Things are going to be hopping at the Wise Wonders Children’s Museum — and at 100 or so other nonprofit agencies in Billings and the surrounding region —this Thursday and Friday.
The nonprofits are all taking part in Yellowstone Valley Gives, a 30-hour fundraising drive organized by the Billings Community Foundation. It’s part of a nationwide giving day to benefit nonprofits.
For its part, in addition to all of its regular programming, Wise Wonders will be using some of its 3,000 square feet to host a “donor’s lounge,” where people thinking of supporting the museum can learn about its mission and hear how their donations would help, while enjoying free coffee and snacks.
Kelli Toohill, director of the children’s museum,at 110 N. 29th St., in downtown Billings, said her goal is to raise $3,000 during this year’s fundraiser — up from the $1,000 raised last year and the $400 raised in 2016, the year Yellowstone Valley Gives made its debut.
What will $3,000 buy at Wise Wonders? Well, with year-long scholarships for families in need of some assistance going for $50 each, $3,000 would give 60 families a year’s worth of access to the museum. This year, Wise Wonders is also hoping to introduce free Uber rides for families without vehicles, as well as birthday party package scholarships.
That’s the whole idea behind Yellowstone Valley Gives, creating an opportunity for people to learn what area nonprofits are doing so they can choose where to target their charitable contributions. The event’s theme is “Include, Inspire, Invest.”
Lauren Wright, director of the Billings Community Foundation, said community awareness is a big goal of the day of giving.
“We have so many fantastic nonprofits doing a lot of good, but if you don’t know about them, you certainly can’t give to them,” she said.
Another goal is to get younger people, in particular, wired into the habit of supporting nonprofits, which explains the emphasis on online giving and the many parties, gatherings, prizes and “donor lounges” that are part of the event. The “day” of giving will begin at noon on Thursday and end at midnight on Friday.
The whole thing will kick off Thursday from noon to 2 p.m. with a block party on North Broadway between Second and Third avenues in the heart of downtown. The party will feature live music, food trucks, balloons and prizes for both donors and nonprofits.
Nonprofits taking part in the event have also been invited to set up tables during the block party to introduce themselves to potential donors, sharing their mission, vision and goals. Other events on both days will be held at Thirsty Street Brewing, several coffeeshops and the Last Chance Pub and Cider Mill. You can see a complete list of events by going here.
Wright said last year’s Yellowstone Valley Gives involved 84 nonprofits and 850 donors, and $82,234 was raised. This year, organizers aimed at having 100 nonprofits and 1,000 donors, with a fundraising goal of $100,000. They won’t know about those last two numbers until it’s over, but by last week, 102 nonprofits had signed on for this year’s event.
Wright said Yellowstone Valley Gives will feature nonprofits from Yellowstone County and nine nearby counties. The local foundation is working with sister organizations like the Miles City Area Community Fund, which has been helping 19 Miles City nonprofits participate in the larger event.
The way it works, nonprofits post profiles on the Yellowstone Valley Gives website, allowing potential donors to search by geographic location, by charitable focus or by name. That will take you to the page of the nonprofit you’re interested in, where you can read about what they do, how contributions will be spent and so on, sometimes accompanied by a video.
Wise Wonders Children’s Museum, for example, has a one-minute video, a list of prizes available Thursday and Friday, a short history and mission statement, descriptions of how donations will be spent and volunteer opportunities.
Each site also has a donate button, meaning you don’t have to stop in to make a contribution (though they will have a few iPads and computers on site, if needed). Last year, Wise Wonders director Toohill was attending a museum conference in Pasadena, California during the day of giving.
“I donated online from my hotel room,” she said.
In addition to small prizes that nonprofits will be giving to donors during the event, the Billings Community Foundation rounded up thousands of dollars in donations that will be awarded throughout the day to various nonprofits. One such prize is $250 to the nonprofit with the most volunteers on hand during the kick-off party.
Another $250 prize, conceived of as a kick-starter, will go to one randomly selected organization that has not yet received any gifts or to a nonprofit that has raised the least amount in gifts as of 8 a.m. on Friday. Some nonprofits also have matching grants available for donors.