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?

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