New Philanthropists make their own way in Austin

New Philanthropists AustinThe diversity of backgrounds, perspectives and ideas blows me away. But what all our New Philanthropists have in common is a commitment to Austin. They tend to work outside the traditional nonprofit structure, creating their own points of engagement or standing out among their peers for their dedication to their cause.

Some of them left lucrative careers for less lucrative pursuits. Some of them saw connection possibilities where others haven’t, and they worked hard to make them. Some of them applied their experience and skills to the more frustrating field of philanthropy because they saw how great the rewards could be.

We found these 25 people thanks to you. You submitted more than 80 nominations, and had we a bigger budget we’d include them all; their amazing stories are enough to fill the next 8 issues of the magazine. It took a solid week of research and head-scratching to whittle it down to these 25 incredible folks. And we can’t wait for you to meet them.

But I won’t tell you who they are now! How would I sell magazines if I spilled the beans?

Please watch for the next issue of GivingCity Austin, available here on April 5. And mark your calendars for Givers Ball III, our quarterly celebration of Austin’s growing philanthropy community, taking place at the Gibson on April 5. See you then!

People—and awards—are so nice

We are very proud to have been selected for one of the 25 Austin American-Statesman Texas Social Media Awards for 2011.

GivingCity has been nominated since the TSMAs began three years ago, but this was worth the wait. Our fellow winners are some of the coolest, most influential and most engaging people and organizations in social media. We’re looking forward to the event on March 10 when they choose the overall winner.

Bonus news! We are also very proud to have been selected for one of the 10 SXSW Interactive Dewey Winburne Community Service Awards, which honor Central Texans who use technology and the Interwebs for the greater good. They’ll choose the overall winner at their event on March 11.

(Yes, that’s two awards in 24 hours. It’s not #tigersblood, but it’s pretty cool.)

Thanks to all of our followers, subscribers and likers (oy, these “new media” words). But especially thanks to the Austin Community Foundation—GivingCity’s fans are ACF’s fans now!

Here’s what I told the Statesman:

“Social media helps us share stories that offer more people an entry point to local philanthropy,” she says. “And once they connect with a cause, social media lets them connect with other people who support that cause, and, one by one, these connections expand Austin’s culture of philanthropy.”


On why we do this

Before GivingCity came to the Austin Community Foundation, we produced a lot of content for a lot of other people. One of our favorite things to work on was and is 12 Baskets Magazine for Mobile Loaves & Fishes. We still do 12 Baskets now.

Here’s how we got that gig: I was standing in the lobby of Alamo Drafthouse, waiting to watch the first showing of Andrew Shapter’s film, “Happiness Is.” Alan Graham was also there to see the film, and we were chatting a bit about what it is I do, exactly. I gave him the overview (“You know, I just like working on magazines.”), and then he asked me if I could make him a digital magazine that was provocative and awesome.

Who’s going to turn that down?

So we made a 12 Baskets magazine. And then another. And they’ve had more than 11,000 views so far, which is not bad for what is basically a spiffed up-nonprofit newsletter. These two issues have included amazing stories, but they’ve spurred some amazing stories, too. Here’s one:

Two weeks ago we received an email from a woman asking us if we could tell her anything about Joseph Coleman.

We’d photographed him for a recurring story, “Everything I Own,” (above) in which we ask a homeless person to display the contents of his or her bag. Other magazines use this concept to offer insight into a person’s interests and personality. We use it to offer insight in to a homeless person’s hope and/or desperation.

Turns out the woman who emailed us is Coleman’s niece. And she’s been looking for him.

There wasn’t much I could tell her except that we found him around Woolridge Park. Coleman’s story was particularly sad: He owned two blankets wrapped in a scarf and a prayer card. That’s all.

She told us she’d go look for him, see if she could help him. Her family had taken care of him in the past, but hadn’t seem him in about 10 years. Coleman has addiction problems that keep him from staying in one place for too long. She sent me this photos of Coleman as a boy. I hope she finds him.

What Austin philanthropists can do right now about the state budget cuts to nonprofits

Last night, Jason Sabo terrified a small group of philanthropists by describing the devastating effects of the budget cuts being considered by the current Legislature. Many of the cuts would put the neediest Texans in real life-or-death situations.

