Another story that makes you feel better about the world

I’ve been reading too many stories about these hard economic times and purse strings and recession and doing more with less… and I’m sick of them. In order to combat the almost overwhelming downer-ness of all this “news,” I’m reading – and re-reading – and posting and Tweeting stories that I find about people who have helped others. 

Found this really nice one in the NYTimes online today about an anonymous donor who asked folks to write him letters explaining why he should give them money. He received hundreds of letters, of course. In return, he mailed out hundreds of checks. 

By the way, this wasn’t during the recession, rather this was during the Depression… the one for which we use a capital D. Read the story here.

Jan 17-19:Make it a Service-Service weekend

Between United Way’s Day of Service, Saturday, Jan 17 and President-Elect Obama’s National Day of Service, Monday, Jan 19, you could be a very busy volunteer.

The biggest distinction between what Obama wants us to do and what the United Way has been doing for years is that Obama wants to service commitment to last longer than a day. He wants us to make it a part of our lives. But it’s one thing to get people off the sofa for one day, how do you get them to stay off the sofa once a week for a semester, a year, or longer?

Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, concedes that service isn’t for everyone. “To be really fair, this requires time and/or money that might be lacking; for example, a single parent putting kids through college is already more than busy,” he says in his post on Huffington. So let’s not overly burden the single mothers with more guilt.

Newmark, by the way, is relevant at this point because Pres-Elect Obama made a reference to “a craigslist for service” in one of his speeches. But Newmark thinks we already have the means to do this via online sites like; there are also sites like our own Hands On Central Texas that make it easy to give some time to a local cause. What I think Americans need is the encouragement, incentive, motivation… whatever it is that gets people to take an action.

Maybe Obama can do what the United Way and thousands of other nonprofits around the country have not been able to do. Hmm. Obamanos.

Donor fatigue, charity backlash, and other excuses

From Andrea Ball’s story in the Statesman yesterday: “Charities Suffering in an Ailing Economy”

The Christmas Bureau of Austin and Travis County — which gives holiday gifts to needy children — still has 2,300 unsponsored families, more than double the number it had by this time last year.

“There are families who aren’t going to get anything,” Christmas Bureau Director Cynthia Colpaart said.

The story was remarkable not only because of the depressing data about charitable giving but because of the comments. It mentioned a couple of reasons why people may be giving less this season, the economy being the primary reason and donor fatigue being another. Then the commneters chimed in with their own reasons: high-priced celebrity speakers, the charity’s discriminatory practices, and the recent “hand-outs” by the feds to other charities like banks and auto makers.

It was kind of a downer to read those comments.

From that story, though, I was offered a link to this Statesman story: “Austinites Still Find Ways to Live Good Life”

News of the recession hasn’t persuaded all consumers to forsake lavish lifestyles. Some still eat at expensive restaurants, buy designer clothes and drive luxury cars.

So, of course, that story made me feel a whole heck of a lot better. (Sigh, still depressed.)


Then I saw this post on Tim Sander’s blog. He writes about sustainability at work – not necessarily charity – but this time he wrote about a toy drive. “At work,” he writes, “one person can unleash the power of many.” The quote from a man who put together a toy drive at his office was awesome.

It’s too late to adopt a family for Christmas giving, but I hope over the next week or two we’ll find other ways to share and give, particularly if it’s with a stranger who could really use our help. Here are some ideas:

1. That man on the corner you pass by on your way home from work everyday….? Roll down the window and give him some cash.

2. If you know of a stressed-out parent who could use an hour or two to just get her world together a little bit, tell her to send her kids over and play Candy Land with them for an hour.

3. Open the door for old people, people with too many things in their hands, people who are having trouble walking.

4. Give someone else that excellent parking spot.

5. If you live near someone – an older person, a person with a disability – who can’t get around well, leave some blankets or some fruit or a ham and a loaf of bread on their doorstep. Or better yet, ring the doorbell and say hello.

That’s just five nice, charitable, giving things you can still do this holiday and all the way into 2009. Enjoy feeling great about yourself after!

Give in someone’s name, United Way will put their name on its site and newsletter

If you love someone and you care about the Central Texas community, shout it to the world.

United Way Capital Area makes it extremely easy for you to make a donation online in honor or memory of a loved one. Just complete the online donation form – in any amount – and your names will appear on the United Way homepage as well as in the January newsletter. (You can even choose the area of impact to which you’d like your donation to go.)

Make your donation by the end of the year to be included. What a cool gift!

Every little bit helps…. sounds lame but it’s true.

“Every little bit helps.” I know you hear people saying that all the time when they want you to donate money or things, and it sounds suspicious. If you do only give $1 or $5, you think they’re thinking to themselves, “I didn’t actually mean that, you cheap bastard.”

Remember that “little bit” is relative. And so now I’m going to tell you a personal story that makes me look like a loser.

After college, I moved to Chicago (Hyde Park), where I waited tables at the Medici and worked as in intern at Today’s Chicago Woman magazine, which paid me in shoes and an occasional free dinner, but not in actual, real money. I remember having $4 to my name and having to make that last for the next couple of days until I could pick up another shift at the Medici and enjoy my shift meal (Oh, the spinach pizza with jalapenos!) before the work started. This happened a lot…. but I don’t remember being too upset about it. I had friends, and we helped each other out. Someone would always throw $5 my way to grab a half-sandwich from Harold’s. (Okay, now I’m making myself hungry.)

The point is…. $5 was a lot to me. It helped me get to that next shift and from there, I could take care of myself. Surely some of you hve similar memories. If you do, then consider making a donation to any local charity. Any of them, but maybe especially one that helps people with basic needs like food and shelter. A good one to consider is Caritas.

I just received an e-mail from them that went something like this….

Dear Friend,                                                  
It is an especially difficult time and the demands facing both Caritas of Austin and our community call us to respond. Increased poverty will impact us all, but especially the most vulnerable.

We are experiencing a 60% increase in requests from eligible low income families for rent and utility assistance, but do not have sufficient resources to serve them.
We are seeing a 13% increase in client households needing groceries from our Food Pantry to feed their families.
Our phone system is overloaded with individuals in crisis needing to book an appointment. And despite our best efforts, callers seeking assistance report being on hold anywhere from one to four hours.

This speaks to the level of desperation so many in our community are facing, and to the limited resources at Caritas.
With your contribution to Caritas of Austin, we can continue to provide emergency rent and utility assistance for families in crisis, take-home groceries from our food pantry and hot meals in our community kitchen. Your gift will advance the fight against poverty, hunger and homelessness.

You can send $5 or $35 or more or less to Caritas here.

Austin Under 40 Awards

Do you know someone who has not yet turned 40, who has succeeded in their career and given back to the community by serving in extraordinary ways? If so, consider nominating that person for the Austin Under 40 Awards, an annual ceremony that benefits two very worthy causes, the Austin Sunshine Camps and the Young Women’s Alliance Foundation. You have until January 16, 2009, to nominate candidates for one of the eleven awards. Sponsors and donors also have an opportunity to be recognized for their contributions to the community. Get involved by visiting the Austin Under 40 website.

Easy way to browse the wish lists of Travis County nonprofits – and give!

Zen and the Art of Giving

Zen and the Art of Giving makes all your holiday giving easy. I love this tool!

Just go to their site and choose a type of item to give or search for a needy nonprofit by name, county, or zip code. Donate office supplies, computer equipment, arts and crafts supplies… really thay need so much that just about any kind of donation helps.

In Travis County alone there are 12 nonprofits that could really use a visit from Santa. If you’ve finished your shopping and still have the urge to give, please consider a local nonprofit. Thanks!