Big Day, daily need

Before social distancing, Loaves & Fishes' breakfast program served approximately 1,000 guests each morning. (Photo courtesy of Loaves and Fishes)

When nonprofits need cash now, what’s the incentive to wait for Big Day of Giving?

Each year on the first Thursday in May, roughly 600 Sacramento-area nonprofits rally for the Big Day of Giving, a one-day fundraising blitz run by the Sacramento Region Community Foundation.

The frenzy of activity includes challenges and bonus prizes provided by the philanthropic arms of local corporations, including Western Health Advantage, Nugget Markets, Golden1 Credit Union and SMUD. (Sacramento News & Review is listed as one of the 22 media partners.)

#BDOG can breathe new life into the repetitive quarterly appeal letters most individual donors get from their favorite charities. But Big Day also requires nonprofits to spend months preparing and implementing marketing plans, lining up corporate matching donors and completing follow-up accounting and gratitude tasks. There’s also a six-week lag as the Community Foundation calculates its modest administrative fees and disburses checks. In a regular year, that process has been worth the reward. In 2019, the Big Day of Giving brought in $8.4 million.

This year, it falls on May 7, and scheduling for donations begins on Monday, April 20.

But many nonprofits need money right now.

With the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down businesses, 2.7 million Californians have filed unemployment claims in the last month. So nonprofits are seeing a decline in income from regular donors, and it seems unlikely this year’s Big Day will be as successful.

The Community Foundation is trying to adapt. In a statement to SN&R, Niva Flor, the foundation’s chief impact & strategy officer, pointed to its role in rapid-response grants to nonprofits, among numerous efforts to help those hurt by the pandemic.

Flor also outlined some changes in Big Day: “We released updated resources to help nonprofit partners adjust their campaigns (everything from sample messages and social media graphics to Zoom backgrounds and a coloring book), we added an optional new ‘alert’ banner to their profiles so they can share how they’re responding to the pandemic and we are sending funds via e-checks this year, so nonprofits can get their donations more quickly and without having to go to their offices to pick up paper checks.”

Still, Loaves & Fishes recognized early in the COVID-19 pandemic that those changes would not be enough to address their needs.

“It shouldn’t take a pandemic for us to learn that social change can only really begin when causes are resourced and community trust is present.”

Erika Prasad, Loaves and Fishes development director

“The Big Day of Giving provides critical resources for many nonprofits in Sacramento and is one of the few public platforms to gather unrestricted funding,” Erika Prasad, development director at Sacramento Loaves & Fishes, said in an email. “Unrestricted funding is imperative to nonprofits, because it lets us do the roll-up-your sleeves work connected to our cause.”

While Prasad credits the foundation for the platform it provides, she also believes that it is not ideal for all nonprofits:

“[Despite] good philanthropic intentions, campaigns like BDOG still perpetuate the capitalistic competition between nonprofits that already exists in local philanthropy, and further marginalizes community-based organizations (CBOs) that are often led and driven by people of color. In brief, those organizations that are already the most well-resourced, well-connected and publicized are going to see the largest benefit.”

To that end, Loaves & Fishes has rolled its Big Day of Giving efforts into a larger awareness campaign called “Radical Roots, Community Branches,” with the overarching celebration of Dorothy Day, the radical anarchist and leader of the Catholic Worker Movement.

“Day’s ‘houses of hospitality’ are what the Delanys, our founders, modeled Loaves & Fishes after,” Prasad said in the email. “The global health and economic crisis is a testament to how loyal and generous Loaves & Fishes supporters are in validating our mission. It shouldn’t take a pandemic for us to learn that social change can only really begin when causes are resourced and community trust (which includes local/regional foundations) is present.”

Then there’s Waking the Village, a nonprofit in Oak Park that provides, among many services, housing to those who may otherwise be on the street. Its director, Bridget Alexander, acknowledges the role of Big Day of Giving in building awareness and fostering a sense of community.

“I love the spirit of [Big Day]. It’s fun to rally folks behind a goal and cheer folks on with memes and videos,” Alexander said. “The funds we raise on are critical to our survival, as they are some of the only unrestricted funds we get that allow us to do exactly what is needed to support youth and children overcoming homelessness.”

But standing out and making sure you’re heard on Big Day can be difficult, especially this year.

“[It] brings a lot of noise to cut through in a time when folks are overwhelmed. Hundreds of nonprofits try to tell their story simultaneously,” she said. “We will definitely be joining … but we will also make sure to keep telling our story and opening up all possible avenues for folks to give.”

Alexander also notes that more immediate, direct fundraising platforms on social media are more useful for Waking the Village. For a recent Facebook update, it found that adding a donate button to their post was a simple but effective way of bringing in more donations.

“I’m imagining that most [of] those folks will not be ready to give again on [Big Day of Giving], and that’s completely understandable” Alexander said. “We need the funds now, and [Facebook donations] ensured funds landed quickly.”

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