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Building an Innovative Chamber of Commerce Giving Day with #HudsonGives

In this episode of Giving & Gabbing, Maria Nieves, President & CEO of the Hudson County Chamber of Commerce shares how her team continues to grow its Giving Day, #HudsonGives, through creative strategies that support participating nonprofits and increase engagement amongst its supporters.

#HudsonGives’ Year Over Year Growth

The Hudson County Chamber of Commerce celebrated its third annual Giving Day in May 2021, achieving record-breaking results. In just 24-hours of giving, 83 organizations in Hudson County, NJ raised $651,208 with support from 3,573 donors. This astonishing 90.2% increase from their previous Giving Day, nearly doubled the impact that #HudsonGives made in their community. This interview explores the creative and innovative strategies that led to this explosive growth. 

Although it is not yet common practice for chambers to host Giving Days, Maria shares how this community-centered event aligns closely with their mission. 

When she began at the chamber, she recognized that 15% of their members belonged to the nonprofit sector, including one of the county’s largest employers. Having worked closely with nonprofits in previous roles, she understood nonprofits played a large role in the overall health of their economy, and by ensuring they had the support they needed, the entire business community would benefit. 

“I will mention that as a chamber, it is unusual for us to do this type of work, but we always couch this and try to educate our members that this is about growing the local economy for everyone.”

Maria formed an affinity group, now known as “The Nonprofit Council,” to hear directly from the chamber’s nonprofit members, and together the idea of having a community-wide Giving Day was put into action. The inaugural #HudsonGives took place in the spring of 2019, raising $127,097.

New to Giving Days, the chamber benefited from having a dedicated Project Manager to support them through this endeavor. Laryssa, Sr. Project Manager, has worked closely with Maria and her team for the last four years, tracking their success and offering help every step of the way.

“We learned a lot, a tremendous amount, and I really feel like the partnership is critical. We wouldn’t be where we are today had we picked another vendor, had we not been able to develop the type of relationship we have with Laryssa, and quite frankly the entire GiveGab team.”

With two successful Giving Days under her belt, Maria was excited to build upon the momentum her community had generated in anticipation of their 2021 event. In order to substantially grow the impact of #HudsonGives, she needed to take an innovative approach to how she engaged donors. She wanted something that would bring excitement, drive traffic to the Giving Day site, and put forward a face of the chamber. With this, Maria developed her donor challenge.

At the end of every donation form, donors were given three challenges, walking through the street with face-paint, the ice bucket challenge, and a pie in the face, to vote on. Maria would need to complete the winning challenge if #HudsonGives met its $500,000 goal.

Ultimately, the Hudson community crushed this goal, and the face painting won. Maria, accompanied by her Steering Committee, proudly walked around Grove Street pedestrian mall in Jersey City with her face covered in teal and orange paint. 

“I am willing to do these types of things for the community because that’s how passionate I am. The opportunity to get to have the Chamber President do something kooky, who wouldn’t want that, right? It was pretty funny and we got some really wonderful local press on it.” 

In addition to gaining more engagement from donors, Maria also wanted to focus her efforts on ensuring that her participating nonprofits felt supported and had the tools and resources they needed. She understood that the more buy-in that she was able to get from participating nonprofits, the more successful the Giving Day as a whole could become.

In 2021, she began implementing a Buddy Program, which connects organizations new to #HudsonGives, with those who are more experienced. The buddy then offers sound advice and gets the new participant over the hurdles that come with taking part in their first Giving Day. Maria is looking forward to formalizing this program more as she prepares for their 2022 event. 

“One of the things we have also seen is those who have now done #HudsonGives for two or three years, they are getting far savvier. They do feel like they can share that knowledge with new #HudsonGives participants…I like the idea that they have a peer they can touch base with and we’re all in this together in a very real sense.”

Closing out the interview, Maria left thoughtful advice for other Chambers of Commerce considering hosting a Giving Day of their own. 

