Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee’s Raises $4.2M for Middle Tennessee Organizations

NASHVILLE, Tenn. —Donor fatigue? Not on Middle Tennessee’s watch.

Amid 14 months that have included worldwide pandemic and economic hardship, disastrous tornadoes and floods, and a downtown Nashville bombing on Christmas morning, generosity continues to help define the city and region.

The Big Payback’s eighth annual 24-hour online giving event ended Thursday night by raising more than $4.2 million — $4,265,674 — in 32,941 donations to participating area nonprofit organizations, schools and religious institutions.

The preliminary total includes funds raised and prize totals.

In its history, The Big Payback has helped more than 1,000 area nonprofits by raising more than $25 million — $25,219,297— in cumulative gifts.

An event-record 1,017 Middle Tennessee organizations from 33 counties signed up to participate in this year’s event, an initiative of The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee (CFMT).

The Big Payback is a community-wide online giving day designed to give the public the opportunity to pay back the nonprofits that make this a place we are proud to call home. Starting at 6 pm Wednesday, May 5 and continuing to 6 pm Thursday, May 6, there were 24 hours to make donations to a wide array of participating local organizations at TheBigPayback.org.

This year’s event included 87 organizations from 12 counties that were participating in The Big Payback for the first time. Categories included human services, education, community improvement, arts and culture, youth development, animal welfare, health, housing and shelter, and the environment.

In 2020, The Big Payback raised an event-record $4,347,441 from 31,694 donations. The 2019 totals were $4,106,182 from 28,458 gifts.

“After a year of ‘downs,’ The Community Foundation has again raised spirits and funds for Middle Tennessee’s nonprofits,” said Ellen Lehman, president of The Community Foundation.

“The statistics, as The Big Payback came to an end after a powerful 24 hours, were impressive,” Lehman continued, “But so were the celebrations that played an important role as thousands of dollars turned into millions of dollars in 24 hours. And, this year, 32,941 donors made total gifts without needing to leave their homes.”

The Big Payback included 11,096 donors who reported giving to an organization for the first time, upping the eight-year total to 50,789.

Those new donors contributed $963,693. Also, 937 donations came with the indication that the donor would be willing to volunteer for the organization.

Global Sanctuary for Elephants led all organizations this year with $113,921 from 1,137 unique donations, followed by: Proverbs 12:10 Animal Rescue, 101,123 from 936 unique donations; Freedom’s Promise, $93,974 from 168 unique donations; Elephant Sanctuary, $91,927 from 914 unique donations; and Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee, $81,210 from 431 unique donations.

Rounding out the Top 10 in total gifts were Old Friends Senior Dogs, $77,435 with 1,064 unique donations; NIA House Montessori, $59,724 from 445 unique donations; Nashville Opera Association, $59,724 from 67 unique donations; Wags and Walks, $55,092 from 614 unique donations; and Fisk University, $52,418 from 246 unique donations.

Also, 736 peer-to peer fundraising campaigns raised from $10-$31,940 for participating organizations. A total of 101 campaigns raised $1,000 or more, topped by Compassionate Hands with $31,940, followed by $15,458 for Wags and Walks, and $14,558 for Valor Collegiate Academies.

Gifts to nonprofits from the public were boosted with additional financial prizes from sponsors of The Big Payback, and a leaderboard tracked donations in real time, both online and on digital billboards throughout the area.

This year’s incentive prize pool totaled about $250,000. Generous sponsors included: Kharis Foundation, The Jane and Richard Eskind and Family Foundation, The Frist Foundation, The Danner Foundation, Jerry and Ernie Williams, The HCA Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, The Memorial Foundation, Delek Fund for Hope, Kraft CPAs, Lipman, Susan and Luke Simons, and Sir Speedy BNA.

Media sponsors included: Blackbird Media, The Cromwell Group, Cumulus Broadcasting, Exit/In, The Franklin Theatre, FW Publishing, Graffiti Indoor Advertising, Lamar Advertising, WRLT-Lightning 100, Main Street Media of Tennessee, Midwest Communications, Nashville Public Radio, The Tennessean/Gannett, The Tennessee Tribune, Williamson Herald/Southern Exposure Magazine, WKRN-Channel 2, WMOT, WSM-AM Radio, WSMV-Channel 4, and WTVF-NewsChannel5.

Donors were able to search and select organizations based on mission, location and focus area. Donors also could support multiple nonprofits and make gifts of any size with ease, from $10 and up.

“Of course, The Community Foundation has been helping nonprofits who serve all our communities for the past 30 years, but The Big Payback joined our work just eight years ago,” Lehman pointed out. “In 2014, we took a leap of faith when we started The Big Payback because we didn’t have enough discretionary dollars to help many of the local nonprofits on whom our 40 counties rely. So we then created a shared service event to avoid duplication of fundraising expense and effort. Since then, The Big Payback has become a monument to caring.

“This year was different,” Lehman continued. “We were all getting tired of quarantining and the pandemic and this new way we live. But something remained the same, thank goodness. It is this day in May each year that we come together to thank our nonprofits and celebrate the spirit of giving. It is a day TO REMIND US ALL THAT IF WE LIVE HERE, WE SHOULD GIVE HERE, AND THAT YOU DON’T NEED GREAT WEALTH. You just have to have a great heart.”

With donations restricted to online giving and with just a small number of live events, participating organizations increasingly staged imaginative virtual events and social media campaigns. Virtual prize patrols honoring winning nonprofits included appearances by country music star Wynonna Judd, the world-renowned Fisk Jubilee Singers, and Tennessee Titans great Eddie George, the newly named Tennessee State University head football coach and a CFMT board member.

For a complete list of nonprofit giving totals and additional prizewinners, visit thebigpayback.org