Charitable fallout

Today is Give to the Max Day in Minnesota, an innovative — and to be sure, worthwhile, idea whereby seed money from several august foundations is being used to match contributions from people donating online.

My colleague, Marianne Combs, has been looking at the idea with a very critical eye.

But as the day winds down — and at last check, over $7 million has been donated — she may have a few additional questions, like, “are the foundations happy where their money went?”

It turns out that the third-leading recipient of donations today (again, at last check. It’s standing may not last) is Desiring God Ministries, the ministry of John Piper. You may recall his comments after a steeple was damaged in Minneapolis while nearby, Lutherans were debating whether to allow non-celibate homosexuals to be clergy.

The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Lutheran heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture. Turn back from distorting the grace of God into sensuality. Rejoice in the pardon of the cross of Christ and its power to transform left and right wing sinners.

As the third-most leading recipient today, Piper is eligible for a “bonus” from the foundations.

Clearly the idea has led people to do what they likely wouldn’t have done, today, but it provides a fascinating case study in how money can get directed to public policy efforts that many of these foundations would never have funded individually.

There’s also a guilt-by-association danger in underwriting polarizing figures. For example, are you more or less likely to give to the United Way if you knew that some of your went to a ministry with which you do/don’t agree?

  • Alison

    Yeah, there will be questions about the Desiring God Ministries matched donations. But I’m sure there will also be questions about matching my donation to OutFront Community Services.

    I hope that the foundations had thought about an answer to this inevitable question before sponsoring the match.

    At $7M in donations, the match is already down to ~$0.07 per dollar donated.

  • Our share of the Give to the Max Day pie will be pretty small, but we are thankful for the donations.

    As long as Desiring God Ministries is a bona fide nonprofit, I have no problem with their good donations today. I hope they spend it to help our neighbors in need.

    God willing, we will do even better next time!

  • brian hanf

    We had at least 3 clients in on the – Give to the Max Day in Minnesota

    Project 515

    Domestic Abuse Project – DAP

    Familes Moving Forward

  • Jim!!!

    How did that organization score so many $$? Was it a from few big donations? Was there a limit to an individual gift that would be matched?

    My (small) donations went to MOAPPP – Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention & Parenting – http:// and Minnesota Atheists – Both fine organizations.

  • Bob Collins

    As Marianne has pointed out, the word “match” is a little misleading and if you’ve received the tweets and email I have today, it’s been used inappropriately. “Match” in general usage, means dollar for dollar; it doesn’t generally mean 7 cents (and dropping) on the dollar.

    but I got one tweet from an organization today that urged me to donate to it because “your $10 turns into $20.” Not true at all. It’s turns into $10.70.

    The idea is a very good one. The foundation money was used as “seed money” to get people to donate.

    But it’s highly unlikely $7 million would’ve been raised today without the inference that organizations could get a lot of extra cash because of the donation. They won’t.

    Transparency is a good thing.

  • BJ

    Bob – Looks like TPT is number 4 only a few donations from knocking Desiring God Ministries off the leader board. What Charitable fallout happens then?

  • BJ


    In a tweet hard to give full disclosure bob:)

    The web site is really clear about a portion of the $500,000.

    I don’t think anyone in wildest dreams expected 7-8 million being raised.

    Give to the Max Day incentives:

    • Transaction costs for gifts made on Give to the Max Day will be covered, so 100 percent of gifts will go straight to nonprofits.

    • Every donation made on Give to the Max Day will receive a portion of a $500,000 match. The exact amount matched per dollar donated will be determined after Give to the Max Day concludes, and the $500,000 in matching funds will be divided by the total donation amount raised over the 24-hour period.

    • Grants will be awarded to the three nonprofits that have the largest number of individuals who make donations during Give to the Max Day.

  • Alison

    In the e-mail I got from OutFront it was pretty clear that the donation might not be a 1:1 match. Also, after listening to Morning Edition and hearing how this went down in other states, it was pretty clear that the match wasn’t going to be 1:1. But I had planned on giving before the end of the year anyway, and a small match is better than none at all.

  • Kristine

    For Jim!!! The top three ranking (those that would earn $5,000, $2,500, and $1,000 respectively) is not based on the amount raised. It is based on the number of individual contributions made.