“This is an amazing opportunity to engage with your community in a meaningful and impactful way. I know that chambers across the board have struggled in the last couple of decades with relevancy… [A Giving Day] is a way to position your chamber as being incredibly relevant in a region, addressing some critical issues, and it will help you to build a platform…It’s a way for people to get to know that there is a chamber here and that we’re doing this type of work”

In this episode of Giving & Gabbing, Maria Nieves discusses:

  • The History of #HudsonGives and how hosting a Giving Day ties into the Hudson Chamber of Commerce’s mission
  • How the chamber can support participating organizations in meaningful ways 
  • The growth that #HudsonGives has experienced since hosting their first Giving Day in 2019
  • Maria’s experience working and building a relationship with her dedicated Project Manager 
  • Implementing a successful donor challenge
  • Advice to other Chambers of Commerce thinking of hosting their first Giving Day

Check out the full interview with Maria Nieves, President & CEO of the Hudson County Chamber of Commerce, on building an innovative Giving Day with #HudsonGives by:

Reading the interview transcript

Watching the live interview video recording

Giving & Gabbing is now available on popular podcast streaming sites such as:

Podcast episodes include nonprofit communication and marketing strategies and interviews with fundraising professionals from across the nonprofit and education sectors.


Interview Transcript

Molly: Hi, I’m Molly, GiveGab’s, Product Marketer and fundraising enthusiast. This episode of Giving & Gabbing is sure to be a treat. Our special guest today is Maria Nieves, President, and CEO of the Hudson County Chamber of Commerce. Maria and her team celebrated their third annual Giving Day, #HudsonGives this past spring, raising over $651,000 for local nonprofits operating in Hudson County, New Jersey. The chamber continues to implement creative strategies year-over-year to engage with new and returning donors and to maximize the impact that this event has in their community. In this episode, we will be diving into how #HudsonGives had developed creative strategies for engaging their donors and participating nonprofits. Joining me from the GiveGab team, we have Laryssa, our Senior Project Manager, who’s been providing unparalleled support to our Giving Day partners since 2017, and who directly assists Maria and her team during #HudsonGives. Welcome, Laryssa!

Laryssa: Hi, everyone! I am really excited to be here and to hang out with Molly and Maria. Throughout the past few years, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing #HudsonGives grow and do a lot of fun things, so I am just excited to be here and chat with everyone.

Molly: You know, Giving Day growth is something that we definitely love to talk about so I am excited to have both of you here with me today because I think there is a lot of opportunities for fundraisers to take their engagement strategies to the next level by hosting a Giving Day. And, so with that, we definitely want to kick things off by chatting with you directly, Maria. We just would love for you to share with us a little bit about the history of #HudsonGives, and how hosting the Giving Day in your community really ties into your mission at the Chamber.

Maria: Sure, well first, thank you, Molly and Laryssa, for having me today. I am really excited about this conversation, and the chance to share what we have done in Hudson County, NJ. Really quick background, because it is somewhat of a long story, I started at the Chamber 10 years ago, and I came from a background of community affairs and doing work with nonprofits in the community for a corporation I had worked for previously. So when I went to the Chamber, the first thing I noticed was that about 15% of the membership was in the nonprofit sector, and in fact, one of the largest employers in Hudson County is a nonprofit Hospital, in healthcare, that sort of makes sense. So I also knew, from my previous work that nonprofits in Hudson County struggled a bit to get attention for their work for their various causes.

If you don’t know where Hudson County is, our offices are in Jersey City. Laryssa, you’ve been to our offices, you know that you can literally stand outside my office at the Chamber and look across the Hudson River and see the amazing skyline of New York City. So Hudson County has a rich history, but part of that history is in sort of the orbit of New York and it can be a very challenging orbit to be in, especially when a lot of folks who move to the area continue their ties to New York City. If they’re coming from New York, they continue those ties. So while there are a lot of Hudson County residents, who are here for three/four generations, I’ve met some of these folks it’s always amazing to me, there is also a large population that comes from New York City. So, they may not be as aware of what’s going on in Hudson County. One of the first things I did,  within a couple of years of getting to the Chamber, was I convened a meeting with all our nonprofits. It was the first “Affinity Group” we convened, we call it our “Nonprofit Council.” We had that first conversation, “What keeps you up at night?”, “What can we work on, how can we help?”

It took a few years, I want to say it literally took four years for us to get to a solution, but we did come upon the idea of doing Giving Day. Serendipitously I was able to form our Hudson County Chamber Foundation, a 501c3, in 2017. Quickly after doing that, we were able to launch #HudsonGives as the first program under this foundation. We were lucky enough to engage with GiveGab as our technology partner, and the rest is sort of history. 

I will mention that as a Chamber, it is unusual for us to do this type of work, but we always couch this and try to educate our members that this is about growing the local economy for everyone.