Sabo has been the United Ways of Texas man at the Capitol for more than 10 years, and represents the interests of nonprofits across the state. His message: Nonprofits need to decide and then focus on what’s most important to save, because we can’t save everything.

His talk was an updated version of the cover story of the current issue of GivingCity. Please read this story and share it with others. Thank you.

Here’s a link to download a PDF printable version of the story.


Here’s a link to start reading the story right away in the magazine.

The more we know as a community, the smarter our decision-making will be. As Debbie Bresette, president of Austin’s United Way said last night, “Most people don’t want to come and hear this news.” But if you care about Austin, you must.

MariBen Ramsey, Austin’s best friend

Years ago I would have rolled my eyes if you’d said I’d be working for MariBen Ramsey.  “No way!”

I was intimidated by MariBen Ramsey, or rather not MariBen, whom I didn’t know, but by her stature in the community. She was the vice president of the Austin Community Foundation, after all!

I was reminded of her stature in the community today as she stepped to the stage at the front of the Hyatt’s wide Texas Ballroom to accept her “special recognition” award at AFP’s Philanthropy Day. The entire audience of +800 rose to its feet, applauding and hooting wildly as she accepted the award from Kerry Tate.

Kerry had just called MariBen “Austin’s best friend,” and I can see now that she’s just that. While I’m less intimidated by her now that I work for her, I witness every day how much she does deserve the city’s respect and gratitude.

A story: Some folks who are new to Austin, bless their hearts, aren’t aware of just who MariBen Ramsey is, but MBR would never embarrass them by pointing it out herself. A couple of months ago, MBR and I were on a conference call with such a person, and this person just wasn’t getting it. MBR was being as polite and patient as she could be, but it was clear this person had no idea who he was talking to. At one point, after having explained something at least 28 different ways, she said something along the lines of, “Because I said so,” but the person on the other end of the line was audacious and disrespectful and was really starting to piss us off.

It was all I could do to not yell out, “Seriously, do you know who you’re talking to? If MariBen says it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen! Now apologize instantly!”

Later, when the call was finally over, MBR said something like, “Sometimes you have to get past the people and focus on the cause.”

That’s MariBen.

Have your day at the Capitol

Today is CASA Day at the Capitol, and here’s why this is important.

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) is taking a strong stand to stop budget cuts proposed for Child Protective Services, the agency charged with protecting children and caring for those in the Texas child welfare system and advocating for full funding for CASA.

Hundreds of CASA volunteers from across the state of Texas will gather at the Capitol to dedicate a memorial in honor of the 227 children who die from abuse and neglect each year in Texas. For more than 30 years, CASA has been speaking up for abused and neglected children in the Texas foster care system, often helping children who are in life-or-death situations. CASA programs recruit and train committed volunteers to help guide children through the foster care system and into safe and permanent home.

Tim for CASA storyIn our current issue, we have a story about Linda, a CASA volunteer who was assigned to Tim when he was just three years old. Linda has stayed by Tim (in photo, left) his whole life, protecting him from getting lost in the system and helping him become the productive and capable human being he is today.

We also have a story advising Austin nonprofits to step up to the Legislature and speak up for the children and people they represent.

There will be many more of these “Days at the Capitol” during this session. You don’t have to attend them to support the cause.

Send a letter or email today to your representative and let them know why they should work harder to keep these vital services intact. Just go to Texas Tribune to find your representative. Speak up for Austin this session.

Easy way to help an Austin kid go to college

College tuition varies—from $7,000 per year at a public, four-year college to $27,000 per year at a private four-year college—but no matter what type of college you choose, that amount adds up quickly. For many Austin students, it’s completely unaffordable.

Imagine working hard enough to be accepted for college only to realize you can’t actually afford college. This doesn’t have to happen. You can help!

Volunteers are needed to help families complete financial aid applications at Financial Aid Saturdays, here in Austin.

Volunteers at Financial Aid Saturday events provide personal assistance with filling out the FAFSA. Students and families can also bring other financial aid applications they need help with, including the Texas Application for State Financial Aid (TASFA) and scholarship applications. It is our mission to help students secure the financial aid they need to go to college.

Events take place Saturdays (Feb 5, 12, 19, 26, March 5, 26) from 8:30 am – 12:30 p.m. at schools across Austin. They could sure use your help.

Just think: You could be the final push an Austin kid needs toward his college degree. Wow.