Planning the first issue!

Between Thanksgiving and just the hustle of the holidays, I haven’t had much time to blog. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been making progress on the magazine.

In fact, we’ve made lots of progress. We’ve got a big list of stories, most of them assigned and some of them assigned to some really great writers. The further we get into it, the more excited we get. I also got back from great pictures from a couple of events that are going to make a great story. And I’m speaking to lots of folks about contributions in the future, new story ideas, new content stategies, etc.

Tonight we’re going to an event hosted by Caritas for young professionals. It sounds like it’s going to be swank from the invitation, and it gives me a chance/excuse to finally get up to the Domain. I hope to come away with more feedback and information – all toward making the magazine the best it can be.

By the way, thanks for making the move over to WordPress with us. Several people I’ve spoken to have said WordPress is the way to go if you want a really robust blog. I’m looking forward to incorporating more media and tools – again all toward a better GoodCause.

Do big events mean big money?

One of the things we want GoodCause to examine is whether the expense and effort required to produce big events is worth the return of donations and money raised from the event.

A post on The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s blog, Give and Take (I put the feed on my blog, bottom left) notes Newsday and Don’t Tell the Donor ask the same question.

I’ve helped put together some of these big events, and I can tell you – as can a lot of people who work for nonprofits – that they’re not always the biggest bang for your buck. At least not directly. When I talk about big events, I’m talking about galas in particular, but it can mean golf tournaments or concerts, too. It’s a lot of work to put on these mutual-admiration-society parties, and they don’t always bring in the big money you’d hope.

But maybe we should consider the indirect support they earn the nonprofit. Maybe after tickets sales and auction bids and checks written at the table are all tallied up, the number only just covers the expenses. But what are some of the other positive outcomes?

For one, I know it can be a lot of fun for the regular supporters of that nonprofit to get dressed up and pat each other on the back a bit. There’s definitely value in that. Everyone likes to be recognized for the work they do, and it’s big boost to the organization’s morale to celebrate for a night.

Secondly the publicity and buzz around the event can help raise the organization’s stature in the community. Who hasn’t heard of the Heart Ball (benefiting the American Heart Association) or the Jewel Ball (benefiting the Austin Symphony)?

Thirdly, they involve more people than most people think. Consider that gala planning committees can include about 100 people – 100 people who are then committed to that nonprofit for life, most likely. Also, think about those galas that manage to solicit a few hundred silent-auction items from local businesses, that now are aware of the nonprofit and its mission if they weren’t before. There’s also all the caterers, slide-show creators, ballgown sellers, hotels, valets, hairdressers, tailors, bartenders, musicians, impersonators, golf resorts, A/V specialists… all of them learning a little bit more about the nonprofit behind the event.

Any and all of these can have a positive impact on the nonprofit long after the glitter from the gala’s been swept off the dance floor.

Yes, there are more efficient ways to raise money. But to think of these events only in terms of how much money they raise that night is to sell them short.

1000 bags of Thanksgiving groceries

One of the stories we have planned for the first issue of GoodCause is about Thanksgiving volunteering. Thanksgiving kicks off the season of giving, after all, and there are lots of opportunities around town to serve and feed needy folks on Turkey Day.

But we wanted to highlight other opportunities to give back around Thanksgiving, and we wanted to tell the story from the volunteer’s point of view.

So Torquil had the great idea of arming volunteers from a few events with disposable cameras, which would let them document their day. This past weekend, we gave cameras to three volunteers with El Buen Samaritano’s Thanksgiving Baskets event, which gives away Thanksgiving dinner to 1000 families, most of them non-native, Hispanic Americans.

El Buen’s event is different from most in that they give away the groceries – including the frozen turkey – rather than the cooked meal. Ivan Davila, community relations coordinator, told me this is to give the mother of the family the opportunity to fulfill her role as nurturer and caregiver. It also introduces these families to the uniquely Amercian holiday, complete with the traditional meal.