Molly: I love that you touched on that it might seem odd that a Chamber is hosting a Giving Day. I think what’s really unique about what you’ve done is you’ve really sat down and you listened to what your community’s needs where, and you developed and started building this Giving Day that could help meet those needs. I think that’s what makes Giving Days so unique, is that they are usually created to really fill some sort of gap in a community and to really unite people together.

One of the things that I think we love about our jobs at GiveGab is seeing how the Giving Days work differently. I know you said you started working with GiveGab and you’ve enjoyed your experience. Can you talk a little about the relationship you have built with GiveGab and how working with a Project Manager directly, and maybe even leveraging the community of other Giving Day Leaders, has really helped you grow #HudsonGives?

Maria: As a small organization, we are very small here at the Chamber, it is sometimes hard to find the right partners because I do not have a team of people who can do all the due diligence. For this particular project, we actually did have a consultant work with us who sat down, and she did a review of 5-7 different possible partners in this technology space. She highly, out of the entire group, she said GiveGab are the people I think are the people you really need to speak to.

So I spoke with one of your salespersons. We spent more than an hour together and she didn’t try to sell me, and that was it. I was like, not only are they knowledgeable, not only do they only do Giving Days, because some of the other platforms they do a bunch of things but they try to fit it into this box, this is what you do, this is a cool competency. That also struck me as being highly important. I think it was that first impression of “we’re really here to build a relationship,” which is so critical to me, I wasn’t just being sold. 

I think I met with her in June, it wasn’t until December that I felt confident enough to really sign on the dotted line, and move forward. Laryssa was our Project Manager, she really sorry of held our hands through that first year. That first year was tough, it was dealing with a lot of members of this community who maybe did not think we were doing the right thing, didn’t understand what we were doing. 

I always felt confident about what we were doing, but there were times I was like “oh my gosh,” am I doing the right thing? I really relied on Laryssa for “What do other Giving Days do?” “What do you recommend?” “What have you seen that works?” So we learned a lot, a tremendous amount, and I really feel like the partnership is critical. We wouldn’t be where we are today had we picked another vendor, had we not been able to develop the type of relationship we have with Laryssa, and quite frankly the entire GiveGab team.

Laryssa: I will interject here Maria, I don’t want you to sell yourself short, because your first year, you came in and you knew a lot more than those who have done Giving Days multiple years in a row. A huge kudos to you, and just the confidence that you came in with, and the questions that you asked, and you had done your research really well going into the Giving Day. You also made it easy for us. We had a lot of good back and forth strategy discussions, and I really enjoyed all of our check-ins and meetings. I felt like you came to prepared. So don’t sell yourself short, you knew what you were doing!

Maria: Thank you for that, there was a lot of synergy and we did do a lot of research so that you for that. I appreciate it.  

Molly: I have to say, I’ve worked with Laryssa for a long time too and I agree with you. I think that’s what makes GiveGab so special. You really build these relationships with each other. You come with these expectations and these goals that you want to achieve, and when you’re starting something new, it can be really daunting like you said. Hosting your first year, with a Giving Day, it’s a lot of work. You’re going to hit challenges, you are going to hit bumps in the road, but I think what’s so specific and so unique is that that you get this partnership immediately. You’re paired with somebody or a couple of people, and you can run your goals past them, and they can help you meet those goals. I absolutely love that, I love talking to our partners that have done that. Having been a former partner, that was my favorite thing. It just always makes me smile when everybody says like, “Oh that first year is so hard, but at least I had someone there to help me through it.”

Laryssa: I think one of our favorite things is, you know the biggest compliment we can get, is when people say, “we felt like you were another team member of ours,” or, “You were part of an extension of our team.” That’s just the biggest compliment you can get when partners are like,”oh, it worked, it just made sense. I felt like you were an extra arm of our team, not a third-party vendor that we hired.”

Maria: Yeah, I was actually going to say that. But, I wasn’t sure if I was overstepping some boundaries. You know like to have you in some box over here. I also share with our nonprofit partners that GiveGab is essential to this project that we are building over many years, and that they should also use you all as a resource. The ethos that you have at GiveGab around really being customer-centric, has been critical. I think our nonprofits have gotten more and more comfortable working with you all as well, which does in fact, make you sort of an integral part of the team without me officially saying it, I could say I’m officially saying it. 

[laughter]

Molly: We will just sit here and complement each other back and forth, that’s what it’s all about, building each other up. 

