Nearly 8,600 people across the state came together for nonprofit organizations Wednesday, donating nearly $929,000 as part of the first-ever Arizona Gives event.

Two Tucson-based organizations came out on top with Ben's Bells having the highest number of individual donors and the Watershed Management Group bringing in the most donations.

More than 440 people donated a combined $10,093 to Ben's Bells, and 140 people donated $32,085 to the Watershed Management Group.

By having the highest number of donors (441), Ben's Bells will also get a $20,000 cash award. Watershed Management earned a $15,000 for coming in first in terms of donations.

"We're just incredibly grateful that people believe in our message and understand that it's not a soft issue," said Jeannette Maré, Ben's Bells executive director and founder.

Over the past few years, an increasing number of nonprofits have gotten together in various states and organized online fundraising campaigns.

Last year, the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits and the Arizona Grantmakers Forum decided to try something similar and created Arizona Gives Day, said Clint Mabie, president and chief executive officer of the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona.

Between midnight and 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, people were encouraged to donate to 850 nonprofit organizations that joined in the effort. Nearly 200 of them were in Southern Arizona.

Every nonprofit was eligible to win cash prizes. The eight organizations that attracted the most donors received prizes ranging up to $20,000, and the eight organizations that brought in the most dollars won up to $15,000.

"It was a great first year, and we're going to be able to build upon it," Mabie said.

Much of the past year was spent getting the event up and running; organizers will be able to devote much more time to getting the word out, Mabie said.

Ben's Bells did so well because it spread the word via Twitter, Facebook and its website, Mabie said.

"It's all about what you put into it, just like anything else," Mabie said.

Lisa Shipek, executive director of Watershed Management Group, said the group promoted the event at every opportunity over the past few weeks. The group spoke about it on Facebook, on its website and mentioned it in every written communication.

Other Southern Arizona nonprofits that did well include Gap Ministries, which had the third-highest number of individual donors with 301; and the Humane Society of Southern Arizona, which came in sixth with 211 donors. The agencies received $9,565 and $18,330 in donations, respectively. The Humane Society of Southern Arizona came in fourth overall in terms of donations.

The Watershed Management Group will divide its donations among different programs, Shipek said. The 10-year-old group educates people in the Southwest about rainwater and gray-water harvesting, soil conservation, ecological restoration and so forth.

Maré started Ben's Bells in 2003 after her son, Ben Maré-Packard, died of the croup just two months shy of his third birthday.

Ben's Bells promote kindness and community. Each week a person who betters Tucson is "belled" with a handmade ceramic bell. Twice a year in Tucson and occasionally in other cities across the country bells are hung in public places for people to find as a reminder to be kind.

Each bell comes with a tag that says, "You have found a Ben's Bell. Take it home, hang it in your yard, and remember to spread kindness throughout our world."

Maré said the money raised Wednesday will be used to support its K-12 education program that is "growing by leaps and bounds."

The program teaches children how to "infuse kindness into everyday life," Maré said.

The beauty of Arizona Gives Day is that people can continue donating year-round by going to, Mabie said.

"Arizona Gives is the start of what's going to be a philanthropic movement," Mabie said.

Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or