The missing step in getting Austin to give?

I’m glad Andrea Ball wrote today about Austin’s lagging charitable donations. What’s the takeaway from a story like that? I hope readers don’t just throw up their hands in rhetorical “What’s to be done?” defeat. I think I’m going to make this my next task: Finding stories that answer that question.

It’s really the main idea behind GoodCause magazine. The magazine’s mission assumes there are more Austinites who want to donate money and volunteer than those who don’t, but that they need to be inspired and shown the way.

Demonstrating the need is the first step, and if people read closely enough, there are plenty of stories in the newspaper every day that accomplish that. Still, the folks behind the I Live Here, I Give Here campaign for philanthropy conducted a survey in which respondents said they did’t really understand the needs in Austin, but if they did understand the needs better, the survey respondents said, they would donate more money.

Telling stories about the needs, then, is certainly important. But I think there’s another step between understanding the need and actually sending the check. I think the next step is to make it easy to give.

A few months ago I was at the Inflatable Wonderland in Lakeline Mall (I know this sounds like a non sequitur, but bare with me), and while my son and I were putting our shoes back on, a woman about 30 years old came over and sat down next to us. She was bearing a stack of large postcards and politely explained that she was a child photographer and a mother herself, and that she was offering a special discount on her work for a limited time.

She explained that she was donating a portion of each portait session to the Austin Children’s Shelter. She had read a story in the Statesman about the lack of space for Central Texas children taken from their homes due to abuse or neglect. She knew they were raising money to build a new, larger facility, and she wanted to help. She had printed up special cards about her efforts and was passing them out where she thought parents with small children congregated. (And at Inflatable Wonderland, that’s like shooting fish in a barrel.)

This was a great idea, right? Here’s a young mom who’s also a portrait photographer, and she’s trying to raise more money than she herself can give for a cause close to her heart.

Well, not to single them out based on one woman’s experience, but she did say that it wasn’t exactly easy to make this arrangement with the Children’s Shelter. She described how it took a few phone calls and a few forms before she could get permission to embark on her project. But she felt strongly enough about it to follow through. I can see the Children’s Shelter’s point of view: They can’t have just anyone claim to be raising money for orphans and using that claim to garner more clients. But it made me wonder if the process could be easier. And whether other charities made it easier or more complicated to conduct a fundraiser in their names?

Earlier I talked about the Food Bank’s process, which seems pretty straightforward according to its Web site. Can’t every Austin charity make it this easy? Would it increase donations if they did?

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