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Santa Cruz Gives’ Record-Setting Year

The annual crowdfunding campaign raises over $1 million for 80 Santa Cruz County nonprofits

Chris Cottingham, executive director of the Vets Hall, joins Jack Tracey, president for the Board of Trustees of the Santa Cruz County Veterans Memorial Building, in viewing the interior of the homes now set aside for veterans at Veterans Village in Ben Lomond. PHOTO: Tarmo Hannula

In the final tally, the seventh annual Santa Cruz Gives crowdfunding campaign raised $1,069,088 million for local nonprofit organizations over the holiday season, far surpassing its goal of $900,000, and topping last year’s total by more than $350,000. 

The milestone was reached after the campaign doubled in size, featuring 80 nonprofits on its online platform. Individual donors, matching funds, challenge gifts and more contributed to its success.

“We are overjoyed,” says Gives organizer Jeanne Howard. “This community’s generosity has been incredible.”

Originally heralded as “a new way to give,” Santa Cruz Gives has now completed its seventh drive. It has grown each year, both in the number of nonprofits accepted and money raised. 2020’s campaign raised $709,617, a 73% increase over 2019’s total. The decision to take on twice as many organizations this year came after the Human Race, an annual walk/run event that had been held for more than 40 years, was officially retired in 2021. Gives saw a gap forming in nonprofit support.

“It’s been a lot more work, having twice as many groups,” Howard admits. “And it’s been challenging for the donors. It forces them to narrow down their focus, make tough decisions on who to support. Each page provides compelling work, so it can be hard to choose. But it has also expanded our network. More nonprofits, and their supporters, are now involved.”

Because of its rapid growth, Gives increased its publicity, going to radio stations, newspapers, distributing posters and more to increase awareness. Howard says that the organizations also “stepped up” their outreach.

“We are a platform, and they have to work the platform,” she says. “It’s like we are a wave and they are the surfer; they’ve got to work it.”

As for donors, Howard says they saw more people than usual donating to different organizations. Usually, donors tend to give to similar groups, but this year was different.

“We still see people giving to like-minded organizations, however, this year people also chose random, unrelated groups,” she says. “Maybe they saw something that moved them, or had personal connections. It was interesting.”

The Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter (SCCAS) was the leader in donations, raising $101,226. Program Director Erika Smart says the organization will use the funds raised to help support their campus expansion, now in its first phase, with the purchase of furniture, cat trees, equipment for the spay/neuter clinic and more.

“Construction is expensive,” Smart says. “We had raised money for that, but now we’re trying to furnish the space. For everything that will be going inside our new cat and rabbit rooms, and to supply our spay and neuter clinic.”

Early on in the campaign, SCCAS hosted an event at the shelter to spotlight the participating nonprofits. Groups set up tables in order to showcase what they do for the community. The event also allowed the nonprofits to network with each other.

“It was a really cool thing to see what everyone is working on,” Smart says. “It was inspiring. It really promotes this sense of togetherness—how we’re all working for the betterment of our community.” 

Friends of the Santa Cruz Public Libraries followed SCCAS in total donations with $60,350, and Dientes Community Dental came in third with $49,520.

Sheree Storm, Chief Development Officer at Dientes, says that funds raised will support the group’s Dientes Cares for Kids program, which provides free dental services for low income, uninsured children in Santa Cruz County.

“This support has a lasting impact on our community’s children, helping them focus on school instead of a toothache—one of the most common reasons low-income kids miss school,” Storm says.

Howard says there were some “wonderful” surprises this year, including the small nonprofit Live Like Coco, which aims to to provide local children with various educational opportunities, raising $20,300.

Howard says that supporting nonprofits is “vital” for a community.

“People know about government, they know businesses,” Howard says. “But there’s a nonprofit sector people don’t know anything about. We hope to reach more people to understand how the sector helps our community. New donors are the lifeblood of nonprofits, like new customers are to businesses.”

Looking ahead, Gives organizers hope to secure more matching funds, which greatly help nonprofits during the campaign. They also want to hear from donors about how they are using the website and any suggestions they have.

“We want Santa Cruz Gives to become so well-known that it takes the burden off the nonprofits entirely,” Howard said. “We want to make it a household name in this community.”

Email comments and suggestions to [email protected]. For information, visit santacruzgives.org.

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