For the past six years, Good Times’ annual holiday fundraising campaign Santa Cruz Gives has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for local nonprofits by creating a network of donors and shining a spotlight on the organizations.
And in this latest year, the results have far exceeded expectations.
“We weren’t sure how things would go this time,” says Santa Cruz Gives co-founder and organizer Jeanne Howard, who led the campaign in partnership with the Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz County. “With the pandemic and lots of people out of work, we were concerned we’d only raise half of last year.”
Instead, the campaign surpassed 2019’s donations of $413,000, raising a total of $709,617, an increase of 72%. That kind of jump from one year to the next is almost unheard of in the charitable sector—especially this year. Last July, the Association of Fundraising Professionals reported that more than half of the charitable organizations in the U.S. were expecting to raise less money in 2020 than they had in 2019.
The Santa Cruz Gives campaign also saw an increase in the total number of donors, from 1,022 to 1,200, and in the average donation amount, from $189 to $259.
“It’s amazing, really,” Howard says. “The community really stepped up to help.”
Each nonprofit chosen to be part of the campaign (40 in total for 2020) had its own page on the Santa Cruz Gives website, detailing the mission of the organization and how many staff and volunteers are involved. It laid out the group’s “Big Idea”—what they hope to do with the funds they raise—with a leaderboard tracking the donations made to each.
Howard feels Santa Cruz Gives’ model of fundraising is key to its success and surprising growth, as donors often report giving to multiple groups that they learn about on the site after going there to give to a specific organization.
“As I like to say, this platform allows us to seemingly create money out of thin air to meet the community’s needs,” Howard says. “Donors of all sizes tell me that they give to a few more organizations than originally planned because the work is so important. The analytics show that they are reading the profiles. Most of the larger donors are giving to five to 10 or more nonprofits. I also see some of the larger donors give $500 or more, but in $20- to $40-dollar amounts to 20 to 30 groups, so they might seem like a small donor to a nonprofit, but they are a significant donor overall.”
The organization coming out on top for 2020 was the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter, which brought in more than $105,000. Runners-up were the Coastal Watershed Council ($60,000) and Farm Discovery at Live Earth ($31,000).
Nonprofits apply to be part of Santa Cruz Gives each year. Howard says it’s hard to turn down any, but they have to make sure they’ve “divided the pie” between different organizations. Especially for 2020, it was important to choose projects relevant to the huge crises facing the county—the pandemic and the CZU Lightning Complex fire, both of which upped the demand for safety-net services significantly.
“I wish we could include more, and maybe someday we will,” Howard says. “But we’re not a huge county. Hopefully [the campaign] will keep growing.”
Santa Cruz Gives officially ended on Jan. 1, and Howard says there was a big surge in donations on New Year’s Eve, with 15% of donors giving that day.
“Dec. 31 is our biggest donation day,” she says. “Nonprofits will often take to social media and get people interested in doing last-minute donations.”
Good Times and the Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz County received support for Santa Cruz Gives from the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County, the Joe Collins Fund, the Applewood Fund, Santa Cruz County Bank, Wynn Capital Management, Oswald Restaurant, The Pajaronian, Press Banner and Swenson Builders.
Good Times Editor Steve Palopoli contributed to this story.