonprofits. We work so hard for every single dollar we try to raise,” Kaufenberg said.
Administrative fees for each donation were raised this year from 4.9 to 6.9 percent. Donors were given the option to cover that fee themselves so their full gift would go to charity, but the backup website didn’t appear to allow that option.
By early evening, nonprofits were trying to pick up the pieces and revive some interest in Give to the Max’s waning hours. Fear turned to joy for at least one small nonprofit.
Tina Altman helps to run A Place of Hope MN in the east metro suburbs. The all-volunteer organization, which works with Toys for Tots at Christmas, had hoped to raise $1,000 via Give to the Max to buy holiday gifts for teens too old for Toys for Tots.
“GiveMN is perfect for a small nonprofit like mine. We don’t have a marketing budget or staff. We are three moms who volunteer. This year I will seriously cry if we don’t get any money,” said Altman on Thursday afternoon.
When the site was finally restored, Altman learned that an anonymous donor had given $1,000.
“Happy tears. Praise the Lord. So happy!” Altman said in a message. “We hit our goals. Amen!”