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‘Giving Hearts Day’: How Fargo Created a Nationally-Recognized Give-A-Thon


During a 2008 board committee for The Dakota Medical Foundation (DMF) Outreach Coordinator Jeana Peinovich thought of the idea for Giving Hearts Day. More than ten years later, Fargo still proves it’s the region’s most charitable city in the heartland.

The idea was simple: Create a day to sponsor and support donations to charities across the area and help raise funds for everyone involved.

“It was so cool that one of my own team members came up with the idea of having a day for giving to charities,” says Patrick Traynor, executive director at the DMF. His enthusiasm over the phone is palpable, the sound of his smile carries through the radio waves.

Since Giving Hearts Day started, community participation and donations grew exponentially. Their outreach — which in 2008 included roughly 40 charities and $400,000 in giving (including the matching donation funds from area businesses and organizations) — increased to 452 charities with contributions and matching funds growing to an astounding $13.2 million dollars last year.

This year, they hope they can do even more.

The Dakota Medical Center has long been held in high regard in the Fargo-Moorhead area for their philanthropic ventures. Their history is directly connected to the ever changing landscape of the area.

The History of the Dakota Medical Center

The Dakota Clinic pictured sometime in the '70s
The Dakota Clinic pictured sometime in the '70s

In 1926, five local doctors gathered together to create Fargo’s first community-led hospital, the Dakota Clinic. Originally at 700 First Avenue South, next to the Island Park pool, this clinic served Fargoan’s and the surrounding populace for more than 30 years.

The Dakota hospital opened on November 2nd, 1964 with 120 medical beds. Photo courtesy of the Dakota Medical Foundation
The Dakota hospital opened on November 2nd, 1964 with 120 medical beds. Photo courtesy of the Dakota Medical Foundation

The Dakota Clinic expanded and built a much larger hospital along South University Drive in 1957. This operated for another nine years while they built a larger addition on the south-side of the clinic to form the Dakota Hospital. This hospital rushed to meet the demands of the burgeoning city which experienced a population boom with more and more people moving into the city from the rural towns.

A view of the hospital in 2002
A view of the hospital in 2002

For the next 30 years, the population grew and so did the demands. Alongside of these demands competition grew. Along Broadway in downtown Fargo, the Fargo clinic would operate independently from 1958 through 1985 when they rebranded as Meritcare Health system. The competition led to the acquisition of the two separate parts of the Dakota hospital in 1994 and finally absorbing the entire operation in 1998 . The acquisition was substantial, too. There were 98 million reasons for the Dakota Medical Foundation to focus their resources on giving back to the community they worked so hard to foster.

Fargo Clinic in 1975
Fargo Clinic in 1975

In 2018, it is estimated that the Dakota Medical Foundation is worth upwards of 105 million dollars, give or take a few, depending on the way the wind blows. 5 percent of that money is used towards programs like Giving Hearts Day which provides training, resources, and education for nonprofit organizations to help learn how to effectively raise money and grow their outreach.

Giving Hearts Day

The Dakota Medical Foundation and the Alex Stern Family Foundation partnered to create another entity to increase nonprofits’ effectiveness and ability to meet their goals. They first started with the development of the Impact Foundation, an institute utilized to teach nonprofits how to become exceptional “FRIEND-raisers” as Traynor proudly touts.

“Charities need friends to support and fuel their mission in the form of volunteering and giving,” says Traynor. “So what we do throughout the year is we offer a curriculum, coaching, and training that leads to our ‘Super Bowl of giving’ called Giving Hearts Day.”

The way Giving Hearts Day operates is fairly straightforward: Charities who participate receive training provided by The Dakota Medical Foundation and are rigorously vetted. After this, they are added to a growing list of charities people can contribute to via their website, www.givingheartsday.org. To give, simply pick any one (or several) of the charities to make a minimum of $10 donation directly to the chosen charities. Based on the data provided by DMF in 2018, 28,000 people donated $13.2 million.

“We are helping charities become expert fishermen and women,” says Traynor. “We are teaching people how to fish and that’s the real beauty of this. The statistic last year was that over 30 percent off the donors to charities were brand new and that’s just fabulous.”

The staggering amount of money being given to charities should not go unnoticed. According to their own research, Giving Hearts Day is the first and longest giving day in the United States. Every Valentine’s Day, for 24 full hours, nonprofit organizations like Lutheran Social Services rally to meet their goals so they can continue helping people across the State.

“It is our biggest external fundraiser of the year,” says Community Engagement Officer for Lutheran Social Services Abby Tow. “We were one of the first charities to jump on board and it’s become tremendously important to us.”

The Path Forward

This Valentine’s Day marks the 12th year of operation for what was once conceived as an experiment. Through trial and error, however, it’s become tremendously successful and has fostered, and enabled, hundreds of charities to provide for the needy and forgotten.

In 2018, 28,000 people donated. Their goal is to double that number this year.

“Here’s something we’ve learned: People are generous, especially in this region,” says Traynor. “We aren’t asking people for $1,000 or $10,000 we are asking for $10 or $20. So when you have 10,000 people giving $10, $20 or $30 dollars each - it’s serious income for a charity to do more good and help improve their outreach. We want giving to be contagious.”

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