Caritas’s clean, new Web site

Wow, what a major undertaking that must have been!

See, I’ve run and worked on Web sites for a living, so I know what it takes to perform a complete redesign. You don’t go in to it lightly. Oh, the planning, the meetings, the testing!

Throw in a complicated message like Caritas’s and you’ve got a major project on your hands. That’s why its new Web site is such an accomplishment. Caritas has been helping provide basic needs to the homeless, refugees, low-income families and others in Austin for more than 40 years. Its previous Web site never seemed to tell the whole story of what the organization does – which is everything from providing hot meals to transitioning refugees. The new Web site makes Caritas’s mission so much more clear. Less is more.

The navigation does all the work. The design is clean and open and white-spacey and modern, which is nice and all, but the way they’ve put the information in just seven drop-down menus is the big accomplishment. That must have taken some real discipline and tough choices.

Not only that, each page loads really quickly, which must have also taken some discipline. So many people want their site to have all these bells and whistles (or as one of my colleagues calls them, “spinning weasles”). Each page has an image, some copy, and just a few other links and logos, so it’s not painful to click through the whole site.

Congratualtions to Caritas and the team at Go9 Media, which helped with the design.

5 Questions for Kim Jowers, Executive Chair of Young Leaders Society

The Young Leaders Society engages Austinites between 21 and 45 years old who give $1000 or more to United Way Capital Area. Unlike a typical professional society, membership in this group emphasizes education opportunities in philanthropy and civic engagement. YLS members are committed to a better Austin and often have second careers in philanthropy.

Which makes for some busy people. I met Kim Jowers at the Head Honcho pitch ‘n putt event earlier this year. She just had a baby, too – a boy named Rhys. We were talking about typical new mom things – sleeping, nannies, not sleeping, and adjusting to this new life – when I realized she not only had a full-time job but was also leader of YLS. Wow. Good on you, Kim.

1. Along with opportunities for professional development, YLS offers its members a chance to learn more about growing their philanthropic “careers.” That’s a little more than what other professional associations offer, which might be the reason people join. Tell me about the kinds of people who join YLS in general.

The group is well represented as the focus is first on giving and so our membership have “day” jobs that run the gamut of professions. I believe the people that join are those that want to network with other like-minded individuals who are concerned with ensuring our Central Texas area is addressing the parts of society where there is a critical need.

2. So do YLS members have previous experience in philanthropy?

It depends, although I think for the majority of the group they are very civic-minded and especially concerned with making sure Central Texas is a better place to live. But, even if they have not volunteered much, YLS provides those opportunities for their membership both through actual volunteer events, the inspiring monthly lunch with leaders series or the workshops where we partner with groups such as Greenlights and Leadership Austin.

3. What about particular concerns? Do they come in wanting to serve a particular need?

You’ll find a wide breadth of concerns among our membership and they want to be a catalyst for making positive changes in our community. One great thing about the YLS group is being a part of United Way, which serves so many needs in our community.

4. Right, that’s how you become a member, but donating $1000 or more a year to United Way. Did the recent funding changes at United Way sit well with YLS members in general?

It seems to be sitting well with our membership. We have a close relationship with the leadership at United Way and they have made themselves very accessible to our membership to get any questions answered. The United Way researched this new approach very thoroughly and looking at the three areas they are focused on (education financial stability and health), it is hard to argue that the need is not there and further, not want to be a part of helping make a difference. I think it is pretty exciting!

5. Change does make things interesting, that’s for sure. You’d think lots of young professionals would want to be a part of it.

We need to increase awareness of groups like ours, show them what we are doing, how our efforts make a difference and how exciting and good it feels to be a part of it. Additionally, we are all very busy and I think we need to continue to provide relevant events and workshops, like YLS does, to our membership…making it easy and fun to be a part of.

I think young professionals bring a lot to the table: energy, enthusiasm, fresh ideas, a different perspective from the other traditional areas of philanthropic giving. I think energy and a different perspective are the big ones.

Kim Jowers is a finance manager for Applied Materials, currently working in the Sarbanes-Oxley program management office. She also serves on Applied’s Education committee, which reviews and makes decisions on where Applied will spend their philanthropy dollars earmarked for education in the Austin community.

