Eat lunch, raise dough for CARITAS

In the spirit of Goodwill stores and Junior League resale shops, CARITAS just opened it “Do Good Deli,” a downtown, delivery-only sandwich shop. It’s a for-profit buisness that CARITAS hopes will help maintain the bottom line of the nonprofit CARITAS.

Here’s how it works: You choose a sandwich or salad from the menu, with prices ranging from $5.99 for the Vegan Velvet Elvis to $8.99 for the Rockin’ Roast Beef. Call or fax them with a big group order, more than $20. They appreciate your calling the day before you need the sandwiches, but they might also be able to handle later notice.

The delivery area is between Lamar to I-35 and Cesar Chavez to 12th Street, but that includes a lot of people who like to eat lunch. When you get the lunch, you pay, and the profit Do Good Deli makes goes back to CARITAS.

You like to eat lunch? Work in the downtown area with another person who likes to eat lunch? Of course you do! We all love lunch.

Some notes: The food is not prepared by homeless people, so don’t picture people under an overpass making your sandwich off a found mattress. The whole operation is separate from CARITAS client services. And the place is run like a business, with all the employees earning a fair, living wage. And one of the driving forces behind the deli is a board member who also happens to own a chain of sandwich shops called Thundercloud Subs. So they probably have a solid business plan under them.

… just another example of nonprofits and volunteers finding new ways to support their missions. I hope to hear some good news coming from them soon!

Did you donate your Taco Bell taco?

This I love. From The Chronicle of Philanthropy blog, Give and Take:

“The fast-food company Taco Bell is giving away free tacos to any person who stops into one of its restaurants this afternoon as part of a promotion tied to the World Series. But instead of encouraging consumers to stuff themselves with free food, an anonymous group has started a Web site that seeks to turn the promotion into an effort to raise money for victims of the California wildfires. is encouraging those who aren’t planning to cash in on the free taco promotion to sign an online petition. For every name collected on the petition, the site’s organizers plan to ask Taco Bell for a cash donation equivalent to the value of a free taco to the American Red Cross.”

Read the rest of the blog entry here:, free taco day was today, Tuesday, for a couple of hours this afternoon. I don’t know how many people lined up at Taco Hell to get their free nasty taco thing, but the taco-donation site reported just over 9,200 unclaimed tacos.

Will Taco Bell run for the border? I mean, this means that – at 77 cents a taco – the mega food chain will have to hand over … more than $7,000 to the Red Cross! I think they shred that much in twenties every day when they run out of lettuce.

Come on, Taco Bell! Make a clever marketing promotion even better. Give the Red Cross it’s dang money.

I have never eaten at Taco Bell in my life (I’m a native Texas Mexican-American, after all. We just don’t do these things as long as our mothers are alive.) BUT if I hear that Taco Bell does donate the money, I will buy one of those dang 77-cent tacos.

Though I might give it away.

Let’s hear from the donors and volunteers

It was great to read this blog entry, “Paul Brest Needs a Blog,” in the Stanford Social Innovation Review email I got last week. (Paul Brest runs the Hewlett Foundation, the famous, 50-year-old, $7 billion foundation that makes huge awards to nonprofits of all kinds.)

The author, Sean Stannard-Stockton who wrote a book (Edit! Per Sean’s comment below, it’s actually a blog.) called Tactical Philanthropy, believes strongly in the power of blogs to not only increase the amount of data and information to donors by helping create a philanthropy information marketplace. But, he adds, the beauty of blogs – and really the Web – is that they allow for a two-way conversation. He notes, in particular, that the voice of the funder is rarely heard in any philanthropic conversations. That makes a lot of sense to me.

Funders, donors, and volunteers “talk” with their time and money, I suppose. By deciding where to invest their wealth, they let NPOs know what they feel are the most pressing needs. But that doesn’t seem to be a strong enough voice in the conversation. After all, you can only interpret a donation as being a vague show of support for an NPO’s mission. Maybe what they really want to say is a bit more complicated than a thumbs-up. Because a blog allows readers to comment and discuss posts, it can be a good place for donors/volunteers to engage in the philanthropic conversation.

When I think about the potential of GoodCause, the magazine we’re working on, one of the things that excites me the most is the prospect of giving donors/volunteers a voice. The magazine will be targeted at them, but it will also be about them and what they believe. Like Mando Rayo, I think that people take the first step toward civic engagement by educating themselves about the needs of their community, and many of them become donor/volunteers, and even civic leaders. As a result of all this education and engagement, I believe each of them develops a strong opinion about what the change they want to see in Austin.