Bags and bags of Thankgiving groceries

HEB provides the turkeys, the groceries are donated or purchased with monetary donations, and Univision radio promotes and covers the event. This thing is huge. Don’t think for one minute that 1000 people show up to pick up their groceries. Most people bring the whole family, so now you’re talking about 3000+ folks, most between 9 and 11 am.

I gave cameras to two volunteers from State Farm, which came as a group, and another who had previous connections with El Buen. State Farm employee, Ed Rodriguez is married to a woman who works at El Buen, and he brought his baby daughter along. Dolores Foust from State Farm brought her husband Gary. And Tom Ball, who works with El Buen, brought his teenage son.

I can’t wait to get the photos back and talk to them about what it was like volunteering that day. I stayed and took some photos, too.

Ed Rodriguez and Victoria

We’re also working with CARITAS and a few Turkey Trot volunteers. I’ve always wondered what it’s like to set-up and work a fundraising 5K, and Turkey Trot’s one of the best-known races.

I’ll post some of their photos here, but the complete story will run in our first issue next quarter.

I know why you volunteer

Actually, I don’t know why you, in particular, volunteer. But I can guess. What do you think? Be honest. What’s the real reason why you volunteer?

I’m going to do something crazy and offer up three major reasons. Now, I know I don’t have but three readers out there (if that many), but I’m hoping to get some feedback on this one.

Am I missing one? Are these reasons too simple? Which one do you fall under? If a little of each, what’s the ranking?

Okay, here are my three guesses as to why people volunteer.

1. To do good
2. To feel good
3. To look good

And, just to be fair, I’m going to throw myself under reason #2. There, I said it.

Free iPhone anyone?

Not $500. Not $300. Free. All you have to do is donate. Any amount will do.

Employees at United Way are bumming that they can’t enter… but everyone else can. Mando links to the entry form. But hurry because the contest ends November 30.

If you win it, please don’t tell me because I don’t handle jealousy well.

What it’s like to serve on a board

I think all 230 attendees of Greenlights’ Board Summit learned a lot about opportunities to serve, but there was one panel discussion in particular that was especially enlightening – the “What’s it like to serve on a board?” session.

Yesenia Reyes was one of the three panelists, and she was generous enough to spend some time chatting with me after the discussion. Here’s a little bit about her:

Yesenia works in the human service practice at Accenture with special projects, and helps position Accenture’s presence at national and state/local conferences that relate to child welfare, child support, general welfare, and unemployment insurance topics. She also leads the community service efforts for Accenture’s Austin office.Prior to joining Accenture, Yesenia worked in executive leadership roles for nonprofits such as Catholic Charities of Dallas, the North Texas Food Bank, Wesley-Rankin Community Center, and White Rock United Methodist Church. Her practical and academic work focused on low-income, ethnic minority, under-served populations.

In the past thirteen years, Yesenia served on the boards of Women’s Council of Dallas County, Texas, the North Texas Food Bank, Catholic Charities of Dallas-Advisory Council, Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Dallas, Dental Health Programs, and Epilepsy Foundation of North Texas. She is a program graduate of Blueprint for Leadership, sponsored by the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, to educate and equip ethnic minority leaders for Board of Director participation.

Locally, Yesenia volunteers with the United Way Capital Area- Community Investment Review Team, Partnership for Children, and Meals on Wheels and More. Internationally, Yesenia volunteers with a Catholic Parish in El Progreso, Honduras.

I got a chance to ask Yesenia some questions about serving on a board. Her honesty and insights were surprising, at least to someone like me who has never served on a nonprofit board.

1. What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about sitting on a board?

In the thirteen years I have spent on a board or recruiting board members, the biggest misconception I’ve encountered centers around the fundraising responsibility of board membership. What I heard and experienced was fear of the “give” or “get” quota and the fear of being asked to give a large donation.

While financial support is a reality of board responsibility, there are different ways of raising support for nonprofits. My own trepidation was eased by exploring my options with the board chair or executive director. Nonprofits need talent and support, not just dollars. There are creative ways of raising support. Do not hold off serving on a board because of money. It’s all negotiable; find out what is agreeable to you and to the organization.

