Giving Day 2020: Coming together to enrich the student experience

A virtual edition of this 24-hour fundraising effort kicks off on Wednesday, September 30

The COVID-19 pandemic and the devastating Northern California wildfires have added new urgency to this year’s Giving Day, a high-octane, 24-hour online event of nonstop giving on September 30.

The pandemic has delayed the start of Giving Day, originally scheduled for April 22, and altered the format. Usually the celebration has a strong analog component, with booths of high-spirited students and supporters set up in hotspots across the campus, including Quarry Plaza. This year, however, COVID-related safety concerns led to an all-online event.

“Now that we are about to begin a mostly remote learning experience, it will be more important than ever to support the programs and activities that make the UC Santa Cruz student experience so valuable and enriching,” said Emily Denning Todd, associate director of annual and digital giving for UC Santa Cruz.

This playful but impactful philanthropic event had to pivot quickly this year, changing its structure and format to maximize its fundraising impact while keeping supporters and teams safe and socially distanced. 

Then again, Giving Day’s success owes something to its founders’ creative and improvisatory talents. 

This day started out as a fledgling fundraising event, known for its independent spirit and its willingness to break with custom. Rather than fall back on traditional modes of giving, this event encouraged “micro-donations”—small but important gifts that fund worthy programs while increasing the campus’s circle of loyal supporters, attracting and encouraging future giving. 

This year, expect to see some old favorites vying for support. But statewide and international emergencies have led to new funding needs, including the COVID-19 Response Fund, which helps fund critical research at the Molecular Diagnostic Lab, where researchers have implemented a testing process on campus that identifies active COVID-19 cases. 

Separately, a team in the antibody testing center is working to develop a test to detect COVID-19 antibodies in blood. If used widely, such a test would allow researchers to quantify the fraction of the community that has been exposed. 

The pandemic also adds new weight to the Smith Society program, which is helping to raise funds for UC Santa Cruz students who are former foster youth. The funds will help the students focus on their academic work and thrive during a time of distance learning and severe economic stress. 

Most Smith Society students need to work to make ends meet each month. Many of those students are now struggling to find employment and paid internships during the pandemic. Securing employment, and Smith leadership positions, will help those students be successful, project organizers said. 

Another funding need, the 2020 Wildfire Relief Fund, is the work of UC Santa Cruz community members banding together to support Banana Slugs impacted by the devastating blazes. 

Clearly, the COVID-19 pandemic has done nothing to drain the organizers’ drive and enthusiasm for Giving Day.

“Being a mostly remote campus has its challenges, but we are taking it in stride,” Todd said. “It has been extraordinary to see how this year's Giving Day groups have energized their peers to continue to participate in Giving Day. Over 140 different areas of campus are participating. We hope that, through the support of our generous donors, they raise the funds they need to continue offering their life-changing programs—no matter what 2020 throws our way.”

While the format has changed somewhat, most of Giving Day’s popular traditions will continue this year. As in past years, the giving will start in the middle of the night. Supporters will start funding programs at the stroke of 12 a.m. on September 30 and keep on going until 11:59 p.m. Supporters will stay glued to the Giving Day page, which will provide up-to-the-moment tallies. 

As always, supporters should keep a close watch on “challenge times,” during which the project that has the most unique donors in a specified time period is awarded bonus dollars.And that relentless pace does not let up. This is not a marathon. It’s more like a series of hundred-yard dashes, including an all-out push to the finish line at the very end. 

That last-minute burst at the end of the day has its reward: The group that has the most unique donors during the whole day is awarded bonus dollars.

Donors who want to support a wide variety of worthy programs should go to the Giving Day website.