GIV­ING SANS GLITCHES

Non­prof­its make plans in case tech trouble hits Give to the Max.

Star Tribune - - MINNESOTA - By LIZ SAWYER • liz.sawyer@star­tri­bune.com

Some of Min­nesota’s big­gest non­prof­its are fol­low­ing a new strat­egy to feed off the en­ergy of Thurs­day’s Give to the Max Day, the 24-hour giv­ing ex­trav­a­ganza that has grap­pled re­peat­edly with tech prob­lems.

Non­prof­its lean on Give to the Max Day — the state’s largest an­nual one-day fundrais­ing ef­fort — to draw sup­port­ers who may be un­fa­mil­iar with their name but sym­pa­thetic to their cause. But tech­ni­cal mishaps with the fundrais­ing in­ter­face have frus­trated donors and par­tic­i­pat­ing char­i­ties on what is of­ten their sin­gle largest mon­ey­mak­ing day of the year.

Fear­ful of more glitches, some non­prof­its are di­vert­ing loyal donors to their own

on­line plat­forms, while still let­ting new bene­fac­tors dis­cover them on the Give to the Max web­site, GiveMN.org.

Pop­u­lar or­ga­ni­za­tions like Twin Ci­ties Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity have blasted splashy e-mails en­cour­ag­ing sub­scribers to “Give to the Max,” yet those who click on the hy­per­link em­bed­ded in the phrase are redi­rected to the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s pri­vate donor page rather than GiveMN. org. A Habi­tat spokes­woman said they’re sim­ply adopt­ing a “two-pronged ap­proach” meant to cap­ture ev­ery pos­si­ble dol­lar.

The An­i­mal Hu­mane So­ci­ety, the fifth-high­est-gross­ing non­profit on Give to the Max Day last year, shifted re­sources away from pro­mo­tions linked to the fundraiser, like puppy grams, to­ward se­cur­ing gifts ahead of time by rais­ing aware­ness at their shel­ters. The goal is to make the Hu­mane So­ci­ety more self-suf­fi­cient should the GiveMN web­site crash, said com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor Paul Soren­son.

“We haven’t been able to rely on the tech­nol­ogy. This is an op­por­tu­nity to con­trol all the pieces and tell our own story,” Soren­son said. “We’re try­ing to have the best of both worlds.”

In 2016, GiveMN shat­tered fundrais­ing records by rak­ing in $20.1 mil­lion for 6,000 schools and other non­prof­its. How­ever, on­line con­trib­u­tors bat­tled seven hours of tech­ni­cal ob­sta­cles, re­ly­ing on a bare-bones backup site to process $3.5 mil­lion in do­na­tions with­out the ben­e­fit of the main web­site’s run­ning to­tals or leader­boards. To quell dis­con­tent, GiveMN re­funded to the non­prof­its its 6.9 per­cent trans­ac­tion fees — to­tal­ing about $300,000 — from when the web­site was down.

“We know that we have not al­ways met ex­pec­ta­tions,” said GiveMN Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Jake Blum­berg, whose site has fal­tered to some de­gree three of the last four years.

That’s why Blum­berg does not be­grudge the non­prof­its’ con­tin­gency ef­forts. He en­cour­ages par­tic­i­pants to adopt which­ever strat­egy they find most suc­cess­ful.

“At the end of the day, our mis­sion is to grow giv­ing and ig­nite gen­eros­ity — and as long as giv­ing is hap­pen­ing, whether that’s through our plat­form or an­other, we’re happy,” he said.

Some or­ga­ni­za­tions will pig­gy­back on Give to the Max Day with their own special mar­ket­ing ef­forts.

At the Min­nesota Zoo, staffers plan to broad­cast live on Face­book ev­ery hour to pro­vide a be­hind-the-scenes peek at the fa­cil­ity af­ter dark. When the clock strikes mid­night on Thurs­day, zookeep­ers will ed­u­cate view­ers on noc­tur­nal an­i­mals — which are most ac­tive long af­ter the pub­lic leaves.

