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Seattle’s charity event scores big — for causes & credit card firms


The Seattle Foundation’s GiveBIG “day-of-giving” campaign last week attracted about 18,800 donors and raised $4 million to support some 900 local philanthropic organizations.

The event, organizers say, turned out to be “The biggest single day in charitable giving in King County history.”

It was also, apparently, a big day for the banks and credit card companies which reportedly charged significant transaction fees (about $45,000 for every $1 million donated). And it was maybe not such a big day for Seattle’s globally oriented do-gooders as most of the donors appear to have focused on local needs.

Still, as former Seattle Mayor and president of the Seattle Foundation Norm Rice said: “This event represents the democratization of philanthropy, in which everyone can make a difference in the world around them.”

As the Seattle Times reports, social media played a big part in the fund-raising effort:

A flash mob, a happy hour and countless tweets were all part of a day of charitable giving Thursday that raised more than $3.5 million for King County charities.

Clay Holtzman, the former philanthropy writer for the Puget Sound Business Journal who is now blogging as an independent journalist on the local do-gooder scene, looked into the event’s reasons for success and how this more consolidated, new media approach could replace traditional fund-raising.

The ongoing attacks on federal funding for Planned Parenthood, Clay wrote, probably helped boost donor support for this organization as well:

“I think everyone who is supportive of Planned Parenthood, even in a tiny way, is really fired up right now,” said Miles Gaborit, annual campaign manager of the local Planned Parenthood affiliate.

The total was boosted to $4 million due to an additional $500,000 provided by GiveBIG partners. This so-called “stretch pool” amount will be distributed among all the nonprofit organizations according to the percentage they received from GiveBIG donations.

The GiveBIG campaign has identified top recipents from this day of giving, but has not yet released a list of all recipients and the amounts donated. Top beneficiaries are: Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest; Seattle Public Library Foundation; Tennis Outreach Programs; FareStart; and the 5th Avenue Theatre Association.

The Seattle Times’ Kristi Heim mentioned, on GiveBIG’s Twitter stream the day of the event, that the credit card companies were charging 4.5 % on transaction fees. If only half of what was donated to GiveBIG was subjected to these fees, Kristi noted, that means $90,000 is going to the banks rather than good causes.

If it’s the entire $3.5 million, we’re talking about $157,500 of donor money going to the same folks, generally speaking, who created the economic bust that cost so many people their homes, jobs and well-being.

This “seems like a good time for them to waive those fees,” Kristi suggested.

“We would love to see that happen,” said Jared Watson, senior vice-president at the Seattle Foundation.

Watson said their online payment vendor, Click & Pledge, has gone “above and beyond” to cut overhead costs but the credit card companies so far have been unable(?) to even provide information on the rationale for these high transaction fees.

I was also especially, and I guess arbitrarily, interested in three local organizations that sought support through the GiveBIG campaign. They are Jolkana, Lumana and Vittana, all run by young philanthropists focused on global poverty. They are small operations, relatively new to the local philanthropy scene.

I recently wrote about them, and other such local groups, as examples of what I believe is a surge in humanitarianism amoung young people, Millennials. They are an impressive lot.

You can take a look at their financials on the GiveBIG website where they made their pitch for funding. The annual budgets of Lumana, Jolkona and Vittana appear to be in the same range as the funds raised on this single day-of-giving for the top recipients of GiveBig.

Sorry if I sound a little cranky, but I have to wonder why theater and “tennis outreach” programs are more important to Seattle donors than helping out these optimistic, ambitious young people struggling to find ways to help get African farmers get out of poverty or homeless women off the streets of Dhaka?

To be fair, the Seattle Foundation (which can’t really tell people where to donate) is mostly focused on local needs. Watson said the tennis outreach program (which focuses on using tennis to build self-esteem among local, low-income kids) got a single donation of $60,000 which is why it ended up a top recipient this year.

Overall, GiveBIG was a big success and more evidence of our community’s support of good causes. We’ll see how the “global giving” category did next week when the complete results of the GiveBIG campaign are all tallied up and released.

In the meantime, doesn’t anyone in the Seattle donor community have any pull with the bankers and credit card firms? Let’s see if we can get them to donate back at least $100,000 of those fees.


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.