The holiday that Minnesota nonprofits look forward to every year arrives Thursday, but some nonprofit leaders worry that donors won't be as generous as they were in 2021.
Donations so far this month for Give to the Max Day, the annual statewide "giving holiday," are trending above 2019 numbers, but below last year's record-breaking $34 million to nonprofits and schools — reflecting some national trends in giving.
Donations tallied at the end of the day Thursday will include all money raised since Nov. 1, when the early giving period began for the collective online fundraiser.
"The height of charitable giving that we found in 2021 is likely the ceiling that we may be coming down from this year," said Jake Blumberg, executive director of GiveMN, which runs Give to the Max Day. "That's also up to donors. ... We're hoping folks will maybe try to make Minnesota the exception to the national rule."
More than 6,000 Minnesota nonprofits and schools are making their pitches for money on Give to the Max Day, now in its 14th year. The event has topped the previous year's record for six years in a row.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, donations to Minnesota nonprofits surged amid unprecedented generosity. But some donors may be struggling financially amid global high inflation, while other donors are returning to pre-pandemic spending on travel and dining out, shifting their dollars away from philanthropy.
"It's a different landscape every year," Blumberg said. "We're conscious of the fact folks might be feeling a little bit at the grocery store or the gas pump themselves. ... We're hoping donors are able to balance the fact that their own budgets are a little tighter and the fact nonprofits' budgets are in even more dire conditions, and people will stretch to meet that need."
In a new report by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, more than 70% of nonprofits surveyed said they've seen an increase in demand for their services, or expect to see it. The rising demand for services, along with the crimping of nonprofit budgets by inflation, means that more than 80% of the organizations are bracing for higher expenses.
But funding isn't keeping pace. Many nonprofits are reporting that government and foundation grants have returned to pre-pandemic levels after a spike in aid. That's leaving more of them financially crunched: While half the nonprofits surveyed ended 2021 with a surplus, most expect to end this year with a deficit.
Like other nonprofits, the Good Acre has seen donations drop since 2020 and is relying on Give to the Max Day as its biggest fundraiser of the year.
"It's just kind of a Minnesota tradition," said Nikki Warner, communications director at the Falcon Heights nonprofit, which offers training, storage and kitchen space to independent farmers.
The organization relies on grants for most of its revenue, but grants are usually tied to a specific program. It's the money from donors, Warner said, that helps "keep the lights on and the trucks running."
"Funding that allows us to do our work as a whole, not parts of it, are really important," she added.
The Good Acre has set its highest goal yet of $15,000 on Give to the Max Day. With donors inundated this week by fundraising emails and social media posts from nonprofits, Warner said organizations have to get creative to capture their attention.
So the Good Acre is doing something it hasn't done since before the pandemic: an in-person event, offering tours and food samples Thursday.
"People are kind of fatigued and burned out to be asked to support causes," Warner said. "It's a struggle for nonprofits."
Blumberg said more in-person fundraising events are returning after being scuttled by the pandemic, but the calendar isn't completely back to what it was in 2019.
Project Success, a Minneapolis nonprofit that provides free classes to more than 15,000 students a year, hosted a Give to the Max Day happy hour this week to draw donations and new volunteers, with some beer-sale proceeds benefiting the organization.
Kaylee Fandre, a development associate, said it's tough competing with a flurry of donation pitches. But the nonprofit is still beefing up its goal this year to $25,000.
"This is definitely something special to be part of in Minnesota," Fandre said.
For the first time this year, GiveMN is highlighting organizations that serve the LGBTQ community in addition to those supporting or led by people of color, which it did last year to draw attention to historically underfunded nonprofits.
In the past, about a third of Minnesota's more than 15,000 nonprofits participated in Give to the Max Day, while others focused on their own efforts in November and December — a key period for year-end donations. "Giving Tuesday," a national effort, also takes place next week.
Other states have started their own versions of Give to the Max Day, but Blumberg said none of them have a grassroots giving campaign as big as Minnesota's.
"Any contribution large or small, when added together with the thousands of Minnesotans who give on Give to the Max Day, will make a difference in our community," he said. "There is no gift too small for folks to give to make a difference for their neighbors."
To donate or for details, go to givemn.org. Donations come with a 6.9% fee, though most donors pay that fee on top of their contribution.