36-Hour Giving Challenge taps into community's essential generosity

Posted on March 29, 2012 by Janet Coats

This post isn’t directly about journalism but trust me, it is all going to connect in the end.

It’s connections that have me thinking this morning – the ways we can use technology to connect people so that they can do good in the world, and the ways we tend to those connections through personal outreach.

Watching Sarasota’s unfold during the past two days has been a lesson in connection. In just 36 hours, the Giving Challenge drew nearly $2.4 million in contributions from nearly 11,000 individual donors in support of 109 area charities.

That’s some pretty powerful connecting right there. Add to it the fact that the challenge served to launch a powerful online donation tool called The Giving Partner, and you see the possibilities for sustained connection. Then you do just a little more addition, and realize that the whole effort is a collaboration among the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Gulf Coast Community Foundation and the Manatee Community Foundation.

Finally, one last bit of math: The Patterson Foundation, which has connective tissue as its middle name, provided the accelerant for this effort by funding The Giving Partner platform and providing matching grants to fuel the Giving Challenge. This is one of the things I love most about working with TPF: the understanding of the multiplier effect strategic partnering can have.

Just looking at all the connections that have been made to launch The Giving Partner tool and support the Giving Challenge would make a great case study in connection and collaboration. But what has fascinated me as I’ve watched this unfold has been the deepening connections among local charities and the very deep desire of individuals in this community to make a difference.

Never have I wanted to run a news organization more than this week, and here’s why: The phenomenal response to the Giving Challenge is a perfect example of Sarasota’s master narrative. As an editor, I long told my newsrooms that every community has a master narrative: the overarching story through which you can understand nearly every other story. To me, a spirit of generosity and philanthropy form the core of Sarasota’s master narrative.

The Giving Challenge and the ongoing The Giving Partner platform provide a way to tap into that spirit so that we can all start to see just how deep it runs. This is a powerful bit of storytelling about what makes this community distinctive, and I’d love to go beyond the scorecard of which organizations raised what amount to better understand the connections between charities and those who support them.

For instance, I was surprised to see Manatee Players at the top of the leader board, both for unique donations and total raised. But that group has big goal in mind: the Players are in the midst of a capital campaign to raise money for a new theater.

Still, having a goal and motivating people to act on it are two different things. How did Manatee Players activate so much giving? What does that say about the organization’s relationships with its donors and with the broader community? How can other organizations learn from the way this group is tending to its relationships?

I watched with interest the organizations that my family supports during the Giving Challenge. Several of them reached out to me via email to make sure I was aware of the challenge and to urge me to participate. One of them – Florida Studio Theatre – sent home materials with my daughter from her acting class, and touched me directly several times through email, including a “One Hour Left!’’ plea.

But some of the other organizations I support never contacted me, never made me aware of the opportunity to leverage my money through this challenge. Some of these are big groups, with powerful fund-raising reputations. So why didn’t they tend this relationship with me? I’m curious about the opportunities missed.

Here’s where I tie this all back to my own work with TPF on journalism: If there is one thing I’ve learned in the last three years, it is that we focus on the technology to the exclusion of building relationships at our peril. The wondrous array of digital tools available to all of us every day creates opportunity to build connection, to sustain conversation, to deepen relationships. But using those tools for that purpose requires intention and follow-through.

This is the mix we’ve been building in our Journalism Accelerator project: Using technology to enhance our abilities to connect, share and learn. It’s a low-tech/high-touch approach, and we’re pleased with the progress we’re seeing from it.

The Giving Partner presents a similar opportunity: A technology platform with a wonderful user experience (the thing is a joy to use) that opens up new worlds of connection.

The goal for all such efforts, whether Journalism Accelerator or The Giving Partner, should be for the technology to fade into the background, while we focus on ways to leverage the connections it enables. By all appearances, the Giving Challenge was a great step in this direction. It will be fascinating for an engagement geek like me to watch how it builds from here.

  • Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.


Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest.