Mary Talen sat glued to her computer Wednesday, watching a number on the screen slowly climb.
Her colleagues at Youth Emergency Services cheered when she announced an update: The outreach center for homeless youth had received nearly $12,000 in donations — and it was only 9 a.m., not yet halfway through a 24-hour citywide day of giving.
Youth Emergency Services is one of 967 nonprofits to benefit from 2018’s Omaha Gives, an online donation platform sponsored by the Omaha Community Foundation that encourages community members to donate as much as possible during a 24-hour span each year.
At 7:07 a.m., the total donated passed $1 million. It passed $5 million before 3 p.m. By midnight, the total exceeded $7.37 million.
Prior to this year’s donations, the annual charitable effort had generated a total of $35 million since it began in 2013. Last year, $7.8 million was raised.
But the amount raised is less important than the number of donors involved, said Kali Baker, Omaha Community Foundation’s vice president of community investment.
“It’s the number of people participating that’s our true goal for the day,” Baker said. “The day is about a lot of small donations adding up because it’s about the community coming together to have a big impact on almost a thousand nonprofits.”
Last year drew a record-breaking 52,000 donations, a number Baker hoped to break this year. By midnight, more than 50,000 contributions had been made.
Baker said she hopes many donors give to a new or unfamiliar nonprofit in order to build connections within the community.
Talen, director of development at Youth Emergency Services, browsed the Omaha Gives website, which makes it easy for people to learn about new nonprofits. It allows potential donors to select categories ranging from education and the arts to human services and social advocacy. The Siena-Francis House homeless shelter, Habitat for Humanity and the Nebraska Humane Society topped the leader board by early afternoon.
“It’s sort of like shopping,” Talen said. “You learn about nonprofits, you’re reminded that, ‘Oh, I saw them at a booth once, they were great.’ ”
For Youth Emergency Services, an organization that heavily relies on donations, the influx of money from Omaha Gives enables it to continue helping homeless youths.
The center’s bright chairs and colorful murals distract from the problems faced by teens who arrive daily at the center seeking a hot meal, a safe place to stay and a support system to help with such services as job interview training and mental health counseling.
About 4 miles to the northeast, a steady stream of volunteers stacked canned food on shelves, sorted bags of clothes and handed out diapers at the Open Door Mission, which serves Omaha’s hungry and homeless.
Candace Gregory, the organization’s president and CEO, pulls up the leader board on her phone to see Open Door Mission sitting in ninth place with nearly $14,000 by early afternoon. She smiled and began to tick off all the ways the donations might assist the facility.
“We’re just talking about meeting people’s basic needs — keeping the lights on, food on the table so people don’t go hungry, and then along the way we have 40 programs we offer,” Gregory said. All 40 programs, she said, rely heavily on donations.
The minimum donation of $10 allows anyone to participate in Omaha Gives, Gregory said.
“The best part about Omaha Gives is it’s not like, ‘Oh, I don’t have a million dollars so I can’t make a difference.’ Ten dollars. I mean, $10 is, ‘Hey, I’m not going to go to a fast-food restaurant this week’ or ‘I’m not going to get a Starbucks,’ ” Gregory said. “So everyone can make a difference today — you may not be able to change it all, but you can make a difference in somebody.”
To see the Omaha Gives website, go to www.omahagives.org.