Laryssa: So, Maria, kind of thinking about how you’ve grown a bit, and how your nonprofits have really grown to know GiveGab, and things like that. I mean, you just celebrated your third year. You’re going into your fourth Giving Day, which is probably, mind-blowing. It’s probably like “how did you get here? four years flew by.” I would love to know how you feel your Giving Day has grown throughout the years, and sort of how priorities and strategies have shifted, and just kind of how it’s evolved.

Maria: I think back to that first year and our goal, I look back at some of our written documents, and I think our goal in raising funds the first year was thirty thousand dollars, which seems like nothing. But, at the time was all that we felt confident enough to put on paper. This was such a new concept to the community, and what I really appreciate about what has happened is that you know the community has really embraced #HudsonGives. I think that it has gotten a lot of visibility.

I think it helps people to feel like they’re part of something bigger in the community, everybody can participate. It’s inclusive of everyone, and we have a diversity of organizations with the diversity of leaders who are running those nonprofits who participate. It only takes five dollars to give. I think all of that really helps the community feel like they can own it. And to me, that’s probably the most important piece of this. While we may have started this at the Chamber, we don’t own it, our nonprofits own it, the community owns it, and we’re co-creating it. I know that that’s a word and a phrase a lot of people may be using a lot, co-create. Maybe they know what they’re saying, maybe they’re just using it because it’s a buzzword, I don’t know.

When I say it about #HudsonGives, I truly feel like of the many programs we have, and we have some really amazing programs at the chamber, this one is truly co-created from the very beginning with our members. As we head into your four, you know part of what I’m challenging our Steering Committee, which is made up of many of the nonprofits who are members of the Chamber who participate. I’m really challenging them to really own it this next year, and for us to build the infrastructure to ensure that it’s sustainable for the long term.

We’ve had great growth. Uh, We’re so excited by what we were able to achieve this past May, especially with the Covid environment that we’ve been in. We know that that growth may not continue in that trajectory, it will continue, but we’re not quite sure how it’s going to look, and so for our purposes, we always want the community to feel like every #HudsonGives every year is a success. We’ve met some important goals and I want to make sure it continues ten years out. I want there to be a #HudsonGives 2030. So that’s what we’re really focusing on this year.  And, I think beyond the fundraising goal, that big number. We’re looking at, how can we also teach our nonprofits to consider how important some other goals are, like engaging new donors and cultivating those donors, and growing them. That we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that every new donor is a win, is a victory, and we need to celebrate that.

Laryssa: And I will sort of touch on the point that you made about how you involve your nonprofits. I will say, you work with your steering committee really closely. You’ve done a good job building relationships and maintaining relationships with your nonprofits. The feedback that they give you, and like, even watching, when you had your lifestream and you had your Steering Committee on, and just like how you all interact with each other and support each other, and all that is really evident. I think that speaks volumes to how you’ve been able to grow this day so quickly in three years. The buy-in from your nonprofits is there, and you’ve done it, and you’ve done a really good job leading it.

Maria: Oh great! Well, you know, we also try to have fun. We also understand that it’s a Giving Day. It’s about feeling good. It’s about celebrating what the community does. There’s no need to be super serious about this in a way that can be off-putting. We want everybody to join in the fun. We do a lot of fun things during our livestream, which always make me laugh when I think about it. 

Molly: That is what a Giving Day is all about. If you can’t have fun with it you can’t teach and embrace these organizations that are participating, and teach them to have fun with their fundraising strategy, it doesn’t grow as quickly. I think it’s a testament to what you’ve built and how you really take in what you believe about the Giving Day and help teach your organizations that same thing. It is really a collective community movement. It is something that everybody embraces and is beyond just their walls of their sort of like regular donor circle. It’s about getting out in the community, finding those new donors, and introducing people to an exciting way to give, and a new way to give in a fun environment.

Maria: One of the things we have done with our livestream the past couple of years, and Laryssa, I don’t know if I stole this from another Giving Day, is our pet parade. A competition that we have to find a mascot every year for #HudsonGives. We have people, and this goes to not just engaging nonprofits, but engaging the community that support these nonprofits. We ask folks on our social media to submit a picture. Tell us why your pet should be our mascot, and we got some really wonderful photos. I wasn’t completely scripted, so we were showing the photos. It was all ad-lib, and I remember there was this one dog who looked like he was about to have pizza at a pizza restaurant outdoors. Sort of checker cloth, a table cloth, the red and white,  sitting at the table. I was like, “Oh, this dog’s about to have pizza. I wonder to where you know.” So we were just ad-libbing. It was just completely hilarious, and I hope nobody was at all offended by some of the comments I made on their pets. And you know I’m a pet owner, a pet lover, we ended up with a fish as our mascot, Phebus.

