Why we no longer need the Amazing Raise

The Community Foundation announced the end of their big 36-hour giving event, and you, like us, may have been shocked. But you, like us, might need to hear TCF’s CEO, Sherrie Brach assure you that it’s a good thing.

The end of an era (well, a five-year span of time, anyway)–The Community Foundation has announced that last year’s Amazing Raise was the final iteration.

“It’s been such a great and successful run,” says CEO Sherrie Brach of the 36-hour long giving bonanza, which, it turns out, was never explicitly intended to go on forever. “I think a lot of organizations have been able to build their visibility and awareness, and my heart really goes out to the people who have given so much.”

But here’s the thing. When the first Amazing Raise whipped up a frenzy of quick giving in 2011, online giving just didn’t have that much of a presence. “It was in a good place and time to be able to ramp up our ability to engage that way,” says Brach. The Community Foundation’s entire purpose is to be a resource for nonprofits, and five years ago, one of the most effective ways to do that was to create a useful database of area nonprofits for donors and for the organizations themselves while also helping nonprofits engage with new donors.

“To that extent, it’s worked,” Brach says. “It’s really built a muscle around that sector.”

But, the tipping point has been reached. The database hasn’t expanded in the past year, and neither has the number of new donors. Organizations that participate in the Amazing Raise usually commit a lot of energy, time, and resources to campaigning, and some of them would really rather put that towards their annual giving campaigns. “They have to make strategic decisions about whether this gives them the most bang for their buck or whether this gives them the opportunty to engage with our core donors year-round,” she explains. And a lot of the time, the Amazing Raise just didn’t. “Many felt like it was kind of cannibalizing their annual donation campaign.”

With all of those factors coming into play, numbers were down last year, goals weren’t reached, and many organizations just opted out.

In other words, TCF feels like area nonprofits have online giving down, now, and might want to be on their own timetable about it.

Sherrie Brach points to the idea of “Giving Tuesday,” the latest in the “Name a Day of the Week During the Seven Days Following Thanksgiving” trend. But unlike Black Friday or Cyber Monday–both which were named and identified because of actual existing spending trends, and have now turned around and dictated those spending trends–Giving Tuesday is a purpose-driven, nationally agreed-upon day during which consumers are reminded that their dollars can also go towards the greater good.

Brach’s noticed that Giving Tuesday hasn’t caught on as much in Richmond as it has in other locations around the country, and she worries that it’s because it’s only two months after the Raise. Not everyone can give so often, and almost no one wants to be asked to give so often. “Online giving is here to stay, and it’s going to be a big part of giving, especially for the younger generation,” she says. “In my opinion that’s where organizations are going to have to spend their resources. But a raise day can be an entry point–we’d rather get in the business of promoting Giving Tuesday. Having two giving days back to back is just not efficient. Crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, giving days…all of those are a big part of the way fundraising is going to happen.”

The market is saturated, she says, using as an example Amazon’s “Smile” program, which lets you choose the organization that will benefit from a small percentage of the money you spend on the site. You can give easily now, while you’re buying dog food online. Or, you can give during your favorite organization’s annual fund drive.

“There’s a lot of stuff in that space–you can easily find a thing that resonate with you and that will get you excited about giving,” says Brach.

We’ll miss the excitement and the drama surrounding the Raise, but putting that energy into Giving Tuesday–with, hopefully, just as many corporations willing to chip in and make things more interesting–could fill the void.

Thanks, TCF, for five years of raising not just funds but awareness of how much nonprofits need our help.

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Susan Howson

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  1. Julia Henderson on said:

    I applaud TCF for such a thoughtful and well considered decision in support of our community nonprofits. Good work!

  2. I’m glad that they are looking for a new way to help non-profits. I for one am very excited to stop getting 36,000 Amazing Raise emails from every organization every single year they do this.

  3. Hutch Path on said:

    This all sounds suspect to me. The advantage of the Amazing Raise was its intense “localness”. Amazon Smile and others miss that sense of connection, while for profit groups grab exorbitant fees that take advantage of non profits. This seems less a decision based on reality of the situation than a decision driven be a new executive with a different set of priorities. After 5 years of building excitement and focusing attention on giving in the region, they abandon the effort to say “others are doing it.” It’s sad, lacks a sense of leadership, and frankly, seems lazy. It’s a shame visionary leadership has given way to lack of effort.

  4. David B. Ribinson, CPA on said:

    My personal, private opinion as a donor: The Amazing Raise built tremendous momentum for any organization that wanted to break from tradition and use it in targeted ways to enhance existing relationships and find new ones. If the Amazing Raise “spoke” to certain donors–put them in charge of it as Volunteer Chairs. It was free money. If an organization ignored or disliked or purposefully sat-out the Amazing Raise, it insulted those that gave the other 363 days of the year.

  5. Josh L on said:

    I have to echo the sentiments of Hutch’s comment. This cessation just feels fishy and the “explanation” provided just seems like something that someone in PR came up with as a reason to cancel an incredibly successful program. I don’t know what The Community Foundation ever got out of it to begin with (a minor cut of all the donations?) and I do acknowledge that it sure seemed like a lot of hard work, but it felt like a very Richmond thing that people excitedly got behind and was successful. Yes giving was down last year, but down ~only~ to $1.8 million. I’m fairly positive that a good portion of that money would have stayed in people’s pockets without the effort of The Amazing Raise, despite programs like Amazon Smile and Giving Tuesday, so to say the program is no longer needed is undoubtedly going to hurt the bottom line of many of the charitable foundations that benefited from it.

  6. Lydia on said:

    I don’t think the Amazing Raise was totally successful in that heavy hitters like the Symphony and WCVE tended to dominate. They have well-oiled fundraising machines in place and took the wind out of the sails of smaller orgs.

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