    Desiring God Ministries was recently knocked to #4 by TPT. Unless they can climb back up, they will not receive an additional grant.

    Bob, I do donate to the United Way but I never just give them the money to use at their discretion because they do support organizations that I do not wish to support. The United Way allows donators to identify the specific organization they wish to support or, if there is no organizational preference, the type of nonprofit.

    I agree with Alison. I’m sure this was thought through by the foundations and if it was an issue, they would have developed restrictions for eligible nonprofits…or not done it at all.

    My money went to Bolder Options and Intermedia Arts. Be Bold!

  • Jim!!!

    Thanks Kristine! Can I afford one more gift to TPT…

  • BJ

    Is mpr taking part?

    Wow Bob you read my other post on air!!! cool beans!!!

  • I was also under the impression that a match meant, a $1 to $1 match. But givemn does clearly state the way it works on its website. Perhaps it’s the word “match” that is trouble. I blame myself for making a wrong inference.

    I do think the major story here is that credit card fees are covered, not just today, but always. Those are a major burden for charities. If GiveMN can be the online portal for all charitable giving, it’ll make it much easier to give, and result in nonprofits netting more money. This is a sea change in the way we give money to charity.

  • Bob Collins

    //What Charitable fallout happens then?

    The same. They get foundation money.

    //This is a sea change in the way we give money to charity.

    One of the most interesting stories was that the Salvation Army has credit card machines at several kettles. And they found — naturally — that donations by credit card are higher than donations of cash. Very smart.

    //The web site is really clear about a portion of the $500,000.

    Actually, it’s really NOT clear. For one thing, you have to click through the page that has that information and when you get to that page, you’ll find the information at the bottom of the page. There is nothing on the front page that has that information, nor is there any wording on the link to where that information is found that suggest there’s an explanation to what “match” means. It says only “for the latest results, please click here.” I wouldn’t characterize that as “really clear” in the least, actually.

    The way this is done in advertising circles — where disclosure matters — is to have a little asterisk on the front page where the word “matched” is used, and then on the same page, in obviously smaller type, indicate that it’s not dollar for dollar.

    There was one tweet I saw today — I think it was from Wellstone Action — that said they didn’t promote the event much because “the rules were too confusing.”

    //Is mpr taking part?

    I don’t think so but I don’t know. I don’t want to know.

  • I suppose it was really clear — when I went there specifically looking for the rules.

    I guess when I thought about it, foundations aren’t going to put themselves on the line for an unlimited match. There had to be some limit to it.

  • Jim!!!
  • Gorg Borg

    Isn’t this the same issue with investing in mutual funds? When you purchase a fund, you may inadvertantly be buying shares of big oil, tobacco, and maybe even Playboy or World Wrestling Entertainment. Many would not buy shares of these firms individually, but that is just part ot the “way it works” when you pool your money into a mutual fund. With donating to the United Way or any other similar org, your money is essentially getting pooled out to a variety of causes and needs (some of which you may agree with, some you may not)…

  • Bob Collins

    //Isn’t this the same issue with investing in mutual funds?

    Exactly, but I suspect the issue is whether that fits the mission of the foundations. The mission of a mutual fund is clear: make me some money.

    The mission of, say, the Minneapolis Foundation is quite different:

    We believe that the well-being of each citizen is connected to that of every other and that the vitality of any community is determined by the quality of those relationships.

    Obviously, in this one anecdotal case, the question is how does a guy who says the weather on a particular day in Minneapolis is God’s comment on homosexuality fit with the vitality of a community based on the quality of a relationship. Think back to the anger expressed here — and elsewhere — after Proposition 8.

    This is the kind of thing that can occupy a non-profit board for hours of discussion.

    From the total raised, it’s clear the intent of the event was met. I think it’ll be interesting to see how the foundation views it. Some of them — or at least some employees of them — have not been happy with Marianne’s look at how it all works. But that’s her job and I think they can probably take it.

  • Bonnie

    Here’s my take. It’s to some extent a reflection on organizations that were already well organized to “get out the vote”. My understanding is, for one year this website will not charge fees to the charities but after that they will charge their customary fees. The teeny orgs I gave to will probably be lucky to see a penny or two of matching funds, but they never would have gotten the 1,000 or whatever in donations at all had this not taken place…so they will still feel happy about that. What I’m most curious about is how the orgs ended up on the site, b/c I discovered by search that an org I am treasurer of is listed and I had no idea. I’m going to make a donation just to see what happens, because I don’t think anyone in the org had any idea it would be part of this.

