The Community Foundation of Utah switched its popular annual day of fundraising — Love Utah Give Utah — from March to November this year, ditched its central donation platform and did away with its online “leaderboard” that encouraged a little friendly competition among the state’s nonprofits.
With those changes — and likely because of them — the number of participating charities fell by 14 percent, from 451 organizations in 2017 to 386 this year.
The foundation doesn’t know yet how much money was raised by those who participated; it won’t start gathering that information until midweek and doesn’t expect totals for at least two weeks. But at least one group that didn’t drop out wondered if it should have.
“It was a huge disappointment," said Jamie Usry, development director for the Humane Society of Utah.
The society has participated every year in the 24-hour fundraising blitz, which began in 2013. It would typically raise between $30,000 and $50,000 in the spring event. That total was boosted even more in the years when it won a prize from the Community Foundation of Utah for placing in the top three for its category (with groupings based on size or mission).
But along with eliminating the leaderboard that tracked donations to individual charities, there were no cash prizes this year for organizations that raised the most money.
“There was no incentive or opportunity to earn more money," Usry said.
The community foundation had also decided to move its event from March to the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving, aligning it with the national Giving Tuesday campaign where people are asked to donate to charities for the holidays.
But Usry pointed out that the Humane Society already held an annual fundraiser that day. Having one fundraiser on the same day as the national effort, instead of having two at different times of the year, wasn’t effective, Usry said.
The society got its typical $30,000 haul on Giving Tuesday. Only $55 of that came through people donating with Love Utah Give Utah, which is now called Love Utah Give Tuesday. And without the additional big fundraiser in March, when it typically raised even more, the society now will have to make adjustments to its budget, which is much smaller for the coming year.
Usry said she liked having the separate day earlier in the year to donate locally because it encouraged people to “give where you live.”
Rosemary Roller, community relations manager for Community Foundation of Utah, said the organization will “do an evaluation over the next month and see if it was really worthwhile. You never know how people are going to receive it."
The date change was intended to make it less of a challenge for people to give, she said, by reaching out when they’re feeling generous during the holiday season and not when they’re trying to file their taxes in the spring.
“It just seems to be a bit easier time of year to get people to give,” she said. “And it’s a way that nonprofits can leverage additional dollars. There’s more match-funding around this time of year, so we had a lot of donors that ended up finding matching grants for Giving Tuesday.”
The foundation’s spring campaign raised more than $5 million in its first five years. This year, it stopped using Razoo.com — an online fundraising platform — which took “about 9 percent in fees” in 2017, Roller added.
This year, the foundation set up a central website that directed donors to the charity of their choice based on their interests — donors could click on an animal icon, for example, and go to a list of animal charities from which they could choose.
The changes were made in an attempt to be proactive, Roller said, and to ensure that the yearly event would be “sustainable.” Along with surveying participating nonprofits about how much they raised on Giving Tuesday, the foundation will be asking how the charities feel about the changes.
“We were pretty excited about it," Roller said. “We felt pretty good about the transition.”
Roller said the foundation has received both positive and negative feedback.
“There are some people who really liked the leaderboard,” Roller said. But the bigger, more familiar charities “tended to make it toward the top, because that’s what people know," she said, and the smaller ones often fell to the bottom.
And Justice For All, a Salt Lake City-based nonprofit that provides free legal services for individuals in need, raised $10,000 on Giving Tuesday, about what it did annually during the Love Utah Give Utah events in March. The organization’s interim executive director, Kelly Striefel, said the changes made the campaign better this year — particularly getting rid of the leaderboard.
“I think it really helped us to just kind of focus on ourselves and our messaging and our approach instead of comparing to others," Striefel said.
The group also raised more money through smaller donations and first-time givers this year, she said.
Plan-B Theatre Company, though, believes the changes made the event generic, rather than local and different.
“Up until this year, I think Love Utah Give Utah was doing something really special," said its artistic director, Jerry Rapier.
The theater group decided to drop the Love Utah logo from its marketing to avoid any confusion.
“I am not a fan at all or a supporter of the change," Rapier said, noting his concerns have “fallen on deaf ears ... It was a little disheartening.”
The company raised $12,000 on Giving Tuesday this year. Last year with the Utah Community Foundation, it raised $25,000 in the spring, plus the money raised on Giving Tuesday.
The Moab Valley Multicultural Center, a facility that bridges language and cultural divides, had decided to still hold its own fundraiser in March this year instead of switching to Giving Tuesday.
“It just wasn’t great timing for us to move everything to Tuesday. It didn’t make sense for us," said the group’s executive director, Rhiana Medina.
The center raised $22,000 this spring — surpassing the amount it raised, even with winning prize money, when it participated in Love Utah Give Utah.
Medina said the group appreciates the foundation “for giving us that template" and helping “this tiny nonprofit in rural Utah make a name for ourselves." But the center liked the competitive aspects of the fundraiser previously and felt the new model fell flat.