FARGO — You've seen the red-and-white heart suit, the #CountMe hashtag and ads for what organizers call the "Super Bowl of nonprofits" here and across the region.
Nearly 500 charities are getting ready for Giving Hearts Day, which falls on the second Thursday in February each year. In 2019, it just happens to be on Valentine's Day.
The 24-hour event is hosted by three Fargo organizations: Dakota Medical Foundation, Impact Institute and the Alex Stern Family Foundation. Last year, more than 28,000 people donated $13.1 million on Giving Hearts Day, an event that spans North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota.
Now in its twelfth year, most are familiar with the energy and impact — $55 million raised since inception — surrounding this day of donating. It's about supporting community organizations that aim to improve the quality of life of families, children, the elderly, refugees, those experiencing homelessness and others.
But there's still more to learn about Giving Hearts Day, especially when it comes to a few new aspects of the event and the milestones from past years.
1. The 'aha' origin
Back in 2008, before GoFundMe and Venmo were popularized, people weren't as familiar or comfortable with online donating. But Jeana Peinovich, director of Dakota Medical Foundation's Lend A Hand Up program, wanted to change that.
The program to raise funds for families facing medical crises was the springboard for Giving Hearts Day as it was one of the first nonprofits to which people could donate in the first year.
More than fundraising, Peinovich wanted the event to be something meaningful. When her mother mentioned how lonely Valentine's Day can be without a sweetheart to celebrate with, Peinovich had her "aha" moment and decided to connect charitable giving with the holiday.
Peinovich calls Giving Hearts Day a "practical way of giving in the middle of winter. It was an idea to help people feel good on Valentine's Day, like my mom."
The first year, Peinovich discussed the idea with her boss, Pat Traynor, who loved the concept, and they pulled off planning it within six weeks.
"People have good ideas all the time. I just happened to be working in an organization where you can share a good idea and they have the resources and tools to pull it off," she said. "It's inspiring. I feel grateful that I was able to be a part of something from the beginning that has become bigger than anyone of us dreamed it would be."
2. New this year
If you're too busy between work and Valentine's Day plans, there's now the option of scheduling a Giving Hearts donation online. Anytime between now and the day before Valentine’s Day, folks can go to the website www.impactgiveback.org, find an organization to donate to and click the box to have it processed on Giving Hearts Day with the thousands of other donations. So far, there have been more than 370 gifts scheduled, totaling $46,000.
Traynor said a few Giving Hearts gift cards were prototyped last year and are rolling out to all organizations and schools interested in using them as rewards for different contests. The cards come in amounts of $10 or $20, and are another way of supporting charities in the community. Giving Hearts has sold nearly 4,000 gift cards that have raised more than $116,000.
Also new this year are “snowbank signs.” There were 10,000 Giving Hearts Day signs made, and they're now in front yards throughout the region.
3. Its global reach
For the past two years and now looking for a three-peat, the local organization uCodeGirl has been honored by Giving Hearts Day for receiving donations from all seven continents.
Founder Betty Gronneberg said her nonprofit's mission is universal and far-reaching because economic empowerment of women through education, more specifically through STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), is inspiring for people everywhere.
"It's heartening to see people from Africa and Australia supporting the people of North Dakota — Antarctica, too," Gronneberg said. "We are all in it together, in the same world."
Gronneberg started the nonprofit in May 2016, and about 200 girls have gone through the program, which starts registration in the spring. In 2018, uCodeGirl was also honored for having the most states donate to the nonprofit on Giving Hearts Day.
4. Mr. Matchy Matchy retiring
Scott Holdman, with the Impact Foundation, has been associated with Mr. Matchy Matchy since the character was unveiled several years ago to promote Giving Hearts Day.
Holdman said Mr. Matchy Matchy is now retired, though he says plenty of folks still sport the signature look of a red-and-white heart suit and tie, along with white horn-rimmed frame glasses.
Mr. Matchy Matchy was to encourage donors to “be a match, or match the match” of a gift, donating a dollar-for-dollar match of an amount raised.
Now on Giving Hearts Day there will be five “field correspondents” in the signature suits who will be interviewing charities all day in a live feed online at GivingHeartsDay.org, while also appearing on local TV news programs.
5. Going big or small
It only takes a minimum donation of $10 to be part of Giving Hearts Day, which adds up fast when thousands of people are giving throughout the one-day event.
Some nonprofits have set large goals for the event this year, including the New Life Center, a Fargo homeless shelter at 1902 3rd Ave. N.
Rob Swiers, the center's executive director, said his nonprofit is funding a nearly $5 million rebuilding project of the thrift store and shelter.
Swiers said New Life has secured a $500,000 match, so the center is hoping to reach $1 million on Giving Hearts Day.