The first week of May will feel a lot like November as Minnesota nonprofits make a flurry of pitches for donations in a first-ever virtual fundraising campaign during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Starting Friday, GiveMN — the nonprofit that in November puts on the largest annual giving day in the state, Give to the Max — is hosting a new eight-day campaign called Give At Home MN.

Thousands of nonprofits and schools across the state will participate May 1-8, appealing to donors for extra help during the outbreak. COVID-19 has boosted demand for nonprofit services, especially at food shelves, homeless shelters and others dealing with its effects.

"This is really an opportunity for Minnesotans to come together to support the safety net that is our nonprofits and schools," said Jake Blumberg, the executive director of GiveMN. "It's safe to say a number of nonprofits are really struggling right now and in pretty significant crisis."

The statewide fundraiser comes at a prime time for organizations that typically hold galas and other critical fundraisers this month, which have been canceled or moved online. It also coincides with a national day of giving May 5 by Giving Tuesday, a nonprofit known for its fundraiser the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

Gov. Tim Walz and his administration will promote the GiveMN campaign.

A boost in donations

While foundations have quickly mobilized to give out millions of dollars in emergency COVID-19 aid, individual giving also has increased.

Donations on GiveMN's site more than quintupled in April compared to April 2019, similar to the giving rates the organization sees in December during the holidays, Blumberg said. Individuals have given more than $1.5 million to more than 1,400 organizations since early March on the website.

And at the Minneapolis Foundation, grant dollars from donor-advised funds were up 46% in April compared to last year, putting $7.2 million in the community.

"Minnesotans are the most generous in the country," said Clare Brumback, president of the Community Emergency Assistance Programs, or CEAP, in Brooklyn Center.

Unlike larger nonprofits, CEAP doesn't have a marketing team or budget and never puts on fundraising events like galas. Instead, the nonprofit relies on individual contributors for more than half its revenue to support programs such as its food shelf, which moved to curbside pickup, and Meals on Wheels, which has shifted to two weeks of frozen meals delivered to seniors.

A sudden rise in need has led to an increase of 130% in the number of new visitors seeking housing or food help compared to this time last year.

As a result, CEAP is trying to raise $48,000 through the Give At Home MN campaign, with an anonymous donor pledging to match the first $20,000 raised. The money will pay for more than 60,000 meals.

The nonprofit is calling donors and putting out the request over social media and e-mails, but Brumback said GiveMN's campaign should help the small nonprofit amplify its message.

"It's kind of a collective call to action in the community," she said.

Some nonprofits have seen a spike in local support without special fundraisers.

Since mid-March, more than 400 new donors stepped forward to 360 Communities in Burnsville. Seven people started Facebook fundraisers for the nonprofit and several people donated their $1,200 federal stimulus checks to the Dakota County nonprofit. Others are dropping off cleaning supplies and items the nonprofit needs. An Eagle Scout even hauled in four carloads of needed items.

"What we've noticed is an incredible outpouring of generosity," spokesman Tony Compton said.

But he worries whether the donation of one-time stimulus checks and the influx of money will be sustainable for months to come as the need for help is expected to rise.

"It's going to be a long haul," Compton said.

Giving back

Like Give to the Max, Give At Home MN will include $68,000 in prize money from the Bush Foundation and U.S. Bank that organizations can win to use as donor incentives over the eight-day fundraiser.

"It's hard to get people's attention in a crisis," Blumberg said.

A 6.9% processing fee is charged for donations online, though most donors choose to pay the fee for the organization.

From March to May, GiveMN is donating its portion of the fee — about 2% — back to nonprofits. The rest of the balance goes to the credit card company and the platform provider.

Last year's Give to the Max, in its 11th year, set a record of $21.6 million. Blumberg said he doesn't know how much the May 1-8 fundraiser will bring in, or if a surge in giving now will reduce people's willingness or abilities — to give later.

"During tough economic times, generosity doesn't tend to decrease," Blumberg said, adding that the pandemic is a unique catastrophe. "There's no comparison to this."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141