March Millions is #TrendingPhilanthropy

By Dana Nelson, Executive Director at GiveMN

MarchMillions1The past 12 months have been a time of change for GiveMN. Less than a year ago, at the MCN Technology and Communications Conference, we announced our new strategic technology partnership with Kimbia and just a few short months later re-launched our website to power even more giving in Minnesota.

I have learned more in the last year about data migration, systems testing, and development sprints than I could have hoped for! And while I am always grateful to learn new things, the developers at Kimbia are excited to have me back on my real job—igniting generosity and growing giving (a.k.a. the big picture!). So we’re reactivating The GiveMN Blog and will theme posts as #TrendingPhilanthropy, looking at the forces that are influencing where and how donors give online.

Last fall, the trustees of the Otto Bremer Foundation asked GiveMN to facilitate a creative way for the foundation to be introduced to a new region for responsive grantmaking—Southeastern Minnesota. They were interested in making a BIG matching gift ($1 million!) to area organizations to learn about the causes the community values most. After a quick check with the people who keep me technologically honest (the GiveMN team), we agreed to partner.

It was an easy yes for me because if there’s one failsafe way to ignite generosity it’s matching gifts. The evidence is all around us, from Buy One Get One promotions at local retailers to Yale/University of Chicago research across a wide swath of charities showing that the presence of a dollar-for-dollar match increases donor response rate by as much as 19%.

MarchMillions2We worked with the very fabulous Lue Her and his colleagues to create Otto Bremer Foundation’s March Millions for Southeastern Minnesota and they selected just over 100 organizations from the region to participate. In addition to the $1 million in matching funds, one lucky donor was selected each day in March to win a $1,000 Bremer Boost prize grant for their organization and a Mega Bremer Boost of $10,000 will be awarded on March 31, randomly drawn from all March Millions donations.

Before the campaign went live I asked the GiveMN team to guess how much the campaign would generate. The stakes were high—a fancy Italian dinner for the closest guess.

MarchMillions3Dan, our data geek, guessed $358,034. Deepta, outreach coordinator extraordinaire, went middle of the road at $750,000 and I guessed we would help organizations raise the full $1 million. Darryl, our second outreach coordinator and self-professed gamer “who knows nothing about nonprofits” (his words) guessed $1.7 million! We all chuckled at his optimism and I hoped that he was right. It turns out he had his finger on the pulse of generous donors more so than any of us ‘seasoned’ fundraising experts.

Though the campaign isn’t over yet, next week we’ll announce that March Millions has generated more than $2.2 million in total donations in just one month. Remember Dan’s guess? In all twelve months of 2014 all of the nonprofits and schools in the eight-county March Millions region raised $358,034 through GiveMN.org, including Give to the Max Day. And now in just 31 days that has nearly quadrupled!

So why has this campaign been so successful? Here are three key factors that have helped inspire more than 2,100 unique donors to make a donation:

  1. MarchMillions4The generous matching gift from Otto Bremer Foundation. $1 million is the largest matching gift to be offered competitively on GiveMN ever! It was first come, first served (or first given, first matched) across all participating organizations and it got the attention of nonprofits, media, and donors. We like to call matching gifts “Minnesota’s BOGO for Good!”
  2. The 102 participating organizations. They got creative about how they promoted March Millions, whether it was right out of the gate in the race for matching dollars or rallying later in the month around winning those Bremer Boost prizes. There was a sense of community and “we all win” among the nonprofits that swooped into action with less than a month to prepare for this campaign.
  3. The media coverage. GiveMN and Otto Bremer Foundation, with the support of FleishmanHillard, have done a small paid media campaign and a successful earned media campaign, raising the visibility of the March Millions effort across the region.

So when the campaign wraps at the end of March, our optimistic gamer gets dinner at Pazzaluna for knowing that donors are no different than any of us. They like a deal. And I win, too, because I get to take him to dinner. The Otto Bremer Foundation won. And clearly 102 organizations won as well.

I give big props to the whole GiveMN team for creating this campaign on a dime. They did outreach to organizations in the region, created new training materials, and hosted training sessions to ensure that every nonprofit could be as successful as possible—not just in March, but year round on GiveMN.org.

A special post script: Since making his winning guess, Darryl has left the GiveMN team where he served as an AmeriCorps VISTA member and has joined the United States Air Force. We will have a bittersweet farewell dinner, but we thank him for his continued service to our country.