Johnson County Great Give Day spurred end-of-year gifts

Community Foundation vowed to match up to $25,000 in donations that day

Shelly Maharry, Johnson County Community Foundation director, said the organization could increase the matching pledge o
Shelly Maharry, Johnson County Community Foundation director, said the organization could increase the matching pledge on future “Great Give Day” events if it were to secure a business partner. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The Community Foundation of Johnson County’s first Great Give Day, in which the organization promised to match up to $25,000 of gifts to local nonprofits, raised more than $120,000 for 92 Johnson County nonprofits.

Shelly Maharry, foundation executive director, talks about why foundation leaders decided to try a focused day of giving — Nov. 13 — and what they learned from the process.

Q: How did the Great Give Day work?

A: “The foundation matched up to $25,000 in donations made to nonprofits based in Johnson County without charging credit card fees or administrative fees. One organization, the United Way of Johnson & Washington Counties, got the maximum match of $2,500.”

Q: Individual charitable giving was down in 2018 because of federal tax law changes that doubled the standard deduction, discouraging itemization for smaller gifts. How did that factor into your decision to do the Great Give Day?

A: “We do definitely feel that the 2017 tax change did a couple of things. One, we were concerned small gifts may have been down. Also the tax law change also eliminated a sense of urgency that happens at the end of the year. (In the past) people wanted to give by Dec. 31 so they could get that tax deduction. That sense of urgency was taken away. The idea of having our Great Give Day was to get donors to start thinking about their favorite nonprofit at the end of the year.”

Q: How well did the match incentivize people to give?

A: “It energized nonprofits to share with their donor base that this match opportunity was available. On our website, it (the match) was available at midnight. The match dollars were exhausted by about 6:30 in the morning. That was only made possible because nonprofits shared that information or energized their donor base to give. It was clearly a success because people were out (making donations).”

Q: Was anyone upset the match money was gone so early in the day?

A: “The intention was never to shut down the program when the match is done. We didn’t know when the match had been exhausted until we did our reconciliation at the end of the day. The worry is that people will see the match is gone and they say ‘I won’t donate.’ I think it will be a more competitive process next year, knowing how quickly that money did go. We may adjust the timing or leave it as it is. When people went on at midnight, I was awake at that time, crossing my fingers our website wasn’t going to crash. It kind of created this neat event from midnight to 2 a.m.”

Q: Do you expect to do this again? If so, what might you do differently?


A: “We learned a lot about having this be our first time. For example, explaining how the process works. We’d love to continue doing this in the future. This is an excellent opportunity for businesses to sponsor with us this Great Give Day.”

If the foundation did get business sponsors, Maharry said, it perhaps could increase the match to $50,000.

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