But, you know that to me is the most enjoyable part of #HudsonGives is, it’s not just about the nonprofits, it is about the wider community. So how can we open up our arms and embrace them all in this fun and engaging way, and give residents of Hudson County, and anybody who loves Hudson County, a way to say “I’m in this with you, I am part of that movements.” It’s interesting to use that word because we use that word in our advertising for HudsonGives, Join the Movement, because it is a movement.

Molly: It sweeps over these cities, these counties, these states. I see it all the time, and I think you go into that first Giving Day. You’re like “I want to host a Giving Day, it’s going to be really great.” When you’re on year three, you’re like, “everybody knows what this Giving Day is, everybody has it marked in their calendar the minute the clock strikes midnight.”  At the end of your Giving Day, people are ready for you to tell them when next year is going to be. It’s this thing that everybody looks forward to and it’s unlike any fundraising experience I’ve ever been a part of. Galas are very nice, and they’re fun and you know it’s a unique opportunity to support your organization, but I feel like they don’t have that same level of energy that comes from a Giving Day. It really does, it creates that movement around your community, and it’s so incredible to be a part of. 

That kind of like brings me. you know. as you talk about how your community as a whole is getting involved, as a Chamber of Commerce, you are uniquely positioned to work closely with not just the nonprofits in your community but also local businesses. Can you talk a little bit about how you’ve been able to really engage local businesses in #HudsonGives?

Molly: Well beyond having them participate as sponsors, we’ve had one major sponsor who actually engages their employees at their offices in Jersey City to give locally during Hudson Gibbs, and then they do a corporate match. We have another sponsor who touches base with their affinity groups, as they have several at their firm, and they will choose five different nonprofits to give a significant sponsorship to for #HudsonGives. They’ve done that two years in a row. We’re always looking for creative ways to do this. I have another potential partner for next year, that I’m going to be sitting down with next week to talk about employee engagement specifically, which I’m excited about.

I think that there are even more opportunities there to mine from an employee standpoint. I know that a lot of employees, you know, it can be a little trepidatious for an employer to suggest you participate in this Giving Day when a lot of employees have their own causes that they want to support. But, I think that there are ways to do it that are not at all heavy-handed or make employees feel like they’re being told, “voluntold” to do something. Our goal. always is when we work with potential partners is to really say, it’s about educating employees who have a vested interest in the region to learn about what the causes are. So you know we’ve started, I like to call them planting seeds, and we’re trying to grow it.

And then also one of the things I’m thinking about is that as a Chamber, and I think that this is something that we can uniquely do. Part of our mission as a chamber is to educate the community around why business is good for the region and how different companies do good and make a great impact. So we’re also thinking about for our presenting sponsor next year, How do we incorporate their story into this larger #HudsonGives story. And you help them to use it as a platform for how they can tell the story about how they’re giving back to the community and making a great impact. Which would marry these two things that we are trying to do that are critical to our mission, improving our local economy for the nonprofit sector, quality of life issues, and then, also, on the other hand, you know, being an advocate for business in the region.

Molly: I love that – that’s awesome. My brain is turning, I get excited because like when I hear you talk about a Giving Day, I’m like “oh that reminds me of so and so and so that’s done this. And like, “I’ve seen this community, you know, engage their businesses as a sponsor in this way” and there are just so many unique and creative things that you can do to meet the needs of your community. I know that you guys do a lot of unique things for #HudsonGives. Laryssa, I know that you slacked with our internal GiveGab because Maria, you did something very special on this year’s Giving Day. Laryssa, do you want to share what Maria did as a challenge? 

Laryssa: Well, I’ll give a little back story because this is really fun. Maria and I were on one of our weekly checks and she says, “I have this idea of a challenge where I’m going to have to do something, and people are going to get to vote on what I do, but it’s going to make them donate because they’re going to want to vote.” So you, on your donation form this year, put a little question in that basically said, when people are checking out, they have the option to vote on a challenge that you had to accomplish, so kudos to you for volunteering for that, because what you also put on there were not things that anybody would volunteer themselves for. I don’t think, like the Ice Bucket challenge, you did a face painting one, pie in the face, I think I voted for that one.  