So what’s going to keep this magazine from becoming preachy, sentimental, or maudlin?

The way I think about it, as someone who’s interviewed probably more than 100 very different people, is this: People’s passions make them interesting. If you ever think someone is boring, it’s probably because you’re asking them the wrong questions. When you find what makes that person get out of bed in the morning, what makes them sit on the edge of their seat when they talk, what makes them animated and comfortable… you’ll be amazed at how interesting that person can be. And interesting people – along with compelling stories and useful information – can make a great magazine.

I think there are a lot of people in Austin whose passion for good causes will make for an interesting read. And if it encourages other people to join in the conversation, all the better.

(IN FACT… I am lining up interviews with active Austin donors and volunteers now – two next week, so far – and I plan to write about these interviews here. Maybe even get a little video in, if they let me. If you’re an active donor or volunteer – or if you want to be one – let’s talk!)

What CARITAS is about – Plus a video interview!

To be a development professional at an Austin nonprofit seems to require a diverse array of skills. The more I learn about their job, the more impressed I become.

On the one hand, it seems to take the persistence and professionalism of a seasoned salesman. You have to know your product inside and out, and be able to identify what about it sticks most with your customer.

On the other hand, development people need to be passionate about their mission. They need to truly believe in the cause and be able to communicate the need in a way that inspires – rather than depresses – their audience.

Whenever the development team at CARITAS begins a relationship with a donor, partner, or volunteer, they give them a tour of the facility, and that’s what I got yesterday. I was in good hands with development associate, Sarah Michel. Watch the video (below) of her describing her job. She obviously loves it.

She seemed most proud of the reception area, and I can see why. It’s … well, dignified and professional. In my ignorance I thought it would be a loud, dingy area where stressed-out people at the end of their ropes would sit impatiently, and equally stressed-out receptionists would pant behind desks trying to make sense of the chaos. This was not the case at all, and it’s a credit to the entire staff – especially the intake specialists who greet new clients – that the reception area was so calm, quiet, and well-kept.

“This is where our clients first walk in,” said Sarah. “And our intake specialists are great at finding out how we can help, so it’s important that their first experience with CARITAS be one of caring and patience.”

She also walked me through the food pantry and the working kitchen. We stood among a hectic group of paid staff and volunteers in the middle of lunch (it was high noon), and watched food trays proceed through a finely tuned assembly line. CARITAS serves more than 400 meals a day out of this kitchen to anyone who wants one, no questions asked, and they were certainly busy when I was there.

We proceeded to the classrooms upstairs – large, windowed rooms with lots of natural light and long tables – where CARITAS offers 450 classes a year, all free. They teach everything from ESL to job and financial skills. Sarah told me that a recent survey of their classes by a national service group ranked the Austin classes to utilize “best practices” when compared to similar groups. She also said each class would likely cost each student about $200 in the for-profit world – at CARITAS, they’re free.

We proceeded through the offices, though she quickly led me through the client managers’ offices in order to “protect the privacy of our clients.” We did spend time in development, finance, and other support offices. It was a busy office – there happened to be a board meeting that day so there was a definite buzz in the building.

I’m ashamed to admit this, but I was surprised I would be so impressed by the whole facility. Everything looked new. Everyone looked busy. People…. smiled. I have to say that I’ve worked in lots of offices where the atmosphere was far less positive. Sarah credits this to the diversity of the staff and the compassion they have for their clients. CARITAS is a credit to Austin… but it’s not just the staff, of course. Austin would be a terrible place if not for the board, the volunteers, and the donors who work together to keep this place operating.

But please don’t read this and think everything’s under control and that CARITAS doesn’t need your help. Step outside the CARITAS building and you’ll know immediately that there’s a great need in Austin for food, shelter, clothing, education, and support. The people waiting for a hot lunch come every day, nonstop. And the people in the lobby were desperate for a helping hand. And the refugees CARITAS picks up and acclimates to this country are desperate for a new, better life.

There’s lots of ways to help.

  • Go to Sam’s and buy a pallet of bread, drive it to CARITAS, and drop it off.
  • Write a check for $100 to CARITAS and specify – or not – which program you want it to support.
  • Host a canned food drive in your building and compete with another building for who can donate the most.
  • Instead of listing your furniture on Craigslist, drive it over to CARITAS so they can provide a furnished apartment to a refugee.
  • If you run a business and need workers, tell CARITAS and they’ll send over former lawyers and doctors from the Sudan.
  • Take the CARITAS volunteer training and spend the morning preparing and serving lunch.

