Give It Up 

Idaho Gives launches May 2 give-a-thon

Jim Everett, of the Treasure Valley Family YMCA (left); Lynn Hoffmann, of the Idaho Nonprofit Center (center); and Laura Schultz, of Easter Seals-Goodwill Northern Rocky Mountain Region (right).

Laurie Pearman

Jim Everett, of the Treasure Valley Family YMCA (left); Lynn Hoffmann, of the Idaho Nonprofit Center (center); and Laura Schultz, of Easter Seals-Goodwill Northern Rocky Mountain Region (right).

At the stroke of midnight Thursday, May 2, Idaho embarks on a unique 24-hour statewide exercise--albeit voluntary--and with the possible exception of an election, the campaign that will be Idaho Gives could become a statewide test of how Idahoans see nonprofits as a solution to many of the state's biggest challenges, including education, health care and a robust workforce. Simply put, the give-a-thon will ask donors to financially support those charitable organizations that they see as integral to Idaho.

But organizers, even facing a recession-ravaged donor base, are anything but nervous; in fact, they have reason to believe their initiative is a success right out of the gate.

"It's a bit like an old-fashioned barn-raising. We're all going to come together this Thursday," said Jim Everett.

Everett has raised more than a few roofs in his day--over gymnasiums, pools and campgrounds--as executive director of the Treasure Valley Family YMCA. Familiar to wealthy benefactors and the neediest of his neighbors, Everett's soft-spoken demeanor is matched only by his fiery passion for nonprofits.

"Think of the issues our nation is facing. They will be solved, quite often, by the nonprofit sector," he said. "Education has always been our ticket to the American dream, and fixing our education systems will be solved with nonprofit partnerships. We have a health care crisis in this country, and 80 percent of most disease relates backs to obesity. That's probably not going to be solved exclusively within the health care system."

But fundamental change crafted and managed by nonprofits--the kind of change that steers clear of politics--doesn't come for free.

"I'll take Jim's analogy and offer another from this century. May 2 is more like crowdfunding," said Lynn Hoffmann, executive director of the Idaho Nonprofit Center.

Borrowing a new and, so-far, wildly successful idea used in a few states (Minnesota, Alabama) and communities (King County, Wash.; Park City, Utah), more than 500 Idaho nonprofits will share a one-time cyber platform, idahogives.org, from midnight to 11:59 p.m. on May 2.

"Idahoans will be asked to walk through, so to speak, an online door," said Laura Schultz, assistant vice president of development for Easter Seals-Goodwill's Northern Rocky Mountain Region, which includes Idaho. "I've been talking to nonprofits all across the state and a number of them said they really have had no way for people to contribute online." And, Hoffmann said, walking through an "online door" to meet a nonprofit will probably be a new experience for many, adding that similar give-a-thons saw more than 60 percent of donors making first-time contributions.

"Think about that for a moment," said Everett. "This is going to be a very special 24 hours. A lot of people will be making the first donation they ever made."

Everett added that it's not about nonprofits receiving a check with a lot of zeros on May 2; instead, the greater emphasis will be on small- or medium-sized donations.

"Ten dollars will mean so much to these nonprofits. We've seen the power of what that $10 can turn into," he said. "It brings out the best of what we've always been about."

Hoffmann said the overwhelming majority of nonprofit charitable organizations, totaling more than 5,000 in Idaho, are small, usually staffed by one, perhaps two individuals.

"I can't emphasize the grassroots nature of this enough," she said. "The Idaho Nonprofit Center is providing the tools, platform--idahogives.org--and the cheerleading. But we're telling the nonprofits, 'This is up to you.'"

To gin up interest, a number of nonprofits throughout the state will hold public events to spread their message and mission. For example, in the Treasure Valley, the city of Boise's Sesqui-Shop will play host to a revolving door of charitable organizations throughout the day. More nonprofits will be on display at the Boise Grove, and a daylong block party, featuring music and food trucks, is scheduled for Boise's Fourth and Front streets.

"The great thing about Idaho Gives is that we're coming together for one day," said Schultz. "And we all have something we're passionate about."

Schultz's passion, through Easter Seals-Goodwill, takes form in her organization's workforce development and disabilities services, which help more than 7,000 clients.

Easter Seals-Goodwill counts more than 368 employees. Everett's Treasure Valley YMCA includes more than 1,000 full- and part-time employees.

"We're probably the first employer for a great number of Idaho kids. I love that fact," said Everett.

To that end, Gem State nonprofits are significant employers and powerful forces in Idaho's economic recovery.

"It's so critical for everybody to understand that nonprofit employees make up 10 percent of Idaho's workforce," said Hoffmann. "Thirty-thousand people work in the charitable sector. Add in the nonprofit hospitals and health care and it's more than 50,000. And we certainly contribute to the gross state product: almost 6 percent."

For all of the daunting numbers and statistics, Everett said nonprofits are "all about the individual."

"We were about to close up the Y the other weeknight; it was about 8 p.m." he said. "And a young woman walked in our door, looking for some help with a membership. She's 18 years old. She's an honor student at Vallivue High School and, get a load of this, she's raising her four siblings. She had to drop out of school to take care of them."

Everett said the young woman's story was only the latest in an ever-increasing number of Idahoans who turn to the YMCA and thousands of other nonprofits for help.

'You see these stories all the time. You better believe that we're going to help that young woman, and we're going to start connecting her with services to help her family," he said. "There isn't a day that goes by without a story like that."

Idaho Gives Day, Everett said, is more about the awareness of nonprofits' missions than the dollars:

"If we didn't raise a penny on this--and by the way, we will raise some money and that will be great--it's all about learning a little something. The dollars are really the frosting on the cake. But believe me, none of the nonprofits are putting any potential donations into their current budgets. Whatever they raise ... well, that's cool."

And some Idahoans may choose to donate their time on Idaho Gives Day.

"When you total up all of the hours that Idahoans have given to nonprofit organizations, it's 60 million," said Hoffmann, repeating the number. "Sixty million hours. We're third in the entire nation for that statistic."

Everett said once upon a time in Idaho, he and other nonprofit executives could pick up a phone and call one of a handful of wealthy benefactors.

"It was fundraising heaven. We had a few wonderful contributors: the Joe Albertsons, the Jack Simplots," said Everett. "In the old days, you could literally make one call when you needed financial support. But that has all changed."

Everett, Schultz and thousands of other Idaho nonprofit officials now say it's all about the $10 or $20 from a greater number of citizens.

"Idaho Gives is a nonprofit--big, medium or small--and a virtual way of making a call to 1.5 million people across the state," said Everett.

He's anxious to see if anyone answers.

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