Valley Gives raises $1.5M for area nonprofits

By Chance Viles

For the Gazette

Published: 05-03-2017 10:49 PM

One organization is using donations from the popular fundraiser Valley Gives Day to save programs for seniors.

Another is continuing an initiative to provide fresh milk for low-income families.

And leaders of a third nonprofit believe participating in the annual event brings much-needed exposure to its mission.

These are three of 407 nonprofits in Hamphire, Franklin and Hampden counties to benefit from Valley Gives, a 24-hour fundraiser that ended Tuesday at midnight.

Valley Gives raised about $1.5 million in online donations this year, which will be boosted by $300,000 in matching grants from private donors. This is only a slight decrease from the $1.6 million raised in 2016, according to the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, which organizes the event.

The money came from 9,557 donors who either donated to an organization of choice or pledged to match others’ donations. Hampshire County accounted for 47 percent of the total donations, with Northampton raising over $250,000 and Amherst raising over $95,000, the foundation reported.

“So many of these nonprofits provide vital services, helping to keep things clean and green,” said Katie Allan Zobel, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. “They provide art and culture. They are providing basic human needs where the government may not be able to do so. That is our mission, to encourage that sector to survive. We all benefit — it totally changes the quality of life based on how strong that sector is.”

While fundraising efforts continue throughout the year, Valley Gives Day — which Zobel jokingly dubs “Philanthropy Fest” — aims to concentrate donations in a 24-hour period, showcasing the communities’ generosity and giving exposure to nonprofits that otherwise go unnoticed by the general public.

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“The idealism and generosity around here, I think it is incredible,” said Karen Foster, executive director of All Out Adventures. “To see us all be able to work together, I don’t feel like I’m competing with anyone. The community has stepped up and supported us all.”

All Out Adventures runs programs that help disabled people engage with the environment and participate in activities they normally would not, like kayaking and biking.

Foster said the organization has been able to revive programs with the money it receives from Valley Gives.

“It’s become really critical to us. We lost funding for a series of senior programs that we run,” Foster said. “Without Valley Gives we wouldn’t be able to offer those senior biking and kayaking programs. If we need to add staff members to programs, it gives us that cushion to do that. I wouldn’t be able to offer the senior programs without it.”

Other nonprofits are able to run entire initiatives on the money Valley Gives Day raised.

Nearly the entire milk fund for the Amherst Survival Center comes from Valley Gives, providing 24,450 half-gallon containers of fresh milk to families from Amherst as well as 12 other surrounding towns.

“Without these funds the only milk we get is boxed milk, which doesn’t taste as good to a lot of people,” Executive Director Mindy Domb said.

“Milk is an important source of vitamin D and calcium, and it’s delicious … It’s one way to add that nutritional value to their groceries.”

A Grow Food Northampton official believes Valley Gives is an important way for it to get exposure.

“It’s a community event — it gets our name out there. Having our Tuesday market during the day was fun and got us talking to people and other organizations. It was festive and good for visibility,” said Niki Lankowski, Grow Food’s program manager for Northampton’s Tuesday market.

Valley Gives Day is still a new initiative. It was conceived in 2012, and since has moved from winter to spring, skipping 2015 to accommodate the shift.

Zobel predicts big things for the future of Valley Gives.

“This is the tip of the iceberg. This is just one day of giving,” she said. “Last year we raised $11 million from individuals in our community (over the year). People are giving generously.

“This to me is just a really strong signal that in one day we can rally over 9,500 people to raise gifts to support the causes they care about. It’s an incredibly strong signal that people care about this.”