Give Day Tampa Bay returns for the fourth year Tuesday, giving 500 nonprofits across the region a platform to raise funds for their causes — a platform that for some has been a boot camp on how to use social media as a force for good.
The online giving challenge at giveday.org, presented by the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, aims to make it easy to find your favorite cause and give it a boost. New this year is the ability to give as little as $5 and to send a pledge in advance so the online donation will count toward the leaderboard, though not for hourly contests.
High Risk Hope, a charity that supports families with premature babies, credits Give Day with putting it on the map of public awareness. It raised more than $52,000 on last year's Give Day by drumming up support on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and by holding parties and a kids' story time in Hyde Park Village in Tampa.
"It doesn't matter how big you are, you just have to make the most noise," said Heather Barrow, who founded the nonprofit six years ago after her own scary pregnancy journey through bed rest and the neonatal intensive care unit.
Four years ago, her charity gave Give Day a try and beat the drum that every $25 donated supports one local family with a premature baby. They got the attention of almost 100 donors, and that's when the light went on for Barrow.
"The movement of the future is this kind of grass-roots thing, you no longer have to secure one big donor if you can find 500 $25 donations," she said.
And Give Day in 2016 raised enough for High Risk Hope to support more than 1,500 families with baskets of supplies for moms on bed rest and for vital supplies for babies in the NICUs of four hospitals, Barrow said. After learning the ways of social media, the organization raised more than three times as much money on Give Day in 2016 as they had three years earlier, Barrow said.
"No one could argue that we are the largest," Barrow said. "But we succeeded because we found our niche. And if everybody found their niche, they would see results because this community wants to give, they just need to know who is out there."
The nonprofits fill a range of needs, from the St. Petersburg Free Clinic to the Glazer Children's Museum to veterans services to Wheels of Success, which provides cars for the working poor. Big Cat Rescue, which has more than 2 million followers on Facebook, was the leader last year, raising more than $260,000, and it has already raised more than $16,000 in early donations.
The Community Foundation has also lined up donors with deeper pockets to provide more than $50,000 in prize incentives, such as $7,500 for the nonprofit with the most unique donors or $1,000 during eight select hours of the day for the charity with the most donors.
Give Day raised more than $2 million in 2016 despite a midday meltdown of the website that was taking donations. This year, the Community Foundation has enlisted the Razoo Foundation, the leading crowd-funding platform for charitable giving. It will retain 6.9 percent per transaction for expenses and campaign costs, but donors have the option to cover those fees during the checkout process to give 100 percent of their intended donation to the nonprofit.
Creating a large pool of small donors is one of the reasons the Community Foundation started Give Day, said Wilma Norton, vice president of marketing and communications. The minimum amount has been lowered to $5 so more people can take part.
"In order to be philanthropic, you don't have to have a lot of money," Norton said. "Give Day shows that if enough people donated $5, they can make a big impact."
Ann Christiano at the University of Florida holds the nation's first endowed chair in public interest communications. She developed a curriculum in the emerging discipline, which uses the tools of public relations and journalism to create positive social change.
Too often, nonprofits see a social media campaign as a waste of time, she said.
"You don't have to be a social media expert, but you do have to invest some time in thinking about what you have that will be valuable to people," Christiano said.
She admires the ice bucket challenge that raised millions for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, and a recent clever campaign on the Tinder dating app. A profile of the last white male rhinoceros was put up to raise funds for a wildlife breeding program called "The Most Eligible Bachelor in the World."
Her students study the science of what makes people care. The first priority, she tells nonprofits, is to think in terms of storytelling and make it easy to take action.
"If you look at the science of decision-making, it's a much easier lift for people to say, 'Yeah, I'll give $20 to that,' " Christiano said. "You can make it a lot easier on yourself by making it easy on the people you are hoping will help you."
Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @SharonKWn.