The Silent Auction … of Doom.

I’m with Alan. From his most recent post:

Live and silent auctions are what really kill me. You go out and panhandle every merchant you can find to give you stuff to sell then you present it in such a way to the consumer to make them feel philantropic while they shop for bargains at your event.

I’m all for like-minded people getting together, but this shopping-for-charity thing just feels so icky. How can we do it better?

Just got done shaking down some merchants myself for the silent auction at the preschool fundraiser. Most are so generous, but it tends to be the small or medium-sized businesses that give the most often – not just a  product or service, but also in their time. Can we give them a break at the next gala and think of something else?

So why would a local restaurant donate to a local nonprofit anyway?

Yesterday, I posted about Rio Grande’s Philanthropy Week, during which they’re donating 10% of bar sales during happy hour to a different nonprofit each day. You can see the details here.

Lots of local businesses contribute a portion of their sales to a local nonprofit from time to time. Why? Is there anything in it for them besides the potential for profit?

The fact is, it takes lots of planning and coordination with a local nonprofit – and probably an accountant – to make the whole thing work. So it can’t all just be about attracting customers. Plus, if you do use it to attract customers, the fact is you’re only going to attract a certain kind of customer – the kind that has a conscience. Most other restaurants don’t care if their customers have consciences or not; they kinda just want your business.

So it is special when a restaurant hosts a “philanthropy week,” like Rio Grande is doing this week. The thing is, restaurant owners are people, too. Duh. When they feel compelled to give back, they usually do so through their business, creating a win-win for the community: You get a nice drink, they get a little money, and a local charity gets a little money. Why not?

Here’s a real live restaurant owner – a person! – talking about why his restaurant, Rio Grande, is giving back.

VIDEOS: We ask McCracken/Leffingwell about growing culture of philanthropy in Austin

The United Way’s Spring Day of Caring event always brings out the crowds, and the most recent on April 24 was no different. This time, though, it also brought out the mayoral candidates.

Candidates addressed the crowd of volunteers, encouraging them and mostly staying away from any campaign talk. It was nice to have their support. Brewster McCracken talked a bit about Austin’s great spirit of giving; JD Gins, who showed up for an ill Lee Leffingwell, made similar comments to the crowd; and Carole Strayhorn threw some energetic one-liners that sounded like they truly came from the heart. (I heard she stayed for the whole morning, working on a volunteer project.)

After the pep rally, we spoke to McCracken, Leffingwell, and Strayhorn, though an equipment malfunction totally ruined the interview with Carole. Sorry, Mrs. Strayhorn. (Thanks to the Leffingwell team, who let me borrow the rechargeable batteries from their own Flip.)

We chatted with them about volunteering and asked for their thoughts on how Austin could do philanthropy better. See the videos below.

A couple of things here intrigue me, mostly J.D.’s reference to a “Mayor’s Corp.” I wonder how this will turn out?

Thanks for the invitation, United Way. And thanks for letting me bring my son along. He took some … interesting photos. Might post those later.

MAY 4-8: Choose Rio Grande Restaurant this week to help raise money for local charities

It seems like there are opportunities to support local charities in just about everything you do. Here’s another example.

Anyone like tequila? From May 4-8, Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant on San Jacinto is donating a percentage of the day’s bar profits to five selected charities (one each night).

Monday, May 4: A Legacy of Giving, 5-7:30pm
Tuesday, May 5: Austin Sunshine Camps, 5-7:30pm
Wednesday, May 6: Lance Armstrong Foundation, 5-7:30pm
Thursday, May 7: The Austin Theatre Alliance, 5-7:30pm
Friday, May 8: Red Cross of Central Texas, 5-7:30pm

Wow. Great cross-section of local charities there. So let me get this straight:

Q. Is this the first time Rio Grande’s done someting like this?
A. Yes, this is the first annual Rio Grande Philanthropy Week.

Q. It’s a nice mix – kids, health, basic needs… how were the charities selected?
A. Rio Grande wanted support a mix of organizations that do so much for the Austin community.

Q. How much does Rio Grande hope to raise in total for all charities this week?
A. The amount they raise will really depend on how many people come out each night to support the charities. Groups like the Austin Theatre Alliance are pushing out to their members of more than 20,000. So it goes without saying, the more visibility we raise for this event, the more Rio Grande will be able to contribute.

You heard ’em, folks. It’s reason enough for me to make Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant Mother’s Day Date Night Headquarters. And I GUESS I’ll have to have A DRINK or two. It’s for a good cause, right?