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$1.2M raised in 24-hr charity donation blitz

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During a 24-hour fundraising blitz this week, the San Diego Foundation raised more than $1.2 million — including nearly $922,000 individual donations and $200,000 in matching funds from local businesses and foundations — to support local charities.

The donations will be channeled to more than 314 regional charities, ranging from a foundation supporting Point Loma's High Tech High, which led the pack with $43,810 in donations, to Carlsbad's Museum of Making Music, which got a $75 gift — one of 38 charities to attract $100 or less.

"We have always known that San Diegans are generous," said Adrienne Vargas, chief giving officer at the foundation, a conduit for funding nonprofit activity throughout the region. "When we asked them to support this great cause, they certainly answered.”

But the event also reflects a new trend in charitable fundraising: using relatively inexpensive crowdsourcing campaigns over the Internet to reach out to smaller donors who have often been ignored by traditional campaigns targeting corporations, foundations and wealthy philanthropists.

"High net-worth individuals remain generous in good times and in bad," said Alyssa Enwright, spokeswoman at the foundation. "The power of this event was that it mobilized those who give a smaller amount to really add up to a significant impact."

Internet donations are still a relatively small part of philanthropic contributions, accounting for 6 percent of total giving last year. But they are growing at a much faster pace: jumping 13.5 percent last year, compared to 4.9 percent for overall charitable contributions, according to the Charitable Giving Report by Blackbaud Inc., a fundraising support firm.

Roughly 20 percent of U.S. charities added Internet-based fundraising drives to their campaigns last year, partly because they are seen as creating a new base of contributors as wealthier individuals suffer "donor fatigue."

Enwright said that roughly 25 percent of the donors said it was the first time they donated to the organizations. The gifts tend to be relatively small. Contributions to the foundation's GiveBig fundraising drive Tuesday averaged $155, compared to a $175 average for community foundations throughout the nation that were participating under the event Give Local America, which used Internet memes and Twitter campaigns to raise awareness.

What the donations lack in dollar value, they make up for in sheer numbers. Give Local America raised more than $53 million nationwide through 306,000 contributions. GiveBig, which began at midnight Tuesday, involved several hundred organizations throughout San Diego County asking their members to contribute to their organizations through a centralized Internet site.

The more they made in contributions, the more matching funds the organizations stood to receive from a $200,000 pot of matching funds supported by U.S. Bank, Barney & Barney Foundation, Waitt Foundation, AT&T and Mission Healthcare.

The charities kept track of the donations through an online "leader board," which showed how the money was coming in.

"We couldn’t stop watching the leaderboard throughout the day," said Alondra Gomez, founder and president of Animal Rescuers Without Borders, which raised $5,900. "We exceeded our goal by almost $2,000, which will fund services for so many animals.”

A total of 5,942 donations were made, coming in at a rate of 247 per hour. When the dust settled, the top donations included the High Tech High Foundation as well as:

• Just in Time for Foster Youth, $34,000

• Voices for Children, $32,190

• Workshops for Warriors, $24,650

• Wintriss Technical Schools, $23,653

• San Diego Humane Society, $17,455.

The power of smaller contributions is also being seen at the San Diego Opera. After the opera's board of directors was told that it was on the brink of collapse, many large funders pulled out, leading the opera's newly elected leaders to launch a three-week Internet-based drive to raise $1 million by May 19. Normally, the opera would stage special events — such as exclusive performances — to attract such donors. But with little time to plan and little money in the bank, it launched an Internet campaign tied to its website, largely relying on word-of-mouth spread through Twitter, Facebook and other social media.

Although the plan seemed like an impossible dream at the time, it appears to have worked. As of Thursday afternoon, the opera had raised $917,845 in contributions, making it possible that it would hit its $1 million goal a week ahead of time, even though 85 percent of the contributions are less than $1,000, well below the donations it traditionally targeted. Roughly 42 percent of the donations came from people who had never contributed to the opera before.

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Bob Kelly

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Heather Back

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