Go Big Give surpasses $1 million in donations


■ Day supports 137 nonprofit entities

  • Sarah Bailey (left) shows Jeff Gustafson a bumblebee in the aptly named video, “Jeff sees a bumblebee.” Courtesy photo
    Sarah Bailey (left) shows Jeff Gustafson a bumblebee in the aptly named video, “Jeff sees a bumblebee.” Courtesy photo

Twenty-four hours, 137 nonprofits and “a million gifts for the world we want to make.” These words signaled the start of the Heartland United Way’s annual Go Big Give fundraiser during which Hall, Hamilton, Howard and Merrick county residents rallied together to give 5,025 donations totaling $1,007,671.

Karen Rathke, president and chief professional officer of the Heartland United Way, took a moment after the frenzy to reflect on the funds raised.

“We are thrilled,” she said. “We had a goal-breaking year and raised over a million dollars for these nonprofits. It’s just really a hopeful sign of the recovery progress of our communities.”

Go Big Give was originally planned for May, but due to the COVID-19 outbreak it was postponed until July 7.

“We did that because we knew families needed to take care of their children and businesses needed to take care of their employees,” she noted. “Our nonprofits needed to support our community and people in need. So when we fast forward now to July, it really feels like our community came back and said, ‘Thank you nonprofits for all you do.’”

Rathke explained that they were doing what they could to help and weren’t sure what that would be and how much people could afford to do.

Whatever the outcome, she voiced that she knew the communities would do everything possible to help the nonprofits that had been busy helping other people.

“I think these nonprofit organizations really had a great platform to tell their story and share what they’re doing and why they’re doing it,” she said. “Not only are the dollars important now, but education and awareness are important for people to be more engaged in the nonprofit’s efforts throughout the year.”

Rathke extended deep gratitude on behalf of The Heartland United Way and the Greater Grand Island Community Foundation to the sponsors and donors for their support to Go Big Give and the 137 participating nonprofit organizations.

Giving at home

In Hamilton County, 18 nonprofits joined in the day of giving. Jill Kottwitz, a board member with Hamilton Recreation reflected on how the day played out for 12th Street Cinema.

“I think that for us personally it went amazing,” she noted. “We really didn’t know what to expect going into it with the whole COVID-19 thing, if people would be donating. Luckily for us, we exceeded our goal so we appreciate everyone donating to that.”

The theater has been closed since the pandemic began and Kottwitz explained that to help supplement the income they have been selling concessions. Funds raised during Go Big Give will continue to help cover utilities and pay managers until the theater can reopen.

“Thanks for your support,” she said to the community. “It’s been a weird time, but the community. “It’s been a weird time, but the community support around the 12th Street Cinema has always been great.We cannot wait to start showing movies again. We don’t know when that’s going to be, but we will come back when we can.”

Joining in on the day of giving was Prairie Plains Resource Institute. Executive director Mitchell Lyon explained that he and his team found a fun way to involve the community through the use of reward tiers.

“It was fantastic,” he said. “We had a blast and are so thankful for all the generous supporters.”

Donors were treated to videos after each goal had been hit. Jeff Gustafson was featured in various spots including “Jeff cuts a milk thistle;” “Jeff sees a bumblebee;” “Jeff tries to make friends;” and “Jeff plays drums on the prairie.”

“My background is in video production,” Lyon explained. “Jeff, he has a personality that is fun for that and what we were trying to do there. It was fun to be able to have him be the character we were going for that was also a natural extension of who he is.”

The funds raised through Go Big Give will be used for general projects including a current one of creating riverfront access at the prairie. He noted that the money will help them steward the property.

Looking back at the hectic day, Lyon said it was not only fun but humbling to watch the enthusiasm and support build for Prairie Plains and the other nonprofits.

“This is fun to have because of COVID-19 and the strange year that we’re in,” he said. “We’ve intentionally been quiet with fundraising. It was kind of the first opportunity to reach out and say please come visit and extend the ask to donate through Go Big Give.”

Despite everything happening across the county, Lyon wanted to invite the community out to the preserve to enjoy the open space, get some exercise and some fresh air.


Donations received in Hamilton County include: Edgerton Explorit Center, 164 donations, $84,174; Memorial Foundation, 42 donations, $25,951; Prairie Plains Resource Institute, 62 donations, $10,949; The Leadership Center, 39 donations, $6,499; Plainsman Museum -- Hamilton County Historical Society, 22 donations, $6,202; Aurora Public Schools Foundation, 22 donations, $5,585; Hamilton County Food Pantry, Inc., 35 donations, $4,604; Timberlake Ranch Camps, Inc., 15 donations, $4,103; 12th Street Cinema, 27 donations, $3,681; Hamilton Community Foundation, Inc., 34 donations, $3,620; Phillips Community Foundation, Inc., five donations, $2,577; Hampton Housing Solutions, Inc., eight donations, $1,973; Aurora Adopt-A-Pet, 25 donations, $1,752; Aurora Choir Boosters, 35 donations, $1,660; TeamMates of Aurora, 10 donations, $1,017; Hamilton County 4-H, 13 donations, $522; Bremer Community Center, Inc., nine donations, $381; Sozo Family Whether you’re Services, three donations, $89.

A grand total of 102 donations totaling $3,123 was given to the “support them all” option. Those funds are then evenly divided Bank is ready to between all the nonprofits.

Prize winners include: Most unique donors pre-give first place, Edgerton Explorit Center.

Half hour prize winners options. Call on include: 12th Street Cinema, Timberlake Ranch Camps, Inc., Hamilton County Food Pantry, Inc., Hamilton Community Foundation, Inc., Aurora Choir Boosters your plans. and Aurora Public Schools Foundation.

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