Kim’s been a YLS member for four years. “I enjoy participating in volunteer activities that YLS puts together, including volunteering at ARCH, Marathon water stop, helping kids get financial aid, etc.” She’s married and is a new mother to six-month-old Rhys.


Want to donate for back-to-school? Check store registries

Austin children benefit from back to school donations to Manos de Cristo

Your wedding, your baby shower, your kid’s birthday… your own birthday. Registering for gifts has always seemed kind of icky to me, which doesn’t make much sense considering that I love when other people register – it lets me give them exactly what they want.

That’s why I love the idea of Manos de Cristo registering for back-to-school donations at Target. If you go to Target’s Web site and click on “Target Lists,” you can choose the “Advanced Find” link and enter “manos de cristo” in the organization search. (Or just click here.) There you’ll see a list of items you can buy in-store or online, then bring to Manos by July 15 for their back-to-school event.

Manos will hand out donated new and gently used clothes August 5-9 and August 12-16. Last year Manos helped more than 1500 Austin children get ready for school, and thanks to your donations, almost everything was covered. Manos especially needs new and gently used kids’ T-shirts… lots and lots of T-shirts. Bring T-shirts, school supplies, and cash donations to Manos by July 15.

Would you rather volunteer? Sorting takes place between July 28 and August 1, and they’ll need lots of extra hands to help. Click here for lots more information.

Gift registries aren’t icky anymore… they’re genius.


Click here to help Midwest flood victims

Salvation Army affected by Midwest Floods of 2008

I’m reading about how the floods in the Midwest may effect meat prices – corn and soybeans grown there are grown to feed cattle. For some of you, the immediate thought is how that will affect people and nonprofits already on the edge of being able to afford meat at all. It’s the gas crisis on the table.

Maybe it’s just me, but since September 11, there seems to be one disaster after another, right up to the floods in the Midwest. It’s estimated that 35,000 people have been displaced and everyone in the area is dealing with toxic water teeming with raw sewage, farming chemicals, and whatever was in the toilets, basements, refrigerators and buildings across thousands of acres of the Midwest. Most of us can’t imagine what it’s like to be flooded out of our communities and homes, but we want to find an easy way to help.

(NOTE: I don’t think there’s any shame in looking for an easy way to help. In gift-giving it’s the thought that counts, but when you’re giving to people in need, just thinking about it isn’t enough. It’s the job of the nonprofits to make it easy for the rest of us to make a difference in someone’s life.)

Here are some organizations that are helping Midwest flood vicitms – and who accept donations online (how easy is that?):

American Red Cross: You can choose to give specifically to the disaster relief fund.

Adventist Community Services: This is the humanitarian-aid arm of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Click to donate and choose whether you want to give open-ended cash or cash for a specific need like clothes or water.

The Salvation Army: The organization is also helping in China and Myanmar now. Easy online form.

AmeriCares: An organization that helps worldwide. Has shipped more than 200,000 bottles of water to the Midwest so far. You can direct your donation so U.S. disaster relief specifically.

Consider, also, giving directly to the local chapters of some of these organizations. Look for them in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Missouri.



5 Questions for Chris Popov, AYLA President-Elect

There are at least 50 organizations for Austin professionals, and most of them include service and philanthropy as part of their missions. All together, these organizations give away thousands – and maybe millions – of dollars of services, donations, gifts, and in-kind items to the Central Texas community. Where would we be without them?

Austin Young Lawyers Association has been around for almost 50 years, and hundreds of Austin lawyers, judges, mayors, congressmen, board members, and philanthropists have been a member at one time or another. Today AYLA is more than 850-strong, and its members are the people to watch in this town. Chances are, they’re the ones who are going to take this city into its future.

We spoke to AYLA President-Elect, Chris Popov, a commercial litigation attorney with Vinson & Elkins and AYLA member since 2002. (Full disclosure, I was the communications director for AYLA and the Austin Bar Association, which is where I first met Chris and witnessed first-hand his energy, optimism, and intelligence.)

1. AYLA board members get to move up through the ranks on their way to the president spot, which means you’ve probably been involved in lots of fundraising and service projects that benefit the community. Which have been your favorites and why?

