March Madness for Nonprofits: How Brackets for Good Went National

Brackets for Good, the Indianapolis-based "competitive giving" nonprofit, has grown from a creative local fundraising strategy into a formidable national tournament of its own.

The NCAA isn’t the only Indianapolis-based organization managing a high-profile bracket on a national scale this year.

Since 2012, the nonprofit group Brackets for Good has been helping to raise money for local charities. But last year, it announced it would team with AT&T to launch a national version of the competition, with a grand prize of $100,000.

The contest sets up rounds of competition in which local nonprofit groups battle to raise the most money. Winners in each round advance to the next one, until a single champion remains.

The competition was inspired by an impressive NCAA men’s basketball tournament run, when the Butler University Bulldogs improbably got all the way to the national championship game in 2011—becoming the first team to reach the Final Four in consecutive years without being ranked a 1 or 2 seed.

Cofounders Matt McIntyre and Matt Duncan were inspired to launch Brackets for Good to harness the energy around the game that year and put it into action for a good cause.

“Brackets for Good was founded really on the problem that there were very few ways to discover and participate in philanthropy,” McIntyre told the Indianapolis Business Journal. “There are very few on-ramps.”

Brackets for Good raised tens of thousands of dollars for Indianapolis charities in its first two years, eventually filling out the bracket with 64 teams in 2014 and raising $350,000. Then the contest expanded to other college towns—first Louisville, Kentucky, in 2015, and then three more Midwestern towns last year. The growth happened organically, with expansion based on donors’ suggestions.

This year, the tournament includes 11 cities, along with a nationwide bracket. And there’s a new twist for the Indianapolis contest this year:  A new Community Teammate competition ties local companies to corresponding nonprofits.

“Literally all of them came from an Indianapolis connection,” McIntyre told the Business Journal. “None of them were cold calls. None of them were us reaching out.”

The contest, which is in its second round this week, runs through March and takes a fairly cheeky approach to highlighting nonprofits—featuring McIntyre and Duncan offering the play-by-play.

Helping with the expansion is a local startup, Lessonly, which has a charity of its own, Families for Hope, competing in the tournament. “It’s all about building infrastructure so Matt can scale to all the states and all these metros,” Lessonly CEO Max Yoder explained to local news radio station WIBC.

Brackets for Good has raised $2.9 million for charities since its launch, and as it scales up, it could become a force to be reckoned with, much as the Butler Bulldogs were in 2011.

“Our mission is to help people discover and participate in philanthropy, and we do it through a creative and engaging platform,” McIntyre told the Indianapolis Star.

(Brackets for Good screenshot)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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