They trotted out cute puppies, lip-synced songs, ran on treadmills and built a kayak — all to raise money for their school or charity Thursday. At the day’s end, Minnesota nonprofits hauled in more than $18 million through Give to the Max Day.

Now in its seventh year, Give to the Max has become a rallying call for Minnesota nonprofits and school fundraisers. It is a 24-hour philanthropy marathon, complete with up-to-the-minute scoreboards online, that attracts at least 50,000 donors.

On Tuesday, those Minnesotans sat down at their computers or cellphones and hit the GIVE button an average of once every second.

“It illustrates the giving spirit that appears to be part of the DNA of Minnesotans,” said Jake Blumberg, new executive director of GiveMN, the organization overseeing the event. “It’s not about one cause, it’s about all causes.”

Blumberg and other GiveMN staff spent Thursday morning at Metro Transit stops, handing out treats and donation cards to commuters. They were joined by entertainers ranging from Bollywood dancers to the St. Paul Ballet.

By midday, school principals from across Minnesota gathered for a lively lip sync competition at the Hard Rock Cafe at the Mall of America. Among those who took the stage were Susan Lane-Outlaw, principal at Metro Deaf School, who was accompanied by her team of student dancers moving to Katy Perry’s “Roar.”

Give to the Max, and the lip sync competition, has been great for fundraising, for broadening Metro Deaf’s profile, and for supporting students, she said.

“They can’t hear the music but they can feel the beat,” she said of her dancers. “ It’s a chance for them to perform and see others perform.”

Several groups dominated the scoreboard throughout the day. They included Cretin-Derham Hall, Second Harvest Heartland, and Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners.

Cretin-Derham raised more than $500,000 for tuition assistance by midnight, way ahead of the pack of the roughly 5,000 profits that participated.

School Principal Pat Conway attributes the phenomena largely to the fact that “our alumni really embrace this.”

Interfaith Outreach, meanwhile, sponsored a happy hour, music and events at Lunds & Byerlys to educate children about poverty. It was on track to reach its goal of raising $700,000 — but most of that didn’t show up on the GiveMN scoreboard because much was donated offline Thursday and during the course of the week, said Deb Lande, Interfaith marketing director.

Give to the Max has become less of an online giving platform for Interfaith and more of a “benchmark we try to meet,” she said.

Meanwhile in the “medium-sized” nonprofit category, the Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minn., was strong in both donations and number of supporters. Nearly 600 had contributed to the sanctuary by the evening. That was more donors than all but five other nonprofits — both the big guys and the small.

“Our goal was to get a bunch of people to give little amounts of money and know that they make a difference,” said Tammy Thies, executive director. “We’ve had donations from Spain, Denmark, New Zealand … and we’re a small nonprofit in northern Minnesota!”

Augsburg College also was pulling in some serious cash — more than $242,000 by midnight — in part because it had dozens of staff members raising money for their department or teams’ specific projects, said Heather Riddle, vice president of institutional advancement. The donations went in cycles, she said.

“People give before they go to work, then lunch hour, then after work,” Riddle said. “Then there’s a burst right before it ends [at midnight].”

As night fell, Riddle was among thousands of nonprofit and education leaders hunkered down in their offices, watching for the final push. Pizza and sandwich deliveries were brisk. Said Lande: “We all love the motivation and energy this brings.”