Idaho has had "golden moments" and "finest hours" but, pound-for-pound, the first Thursday in May may well be Idaho's finest day as Idahoans choose to invest in health care, education and the arts, absent government or corporate influence. These 24 hours paint a picture of an Idaho investing in child protection, aiding victims of neglect and abuse, and celebrating the value of a cultured community. Idaho Gives, now in its third year, may affirm what matters most in the Gem State, more than any poll, study or survey.
"Quite frankly, artists usually shy away when asking for donations. We even bow our heads when we ask for help, but when we have the opportunity to talk about the value of what the arts brings to our community, we embrace that moment," Dwayne Blackaller told Boise Weekly. "It's all about telling a story."
Blackaller is a professional storyteller, and the actor/director/playwright is also the educational director and an associate artist at Boise Contemporary Theater.
"The Northwest is an incredible place for the arts, but we depend so much on donations," he said. "It stuns a lot of people when we tell them how much it costs to put on a play. People constantly underestimate the cost by thousands of dollars, and our ticket sales only cover about 60 percent of our income. Every day, we're depending on donors for 40 percent of our operating budget. Believe me, that's a story that isn't told too often."
Blackaller isn't a fundraiser by trade. Hannah Brass Greer doesn't spend her days with hat in hand, either: She's too busy telling her story at the Idaho Statehouse, where she works as legislative director for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest.
"And yes, that means setting the record straight," Greer said. "It's important to remind people of the wide demographic of people who come to our health centers. The need is as great as ever, especially since the Legislature hasn't expanded Medicaid to help our working class."
Greer shared a particular story worth retelling about an Idaho woman who needed care but had few means.
"She's typical of a lot of Idahoans who simply can't afford to pay for health care," said Greer, "but thanks to Idaho Gives, we have a variety of different funds to help people who can't help themselves. When that woman's bill was paid through donations, she found $2 in her car and brought it in to contribute to the fund to help someone else. That's all she had. I can't tell you how often that same patient, down the road, is in a better place, and they become a regular donor and, as a result, they're helping a lot more than themselves."
"There were some nonprofits who waited during the first couple of years to see how things would go. And indeed, they've joined Idaho Gives this year. When a nonprofit participates, they really embrace it; they just don't put up a website," said Janice Fulkerson, executive director of the Idaho Nonprofit Center.
The INC is the engine of the Idaho Gives train. Some of the fuel that feeds it includes significant bonus dollars—nearly $55,000—to gin up donations. Bonus dollars are given to each of the 10 small, medium and large organizations that receive the most unique donations, and some generous sponsors will also grant so-called "golden tickets" 17 times during the daylong give-a-thon.
"Those golden tickets are as high as $2,500," said Fulkerson who added that in each of the select 17 hours, a donor's name will be randomly drawn, and the prize money will go to their designated charity.
"Oh my gosh, we're awake all night," said Blackaller. "It's a lot like election night. Everyone is watching the results online as the winners are announced."
"You bet, we'll be staying up all night, too," echoed Greer. "It's an amazing energy."
Greer said that during Idaho Gives 2014, Planned Parenthood produced Vine videos: short online thank you videos it posted to its website.
"It went non-stop for 24 hours. It's was incredibly popular because donors then posted the Vine videos to their own Facebook pages, which drove more donations," she said.
Greer wouldn't reveal Planned Parenthood's strategy for 2015.
"Let's just say, that we've got something pretty cool planned," she said. "Rest assured, we're pumped."
Nonprofits throughout the Boise area have their own Idaho Gives strategies and many of them involve telling their respective stories in high-profile ways. For example, at Grind Modern Burger on Fulton Street, no fewer than 13 organizations will be getting some face-time with potential donors. Concurrently, another stage will be set at the Tiger Prop Real Estate Agency on Main Street for another 12 nonprofits to strut their stuff. At other Boise locations, ACLU of Idaho will hand out cupcakes; the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence will showcase young artists illustrating poems about gender equity through chalk art; the Discovery Center will pour free cosmopolitans at Bonefish Grill; Bogus Basin Ski Resort will host a food truck rally; and donations will garner free admission to the Boise Art Museum and the Idaho Botanical Garden.
"There are scores of events in every corner of Idaho," said Fulkerson, who added there's a greater focus on individual donations and less on corporate giving.
"But what that means is smaller donations," she said. "That's how much we need to tell our stories, and a big part of that is telling people what they can make happen for $10 or $25. Idaho Gives reveals the better part of us."