The biggest day of the year for charities in the Sacramento region begins just after midnight Thursday at a “command center” on University Avenue as donations begin to roll in.
It will end 24 hours later with a final tally: millions of dollars to be distributed to organizations that feed the needy, nurture the young, entertain with art and dance, shelter stray animals and provide other services in the Sacramento area.
The fourth year of the Sacramento Region Community Foundation’s Big Day of Giving, an intensive campaign designed to shine a spotlight on area nonprofit groups, promises to be the biggest yet. It will feature dozens of events throughout the day and night in Sacramento, Placer and Yolo counties, including pancake breakfasts and happy hours, photo booths and dunk tanks, music and Star Wars characters. Around the clock, charities will be feverishly posting on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, plugging their organizations and updating a running tally of donations from the public.
If all goes according to plan, by 12:01 a.m. on Friday nonprofits will have received a critical infusion of funding, ramped up awareness of their missions, and recruited new volunteers and other supporters.
“There’s something about the power of giving together, as a community,” said Shirlee Tully, chief marketing and development officer for the foundation, which has spent months organizing the campaign. “This has grown to become a remarkable day.”
Sacramento’s campaign, one of many such events around the country, began in 2013 as a fundraiser for arts groups in the area. It raised $500,000 for 78 nonprofit organizations. In 2014, the event expanded to other nonprofit groups and became the Big Day of Giving. Last year, the campaign collected $7.1 million for 570 charities, with nearly 14,000 people donating. That happened despite a nationwide website failure that crippled online giving for events in Sacramento and across the nation.
“The goal this year is to beat last year, and to highlight all the great work that these groups are doing,” Tully said.
More than 600 area charities will be accepting donations at www.bigdayofgiving.org. The website offers profiles of participating nonprofits, as well as a “leader board” of donations and a list of events.
Organizations large and small were gearing up Wednesday for the campaign’s midnight kickoff. Staffers from the Children’s Receiving Home of Sacramento were decorating its lobby with a Star Wars theme, complete with Darth Vader and other characters. Volunteers of America was prepping for a pancake breakfast at its Mather Community Campus dining hall. A dozen charities were preparing for a Big Day Block Party at LowBrau restaurant. ACC Senior Services was planning an open house featuring ukulele music and hula dancing, a cake contest and a fashion show.
The Sacramento Region Community Foundation came up with the idea of channeling donations into a 24-hour event after learning, through commissioned research, that people in the Sacramento area were giving far less than the national average to local charities, Tully said.
“The way I looked at it, we needed to make a better case to the community,” said Michele Steeb, executive director of Saint John’s Program for Real Change, which offers shelter, mental health programs and other services for women and children in crisis. “It was a big ‘Aha!’ moment for me. We needed to raise awareness, be more strategic. Big Day of Giving is a collaborative effort to get the word out about all of the good work that is being done in our area.”
Last year, Saint John’s raised $36,000 during the event, Steeb said. The organization has an annual budget of about $6 million. “This is a big gift for us,” she said. “But it’s not just about the donations that people make that day. You are cultivating donors and volunteers.” In 2016, the organization received gifts from 25 new donors, she said.
On Thursday, Saint John’s will be hosting a Big Day of Giving Lunch at its Plates Cafe in midtown Sacramento. All proceeds from the restaurant fund the organization’s programs.
For Red Rover, a national animal protection group based in Sacramento, Big Day is an opportunity to educate people about an organization that has been around for 30 years but has little name recognition in the region. The group shelters and cares for animals displaced by natural disasters, sponsors literacy programs in schools, and offers grants to needy pet owners for veterinary and boarding care.
For this year’s Big Day campaign, Red Rover collaborated with Women Escaping a Violent Environment to produce a moving video featuring a battered woman who wanted to leave her abuser but had no place to take her pets. WEAVE provided shelter for her, and Red Rover for her animals. Red Rover volunteers travel the country to set up temporary shelters for animals threatened by floods, fires and other disasters. Earlier this year, they helped pet owners shelter animals threatened by the crumbling Oroville Dam.
“We’ll be super active on social media all day on Thursday, distributing the video and pushing for donations,” said president and executive director Nicole Forsyth. “We’ll be at the block party, and we’re participating in another event with WEAVE.”
Red Rover is aiming for $15,000 in donations at the end of the Big Day.
“There is a real collaborative spirit here,” Forsyth said. “There will be a lot of cheerleading, a lot of hand-holding, a lot of fun. It’s exciting.”