They’ll so­licit do­na­tions on so­cial me­dia, while di­rect­ing their most es­tab­lished donors to a pri­vate por­tal where flashy images of chee­tahs and mon­keys lock eyes with an­i­mal lovers. Sup­port­ers can also choose ex­actly where they’d like their money to go, rang­ing from vet­eri­nary care to con­ser­va­tion.

The zoo still tags its pro­mo­tional pages with the Give to the Max la­bel.

“We don’t want peo­ple to lose sight of who cre­ated this day,” said zoo spokesman Josh Le. Re­main­ing on the GiveMN plat­form is im­per­a­tive to ex­pand­ing the in­sti­tu­tion’s reach, Le said. “It’s so wellestab­lished. Peo­ple au­to­mat­i­cally go there to browse.”

Fol­low­ing last year’s tech prob­lems, the An­i­mal Hu­mane So­ci­ety ques­tioned its fu­ture with GiveMN. Ad­min­is­tra­tors had scram­bled to up­date the group’s 110,000 sub­scribers while the main site was down, redirecting donors to a pri­vate page that raised $49,000.

But they were un­sure how many peo­ple walked away in frus­tra­tion. Their do­na­tions to­taled $200,000, down about 20 per­cent from 2015.

“You only have that one chance,” Soren­son said. “Peo­ple are un­likely to come back.”

This time around, the or­ga­ni­za­tion opted to start rais­ing funds sooner, tim­ing its ef­forts with Na­tional An­i­mal Shel­ter Week.

The ef­fort would give the Hu­mane So­ci­ety a fi­nan­cial cush­ion should Give to the Max Day get off to a bumpy start.

But not ev­ery or­ga­ni­za­tion felt obliged to make ma­jor changes.

Days af­ter the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Planned Par­ent­hood Min­nesota, North Dakota, South Dakota was flooded with more than $250,000 in do­na­tions routed through the GiveMN plat­form to fund med­i­cal care and ed­u­ca­tion.

“It’s such an im­por­tant day in Min­nesota,” said spokes­woman Jen Aul­wes. “Peo­ple re­ally want to sup­port their com­mu­nity.”

This time around, GiveMN has more con­fi­dence the process will run smoothly.

Or­ga­niz­ers con­ducted an ex­ten­sive post mortem to iden­tify what over­loaded the sys­tem man­aged by its Austin, Tex­as­based soft­ware part­ner, Kim­bia. The com­pany has since made re­pairs to ease traf­fic flow. GiveMN sweet­ened the pot this year by dou­bling the num­ber of prize draw­ings for par­tic­i­pat­ing non­prof­its and re­ward­ing early do­na­tions from Nov. 1-15.

Or­ga­niz­ers sur­veyed nearly 800 non­profit par­tic­i­pants who said they want Give to the Max Day to stick around. More than half said they would lose do­na­tions with­out the fundraiser.

How­ever, they stressed that the site must be re­li­able. Blum­berg said GiveMN may look to can­cel its con­tract with Kim­bia if prob­lems per­sist. The backup site is ready, just in case, he said. “But I sure hope we don’t have to use it.” the in­con­ve­nience to the en­tire com­mu­nity while or­ga­niz­ing a safe and se­cure 10-day event. “We will con­tinue to com­mu­ni­cate these im­pacts early and of­ten, and will keep our fo­cus on en­sur­ing res­i­dents and vis­i­tors alike can get where they need to go, in­clud­ing via pub­lic tran­sit,” she said in a state­ment.

The buses will run be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter the game un­til the light-rail trains are back on their reg­u­lar sched­ules. The game starts at roughly 5:30 p.m. and takes at least three hours — not in­clud­ing ex­tended postgame cer­e­monies.

Photos by GLEN STUBBE • glen.stubbe@star­tri­bune.com

Fu­ture Habi­tat home buyer Sy Her painted the rear entrance of a Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity house in north Min­neapo­lis.

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