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Idaho Gives 2017: Sweet Charity

"I think most people would agree that giving feels pretty good, but it feels even better when we're all part of something bigger."

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Sixty-five dollars may pay for a fancy dinner, a bottle of wine, a new shirt or maybe a concert ticket. It also happens to be the average donation made last year on Idaho Gives, an annual day of giving when tens of thousands of Idahoans pitch in to help keep the home fires burning and the lights on for hundreds of Gem State charities. We asked representatives of three nonprofits what $65 could do for them.

"Oh, my gosh. Sixty-five dollars? That would be amazing," said Life's Kitchen Director of Development and Communications Ciara Allen.

Founded in 2003, Life's Kitchen has provided life-changing skill sets and self-sufficiency to hundreds of at-risk young adults. Some of its income is derived from catering or the nonprofit's popular cafe, but an increasing amount of its overhead is funded through individual donations, which is why Idaho Gives is such an asset for organizations like Life's Kitchen.

"A $65 donation would buy a lot of ingredients for us to turn into some amazing food," said Allen. "And that, in turn, helps to create the next generation of chefs, cooks and food service workers."

Melissa Bixby's eyes also lit up at the thought of a $65 donation through Idaho Gives. Bixby is the program director—and only full-time staff member—of Girls on the Run Treasure Valley, a nonprofit that guides third- to fifth-grade girls through a semester-long journey of body- and soul-building, culminating in a celebratory 5K run.

"Sixty-five dollars? That would go a long way to pay for a girl's entire semester. We charge on a sliding scale ... and we offer a lot of scholarships," said Bixby. "What can I say? A donation like that could change a girl's life."

Marsha Tennyson, founder of Chrysalis Women's Transitional Living, said a $65 donation would help subsidize a woman coming from incarceration, homelessness, addiction or all of the above.

"Hundreds of women have walked through the doors of Chrysalis," said Tennyson. "With us, they'll attend their recovery meetings, learn life skills like budgeting, and find and keep a job. It's about integrity and healthy relationships with themselves and others."

Allen, Bixby and Tennyson easily answered the $65 question—maybe because they've all been busy preparing for Idaho Gives 2017, which this year falls on Thursday, May 4. The three women had never met before and were as interested in hearing each other's stories as they were to tell their own.

"Just listening to you reminds me that... and I know this sounds corny... well, there's something magical about Idaho Gives," said Bixby. "On Thursday, we'll have this amazing 24 hours of giving, and we'll each be watching how our own nonprofit is doing with donations, but it's even more exciting to see donations coming in to everybody else. Everybody wins. It's, well, it's..."

"It's Idaho at its best, isn't it?" said Allen.

"Everybody wins," added Tennyson.

This was all music to the ears of Amy Little, president and CEO of Idaho Nonprofit Development Center, the driving force behind Idaho Gives.

"We have nonprofits across Idaho with budgets as small as $3,000, as large as $56.7 million and everything in between," said Little. "I think most people would agree that giving feels pretty good, but it feels even better when we're all part of something bigger."

"Bigger" is the operative word for Idaho Gives 2017, beginning with the its new media partner, KTVB-TV, which boasts the highest ratings, by far, in the Treasure and Magic valleys. For the first four years of Idaho Gives, KIVI-TV was the main broadcast partner, but the fundraiser was looking for a change.

"We love our friends at KIVI," said Little. "But this year, we pressed the reset button. We solicited bids from all the possible media sponsors in the region, and KTVB came out on top. We're thrilled."

The biggest "reset" at Idaho Gives won't be as visible as the coverage Channel 7 is already giving the event. Still, most donors probably won't notice it at all. The online fundraising platform is now being managed by a company called GiveGab, and charities will now receive Idaho Gives donations one to three days from the pledge. Previously, it took six to eight weeks for nonprofits to get funds donated through Idaho Gives.

The online fundraising platform is the centerpiece of the 24-hour Idaho Gives event, and the ease of use will be critical. Little said many possible donors know what causes they care about but haven't heard of the Idaho nonprofits that share that passion. For example, if you choose "poverty and hunger" from the topics on a dropdown menu on IdahoGives.org, you'll get a list of hundreds of charities from across Idaho. Search "Ada County" in the box labeled "location," and the list is narrowed down to 31. In that 31 is Life's Kitchen. Click "view profile," and you can watch a video, get details on the mission of Life's Kitchen, and get details about the nonprofit, like how the majority of its trainees live at or below the poverty level and many have been homeless. You'll also learn that Life's Kitchen trainees help feed thousands of people in need.

"That's right. A lot of people know Life's Kitchen from our cafe or our catering, but I'm not sure many people know that we produce more than 100,000 meals every year for the Interfaith Sanctuary homeless shelter, Allumbaugh House, the City of Boise's Pioneer Day Shelter for the homeless, the Hays Shelter Home and Terry Reilly Health Services," said Allen.

In 2016, more than 800 nonprofits received donations during the Idaho Gives 24-hour marathon.

"But quite frankly in 2016, a lot of our nonprofits were competing with so much social media content. Think of this time last year for a moment and you'll quickly remember that the presidential election was consuming so much social media bandwidth," said Little. "It was tough to get the word out on almost anything."

Little said expectations are pretty high for 2017 and the incentives to succeed are equally high. Once Idaho Gives launches at midnight May 4, all participating nonprofits will be divided into three groups—large, medium and small—depending on their operating expenses. Then, leaderboards will start appearing at IdahoGives.org, indicating how nonprofits are doing in each of the three groups. The charities will be ranked, not based on dollars received, but on unique donations. Cash prizes will be doled out to the top ten leaders in each of the large, medium and small categories at the end of the 24-hour period.

Making things even more interesting are so-called "golden tickets" where extra cash incentives will be handed out throughout the give-a-thon. Random drawings will be held hourly throughout the day, beginning at 6 a.m., where any nonprofit could win $1,000 in bonus money. Additionally, there will be seven times during the day when instead of just one hourly prize, there will be five cash prizes handed out to nonprofits in the state's five geographic regions: north (Coeur d'Alene, Sandpoint); north-central (Lewiston, Moscow, Grangeville, McCall, Salmon);southwest (Boise, Nampa, Caldwell); south-central (Sun Valley, Twin Falls, Mountain Home); and southeast (Pocatello, Idaho Falls).

Plus, there are a number of other bonus prizes that will be handed out during the day, all made possible with nearly $60,000 in incentive funds secured by the Idaho Nonprofit Development Center.

Bixby said there won't be much time for her nonprofit to celebrate once Idaho Gives has come and gone for another year.

"We'll be working, getting our message out, around the clock during Idaho Gives; but, at the same time all of our girls from across the Treasure Valley will be getting ready to run in their spring 5K race. Believe it or not, it will be one day after Idaho Gives is over."

To some degree, Girls on the Run is a winner right out of the gate.

"A very generous donor told us that they'll match every dollar that we raise during Idaho Gives," said Bixby. "If we hit our goal of $7,500, it will actually be $15,000."

While that may seem like a good many individual donations, it will all start with one near the stroke of midnight.

"Who knows where it will come from or who will get it," said Little. "Oh, by the way, we'll even have a bonus prize for the nonprofit that receives the first donation after midnight."

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