Since I started working at Kern Community Foundation in 2017, my work year orbits around the first Tuesday in May, Give Big Kern: “One day to celebrate the giving spirit of Kern County!”
GiveBigKern.org is an online fundraising platform that the foundation provides free of charge to local nonprofits, and hosting it constitutes a big undertaking — or as our President and CEO Kristen Beall Watson likes to say, “a heavy lift.” From its launch in 2016 till last year, Give Big Kern raised close to $1 million for local nonprofits. In 2019, it received the Greater Bakersfield Chamber’s Beautiful Bakersfield Award for helping to create “A Better Bakersfield.”
This year’s Give Big Kern was going to be special. As it falls on Cinco de Mayo, I came up with the theme “Give Like It’s a Fiesta!” One of our in-kind sponsors, public relations firm Providence Strategic Consulting, created fun, colorful Mexican-style graphics in English and Spanish to promote the effort on social media.
More than 130 participating nonprofits preparing to raise much-needed funds were excited about all the possibilities the festiveness of the day promised: promotions at bars and Mexican restaurants, Cinco de Mayo events. Stars were aligning.
And then, like a killer comet from the darkest reaches of space, COVID-19 struck. Hard. Our world wobbled. Our axis of rotation tilted. Everything pivoted. But so did Give Big Kern, quickly leaning away from live events where people mingling could cause the virus to spread, to the safety of cyberspace, where social distancing is a non-issue and fundraising goals can be met cost-effectively, without having to buy a new outfit to host a fundraiser, sell event tickets, hire a caterer or rent a hall.
With all that gravity gone, we felt the incredible lightness of a new kind of natural selection in the philanthropic sphere: fundraising professionals adapting perfectly to the online universe.
All wasn’t lost! In fact, Give Big Kern was going to be even more special despite — or possibly because of — the health crisis. Being fully online, it was the ideal safe, fun, social-distancing-compliant way to host a fundraiser for nonprofits!
Hope started shining like the North Star leading us to a new type of freedom — of cheerful online fundraising photos and videos featuring smiling faces without masks — with lots of friends and partners providing signposts and useful information to keep us from losing our way.
GiveGab, our technology partner that powers GiveBigKern.org, hosted Zoom meetings in March just as the hunkering down was starting, inviting Giving Day leaders from other parts of the country who were holding their online fundraisers then — in the middle of the vortex! — to share important lessons learned.
Fundraising training and technology giant Network for Good, the foundation’s partner in our Jumpstart Fundraising Technical Assistance Program, reported a 20 percent increase in giving this March compared to March 2019. That statistic wasn’t difficult for us to believe. Since GiveBigKern.org goes live to begin receiving donations a month out from our Giving Day, we could compare the total of donations received on the first 10 days of this year’s Give Big Kern Season versus last year’s: up by 23 percent!
Then Network for Good, during a four-part, free financial resilience webinar series for nonprofits, which we promoted to Give Big Kern participants, gave us a new battle cry in the way of a hashtag: #COVIDCantStopGOOD.
Guess what? As fundraising professionals, we have witnessed and are living this truth! Giving is up. Our community is generous. Kern nonprofits are passionate about the services they provide, the people and animals they serve, the positive difference they make in our world.
Did they teeter after the COVID-19 comet hit? Sure. Some of them are still teetering. But if we all, as a community, come together to help them, steady them, if we stick to the script and this Cinco de Mayo choose to “Give Like It’s a Fiesta!” on GiveBigKern.org, we’ll discover that this year’s Give Big Kern might still be the best one yet. And together we’ll be victors who’ll have proven that #COVIDCantStopGOOD.
Louis Medina is the director of community impact for Kern Community Foundation, the organizer of Give Big Kern. He can be reached at Louis@kernfoundation.org.