Out of the Bag: What is the Day of Giving?

The Day of Giving helps us continue partnering with The Thomas Merton Center.

(Reprinted from The Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project. The Thomas Merton Center serves the entire region.)

I’m going to tell you a story and at the end of the story I’m going to ask you to donate $25 to The Thomas Merton Center. 

Once upon a time, a social worker used her Blackberry to launch a novel idea – donating tote bags to food pantries. As time went by, she collected bags here. She collected bags there. Eventually, this woman decided it was time to see if the idea had legs as a full-blown project.

Now this woman knew from her experience as a social worker that leaping into 501c3 status is not the best practice for a new project. There were many things that needed to be done to give the project the best possible chance to succeed. First, this woman found some volunteers willing to help with project leadership. They came from Monroeville and Homewood and Mt. Oliver and Brentwood and Tarentum and other regions in this land. Other volunteers took on roles and tasks. Boxes were found. Paperwork created. A flyer designed. Goals were set and exceeded.

So this woman sought a very special administrative service called fiscal sponsorship through The Thomas Merton Center (TMC). Fiscal sponsorship means TMC offers administrative support – a place to receive mail and make copies, bookkeeping for tax purposes, even meeting space. And because the Merton Center was committed to social and environmental justice, they agreed to take on this new project.

Note of Interest: The Merton Center was also the launching organization for Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and countless other groups.

Why did this woman seek a fiscal sponsor? There are several key points.

  • The project had 2 goals – helping the food pantry and promoting the culture of reuse. They needed time to determine what the real need would be, how it would unfold, what might work and might now. A fiscal sponsorship allowed the project the luxury of this time. It is a true gift as the 18 months have brought many new perspectives and insight which will shape the organization.
  • The project needed time to build a volunteer base and determine if a project driven by a volunteer base was sustainable. Focusing on volunteer retention would be more possible without the need to attend to the administrative pieces.
  • The project needed guidance and mentoring, both administratively and in terms of vision.


Over the course of 18 months, the all-volunteer project has raised a little over $1500 in donations. The Merton Center collects 5% as an admin fee to cover bookkeeping and overhead and all of the other costs to maintain their organization. So for all of the help that the has Merton Center provided to collect 20,000 tote bags, they’ve earned about $75. For 18 months worth of work.

The story ends here. But it hasn’t ended. Thanks to this 18 month fiscal sponsorship, the Tote Bag Project has collected 20,000+ tote bags. We’ve eliminated the need for 60,000 disposable bags. We’ve helped thousands of families carry their groceries with dignity and ease – to literally access more food because it was easier to transport. We’ve achieved more than we ever thought possible.

All due to the investment of The Thomas Merton Center. That’s a pretty good deal for $75. But realistically, we know that the sustainability and stability of the Merton Center’s organization is key to our ongoing ability to do our work. $75 doesn’t go far in terms of paying the electric bill, staff expenses, even for the bookkeeping itself when you factor in the time.

Fiscal sponsorship is highly recommended by the Foundation Community, but there’s no local grants specifically for this role. Thus, there are few organizations willing to take on this role – they know it simply costs a lot more than the administrative fee will generate.  It isn’t a task an organization can just launch – it requires certain skills, knowledge of IRS regulations and more. We have no other partners who can provide this support to us and our neighbors.

Without the Merton Center, there would be a real end to the story. With your support,there will be a next chapter. Please donate $25 or more to the Merton Center as an acknowledgment of your appreciation for making the tote bag project happen.  Please send a message that you value the role of fiscal sponsorship and want to invest in one of the few organizations offering this service.


Your $25 will keep this happening on a regular basis.

Here are the details on how the Day of Giving works.





The 2012 Day of Giving will be held on Wednesday, October 3, 2012 from 12:00 am to 11:59:59 pm eastern standard time.

