The hundreds of nonprofits that serve the Washington area have varying missions and different constituents. But no matter their role — be it helping the needy, caring for animals, cleaning up the environment, promoting education or boosting the arts — they all are feeling the squeeze of today’s economy. Just when services are most needed, revenue is down. This challenge has given rise to a unique community-wide online campaign that we hope will raise millions of dollars for the nonprofits that do so much for the capital region.

“Give to the Max: Greater Washington” is a 24-hour fundraiser — starting at midnight Tuesday — in which area residents can go online, to, to donate to the nonprofits of their choice. Donors can also browse the Web site to find organizations to support.

More than 1,000 nonprofits, all registered 501(c) (3) organizations, from the District, suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia, have signed up for the fundraiser, which will also provide cash awards to organizations that bring in the most donors or raise the most money. Sponsors include the United Way of the National Capital Area and the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region.

The event is the creation of, an online fundraising platform headquartered in the District that first tested the concept in Minnesota in 2009. Not only did it help 4,000 nonprofits there raise $24 million, but a majority of the groups also reported attracting new donors. Social media, Lesley Mansford of told us, open doors to a new generation of tech-savvy donors with the extra advantage of being more cost-efficient than traditional methods. Direct mail costs $1.25 to bring in the first dollar from a new donor, while the average cost of bringing in that first dollar from a new online donor is seven cents., which provides the platform and the training, retains 2.9 percent of every donation.

The effort, according to United Way President and CEO William A. Hanbury, couldn’t come at a more appropriate time. Everywhere you look — from Prince George’s County, where one in four homeowners are behind on mortgage payments, to Fairfax County, where 100,000 people are at risk of hunger — there is a desperate need for services. And it’s not just human services organizations that are being impacted; champions of the arts, advocates for humane treatment of animals and other nonprofits are also facing cutbacks. “There’s no knight in shining armor that will be riding over the hill to save us,” Mr. Hanbury said. “We, as citizens, need to step up and help those nonprofits that mean so much to our community.”