Maria: So that’s actually a great example of co-creating. I had a meeting with my Steering Committee and we were like, you know, our goal this year is raising $500,000. How are we going to do this? How are we going to get this out there? How are we going to get people engaged in this? I should back up, because the first challenge was, can we do a livestream for twenty-four hours? That was going to be the challenge. If I could, then I forget what it was going to be. Then we flipped it and said, okay, really, the challenge is raising the $500,000. and if we get there, what are you going to do? It has to be something that will catch people’s attention. So I did. I put it out there. I would do one of those three things, the face painting, the pie in the face, or the ice bucket. I am glad to say that the ice bucket did not win by a long shot. So people do not, I would like to think that that’s because I’m likable enough that they wouldn’t have chosen that one. You know, that’s all I can’t surmise much more than that, but you know pie in the face. I would have been happy to do that except for wasting food. You know anything but the ice bucket. We did it, we did the face painting and it was a lot of fun, it was a huge blast. 

Molly: It’s a fun way to be really public about one of your goals, meeting that $500,000 threshold and then giving people the opportunity to vote on it. Not only do they feel like they were giving back to the community but then there was a secondary step of “I gave back” and then they will see something at the end of the day that’s just a culmination of feeling good about supporting my favorite organization. 

Maria: Yeah absolutely, I certainly hope that people understand I have a sense of humor as well. That I am willing to do these types of things for the community because that’s how passionate I am. The opportunity to get to have the Chamber President do something kooky, who wouldn’t want that right? It was pretty funny and we got some really wonderful local press on it. It was all good, it was all good. 

Laryssa: I think that something that comes out of that, that maybe you don’t intend either, is that people can put a face to #HudsonGives, and a face to the Chamber. A lot of you nonprofit members, and business members, know you already, but donors got a glimpse into Maria, and the fun, and everything you want the Giving Day to exude. I think it was fun for people to watch. I think I remember the video or the pictures of the face painting, some of your Steering Committee went with you, so it was just the human, silly side of the Giving Day that people got to see. 

Maria: I think in today’s age with social media, there is sort of a flattening of all of our lives, public and private. I’m on Facebook, and people know me but, I am still the Chamber President. So we’re all really knowing a lot about each other. Maybe 50/60 years ago, a Chamber President, wouldn’t be caught dead getting a pie in the face, that would be like “What, who would do such a thing? I’m such an upstanding member of the community.” There is an image. I think a lot of that has gone by the wayside and people really want to get to know leaders in their community because an institution is really just made up of the people. If you cant trust the people who are running it, that’s problematic. I really feel strongly that those barriers between me and members, like there shouldn’t be any. Thank you, it just made me think about what you said Laryssa. 

Molly: Well I loved that you had this creative idea and you were like so “Laryssa, might think I’m a little crazy when I bring this up in our one-on-one,” but I love that our PMs embrace that and get so invested. “Let’s figure out a way to make this a fun challenge by adjusting your donation form or putting that publicly on your homepage.” We love to embrace all of the ideas that our partners come up with, and help you roll with it. 

Maria: I’m guessing that a few GiveGab staff may have donated just to vote. [Laughter] 

Laryssa: You are correct. 

Maria: I’ll have to look at all the Ithaca-related addresses to see what you voted for.  [Laughter]

Laryssa: Mission accomplished though, look what it did. 
 So going from this fun donor challenge, I was wondering if you could speak to other unique ways that you have generated excitement around #HudsonGives and gotten the community involved that you found great results from? 

Maria: The past two years with Covid have been challenging. And, especially this year because there is also fatigue of the entire situation and environment. So one of the things we did in addition to the Pet Parade, which I love, is we also do our annual New Jersey Arts and Culture Trivia Contest. This is part of our prize pool, so we really look at our prize pool as not just opportunities for nonprofits to be competitive, friendly, but competitive, and win some cash, but ways for donors to also get engaged and direct some of the prizes. So we do a New Jersey Arts and Culture Trivia Contest. I have a friend of mine that creates it, that way nobody can say it’s me directing any of the prize money. It’s a New Jersey, not just a Hudson County trivia content because New Jersey is actually a state that’s very rich in arts and culture. We are right across from New York City, so there are a lot of artists that are here from New York, and they actually live in New Jersey. So we want to celebrate that and it also ties to the fact that there are an incredible number of arts and culture organizations in Hudson County that participate in #HudsonGives. This again is connected to our Chamber mission, because we’re a big believer that arts and culture are important institutions. We need to support them because they drive so much of our local economy. We have fun, we have fun with it, and see who can answer these questions about local celebrities who have done amazing things. Like a lot of people do not know that the author of the Game of Thrones series is actually from Bayonne, which is in the southern part of Hudson County. So that was one of our questions the first year of our #HudsonGives content. We try to make them really hard because there are just some celebrities that people know off the bat, like a lot of people know that Queen Latifa is from Newark or Shaquille O’Neal is from Newark. They know those things, but they might not know that Michelle Rodriguez was living in Jersey City when she got her breakthrough role. I remember her from those Fast & Furious movies, I love those movies, yes I do! I’ll out myself on that guilty pleasure. We try to have fun with that, and it’s really critical that we engage donors, it’s almost like doing the telethon that Jerry Lewis used to do ages ago. This is a new medium that we all have to embrace, and have fun with it. So any opportunities we can find to creatively engage donors, in particular, is important to us, and to do it in a way that’s really connected to the mission, and allows us to have fun is important. 