All donations during this 24-hour period will receive a pro-rated portion of the match pool. (As an example, if the match pool is $500,000 and the total amount raised that day is $2,000,000, then the match may be .25 cents on the dollar.)

Only MasterCard and Visa donations will be accepted and matched for this event.  Discover and AMEX donations will not be accepted or matched.

 Each gift is 100% tax deductible.  

 The credit card charge will display as a donation to ”The Pittsburgh Foundation” on the donor’s credit card statement.The minimum gift per organization is $25. The maximum gift that an individual can give per organization is $10,000.

It’s the easiest way to help the Thomas Merton Center as it works to raise consciousness around profound issues that speak truth to power.

Your donation of $25 will be partially matched and together that funding will help keep our fiscal sponsor operating. It is that simple. You will also support many other critical community projects whichyou can read about here.

If you have questions about the fiscal sponsorship relationship, please leave a comment or reach out to us by email.

Thank you for your support of our fiscal sponsor, of the fiscal sponsor concept and ultimately, our neighbors and community.

Note: The Day of Giving includes hundreds of organizations, some of whom are our partners. Our relationship with The Merton Center is unique. We chose to focus on them to give back for their support and to take advantage of the opportunity to explain how a fiscal sponsorship helps our neighbors.  Donations to the Day of Giving will NOT be allocated to The Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project (and that's okay!) Your support of TMC or other organizations has an indirect impact on us and so we thank you for that. If you have identified another organization to support, go for it and thank you! 

*Note: The Thomas Merton Center is based in Garfield, but they serve the entire region. We urge you to take a look at the website to see how their good work is impacting your neighborhood. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Roger October 03, 2012 at 10:50 AM
Beware, The Merton Center is a far left activist organization. Support their cause only if you believe in their leftist political agenda and goals.
Sue Kerr October 03, 2012 at 11:48 AM
First of all, The Merton Center has a clear mission statement.that emphasizes working with people of various perspectives. "TMC works to build a consciousness of values and to raise the moral questions involved in the issues of war, poverty, racism, classism, economic justice, oppression and environmental justice. TMC engages people of diverse philosophies and faiths who find common ground in the nonviolent struggle to bring about a more peaceful and just world". These are active terms - working together, engage, ask questions - values shared by many organizations in the non-profit world. Here is the link to this page: http://thomasmertoncenter.org/about-us/mission/ The organization has strong relationships with a variety of groups focusing on these issues - the arts, Marcellus Shale, anti-poverty, many diverse groups of faith, and community groups. The first Pittsburgh chapter of Amnesty International and Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank were organized by Thomas Merton Center staff members. We are proud of this affiliation and believe that the agenda of the organization is central to their willingness to work with groups such as ours and help us get started..
Sue Kerr October 03, 2012 at 11:51 AM
Our organization does not have a political affiliation, but our leadership committee does reflect various backgrounds and perspectives on the issues we address - we find common ground, stay focused on the mission and through that work grow in our understanding of each other. In our case, supporting our agenda means reducing the number of people who are hungry, expanding resources for those who need it, and building a culture of reuse. These values transcend partisanship and allow us to also work together, engage and ask questions. I am happy to share more information with anyone on our work, our perspective on these issues and the advocacy work we've supported. I encourage you to read the links provided and use your best discernment process to determine how you can support our neighbors fighting hunger and our enviromment.
Roger October 05, 2012 at 01:28 AM
Thanks for all the words, Sue. They don't refute my initial assertion. Anybody who knows the actions of The Merton Center knows they participate in left-wing actions, such as the Occupy, that accomplished nothing and left Mellon Park in shambles (with no accountability). Any group that has Molly Rush associated with it only is interested in the anti- ... movements, those that support left wing causes. The Merton Center is certainly entitled to do these actions. They are entitled to their viewpoint and their choice of causes. My only point was "Beware ..." I think that was my first word. For those choosing to affiliate with these left-wing causes, that is their choice. Not everybody (most?) choose to ignore them.


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