  • Bob Collins

    Let me know what you find out, Bonnie. It would be interesting, I think, to see what would happen if there were a recognizable day of giving — Black Friday for non-profits, for example. If it became a tradition, many of these non-profits would do well; I think.

    The one thing today shows us is that there is tremendous need in the non-profit community for something — really, anything — that can generate some resources.

    It would also be interesting to see how many people gave ot organizations they already knew; as opposed to just browsing.

  • Bruce

    As of this writing, the “match” will be 4 cents for every donor dollar ($500K divided by $12MM). Yippee!

    In their webinar presentation to charities some weeks ago, reps said the $500K they secured from local foundations and other funding “partners” was to be allocated for underwriting the 4.75% fees charged by their processing “partner” until the money ran out. Then it was changed to a 1:1 match, then 1:2, then (and finally) proportional. The move to proportional came too late to effect the “buzz” of the 1:1 or 1:2 matches that were communicated prior to Nov. 17th. As late as Tuesday afternoon non-profits that one would think would know better were still representing “double your gift to us” through blast e-mails.

    It will be a while before charities can determine:

    1.) whether the results are a substantial increase in dollars and/or donors (e.g. more than single digit increase) or,

    2.) if those who participated would have given to them anyway (and in the same amounts) but were motivated to do so on November 17th in part because they believed that by doing so they were substantially leveraging their gift.

    I’m struck by the similarity in design, content and even colors between the websites of, (site host) and (gift processor). Maybe there’s a story here somewhere.

    I haven’t yet determined who ultimately is on the hook for the 4.75% processing fee (according to GiveMN’s website, it isn’t the donors or the charities) which, as of this writing, totals over $579K (and counting) in less than 18 hours. (!) It’s possible but not likely processing “partner” is forgiving the fees (though they didn’t when an almost identical program was implemented in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago). Follow the money.

  • Bruce – these are great questions – and I asked a couple of them of Dana Nelson at GiveMN this morning, and will have a post up soon on the final numbers, etc.

    As for who’s paying the fees – GiveMN is paying that money, using money collected from its funding partners (it’s a long list, and it’s on the website). So between the fees and the “matching” grant, foundations have put down approximately one million dollars to seed this project.

    In the next day or two I’ll be talking to some of the non-profits involved, trying to determine if the results were worth the investment.

  • BJ – to your question as to whether MPR participated in “Give to the Max Day:” – yes, MPR did. It appears to have been in 8th place overall with over 400 contributions. Everyone will have access to the detailed numbers tomorrow morning – at which point we’ll know exactly how much each non-profit made.

  • Bruce


    Thanks and good luck. I look forward to learning more and I wish I could join you in the questioning as a number of questions we have have not been answered.

    It would be interesting to know the prime mover for the idea of It’s represented as being the Minnesota Community Foundation but from what I can tell it’s and who get things started through a local “partner” (in this case the MN Community Fdn.) and then is lined up to do the gift processors (over $620K take in fees in one day funded by local foundations and other funding “partners”) as they were here, in Pittsburgh and, I presume, other communities (sorry, haven’t had time to look for others).

    Also, there is no doubt there has been some uptick experienced by non-profits. But how many org.s experienced much beyond altering the timing of the usual gift from most of their donors to get the match that ultimately didn’t happen? Some of this can be known near term or mid-term (e.g. someone brand new to the org.’s donor roles) and some of it won’t be known until the org.s have more time to identify folks who responded but are already regular or semi-regular benefactors.

  • put every Minnesota nonprofit listed with GuideStar into the site (and possibly those from the Charities Review Council or other nonprofit rating organizations), so that’s how Bonnie’s organization got onto the site without their knowledge.

    I’m not sure if this is said somewhere on the GiveMN site or if I heard it via the info session GiveMN held for nonprofits several weeks ago.

  • Bonnie

    followup. Thanks Daughter Number Three for the info on how orgs got on the site. As of today, we are still waiting for a check to arrive (?) for the donation I made to the organization of which I am treasurer. Not sure what the process is, will let you know if the $ 25 I donated ever shows up.