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'Astronomical' help: Giving Hearts Day organizers look to double last year's donor count

Pat Traynor, executive director of the Impact Foundation, as seen Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018, hopes Giving Hearts Day 2018 can more than double last year’s 22,000 donors. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO — The Impact Foundation has high hopes to more than double last year's 22,000 donors this Giving Hearts Day on Thursday, Feb. 8.

The 24-hour online give-a-thon that has raised more than $40 million since it started is aiming for 50,000 donors this year, according to Executive Director Pat Traynor.

Donations totaled $500,000 in 2008 and jumped to nearly $11 million in 2017, and it's possible for the amount to reach new heights this year.

Organized by the Dakota Medical Foundation, Impact Foundation and Alex Stern Family Foundation, the program is poised to benefit more than 400 charities across North Dakota and Minnesota by helping to raise awareness about local nonprofits and create an ongoing relationship with donors, in addition to raising funds.

Carol Stefonek, a board member and co-founder of Cats Cradle Shelter, said Giving Hearts Day is "by far the biggest fundraiser" for the Fargo animal shelter.

"It's astronomical," she said. "We were blown away the first year."

The Fargo-based Gate City Bank is celebrating its 95th anniversary with special contests this Giving Hearts Day, with the financial institution offering $95,000 in donations that it plans to distribute, $2,500 each, to 38 winning nonprofits as selected by voters at its banks.

"The main idea behind the 95th anniversary is to get our employees and the community engaged in a charitable cause," said Vice President of Marketing and Business Intelligence Amy Durbin.

Durbin said Gate City Bank has received more than 27,000 nominations for the two-week 95K contest, which is already three times the participation of last year.

Vice President of Culture Amanda Torok said the bank is encouraging its employees to give back by being an advocate, getting involved and displaying their individual talents.

Gate City Bank plans to donate more than $300,000 total for this year's Giving Hearts Day.

Additionally, Abovo Events in downtown Fargo will have a "giving station" from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. that day where people can donate to seven participating nonprofit organizations, pop balloons for prizes and purchase drinks from Thunder Coffee, with $1 from each latte sold going to nonprofits.

Giving opportunities

Traynor said the Impact Foundation's work isn't just focused on raising money for charities during Giving Hearts Day, but also teaching nonprofits how to master fundraising through a step-by-step program at its "friendraising" institute. They work throughout the year, starting in June, to help organizations go from "good to great" at the task, he said.

"We figure out the trends, the data, make sure they keep track of their data, how many donors they're retaining, how well they're working as a team, ways they show gratitude and so on," Traynor said. "Nonprofits that think in abundance terms and believe the sky's the limit tend to be the thriving organizations. We want to encourage that way of thinking."

This year's Giving Hearts Day will benefit nonprofits that support local art, animals, homeless shelters, health care causes, hospice services, economic development, education, people suffering from incurable diseases and other efforts.

Participants include the YWCA Cass Clay, Fargo's Plains Art Museum, Theatre B, Concordia College, the New Life Center, the Salvation Army and hundreds of others. For a full list of nonprofits participating this year, visit

Traynor said 36 percent of donors were new in 2017, which shows an increase in participation.

"Every donor that we ask to help has helped," he said.

That includes some surprising contributions, such as the two pickups with heart decals given by Gateway Chevrolet in Fargo to help promote the cause.

Traynor said he's excited about a new opportunity for those seeking education in North Dakota this year, with drawings planned for a $25,000 scholarship to North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota.

There will also be point-of-sale donation opportunities at local businesses, programs in schools that allow kids to volunteer for donations and much more.

"When people give, it produces positive physical manifestations in the human heart," Traynor said. "Each charity helps raise the voice for giving. We as humans need connection to each other and to other communities. Today, we need common good more than ever."