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Arizona non-profits online Wednesday for funding

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The Arizona Republic - March 20, 2013

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Arizona non-profits online Wednesday for funding

By Eugene Scott The Republic

Arizona non-profits hope to collect at least $2 million by midnight Wednesday from residents by encouraging online giving.

The Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits and Arizona Grantmakers Forum launched Arizona Gives Day, a 24-hour fundraiser, this morning.

Donors can choose from about 800 non-profits registered for the event. Never before have this many organizations come together to attract new donors and ask them to give online, said Marissa Theisen, president and CEO of Arizona Grantmakers Forum.

Leaders of the organizations got the idea from other states that have used giving-day events to generate funds for non-profits. Minnesota, Alabama and Colorado are among a few states that have held giving-day events. The events are widely considered successful, with some exceeding their fund-raising goal by at least $1 million, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Arizona Gives Day organizers have been planning this event for a year, and they hope to make it an annual event.

Theisen said Arizona’s non-profit and philanthropic community and local governments have jumped at the opportunity to pour more into what leaders say is a $24 billion industry. She hopes residents get on board.

“In Arizona, at least one in nine employees in the state works for a non-profit, so it’s an important sector,” she said. “But I don’t think it gets the coverage and the acknowledgment of what it does.”

To spread the word, organizations were asked to contact new potential donors via e-mail and to engage users on social media before the event.

Theisen said online giving is significant because of its relative ease for donors. Non-profits often receive the funds faster and don’t have to spend money on direct mailings and fund-raising events.

As gifts from corporations and foundations dried up during the recession, non-profits increasingly looked to individuals to make up the deficit. Theisen hopes that, through giving online, new donors see how easy being philanthropic can be.

The types of organizations involved in Arizona Gives Day run the gamut from ballet companies to cancer research to animal-rescue shelters. The event’s website allows users to find non-profits categorized by cause, provides a description of the charity and, in some cases, explains what the money could support. For example, a $200 donation could buy one motion-triggered camera for the Northern Jaguar Project Inc.

“We recognized that Arizona contributions in general are below average for charitable contributions, and we knew that we had a lot of citizens that were interested in supporting our non-profits but just weren’t encouraged to do so in a big way,” she said.

Most smaller non-profits do not have development directors dedicated to bringing in dollars and often don’t have a presence on Facebook or Twitter, tools often used to generate online donations, Theisen said. Forty percent of the registered non-profits have total budgets of less than $250,000, she said.

“We realized that this was a potential opportunity to use new technology, particularly online donations and social media, which are the fastest-growing segment of charitable contributions, to educate the non-profits on how to increase their charitable-giving results,” she said.

Although non-profits that provide food and shelter have received the most funding during the economic downturn, even they’ve seen cuts in giving, said Patrick McWhortor, president and CEO of Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits.

“Many of them have, over the years, historically relied on significant dollars from the public sector, and those have been cut back quite a bit and, depending on what happens with the federal budget, will be going down even further,” he said.

Philanthropic studies suggest online giving is popular with people in their 20s and early 30s. Leaders hope Arizona Gives Day catches the eye of the state’s older, wealthier population.

Robert Ashcraft, executive director of the Arizona State University Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation, said, “I’ve seen data that says one of the fastest-growing segments of Facebook is the older generation.”

Shari Capra, 64, of Phoenix, said pushing people to give online could make giving more attractive. “Quite frankly, I do both giving online and in the mail. But, obviously, donating online, from my vantage point, is relatively simple,” she said.

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