It wasn’t a big gift, but to 5-year-old Jesse Morales Perez it was all the money the tooth fairy had left under his pillow.
He chose to put his $10 toward four nonprofits — Jackson Hole Ski and Snowboard Club, Teton Science Schools, One22 and Boundless — and then ran his heart out in the 5-kilometer race Saturday during Old Bill’s Fun Run for Charities.
After weaving through over 100 booths set up around Town Square, checking out the goodies at the farmers market and glancing over all the free swag, his family chalked it up to a pretty good day.
“It’s a fun event for giving,” said Jesse’s mother, Rosalia Perez-Quiroz.
Her family has lived in the area for the past 20 years and has made donating to the event, which is hosted by the Community of Foundation of Jackson Hole, an annual activity.
“We donate to different nonprofits,” she explained. “Especially when they give us something, we give back.”
Old Bill’s, which marked its 21st year Saturday, brought in $9 million from community contributions in 2016, a pot of money generated by 3,774 donors. The money was met by a match pool of $3.5 million donated by Mr. and Mrs. Old Bill and several dozen co-challengers.
In the past two decades, Old Bill’s has raised over $133 million.
“There is a unique intensity to the level of compassion, commitment and engagement in our valley,” said Katharine Conover, president of the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole. “The observation that we all came to Jackson for the mountains but stayed for the people may be a cliche, but it’s true.”
In 2016 52 percent of gifts were $250 or less, while 37 percent were $100 or less. On average, donors designate five organizations to benefit from their gift to the Community Foundation, which disburses the money to the nonprofits, according to Karen Coleman, executive vice president and chief financial officer at the Community Foundation.
Such large-scale events are somewhat unique in the nonprofit fundraising world, said Kirsten Gronbjerg, professor of nonprofit management in the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs. Gronbjerg also holds the Efroymson Chair in Philanthropy of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University.
Gronbjerg said communitywide giving became popular with the development of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a group launched in the late 1800s to help fund sick and injured soldiers fighting in the American Civil War.
In the ’40s and ’50s the March of Dimes refined a model for small donations from many donors, at the time working to raise money to cure polio.
Old Bill’s is a spinoff the same concept, though it allows the community to define what’s most important to it.
“It helps create a sense of common understanding of what the community is about and what its priorities are,” Gronbjerg said. “I would expect it to strengthen the sense of community involvement, engagement and being a part of the community.”
For Sarah Wolters, a visitor from New Orleans who stopped by Town Square on Saturday to pick up breakfast fixings from the farmers market, it was an intriguing sight.
Wolters and her family walked around the booths, stopping at Wyoming Untrapped to learn more about the organization. Volunteers painted a bobcat on the face of Wolters’ 4-year-old daughter, Dorothy Ross. Afterward the family promptly returned to the donation booth to offer a gift.
While they have fundraisers at home, “I can’t think of anything on this level,” Wolters said.
“The generosity of people always blows me away,” Wyoming Untrapped program director Kristin Combs said. “$10, $10,000 — it doesn’t really matter. Every dollar goes to our organization.
“[Old Bill’s] is this cumulative effect that brings the entire community together,” she said. “I think it makes you feel like you’re a more involved member of the community.”
Randall Cresswell, who attended the event with his sons, 5-year-old Gavin and 2-year-old Ethan, said the annual event serves as a reminder to give. And he would know: As the husband of Anne Cresswell, executive director of the Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust, he has been to a few of these events.
“This is usually when we make our donation,” he said. “This has really fueled the community service world. Everyone in this town knows someone who works for a nonprofit, and I don’t think most communities can say that.”
“Because of Old Bill’s, philanthropy is a household word in Jackson Hole,” Conover said. “Whether you are donating the pennies from your piggy bank or hundreds of thousands from your hedge fund, everyone feels the moral obligation to be a philanthropist, regardless of their net worth.”