Sam Bressi

Sam Bressi is president and CEO of Lancaster County Community Foundation. (Marty Heisey / Staff)

Sam Bressi took over the Lancaster County Community Foundation four years ago with the aim of making the philanthropic group more of a catalyst for community betterment.

With the "The Extraordinary Give," the foundation accomplished that goal in spades. The online giving program generated an astonishing $1.69 million in donations in just 24 hours for 192 nonprofits serving county residents.

Bressi, 47, came to Lancaster in 2008 to run the foundation, which has a $70 million endowment and awards $2.5 million in grants to community organizations and projects each year.

He previously worked 12 years in York directing the Susan P. Byrnes Health Education Center.

Bressi and his wife, Linda, have a son, Justin, 24; a daughter, Hannah, 20; and two golden retrievers, Norton and Manny. The couple has a home in York but recently purchased a house on North Charlotte Street in Lancaster city.

Bressi talked this week about the "Extraordinary Give" and the foundation's role in the community.

Where did the idea for the giving marathon originate?

This type of match-day giving program has been done for the past three to five years across the country. We studied Pittsburgh's program and programs in Seattle, Virginia, Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Kim Shorter (the foundation's vice president of asset development) brought this idea to us three or four times, but we weren't ready. We didn't have everything we needed to execute it and do it to the fullest extent.

This year we had the right team in place. The community was ready, the foundation was ready, and our board just enthusiastically and instantly said, "Yes."

The idea was you get joy from giving. Creating excitement and enthusiasm around philanthropy is part of our mission, and this was just a great way to do that.

How were you able to successfully pull it off?

We hired an outside technology partner, Kimbia, because we didn't have the capacity to do something of this magnitude online ourselves.

We have 10 people on staff and 12 board members, and most of us didn't sleep for more than an hour in a 50- to 60-hour period last week. This was a marathon, nonstop. One of the reasons we decided on 24 rather than 36 hours was just for the fatigue factor.

We invested countless staff hours on this. There were dollars invested to make this happen, but, wow, when you talk about bang for the buck, it was a good deal for the community.

The level of awareness that was raised was immeasurable. Lots of new donors, brand-new donors, come from this. One organization said 22 percent of its donations came from brand-new first-time donors; another said 50 percent came from brand-new donors.

What made this work was the fact the community is so caring, compassionate and generous. The community just stepped up.

People have said they were captivated by (the Extraordinary Give), that it had almost an addictive quality to it.

Will the foundation do this again next year?

We're going to wrestle with that very question as an organization over the next month.

We need to take a step back, take a little bit of time and say, "OK, what does this mean for us? Should we do it again? What would it look like if we do it again?"

How does Lancaster compare with York, in your experience?

I think there are good people in both communities. There are people who are passionate about both communities.

It just seems that in Lancaster, things have taken root. It's like when you roll a snowball. The hardest thing is getting it started, but once it starts to get energy and gets bigger and bigger, it gets easier and easier.

Momentum breeds momentum. Success breeds success. Lancaster has hit that level and surpassed it. That's not to say other communities can't get there.

What role do you see the foundation playing moving forward?

Ninety percent of individuals are philanthropic, but only 7 percent have a charitable intent in their estate plans. Our job in the foundation is to increase those numbers.

We've been around for 89 years, but nobody knows about us.

The more we're in front of people, the more impact we'll be able to have. If 15 to 20 years from now we were able to do $25 million worth of grants every year, think about what we could do with those dollars.

There are communities the size of Lancaster that have done it, and we've modeled ourselves after those organizations.

We're not sitting on our hands.

bwallace@lnpnews.com