Casie Duplechain, executive director of Friends of City Park, was glued to her computer screen. She couldn’t believe what was happening: the numbers just kept getting higher and higher.
It was GiveNOLA Day 2014, 24 hours spent raising money online for nonprofit organizations around New Orleans. The campaign had started at midnight, and by 10 a.m. donors had given $600,000 toward the day’s overall $1 million goal.
Friends of City Park, a small nonprofit, was nearing $10,000 and was in the top three for most unique donors — qualifying the park for bonus prize money.
“At that moment, at 10 or 10:30 a.m., I realized that this was becoming a big deal, because our community had already raised $600,000,” Duplechain said. “That’s when I knew this was going to be huge and a really remarkable day, for not only our organization, but also the whole city.
“I remember feeling the energy of the morning, where people were really active in creating this excitement, and that to me is really powerful.”
On GiveNOLA Day, Tuesday, May 5 this year, almost 100 community foundations around the country will utilize 24 hours to focus intensely on raising money for local nonprofits. Each foundation sets a goal for its city.
2014 was the first year New Orleans was involved, led by the Greater New Orleans Foundation, and no one was sure how it would go.
On GiveNOLA Day, donors go to givenola.org, pick an organization they’d like to support and provide as much money as they can.
A leaderboard on the website records how much each organization has raised and how many unique donations each received.
The city blew past the foundation’s initial goal by $1.25 million, earning second in the country for most unique donors and fourth for the most money raised.
“We had 19,600 unique donors from 48 states and the District of Columbia,” said Albert Ruesga, president and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Foundation. “Of course, most of it came from the greater New Orleans area, but that’s just an incredible outpouring of generosity. A third of the gifts were $10. So think of all those $10 gifts adding up, eventually, with larger gifts, to total $2.25 million.”
Friends of City Park didn’t know what to expect going in, Duplechain said. But the outcome was a game-changing demonstration of how powerful giving days could be.
“We had gone in and thought, if we raised a couple thousand dollars, that would be great,” she said. “If we raised $500, that would’ve been great.
“But we walked away with almost $20,000 for the day, and it was really exciting. We were attached to our phones. We were all up until midnight looking at it.
“We got third place for the most unique donors in the small organization category, and we were in the top three all day for that category, which gets you additional funds.”
GiveNOLA boosts donations with prizes for the amount raised and the number of unique donors. First prize in each category earns $10,000, second $5,000 and third $3,000.
There are also Rock Around the Clock prizes that award $1,000 to a random organization every hour, and “lagniappe funds,” something just a little extra for each organization.
“The lagniappe fund is essentially just adding a little Hamburger Helper to the amount of money organizations raise on May 5,” Ruesga explained. “Say if altogether we raise $5 million and an organization raises 10 percent of that figure, that means they would also get 10 percent of the special lagniappe fund. So you get part of that lagniappe fund that’s in proportion to the amount you raised of the total.”
The Greater New Orleans Foundation and GiveNOLA Day’s sponsors raised the lagniappe fund and the additional prizes.
“Entergy is the presenting sponsor for GiveNOLA, and we are getting involved because it is a wonderful way to encourage everyone in the community to do whatever they can to help the nonprofits that make our community a wonderful place to live,” said Patty Riddlebarger, Entergy’s director of corporate social responsibility. “The beauty of GiveNOLA Day is that every donation is maximized because of the sponsors that participate.”
Because of the success of last year’s GiveNOLA Day, Ruesga and organizers have raised the bar for 2015. This year’s goal is $3 million.
Though it might seem a lofty ambition, GiveNOLA has also nearly doubled the number of nonprofits involved, from 309 to 574.
One of the newcomers is Hotel Hope, a startup nonprofit aiming to provide emergency housing to women and children.
The shelter, on South Broad Street in Broadmoor, was once a convent. During Hurricane Katrina, it took on 8 feet of water. Empty since, renovations are beginning now that Hotel Hope has raised enough money; the next priority is operational costs. The shelter will be able to serve about 40 families when it opens in 2016.
GiveNOLA Day is a great opportunity to tell people about Hotel Hope’s mission and ideally raise some money for the shelter, although Sister Mary Lou Specha, the shelter’s executive director and former director of Café Reconcile, believes the act of giving to any organization during the day should be celebrated.
“We’re asking people to support us, but I’m not going to get upset if somebody chooses another nonprofit,” she said. “I’m just happy that people have the opportunity to support the organizations that are doing such great work in our city.”
Ruesga remembers the exhilaration of the first GiveNOLA Day.
“For those participating and tuned in, there was a feeling of connection with other people across the city,” he said. “The last time I remember feeling that was after the Saints’ Super Bowl victory. It was a pretty incredible experience.”