PROVIDENCE – In early March 2020, United Way of Rhode Island officials were in the final stages of planning a unique day-long event to help support and celebrate Rhode Island’s nonprofit sector and the work it provides the community.
Then COVID-19 paid the Ocean State a harsh visit that has turned into an extended stay.
United Way CEO and President Cortney Nicolato was asked by a reporter at the time if this new unique celebration, called 401 Gives Day – an idea she experienced firsthand during her time in Texas – would take place on April 1 because of the losses the ongoing pandemic has inflicted. Not only did Nicolato say that 401 Gives Day would go on as scheduled because the nonprofit community needs this support, but also hoped it would still meet its goal of raising $1 million for nonprofits in 24 hours.
The result: United Way’s inaugural 401 Gives Day on April 1, 2020, exceeded expectations as the day raised $1.3 million for 366 nonprofits. The funds that were brought in provided the organizations much-needed monetary support to offset losses caused by the pandemic while also help organizations provide the community the support it needed to get through the devastating health crisis.
The day saw 7,545 unique donors provide 13,377 gives to nonprofits, according to data from United Way. There were 323 nonprofits that gained new donors as a result of 401 Gives Day and the average donor gift was $77. Nonprofits received on average 20 gifts during the event.
“It was a beautiful thing [to see last year] and something that we were grateful to have been a part of,” Nicolato recently told Providence Business News. “Did we plan on doing this during a global pandemic? No. But it was incredibly important to the nonprofit communities, and we’re so glad it was so successful. I think Rhode Islanders want to find a way they can help and be supportive during this time. The 401Gives Day gave them a venue to do that.”
The community will have another opportunity April 1 to offer their favorite nonprofits support. The second annual 401 Gives Day online campaign will go live that day, where donors can visit 401gives.org and send their donations to various charities and causes.
United Way is setting its bar higher for 2021, with the goal to raise $1.5 million throughout April 1. The Rhode Island Foundation will match $50,000 in gifts to help accelerate the donations, United Way said. FM Global and Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island are also lead sponsors for 401 Gives Day.
Along with fundraising, United Way is also offering nonprofits digital training and networking opportunities to help the organizations benefit highly from the 401 Gives Day.
“We had a session talking about how [nonprofits can] use social media for fundraising. We had a session on how to leverage your existing donor base on a giving day, how to think about matching giving. Helping nonprofits build strategies as they think about fundraising strategies on that day,” Nicolato said.
As of March 29, 420 organizations have signed up to receive contributions from donors on 401 Gives Day, according to its website. Nicolato said United Way heard from several nonprofits that 401 Gives Day was the “perfect compliment and replacement” for fundraising events that were canceled due to the pandemic – and still on hold for the most part this year.
Many organizations used the funds from 401 Gives Day to offset losses to their operating revenues, Nicolato said, and also for COVID-19 response efforts. For example, the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, which received the most money during last year’s event – $47,685 – used the money to acquire and distribute nearly 150,000 pounds of food. This food included pre-packaged boxes of meals and snacks for kids who were no longer attending school, essentials for unemployed restaurant and tourism industry workers and emergency supplies for people who were at risk of contracting COVID-19.
The East Bay Food Pantry had to close its thrift shop, which accounts for 40% of its funding, due to the pandemic. The $10,430 it received during 401 Gives Day made up for the loss and helped with continuing its food programs.
“We also heard loud and clear that many nonprofits said they were able to keep their staff employed longer because of 401 Gives Day, and that’s huge,” Nicolato said.
Nicolato firmly believes that the $1.5 million fundraising goal can be achieved this year because she has heard from multiple people that they are planning to donate their federal stimulus checks to organizations, which will help meet the goal. She also said the pandemic will leave a continued economic effect long after it is over and the community needs to make sure nonprofits is provided the assistance to remain resilient through the crisis.
“The nonprofit communities have been incredibly creative, incredibly supportive and our community has been incredibly generous,” Nicolato said. “401 Gives Day is another boost to our nonprofit community as they are still in a challenging time.”
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