Website Failure Undermines ‘Big Day of Giving’ in Cities Nationwide

The Big Day of Giving Web portals collapsed midday in Sacramento, Seattle, San Antonio and St. Louis, and among 54 communities, large and small.

by Hudson Sangree, The Sacramento Bee / May 4, 2016

(TNS) -- Sacramento’s Big Day of Giving came to an online standstill Tuesday after websites set up to process hundreds of millions of dollars in donations across the country failed in Sacramento and dozens of cities holding similar events.

Many communities, including Sacramento, extended their giving events through Wednesday.

The Web portals – set up by Austin, Texas, company Kimbia – collapsed midday in Sacramento and in Seattle, San Antonio and St. Louis, among 54 communities, large and small. New York City was affected; so were Philadelphia and Houston; Hutchinson, Kan.; and Wheeling, W.Va.

Kimbia executive Mary Anne Gunn said the failure happened because technical enhancements to the donation platform, a new mobile application and other changes undermined what had been a successful program.

“The combination created the … delays in processing people were seeing,” she said.

The company issued a statement to customers Tuesday afternoon.

“We have been exploring our options in ensuring that our community partners achieve their goals set for today and will work through the best solution for your community.”

May 3 was dubbed Give Local America a few years ago as part of a national effort, but it took on different names in different places. Sacramento introduced the event as the Arts Day of Giving in 2013, then broadened it into the Big Day of Giving in 2014. The goal was to raise money and awareness for thousands of nonprofits nationwide. Many smaller nonprofits count on the annual donation day for a large portion of their annual budgets.

Last year, more than 500 nonprofits in the Sacramento region raised $5.6 million from 23,000 donors.

Gunn said the websites in Sacramento, Seattle and elsewhere were starting to work again in the late afternoon. But at about the same time, the Big Day of Giving website was taken offline.

“This is catastrophic,” said Bill Bronston, who runs a group called Tower of Youth on an annual budget of $30,000 to $35,000, almost all of it raised on the Big Day of Giving. The nonprofit group exposes high school students in the Sacramento-Sierra region to digital media and communication arts.

Bronston said he received about $11,000 in donations before the website malfunctioned late Tuesday morning and “everything stopped.”

He said he’d spent months generating donor interest through social media and other means, and worried much of the work had gone to waste. Many donors were likely to be dissuaded from trying to give again, he said.

“Even if they extend the deadline another 36 hours, to get back to our base and build trust … is not fixable.”

The Sacramento website, bigdayofgiving.org, stopped processing donations after recording more than $1.5 million in gifts from about 10,000 donors in the Sacramento region. The day’s goal was to raise $6 million locally from 30,000 donors.

Initial reports said the website was just very slow because of the volume of traffic, but as the day went on, the extent of the failure became clearer. Kimbia had experienced a technical malfunction of epic proportions.

“This really was quite a colossal failure,” said Dennis Mangers, chairman of the Sacramento Region Community Foundation, which organizes the annual donation event.

Kimbia was the event’s vendor last year and performed well, Mangers said. The company talked about its improvements and promised good results.

“They assured us they were ready for any contingency. It appears they were not,” Mangers said. “It flung our Big Day of Giving into chaos.”

By midafternoon Tuesday the company “couldn’t tell us what happened or assure us what could be done better,” he said. Shortly after 3 p.m. event organizers told people to stop trying to use the event’s website and give directly to nonprofit groups.

“Unfortunately the vendor for the national giving day has not offered a viable solution for fixing the site, so we’re moving away from using that giving portal,” Heath Buckmaster, with Sacramento public television station KVIE, reported on the live video streaming service Periscope at 3:15 p.m.

The day of giving – a major fundraising event for 570 nonprofit groups in Sacramento – will be extended through 3 p.m. Wednesday, he said. Those wishing to donate should contribute directly to a group of their choice. The groups run the gamut from big organizations such as the zoo and the Crocker Art Museum to tiny nonprofits.

At a Big Day of Giving rally in Cesar Chavez Plaza in downtown Sacramento on Tuesday, Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna said he planned to match up to $20,000 in donations to the Stanford Settlement Neighborhood Center, an organization that serves seniors and teens in the North Sacramento and South Natomas areas.

He said even with the website down, the settlement had raised $39,000 on its own, partly through the website before it failed and partly through direct donations.

Mangers said he hoped news of the failure would spur additional donations, perhaps even more than organizers initially sought.

“It’s a chance to show our resilience and generosity of our community,” he said.

Bronston said the harm the failure caused was likely to be the subject of litigation. “This is going to take a month to sort out, and I think it’s going to end up in court,” he said. “There’s too much damage done here.”

©2016 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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