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Posted: November 30, 2011

Cote’s Colorado: 24-hour giveness

Colorado Gives Day returns online Dec. 6

Mike Cote

 

"What a Difference a Day Makes."

If the Community First Foundation wanted to license a song to help promote Colorado Gives Day, the Dinah Washington classic would be a good place to start.

Last year's debut event - 24 hours of online contributions through GivingFirst.org - generated $8.7 million through 20,000 donations to 529 Colorado organizations representing a wide variety of local needs.

Marla Williams, president and CEO of Community First Foundation, is counting on Coloradans to be just as generous when the event returns on Dec. 6.

"Last year, we expected to raise $1 million in 24 hours and thought we were being bold by doing that," Williams said at the foundation's office in Arvada. "What we did was underestimate the generosity of Coloradans." (Watch Mike's interview with Marla Williams.)

Nonprofits that attracted donations last year included Mile High United Way, Denver Rescue Mission, Food Bank of the Rockies and Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver. Some organizations, such as the Women's Bean Project and the Colorado Chautauqua Association, attracted more than half their donations from first-time donors.

The GivingFirst.org site has information on roughly 900 Colorado nonprofits, with such information as finances, filings with the Internal Revenue Service and board membership. Donors select the nonprofits they choose to fund and use credit cards or e-checks to pay for what's in their online shopping carts.

Once again, FirstBank is onboard as corporate partner. The Colorado bank has committed $500,000, including $300,000 for the FirstBank Incentive Fund, which will be proportionally allocated across all the donations received. FirstBank, Community First Foundation and other community foundations are absorbing the cost of all credit card transactions during the 24-hour period.

Businesses find creative ways to attract donations.

"We had a local pub that set up a kiosk, and if you gave a gift on Colorado Gives Day, by golly, they'd buy you a beer," Williams said. (The pub was Rock Bottom Brewery.)

The event also engages businesses by recruiting them to sponsor the Bonus Bucks program. At least once an hour, a donor will be randomly chosen, and the nonprofit associated with the donation will receive $1,000. Companies participating this year include OtterBox, Holme Roberts & Owen, JPMorgan Chase and the IMA Foundation.

"Colorado Gives Day is an incredible opportunity for everyone of all walks of life to make educated decisions about how to give back to their communities," said Ruth Rohs, executive director of the IMA Foundation.

Nonprofits competing for attention include those that provide emergency services like food banks and homeless shelters and cultural institutions that promote the arts. Coloradans traditionally have supported a wide range of needs, Williams said.

"We start with the assumption that it's not a zero-sum game, that when the community is feeling generous and is motivated to feeling generous, that there really is enough to go around," she said.

That said, Williams notes nonprofits that provide human services were the largest group of fundraisers during last year's Colorado Gives Day, and the community recognizes how tough economic times have increased the demand for assistance from such organizations.

This time of year, many nonprofits are doing the bulk of the fundraising that will get them through the next year so a spike during an event like Colorado Gives Day could spell some relief.

"It's like retail. That fourth quarter could be up to 80 percent of an organization's revenues for the entire year," Williams said. "Some will even change their fiscal year, to July 1 so they don't have it all happening in their fourth quarter, where they can't adjust if it doesn't go according to plan."

One of the features on the GivingFirst.org site allows donors to plan recurring gifts throughout the year rather than donating a lump sum: "It's easier for you because you can fit it into your budget, and it's really nice for the nonprofit because they have a steady, reliable revenue stream that isn't all packed into a single period of time.

"But there's something special about giving around the holidays, and I think that will always be the case."
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Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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