North Texas nonprofits have had a year like no other. The pandemic increased need and demand to unprecedented levels. It decimated the volunteer force and disrupted in-person fundraising efforts that so many rely on. The call for help was so urgent that North Texas Giving Day, which normally holds its center-stage charity event in September, collaborated with United Way Metropolitan Dallas and the Dallas Cowboys to create an emergency day of donations on May 5.
But today is the main event, the annual region-wide fundraiser that last year generated a record $50 million for about 3,000 nonprofits. Organizers have the ambitious goal of topping that number again, despite the unique nature of this year’s edition.
North Texas Giving Day is an 18-hour online donation initiative that marshals a large network of nonprofits and connects them to individual donors. The effort is led by Communities Foundation of Texas and seeks to engage communities in causes that are relevant to them, from grassroots movements to larger operations like the Salvation Army. (Full disclosure, D editor Tim Rogers’ wife, Christine, handles its PR.)
This year, of course, North Texas Giving Day looks a little different. About 24 percent of participating nonprofits are new to the event. That’s 787 additional organizations. There are new search filters, which allow donors to locate nonprofits led by Black, Latinx, indigenous, or people of color, a response to the social justice reforms called for in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.
The online portal is nothing new, but the marketing approach has always involved in-person events. This year, in light of social distancing measures, that can’t happen. So the organization got creative.
Dave Scullin, CEO of Communities Foundation of Texas, highlighted a socially-distanced car parade that took place on September 3.
“We had booths set up, we had food trucks, we had a band, we had a disc jockey out there,” he says.
The event attracted 200 cars. Participants were all handed masks on arrival to enjoy the offerings as safely as possible.
“We had a ball to celebrate this togetherness and this community fellowship and reinforce how important this work that we are doing is to others,” Scullin says.
The lineup of activities also included a live-streamed panel titled “Cause-Minded Conversation: Leading While Black” on September 1. Later this evening, there will be a socially-distanced, free outdoor concert at Levitt Pavilion in Arlington.
Though social distancing presented unique challenges in promoting North Texas Giving Day, the support is vital to many nonprofits this year. Jay Dunn, the managing director for Salvation Army of North Texas, describes uncertainty going into the colder months.
“We’re not sure what the holiday season will be like,” he says. “But we know that many of the stores that we traditionally have had red kettles at we won’t be able to work with and so revenue streams like this that are consistent are very helpful.”
Salvation Army North Texas’ 21 sites run a $75 million operation, about half of which comes from contributions. Though North Texas Giving Day’s early giving has raised $95,000 for the Salvation Army so far, the organization is in a $6.8 million revenue hole without its typical in-person event fundraisers.
The Salvation Army provides addiction recovery and shelter to hundreds of people every day. Its community centers are welcoming double their average number of people, largely due to the economic impact of the pandemic. Donations from North Texas Giving Day will help maintain daily operations and rebooting their after-school programs, Dunn says.
Smaller nonprofits are suffering in a similar fashion without in-person fundraising opportunities. Faith in Texas is a grassroots nonprofit that tackles community needs by organizing faith-based organizations like mosques, synagogues, and churches. It strives to educate people on how they can effect change through programs like its voter engagement initiative.
At the onset of the pandemic and as the Black Lives Matter movement poured into Dallas’ streets, Faith in Texas addressed the spread of the virus among the jail population that didn’t have the money to bail out while awaiting trial. Faith in Texas launched the 4:18 Luke Bail Fund, attracting donations from individuals, small businesses, and student groups. This year, with fewer congregations meeting in person, Faith in Texas’ fundraising opportunities have decreased significantly.
Akilah Wallace, the nonprofit’s executive director, says the organization hopes the money from North Texas Giving Day can go toward its effort to convince Dallas County to invest more money into direct social services. In 2019, the event helped Faith in Texas raise $5,026, and this year they’ve raised $1,384 through early giving.
“We are really grateful for the North Texas Giving Day and the CFT team for the way they helped center organizations that address racial inequity in North Texas as well as voter engagement efforts and issues-based organizing,” says Wallace.
With 3,300 nonprofits registered this year (a 24 percent increase), every penny will count.
“It’s not about the total amount of money you’re giving. It’s giving to be part of something that’s bigger,” Scullin stresses.
Against all odds, early giving this year shattered previous records, raising $15 million. Last year, without a pandemic, early giving brought in $8 million. So there’s a head start—and plenty of time to help get above last year’s record. The nonprofits need it more than ever.