Molly: You’re making my Marketing heart sing because I’m like “Oh my gosh, your media has to have so much fun with your Giving Day.” You have so many different elements that you incorporate and you have so many different ways people can engage beyond getting on your website and giving. I think that is such a testament to how you look at the priorities of your community, how you listen to the organizations, and what benefits they get from participating in the Giving Day, and that’s just incredible. I know that there’s so much happening, there are so many logistics going on when you’re hosting a Giving Day, but you find ways to have fun and you find ways to create these engagement opportunities that are unique and so personalized to Hudson. 

Maria: As a Chamber we could certainly host a summit every year on philanthropy and giving. We’ll have a bunch of nonprofits come, and talk about donations, and have lunch, do some networking. That would get really old really fast for everyone, including myself. Look, there are communities out there doing that, kudos to them, I’m sure they do it well. I would not know how to do that in a way that would be sustainable.  But, in any case, we’re trying to have fun and I feel like our Giving Day is that summit around philanthropy but we are going it in a way that is engaging and hopefully educating people when they don’t that they are being educated about what are our priorities in the community. To me, that’s huge. 

Molly: There is nothing wrong with breaking the mold and being innovative, and thinking outside the box. I think that that’s the future of philanthropy. I think we all sit back and we all realize that there are a lot of great models that fundraisers use but there are a lot of things that have to change and a lot of ways that we have to introduce this next generation. Listening here and having this conversation today, I feel like you already have some really great ideas in store for Hudson 2022. Do you mind sharing with us, a little bit of what we might look forward to seeing in this upcoming #HudsonGives? 

Maria: So I think for next year we’re going to do some sort of hybrid Giving Day event where a good part of it will continue to be online with live streams but will have some actual live venues that we live stream from throughout the county. We can start to really incorporate all the different parts of Hudson County because there are 12 towns here, 12 municipalities, and we want to make sure we are inclusive to all. So we may spend part of the morning in Bayonne and end up in Hoboken for part of the day, and then end it in Jersey City. I think that having that sort of “on the street” component to it, we’ve been missing. We’ve done well with the live stream but we need to figure how to get into it. It forces us to get savvier with our technology, but you just said it Molly, one of the things I tell all of our partners is “this is the future of all of our businesses.” Whether you’re a nonprofit a for-profit, you have got to figure out how to engage your audience. We are so beyond websites and blogs, and even Facebook at this point, it’s how do you get your audience to know who you are, what you’re about, and to actually activate them in some way to do something, whether it’s buying a product or giving a donation. As a Chamber we are thinking about, how can we teach our for-profit members how to be better online and digitally because I feel like, with this program, we are doing so much to help our nonprofits really embrace this space. I just can’t share enough how critical I feel that this is. 

Molly: We talked a little bit earlier about all you do for the nonprofits, and you just touched on it again, about how you’re working on educating them about how critical is it to learn about these new resources to help them fundraise. A little birdy has told me that you have been thinking about creating a nonprofit Buddy System. Is it too early to kind of tease that out? Do you want to share with us some initial thoughts that you have around that for #HudsonGives? 

