There’s an unofficial “giving holiday” that Minnesota nonprofits mark on their calendars each year: Give to the Max Day.

The annual fundraising marathon, which celebrates 10 years on Thursday, has brought in more than $150 million in donations over the decade. Nonprofit leaders say the day’s festive feel, coupled with enthusiasm for online giving, changed the way Minnesotans give to good causes.

“It’s a reason for donors to give generously on a random Thursday in November,” said Jake Blumberg, executive director of GiveMN, the charity that oversees the day and maintains the website. “We know it’s become an institution for Minnesota.”

This year, organizers are planning special giveaways every 10 minutes and a “Look for the Loon” treasure hunt that will give the public a chance to win money to donate.

The grassroots donation push, which features up-to-the-minute totals and leaderboards online, has survived some initial skepticism from nonprofits and technical problems that frustrated donors on several occasions, to become the state’s largest giving day.

More than 10,000 charities and schools urge donors to give through GiveMN’s website, and last year more than 58,000 people gave a record high $20.6 million. Almost all the donors gave to more than one charity.

There is a 6.9 percent fee for donations processed through GiveMN’s website. Donors can opt to pay the fee in addition to their donation and more than 85 percent do, Blumberg said.

Kate Barr, president and CEO of Propel Nonprofits, which assists other nonprofits and provides loans, said “there was a little bit of cynicism among nonprofits” at the beginning as they were skeptical that Give to the Max would bring in any more money. But “donors like online giving,” she said.

“It’s one of their favorite things,” Barr said. “It’s a day where we have people celebrating nonprofits and good works in the community. There is nothing better than that.”

Give to the Max Day is the pinnacle of GiveMN’s year, Blumberg said, but it has also been expanding to help smaller nonprofits with fundraising strategies year-round. GiveMN launched a new initiative called RaiseMN in 2017 to help charities with annual budgets of $2 million of less.

Blumberg, who teaches fundraising at Hamline and the University of St. Thomas, said nonprofits that once relied on grants from large foundations are now shifting to develop relationships with individual supporters.

“The most reliable and sustainable fundraising strategy for nonprofits are individual donors,” Blumberg said. “These organizations need support in building out their fundraising infrastructure and capacity.”

Through RaiseMN, nonprofits can get advice on creating e-mail and social media lists, developing messages about their mission and impact, and techniques that inspire giving, such as matching grants.

While there is competition built into Give to the Max Day, Blumberg said, giving prompts more giving.

“The right strategy and messaging can grow the available funds in a community,” he said.

Celebration of giving

In honor of its 10th anniversary, Give to the Max Day will award cash prizes to participating nonprofits every 10 minutes for 24 hours, drawing from a pool of $130,000. The Bush Foundation donated $100,000 of the prizes.

The new “Look for the Loon” treasure hunt will feature 55 hidden loon placards at locations in Minneapolis, Duluth, Rochester, St. Cloud and Mankato. Those who find placards can redeem them and make donations to their favorite participating charities. Those prizes will total $10,000.

Individual charities are also planning their own events.

Feed My Starving Children, which provides millions of meals to hungry people worldwide, will host food packing parties in Coon Rapids, Eagan and Chanhassen on Give to the Max Day. The international charity, based in Minnesota, was a top 10 fundraiser on Give to the Max Day in 2017, raising more than $250,000.

“I love that it is promoting people being generous. When that happens, everyone benefits,” said Andy Carr, Feed My Starving Children vice president of development and marketing. “Generosity breeds generosity.”

The visibility that comes with Give to the Max Day often brings in some first-time donors, he said, noting that it can help lesser-known nonprofits, too.

“There are a lot of mom-and-pop shops who can really benefit from this day,” he said.

Feed My Starving Children staff said they’ve seen similar giving days pop up across the country in Texas and Arizona. Carr credits GiveMN and Minnesotans’ generosity for setting an example.

“As charitable giving goes, Minnesota is always at the top of the list,” he said. “It’s not surprising to see the day’s success.”