Or take a development professional to lunch, find out about their organization, and tell your friends why you should all give now.

Touring CARITAS tomorrow

A few weeks ago I met Sarah Michel, part of the brilliant CARITAS development team, at an AFP lunch. She was very supportive of the idea behind GoodCause, and invited me to take a tour of CARITAS. Of course, I’m taking her up on the offer.

Now that the organizations hugest fundraiser of the year is over (the annual Harvey Penich Award Dinner held at the Four Seasons), Sarah has generously offered to introduce me to what they do at CARITAS.

CARITAS is one of those organizations that has a hard time coming up with an “elevator pitch.” On their Web site they say they, “provide rent, utilities, food, and support to people in need,” but – gosh! – isn’t that like saying “We do everything?”

I’ll definitely have more details about what this incredible organization does after my tour tomorrow. I’m so excited!

Should Austin’s charitable efforts join forces?

In her blog entry today, Andrea Ball asks, “Does Austin have too many nonprofits?” And I think that’s a totally fair question. Not just because of the ratio of nonprofits to people, but also because of redundancy of efforts.

A school supply drive is a good example of how redundancies of efforts don’t alway make for a better outcome (though it’s not applicable to this group). It’s not difficult to organize a school supply drive, but it is a lot of work. You need some fliers and emails, a marked bin for everyone to drop off the supplies, and someone to collect all the supplies and organize the pick-up by the nonprofit group. In the end, an medium-sized office can gather quite a bit of school supplies, and everyone feels great about it.

But at some point you have to measure your ROI. Consider that within that same building, there were two other offices having their own school supply drive. It seems each office – or at least the few people from each office who organized it – could have banded together for building-wide drive with a better result. Also consider that, while donations of school supplies are always welcome, the group that collects school supplies and hands them out to needy students, For the Children, can actually make better use of cash donations because they get great deals on supplies that they buy in bulk. So one person’s $5 worth of crayons and glue might have actually been better spent by For the Children, which might have gotten three boxes of crayons out of it.

In no way am I trying to discourage anyone’s efforts to reach out and help. In the end, regardless of redundancies of efforts, everyone wins. But could we fulfill our missions better by pooling our efforts?

In fact, this is a major tenet of GoodCause. One of the regular departments we have in mind would be something I’ve nicknamed “Gather ’round the cause.” Each month we would choose one cause – say, children whose caretakers can’t afford school supplies – and list every organization that is doing something about it, including contact information and how you can get involved. That way, each organization starts to learn about the other, and if you think that’s a mission close to your heart, you can find your place in the effort.

What do you think?

Mando in The Chronicle of Philanthropy

There is no one in Central Texas nonprofitland who does not know Mando Rayo. If you don’t know Mando Rayo, you’re probably not doing a very good job at fulfilling your mission.

I’m new to this world, I know. But I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t know this guy. His name is on everyone’s Rolodex because he’s the director of Hands On Central Texas, a United Way agency whose core responsibility is to find and place volunteers for dozens of nonprofits. You need volunteers? You need in-kind donations? You call Mando.

But it’s not just his position that makes him so popular. He also happens to be effective, passionate, charismatic, and smart. And, I think, continually understimated. He’s one of the examples used in a story published in a recent issue of The Chronicle of Philanthropy about the lack of minority nonprofit managers.

Mando’s Mexican-American. He’s also young (33 years old), has at least one visible tattoo and tends towards jeans and black T-shirts. Not your typical middle-aged white female nonprofit manager, I guess. And once you start talking to him, you realize that’s what makes him so great. He’s exactly the kind of person you wish would care so much about the needs of Central Texas because he looks so different from the usual bunch of do-gooders. That he also happens to be the same nationality as so many of the neediest people in Austin makes you think he’d have an edge.

Not when it comes to moving up the ladder, according to the article. “Organization leaders didn’t understand his background or their own biases, he says, which kept him from moving ahead.”

Too bad for them. I’ve worked in nonprofits a little bit but I’ve worked at plenty of for-profit organizations as well, and the people like Mando are the ones who should move up, but fast. He seems to be in a position that suits him now, but – if it’s at all possible – can someone get him more resources, funding, and staff? This guy can make good things happen for Central Texas, but this MexiCAN is going to need some help.