I have always been particularly proud of the Holiday Baskets program. In some ways, it’s very much like a Christmas gift basket program that many organizations put on. But the AYLA focuses on families who are currently working with Volunteer Legal Services and other non-profit legal organizations to help get their lives back on track. These folks are in stressful, and financially challenged situations. The profession is already helping them through their legal problems, but the AYLA adds to that charity by sending lawyers to their door with gifts that they never asked for and never expected.

The thank you letters that we receive from the donees regularly confirm my hunch that these people are left with a feeling of gratitude, and at least a subtle understanding of how the legal profession is different from other trades.

2. What are some of the biggest needs in Austin right now that you think AYLA members can address?

Austin, like most large urban areas, has a limitless number of needs, and I am not sure that I am qualified to say which are the biggest. I think AYLA should continue primarily to focus its charitable efforts on projects that affect the legal community, and on areas in which our members’ expertise can be best utilized.

3. Do you think you would be as involved in philanthropy if you weren’t a member of AYLA or another professional association? Why or why not?

More with Chris Popov, next page …

JUNE 7: Gimpy the Rabbit really needs you

I run across this kind of stuff all the time, but this one I couldn’t pass up. I’m going to tag this one as, “I had no idea…”

The House Rabbit Resource Network, an Austin nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of Austin house rabbits and connecting house rabbit enthusiasts, holds the monthly Rabbit Adoption Day at the Arboretum Petco. This month’s adoption day is this Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. I dare you to walk by the display of orphaned rabbits and not do whatever it takes to get one home.

Not only can you learn more about how to live with a rabbit, the organization can also help you set up a “rabbit love connection” to pair your rabbit up with that special some-bun. Like, seriously. I mean, they really say that.

It’s worth noting that this year marks HRRN’s 15th anniversary, and they’re planning a big celebration for Saturday, June 21, from 1 to 4 p.m.

If you do anything today – even if you don’t have time – you MUST browse the “rabbits available for adoption” page. Please see especially Gimpy, who, according to his adoption page, has “impeccable litterbox habits despite my ‘disablilty.'”

Maybe it’s time for us to pay more attention to our rabbit friends….?

Austin’s remarkable pet-food network

According to an AP story, more pet owners across the country are unable to afford pet food and, therefore, are lining up outside food pantries to feed their animals. This among other tough choices pet owners are having to make in the wake of the foreclosure crisis, looming recession, rising cost of fuel and other financial pressures.

The story reports that many pet owners are choosing to abandon their pets or dump them on a friend of relative because they can no longer afford to care for them.

In looking to find out if more people in Austin are turning to pet food banks, I learned a little about the web of individuals and groups that help keep Austin animals fed every day and – let me tell you – it’s complicated.

For example, my first thought was to contact Town Lake Animal Shelter. Turns out they do accept donations, but I learned from its Web site that they prefer only canned pet food and they don’t hand out pet food to individuals. (Why only canned? It stores better than dry.)

If you do give dry pet food, that gets picked up from a woman named Liz who operates a massive pet food bank out of her garage. She distributes mostly to animal rescue groups in Austin rather than individuals, though she has helped Katrina victims and their pets. She also operates a greyhound rescue group, by the way.

Liz picks up from the shelter but also receives donations from barrels placed around pet stores, Wal-marts and Targets around the city. Notice that broken 100-pound bag of dog food spilling into the aisle? That’s probably going to wind up in Liz’s garage.

Apparently if you’re an individual who needs help feeding your pet, you turn to Animal Trustees of Austin. I haven’t heard back from them yet to confirm this, but when I do I will update this site. I also hope to learn if more people are seeking free pet food.

How is it that we don’t know more about this huge network of groups helping Austin animals? Well, as Liz put it: “There are people out there who do some of these things… we don’t make a big deal out of it. Maybe it’s because, for one thing, we can’t do much more than we’re doing.”

In her 10 years of running this pet food bank out of her garage, Liz also adds, “I have met some people I never would have met and done some things I never would have done.” Does she have plans for slowing down? “Well, I have noticed that since I turned 70 a few years ago, I can’t lift those 50-pound bags like I used to.”