By Louis Medina
Shouldn’t a community that is known for its generosity designate a day to celebrate giving? After all, Kern County’s history is rooted in charity.
If we think about it, Bakersfield, our county seat, is named after a giving man: Col. Thomas Baker, an Ohio native who moved to the banks of the Kern River in the 1860s and allowed weary travelers to have their livestock graze in his field — “Col. Baker’s Field,” later shortened to just “Bakersfield.”
It is also likely that the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s helped to strengthen the spirit of giving in the “Okies,” “Arkies” and Texans who came here looking for a better life and discovered how welcome a helping hand could be in times of need. Anecdotally, one hears that those displaced migrants taught their descendants the importance of freely giving, just as they had freely received.
Enter Give Big Kern, observed on the first Tuesday in May as “one day to celebrate the giving spirit of Kern County.” A nonprofit strengthening program launched by Kern Community Foundation in 2016, Give Big Kern provides an opportunity for our entire county to come together to help raise unrestricted dollars and volunteer hours for Kern’s nonprofits through online crowdfunding and pledges.
How does Give Big Kern work?
KCF pays for an easy-to-use online donation platform designed and managed by New York-based technology partner GiveGab, which currently serves more than 8,000 nonprofits and is growing, having just acquired Kimbia, another online fundraising giant.
On givebigkern.org, local 501©(3) nonprofits registered with KCF set up their own donation page for free, customizing it with their logo, photos, videos, graphics and compelling stories — of children and families fed and housed, animals rescued, veterans linked to life-changing services and more.
Then, in the months leading up to Give Big Kern, which this year falls on May 1, KCF and GiveGab help nonprofits prepare to engage donors and volunteers through a series of workshops, webinars, online videos and other tools that are also free of charge.
The donation portal goes live on April 1 and stays open till May 2. During that period, a frenzy of activity happens, as KCF and scores of participating agencies throughout Kern appeal to donors and volunteers for support via email blasts, social media, highly publicized events and press conferences, and a friendly competition for cash prizes to the nonprofit that raises the most dollars, engages the most donors, receives the most volunteer pledges and so on.
The minimum donation that can be made through givebigkern.org is $5. Donations go directly to the nonprofits. GiveGab charges a small credit card processing fee per donation, but most donors cover this fee to ensure their entire donation goes to the charity they support.
How much money can be raised through Give Big Kern?
In 2017, the effort raised close to $150,000 from 1,500 donors, benefiting some 100 community-based organizations, which also received pledges of close to 15,000 volunteer hours from more than 300 volunteers.
KCF President and CEO Kristen Beall is convinced that with greater community engagement, a giving day (and there are plenty being carried out all over the country) should be able to get 1 percent of the population involved in giving — which in the case of Kern is close to 9,000 donors. Getting one-sixth of the way there last year, the goal for Give Big Kern 2018 is to surpass the 2017 number of dollars raised and donors and volunteers engaged.
By how much?
“That is entirely up to the community,” Beall said. “We see similar efforts in the Inland Empire, Sacramento region and northern part of the state raising hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars. We can do better.”
How can the business community help?
Monetary and in-kind sponsorships are still being sought to offset the cost of marketing materials, which KCF provides free to participating nonprofits, and to fund the cash prizes that are an extra boon to the winning agencies. Write to Louis@kernfoundation.org or call 661-616-2603 to find out how your business can get involved.
Louis Medina is the manager of community impact for Kern Community Foundation.