“When we planned this, it wasn’t supposed to be this cold,” said a shivering Jeff Moran, president of the Omaha Home for Boys, who was dunked not once but three times.
Unlike the weather, the giving was hot. Omaha Gives exceeded its 2014 total of $6.3 million by 3:15 p.m., said Kali Baker, vice president of community relations for the Omaha Community Foundation, which coordinates the 24-hour fundraising blitz. By the time giving ended midnight Thursday, donors had given $8.91 million.
“We are pretty overwhelmed with gratitude right now,” Baker said.
Late in the day, after news of an Omaha police officer’s death
, donations to the Omaha Police Foundation took off, and it became the campaign’s most popular nonprofit, receiving $68,115.25 from 1,779 donors.
Baker attributed part of the campaign’s success to interest in the participation prizes. The foundation awarded more prizes this year than last year, and they were distributed throughout the day instead of all at midnight, allowing people who were following the campaign’s progress to celebrate their favorite nonprofit’s selection.
The 45 participation prizes, up from 30 in 2013, went to the groups that had the highest number of donors during three eight-hour periods during the day. The agencies were divided into small, medium and large categories according to their annual budgets.
“I think the nonprofits and the donors were racing to meet the deadlines” for those time periods, she said.
The relationship between local nonprofits and their donors also sets Omaha Gives apart from giving days in other cities, Baker said. Omaha is large enough to have lots of nonprofit agencies but small enough that those groups have strong connections with their donors.
Groups nurture those ties at events in conjunction with Omaha Gives, including that dunk tank.
People who agreed to be dunked sat atop a platform in swim trunks, taunting the crowd to pull out cellphones or tablets and donate at omahagives24.org
. Onlookers won the right to throw a softball and attempt a dunk every time the Omaha Home for Boys got another $1,000 in gifts.
When Moran started his frigid half-hour above the tank, the home’s total was $7,395. When he stepped down, teeth chattering, the total was $10,995, so he spent some time in the freezing water.
Aidan Blakely, a 9-year-old third-grader at Spring Lake Magnet Center, had the privilege of dunking Moran, his mom’s boss.
“I threw as hard as I could,” said Aidan, who plays soccer but not baseball. “I felt like a real baseball player.”
The Home for Boys set a goal of $15,000 for the day, which it surpassed, raising nearly $20,000.
Rain and cold didn’t matter as much to actors from RESPECT, an Omaha group that uses drama to help young people maintain healthy relationships and resist bullying. They put on “Puppy Pals” for preschoolers at the Bookworm near 90th Street and West Center Road.
The group presents programs in 300 Nebraska and Iowa schools and reaches 40,000 students each year, said Executive Director Patricia Newman. She said the money raised in Omaha Gives will go toward bringing those programs to schools and other groups that can’t afford RESPECT’s fees.
Participating nonprofits promoted Omaha Gives on Facebook and Twitter throughout the day to generate excitement in the event. Groups also sent out email blasts, such as the one that went to alumni of St. Margaret Mary School, which pictured a retired teacher who was known for her stern demeanor admonishing recipients to give.
The atmosphere at the foundation was somewhat subdued by the officer’s shooting.
“It’s difficult to celebrate when our community is hurting,” she said. “We ask all our supporters to send some love and prayers to the officer’s family. Our community has shown that it can come together around giving, and we can also come together to support our police officers.”
POSTED: THURSDAY, MAY 21, 2015 12:30 AM
By Betsie Freeman / World-Herald staff writer