5208223Wednesday was GiveBIG day in Seattle and about 50 other cities across America, also known as Give Local America! GiveBIG is a big day for a lot of nonprofits in the Seattle and Western Washington region. The Seattle Foundation, which runs the day, set a goal of having $20-million raised on the day, much of it driven by an incentive pool of funds – every gift given through the Foundation’s website will be ‘stretched’ by a pool of money the foundation raised. Hooray, for $20-million flowing to nonprofits.
A few members of the Fakequity team compared ‘equity’ notes about GiveBIG, including the good and the bad. We also consulted a few colleagues at nonprofits of various sizes and in different fields to get their perspectives.

GiveBIG – the Good
Despite all of the gripping about how many GiveBIG emails people got, I had over 65, it is a concentrated day of giving with excitement. When GiveBIG first started in Seattle it was during the middle of a recession and fundraising was hard. The day really shook people out of a giving malaise and raised important money to support the work of many nonprofits. We shouldn’t take this for granted.

For many smaller nonprofits, like the one I work for, the return on investment (ROI) of time and effort is decent. Collectively our staff put in about eight hours of work. With this investment of time we raised more than we would have if we had tried to pull together a special event, or write a grant for the amount of money we raised. GiveBIG is a great way for our small nonprofit to have an individual giving drive without creating one from scratch.

We also appreciated the outreach provided to smaller nonprofits. Before GiveBIG the Seattle Foundation staff reached out to many smaller nonprofits and invited us in for technical assistance/help sessions, which was great.

So with all of this said there are things that can be improved.

GiveFAKEQUITY – the We Can Do Better Part
We need to acknowledge not all nonprofits are starting from the same playing field. Small nonprofits don’t have the same staffing as a large hospital, university, or well-resourced institutional nonprofit. I know many of the larger nonprofits will complain that even they don’t have the level of resources they would like to take full advantage of the day, but we need to acknowledge some are better resourced than others. In reality the organizations with the least resources need the support of the GiveBIG platform the most.

Last year I got so annoyed with my alma mater’s GiveBIG emails; I wrote back and asked Social Justice Minded University to forgo taking the stretch gift because others need it more – they didn’t email back, shrug. As a university they have at least triple the staff a small nonprofit working on just fundraising which means they can raise more funds. I’m all for them raising loads of money to support their scholarship fund which in-turn may support students of color. From an equity and community minded lens, is it appropriate for larger organizations with more fundraising ability to draw down from the stretch donation pool at an equal proportion? Probably not.

Another example, a larger organization shared a tip, incentives work. In their case delicious cupcakes – I’ll admit I donated a few extra dollars to qualify for their cupcake gift certificate. I love this organization, but I also see their ability to tap into donors who can donate gift certificates as an advantage over other organizations. Smaller nonprofits don’t always have the same donor base.

Several colleagues mentioned GiveBIG is beginning to feel a little like a popularity contest and like the Hunger Games – May the GiveBIG Odds be Ever in Your Favor. I wonder when did we lose the feeling like we are coming together as a community to support our organizations. The excitement is great and important, but I still believe in the truism donations and gifts should be made in the spirit of giving and connecting.

GiveBIG Next Year – More Equity, Less Fakequity
Here are a few suggestions of ways to embed more equity into the day:

Use an equity filter: If the goal is to raise as much money as possible, great the current structure encourages this. If the goal is run through an equity filter then the goal needs to be adjusted and we need to acknowledge resources, especially the stretch donation pool, needs to be allocated differently. An equity lens shows smaller organizations, especially people of color centered organizations, will benefit MORE from the stretch gifts than larger more established nonprofits.

Reallocate the stretch pool: Cap the amount of funds larger organizations (i.e. universities, hospitals, etc.) qualify for. Such as allow them to participate but forgo the stretch, or cap the stretch to $5,000 or some number so they don’t water down the stretch that benefits smaller nonprofits more. Or once an org reaches $100,000 then the stretch stops. There are different formulas to help drive the funds towards smaller nonprofits.

More Equity: If part of the day is to promote racial equity, organizations should be required (or at least highly encouraged) to demonstrate their commitment to equity on their profiles. Questions such as: How many people of color are served, how are you working WITH communities of color, geographic area served will help donors understand where their donations are going.

Transparency: There is still confusion around the stretch donor pool – some people think it is a 1:1 match, challenge matches that individual organizations raise are confusing, and where are the match funds are coming from isn’t clear. Transparency is important in creating trust.

Community: As mentioned earlier a lot of the community spirit behind the day is waning. Can we create more community rallying spirit and the coming together versus a sense of competition?

Supporting Communities of Color: The current giving platform totally caters to English speaking, technology based donors. Communities of color are diverse and not all English or technology based. Can we adapt or open up the technology to accept non-English based pages? We also suggest asking people of color based organizations how their donors give and adapt GiveBIG to meet their needs?

Finally, I know my colleagues at the Seattle Foundation worked hard to bring us GiveBIG. I share this in the spirit of getting the work right over the long haul. Thank you for your work and thank you for giving. Here’s to next year and more equity in philanthropy and giving.

Posted by Erin Okuno, with thought partnership from Heidi Schillinger and colleagues in the nonprofit field.