Spark: The next generation of philanthropists

Some nonprofits are just lucky. They get calls from corporations asking how they can help. From restaurants looking to host free events. From ad agencies looking to do some pro-bono work.

Of course, it’s not luck, really. Chalk it up to longevity, success at meeting its mission, and over the years becoming a vital and well-recognized part of the community. It takes a lot of work to get this “lucky.” But beyond that, it takes a vision and an energetic staff to take advantage of all that luck. Caritas seems to be in a great position to pull this off – and use it to enact some innovative ideas.

Last week I went to the kick-off event for Spark, a new initiative of Caritas’ to engage young professionals in its mission. According to Carol Thomas, development director, it’s an idea they’d had a while, but it took the donated efforts of Kolar Advertising to pull off. This past summer, Kolar called Caritas wondering if the nonprofit could use some pro-bono services. (Well, yeah.) Then, a new restaurant at The Domain called The Daily Grill called Caritas wanting to donate their services for a party. (And who’s going to say no to that?)

Still, a cool name and a cool restaurant do not a party make. Cool parties take cool people, like Maria. Maria is a young lawyer who heard about plans for Spark from a colleague, a board member of Caritas. In telling Maria about his chairing the new initiative, Maria grew more interested and eventually agreed to co-chair the effort. I talked to Maria (a fellow San Antonian) about what got her involved.

She told me she just really connected with the goals of Spark and the mission of Caritas. Like a lot of young professionals, she said she just didn’t identify with the stereotypical philanthropists (which I’ve always pictured to be octagenarian millionaires with a closet full of ball gowns and tiny, tiny shoes – my words, not hers). She was more into casual socializing, meeting friends for dinner or drinks out. But at the same time, she said, she knew she wanted to contribute to a good cause – but had never really found an entry point. Of course the goals of Spark include encouraging young professionals to volunteer and donate, you’d expect that. But there’s more – and less – to Spark’s goals: Spark really wants to introduce Caritas to young people – just let them know Caritas is out there – so that it can build a relationship with future generations of Austin philanthropists over time.

As we’ve talked about before, Austin enjoys/suffers from a mostly new, youthful, and mobile population, many of whom moved here because they valued the various burgeoning “scenes,” be it music or art or outdoor or technology or whatever. These are all worthwhile characteristics for a communuty to have, but good schools, safe communities, diversity… these are things families and more established residents care about – AND invest in.  

So it makes sense that Caritas and other groups INVEST IN young professionals. To me, it’s even better that Maria is a Hispanic young professional, because as the needs of Austin grow so do the needs for people who understand the culture and perspective of Hispanics – who happen to consitute a large portion of the needy in our town.

Sure, Caritas was lucky to enlist Maria to help lead Spark. But they also were smart enough to invest a little of their resources on the future supporters of their organization. The investment can’t help but pay off.

BTW: If you’re interested in being a part of Spark, consider attending the December 12 Happy Hour from 6:30 to 9:30 and the Continental Club. Bring a few cans of food for the pantry and check out the games, raffle, and live music. Plus the people. Don’t underestimte this Spark crowd. The room at The Daily Grill was packed and even after the food ran out, most everyone stuck around.


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