Let me add this: I think we are anxious about the financial responsibility of board membership because we are fearful of being compared to the others who can give “more.” The first time I had to “give or get,” I put pen to paper to make a decision about how much I could give. I had to focus my giving and feel good that I had been fair to all of my financial obligations. I do not give to every request from the organizations I support or to the many requests received from friends and family.

Many people have a household budget, a saving plan, a retirement plan, an investment plan—why not create a giving plan?

2. You have a unique perspective in that you’ve been an executive director at a nonprofit as well as served on the board of a separate nonprofit. You’ve been on both sides of the professional/volunteer nonprofit relationship, and I think there can be some different viewpoints for each side. What do you wish each side knew about the other?

I wish there was greater awareness that businesses are making significant efforts to align their core competencies, their people, and their resources to impact the social well-being; and I wish that there was greater awareness of the discipline nonprofits implement to make certain that their societal impact can be measured, evaluated, and trusted.

At the end of the day, there is “heart” and “rigor” in all of us. What unites us is that each of us is trying to lend ourselves to the greater good.

3. Do you think it’s important for a board that serves a specific socio-economic or ethnic group to have someone from that group on their board?

I am a firm believer that everyone has something to give to the well-being of the community, and everyone should be invited to serve, no matter ethnicity or income level. There is a real moment exchange in this diversity.

I learned this lesson while serving as Executive Director of a community center that wanted to address children’s health issues, specifically obesity. We served mostly low-income Hispanic families who resided in a high crime neighborhood in Dallas. The recommendations we were reading as best practice included nutrition education, modeling good food choices, and physical activity.

As we started to design the physical activity component of the program I turned to the parents, three of whom were also on the board, for their input. The truth was that in this neighborhood the recommendations for community-based physical activity (walking, riding bicycles, sports teams) were not so practical. This neighborhood had high gang activity, so walking or riding bikes were safety concerns. Bikes disappeared from front lawns at the blink of an eye. Sports teams were expensive for these families. The neighborhood park was strewn with drug paraphernalia and had no field lights for evening activity. The discussion of these obstacles was a revelation to most our board members. The insight of members who lived in the neighborhood helped us design a program that was relevant to the community.

To affect childhood obesity, this board needed all the knowledge we had from experts and all that we could borrow from the local experience. Members of the board who knew how to deal with City Hall taught a group of neighborhood residents how to go to City Council meetings to petition for the park lights (this was a city park). It took more than a year to get approved and funded, but the city did install park lights. The board secured funding to buy sports equipment to be kept at the community center. We held family nights that included a healthy meal and softball or basketball games. The after-school program incorporated jump rope, tag, basketball and volleyball— activities that could be done in the gymnasium on our property.

This board did have a “give or get” practice: These moms and other neighborhood parents made tamales each holiday season to raise money to support the children’s after-school program; they stuffed invitations to the annual fundraising event; they sent in their donation to the annual appeal letter. We all have something to give!

Too much excitement

I haven’t posted in a few days because I’ve been in Monterey, California, at a conference, Stanford Publishing on the Web for Professionals. It’s designed for people from publications backgrounds who want to take their publications’ Web sites to the next level. Lots of great ideas here.

I’m a little overwhelmed but totally jazzed at the same time. I’ve met a lot of people from other publications including a the director of digital from American Media, publishers of National Enquirer and Star, among others. What they’re doing is extremely interesting, especially with building content delivery systems for mobile devices. And Scott Karp, well known blogger for Publishing 2.0, who very generously offered some advice for me in building out this blog.

There’s lots to consider. I’m excited by all the connections I’m making by publishing this blog, but what’s more exciting are all the connections others are making by reading this blog. There aren’t many of you, but I have strategies (thanks to Scott’s advice) for building that audience.

In fact, there are so many possibilities with online technologies these days that it’s making me really reconsider GoodCause‘s mission. Or rather, its format and whether that fits its mission best.

Then again, there’s no reason we can’t have both. Print and Web site. Oh wait….

Money. Yes, still need that money.

Lots more to come from this blog, as soon as I get back to Austin.