Lowcountry Giving Day brings in millions for dozens of Charleston-area charities

By Jenny Peterson
Published May 14, 2014

George Stevens, president and CEO of the Coastal Community Foundation, says he was more surprised than anyone to learn that the 24-hour donating blitz Lowcountry Giving Day on May 6 raised more than $2.5 million for 94 Charleston area charities.

An additional $1.5 million raised in incentive and matching funds beforehand means the event raised a total of $4 million in a single day.

George Stevens, CEO of the Coastal Community Foundation
Stevens, who spoke at the Greater Summerville-Dorchester County Chamber of Commerce breakfast today, said he expected to raise about $100,000.

He said he underestimated the power of social media to drive donations and the power of young people to spread the word and start a giving trend.

“I’m still stunned this is even possible,” Stevens said. “It’s unbelievable.”

Each year, the Coastal Community Foundation distributes $13 million to local charities in eight counties in grants and other forms of aid. The organization facilitated the Lowcountry Giving Day event, which was part of a national effort called Give Local America. Donations could be as little as $25 for a local charity. In all, 6,677 individual made donations during the event.

The Twitter hashtag #LiftTheLowcountry had thousands of posts and many photos of people holding signs that said “I help.”

Stevens said his organization is embracing the move toward an online presence. He personally tweeted 90 times during the daylong event, hoping to connect with more social media users who would ultimately become online donors.

Stevens said this is very different than the trend in charitable giving among those donors in the over-70 population who give mainly to churches and established organizations.

Today’s millennials need to see actual results from an organization before deciding to donate, Stevens said. They want to connect with an organization and feel socially responsible — a feeling fueled by the large presence of social media.

“We are not gathering at church as much; we are gathering on the Internet,” Stevens said. “Young people want to see a photo of the child who just got a pair of shoes (because of their donation). They use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.”

Stevens said the younger generations seek a genuine purpose for charitable giving and real, measurable results.

“A charitable organization cannot just sit back and say, ‘We’ve been a good organization for 100 years,’” he said. “Startup nonprofits have shown they can be successful (at generating donations) with a strong social media presence.”

To reach younger and tech-savvy charitable givers, Steven said it’s important to connect the younger donors with the ways in which their donations affect their own lives and the lives of others. It’s how they view and reflect on the results of their giving.

For example, Stevens said, charitable organizations need to include statistics on where donations are going and what they are funding in simple, understandable terms.

“A shift in charitable giving is taking place, and if you satisfy those needs, you’ll be successful,” he said.

In applying the same theory to for-profit businesses, Stevens said a company should encourage and reward volunteering and announce all of its corporate giving to employees.

“If your business supports a charity or you’re involved in helping schools, make sure your employees know that,” he said. “Figure out how to offer employees time off to volunteer and serve on boards.”

“These are not major changes,” he said, “but you will see the power of this once you try it.”

Reach special projects associate editor Jenny Peterson at 843-849-3145.

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