Call it Minnesota Nice Gone Wild. The state's fifth annual Give to the Max Day became a victim of its own success Thursday, raking in $9 million in record-setting donations before noon — and then getting smacked with technical difficulties that put up a roadblock to giving.

The online giving marathon shut down for more than five hours, reopening for business about 6 p.m. Minnesotans forged ahead, donating almost $7 million more to their charities and schools before 11 p.m.

For GiveMN organizers, it was the best and worst of days.

"It's been frustrating, it's been disappointing,'' said Dana Nelson, executive director of GiveMN, the online giving forum that launched Give to the Max Day five years ago.

"The nonprofits worked so hard to make this day come to life. Five hours is a long time. And it has an impact on their bottom line.''

Thousands of donors had responded to Give to the Max Day in Minnesota, an annual day of giving that last year raked in $16 million. The $9 million that had been raised by noon climbed steadily after the website came back up, reaching $15.8 million before 11 p.m. And it was still climbing.

Nonprofits, at first, took the technical glitch in stride. Judith Kahn, executive director of Teenwise Minnesota, was among hundreds of groups that scurried to notify supporters that the website was down.

"Well, if this isn't the definition of Minnesota nice, I don't know what is," Kahn wrote. "Because of an outpouring of support, the Give to the Max website is currently down. Please know that if you're experiencing problems, you can always make your donation on our website at"

Augsburg College — which had 27 specialized fundraisers in the mix — took to the phones, calling potential donors and taking donations on the spot, said Heather Riddle, vice president for advancement.

"It was really nice to connect directly with people," said Riddle, who nonetheless said she would have liked to have had an online option.

By late afternoon, many nonprofits were getting nervous, rolling out a Plan B. Youth Performance Company, the Animal Humane Society and Teenwise Minnesota were among those that reminded supporters that they could also donate to them directly on their websites.

"Don't let the technical problems at GiveMN get you down!" the Animal Humane Society told its followers. "You can still Give to the Max directly through the AHS website."

Fundraising, and fun

Topping the donations list are Cretin-Derham Hall of St. Paul, Convent and Academy of Visitation in Mendota Heights, and Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners.

But thousands of nonprofits, big and small, spent the day courting supporters, holding goofy contests and just enjoying the event. GiveMN organizers set up headquarters at the Mall of America, providing round-the-clock commentary, entertainment and guest speakers.

Gloria Lewis, president of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of the Twin Cities, was among dozens of folks who took the stage at the GiveMN celebration.

"For us, it's a big day for people to support our children," said Lewis.

And this year looked to be particularly lucrative. Big Brothers, Big Sisters, which took in $6,000 last year on Give to the Max Day, had already raised $4,000 by 7:30 a.m., she said.

The day started with the usual entertainment and games that have made the day so popular.

Several school principals swam with the sharks — actually mini sharks — at the Sea Life Aquarium to try to net new donations. The Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery ran online advertisements from the winners of their "spokesbaby" contest.

AccountAbility Minnesota, a local tax and financial services nonprofit, ran a series of goofy videos of cats engaged in tax preparation.

As of late Thursday, it was still unclear how much money would pour in during the final hours. That figure will be announced Friday.

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511