Diego Pops FirstBank

Diego Pops diners Dan Pulhapsky and Tori Pearson react as Katie Schrupp, banking officer from FirstBank, surprises them by paying their bill at the southern Scottsdale restaurant on March 21.

At two locations in the Valley – Diego Pops in southern Scottsdale and Biscuits in Gilbert – FirstBank employees went undercover as servers, donning the appropriate uniforms and blending in seamlessly.

But when the time came to present the diners with their checks, the undercover FirstBank employees instead surprised them with good news: FirstBank picked up their tab.

“I loved it. Just the whole idea of paying for people’s meals and hoping they give it forward. I mean, amazing. Who wouldn’t want to do that?” said Imad Hatoum, vice president of Phoenix Metro for FirstBank.

FirstBank covered the tabs of dozens of diners at the Scottsdale and Gilbert restaurants – covering $5,000 worth of receipts – as part of its “Give it Forward” campaign to promote Arizona Gives Day, a statewide day of giving taking place Tuesday, April 2.

Hatoum was behind the bar at Diego Pops as an acting bartender.

“People loved it [and] wanted to share it on their social media. There was a lot of excitement around it,” he said.

Arizona Gives Day is a 24-hour, online giving campaign that has taken place every April since 2013.

FirstBank has been a presenting sponsor since the beginning, but its “Give it Forward” campaign started three years ago. In 2017, FirstBank paid for shoppers’ groceries; and last year, they paid for drivers’ gas.

“The reason we don’t necessarily just donate the $5,000 is because we’ve already supplied over $1 million in donations to Arizona Gives Day since 2013 from bank itself,” Hatoum said. “We want to raise the awareness and then hopefully people, whether they’re local or not, participate in this day and donate to their favorite charity.”

Phoenix Market President of FirstBank, Bryce Lloyd, said in a prepared statement that FirstBank’s “Give It Forward” campaign is a fun way to remind people about the power of kindness and how small gestures can add up to make a big, collective impact.

“If we could get every lucky recipient to donate to their favorite Arizona Gives Day charity – even if it’s a small amount – we could theoretically help thousands of deserving people and causes,” he said.

Since Arizona Gives Day’s inception, the fundraising campaign has raised more than $13.4 million for Arizona’s nonprofit sector, which has an annual economic impact of $22.4 billion and accounts for 325,000 jobs.

In 2018 alone, Arizona Gives Day – a collaboration between the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits and Arizona Grantmakers Forum – raised $3.2 million from 15,000 to 20,000 statewide donors, benefiting over 900 nonprofits.

This year, more than 700 nonprofit organizations are participating, with nearly 30 of those nonprofits based in Scottsdale, including Pets on Wheels.

For Pets on Wheels, a nonprofit that started in 1990, Arizona Gives Day is its only major fundraiser each year. Since 2015, the nonprofit has raised nearly $16,000 via the one-day event.

[Arizona Gives Day] is very important,” said Barbara Diggs, who is on the board of directors of Pets on Wheels. “We’re a small nonprofit. We have about 75 human volunteers and a few more canine and feline volunteers. We have a small budget, but no paid staff. We are entirely supported by donations.”

Diggs said Pets on Wheels got involved with Arizona Gives Day for two reasons: They appreciated that the money raised stays in the state, and it’s an easy way for donors to donate.

“It’s nice to have so many Arizona nonprofits right there in one place to donate to,” Diggs said.

Donating to a participating charity on Arizona Gives Day is easy.

Donors can schedule a donation in advance on Arizona Gives Day’s website or simply head to the website on April 2 to choose a charity of their choice and donate the amount of their choice.

“We definitely believe that there’s power in harnessing this collective giving where everyone is focused on the nonprofit sector and the needs of the community for one day,” said Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits CEO Kristen Merrifield.

She said thanks to the updates made to the Arizona Gives website last year, donors now have a much smoother, user-friendly experience.

“They have a shopping cart experience now, so they can add multiple nonprofits and donations to their cart and check out once,” she said.

The timing of Arizona Gives Day was a strategic move on the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits and Arizona Grantmakers Forum’s part.

For one, they wanted to spread the giving year out, outside of the holiday season. And, they wanted the online event to take place right before the deadline for filing taxes.

For northern Scottsdale nonprofit Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center, which has participated in Arizona Gives Day since the beginning, the timing couldn’t be better.

“The summer for us is the time where donations go way down, and the summer is actually the time of our greatest need,” said SWCC Animal Care Manager Kim Carr. “In the summer, we are inundated with orphans – coyotes, bobcats, foxes, skunks, raccoons – and our food bills [and] our medication bills go way up. This is a really important time for us to get donations.”

In addition to supporting the center’s increased food bill, the money raised from Arizona Gives Day also goes toward purchasing baby supplies, like bottles and feed apparatus, as well as purchasing incubators and helping it build and fix enclosures.

Over the past three years, SWCC has raised over $75,000 via Arizona Gives Day.

“It’s really neat because it’s such a push in that 24 hours and everyone rallies around on that day. It’s fun to watch all the people donate, even names you recognize and first-time donors. It just keeps getting better and better every year,” Carr said.

Arizona Gives Day isn’t just about receiving donations, however – at least, not for Desert Stages, a southern Scottsdale-located nonprofit dedicated to producing live theater.

Arizona Gives Day is a way for Desert Stages to raise awareness of their nonprofit.

“Theater has been dying for a thousand years, but it’s not dead yet,” Desert Stages Director of Marketing Virginia Olivieri joked. “Arizona Gives really gives us a great opportunity to not only to raise money for our nonprofit, but to [also] reach a group of people that didn’t even know we existed and love live theater.”

Olivieri specifically spotlights Phoenix transplants who have come by way of Chicago, New York and Philadelphia – all of which have a strong, thriving live theater market.

“We want to be able to use those people to come out and still enjoy all the great theater [they] used to enjoy back home,” she said.

Participating nonprofits also have 86 opportunities to win $180,000 in incentive prizes.

Since 2013, Arizona Gives Day has given more than $1 million in prizes.

Pets on Wheels won two prizes last year.

They were a random draw prize winner last year in the “micro” category, defined as organizations with annual revenue of less than $100,000. The nonprofit won $500.

Plus, they won a $750 prize for the most unique, pre-scheduled donors, again in the micro category, from March 1 through April 2.

“The nice thing about those prizes is Pets on Wheels isn’t competing against the larger Arizona nonprofits; we’re in the smallest category. So when we’re competing for prize money, it’s only against those that are in the micro category. It’s a real fair price structure,” Diggs said.

Categories range from micro to large, and performance prizes include awards for the most dollars raised in the final four hours, most unique donations and more.

Donors also can search nonprofits on the website by geographic area.

“They can even look to see what nonprofits qualify for the Arizona charitable tax credit, in case they want to give a gift and get that a state tax credit,” she said.

New to the donation process includes a nominal $50 deposit at re-enrollment or registration. The deposit will be refunded if the nonprofit raises $500 or more through the AZGives.org platform from April 1-5. The refund will be included in the first distribution of funds in early May.

For more information and to participate, visit AZGives.org on April 2.