Maria: So our Buddy System, we sort of started implementing last year, but I think we need to formalize it a lot more. One of the things I really enjoy watching about #HudsonGives is the fact that the nonprofits who participate, it also provide them venues for getting to know each other. One of the other issues that initially brought our nonprofits together was the silos. And, I think every community has their share of silos, where people just put their heads down and they are just doing their own job. They don’t realize all the amazing partners who are potentially out there for them. I’ve seen partnerships created and conversations started as a result of folks participating together in #HudsonGives. I’ve seen people who are development directors, and they’re like, “oh, you’re my peer, and I can pick your brain about something.” One of the things we have also seen is those who have now done #HudsonGives for two or three years, they are getting far savvier. They do feel like they can share that knowledge with new #HudsonGive-ers. We are thinking about, how do we formalize so they can be onboarding buddies to the new nonprofits and get them up to speed. And also teach them, “Hey your first year of #HudsonGives may be a challenge, you’re not maybe going to raise $50,000, it doesn’t magically appear, but if you stick with it and you participate, and you engaged with all of us who are doing it, you’ll learn how to continually increase that. So that is what I am really hopeful for. that we also create this community, and so the Buddy System, will be how do we pair these folks together, give them a bit of guideline on touchpoints with their buddy, so to speak, their newbie buddy. Then it helps to create this larger sense of community among the nonprofits.  

Laryssa: I think something too that the Buddy System can help create is if you have these more experienced nonprofits, who have obviously had success, and they’ve bought into the Giving Day, just sort of the way they approach the Giving Day, and their attitude toward the Giving Day, trickles down to all the new people. The first year when you’re participating in a Giving Day, you’re not sure, and if you don’t find it successful like you said, if you don’t stick with it, you could get a lot of drop off, but if they have this person that almost holds them accountable and have someone they can check in with and talk to and relate to, I think that that can be very valuable. 

Maria: Especially if its a smaller nonprofit and they don’t have a lot of staff. I realize working at a small nonprofit that some of these jobs can be kind of lonely, if you don’t have a peer to talk to quite frankly. I like the idea that they have a peer they can touch base with and we’re all in this together in a very real sense.  

Laryssa: So Molly, would you like me to ask the next question, I know we jumbled around a little.  

Molly: Yeah we have jumped around, but that’s what it’s all about. It’s about having a conversation, I love it. Yeah Laryssa, you can ask sort of our wrap up question and then i’ll give us an outro and we’ll be good. 

Laryssa: So Maria, my wise #HudsonGives partner of three years and counting, I would love to know, we have had I believe one other Chamber of Commerce Giving Day on board, we would love to see more because I feel like it’s just such a good fit for a Giving Day, having a Chamber foundation put one on. But, I would love to know what advice you would impart on other Chambers of Commerce that are thinking of starting their own Giving Day? 

Maria: So to them I would say, this is an amazing opportunity to engage with your community in a meaningful and impactful way. I know that Chambers across the board have struggled in the last couple of decades with relevancy. If your Chamber is a networking organization, there are plenty of other networking organizations out there. If your Chamber does advocacy, well how effective is your advocacy, maybe your members do it on their own anyway. So there are all these questions we are constantly asking ourselves about our value proposition. For me, a Chambers bottom line is about how do you help make your local economy a better one, a more inclusive one, one that is going to help every possible business get better at finding economic opportunities and raising funds and revenues, etc. For nonprofits, #HudsonGives Giving Days, in general, are our solution. It is a way to position your chamber as being incredibly relevant in a region, addressing some critical issues and it will help you to build a platform. I think Molly, you pointed out that it’s a way for people to get to know that there is a chamber here and that we’re doing this type of work, and we are very grassroots oriented. Your chamber just can’t be a grasstops organization, and everything top-down, you’ve got to have programs that allow you to be grassroots and bottoms up as well. In particular, if a chamber is looking for some ways to get into their community, address some critical issues, and do something that is incredibly relevant, a Giving Day might be a solution for them, and they should really seriously consider doing that. It doesn’t take a lot of resources, I don’t have a staff of 10 or 20 or 30, so that is not an excuse. [Laughter] 

Molly: Well Maria, I have so enjoyed talking with you and Laryssa today. Your experience is so valuable. As you said, it’s just about getting started, about trying something new, and its really inspiring to hear how you’ve really been able to generate this community-wide excitement and engagement, this movement during #HudsonGives, and I’m sure that our listeners will be thinking about some of the fun creative strategies into their next Giving Day. Im sure that some of our listeners who are debating on whether they should host their first Giving Day have been inspired. I really want to thank you, and thank you for what you’re doing for the Hudson community. We know that these Giving Days have the power to really bring a lot of impact and they couldn’t do it without you, so thank you. And thank you Laryssa for joining us, I know that our partners are very successful because of Project Managers like you too. For anyone listening today, if you are looking for more tools like this to take your digital fundraising strategy to the next level, we invite you to visit our resource library to stay up to date with our podcast, webinars, downloadable content, and more at info.givegab.com/resources.