Winner of the $50 Target Gift Card

Thanks to all of you who signed up to become GivingCity Austin subscribers at the Vivir Unidos event. We’ve finally picked a winner:

Robert Andrada

Robert, please email me at with your mailing address and we’ll send you the $50 Target Gift Card!

Thanks! And please tell a friend about GivingCity Austin.


“Happiness Is” not found in a solid-surface countertop

Happiness IsIt’s hard to write a thoughtful reaction to a film that left me so emotional. And I wasn’t the only one. There were quite a few beefy guys walking out of the theater with puffy, watery eyes last night, too.

But “Happiness Is” by Austin’s Andrew Shapter will do that to you. It’s not that it’s a sad film by any means. In fact, it’s pretty hilarious. Shapter interviewed some characters, for sure. The woman who admitted to thinking that happiness could be found in a solid-surface countertop sticks in my mind. (HINT: It can’t.)

What it is is hopeful because the message is this: Happiness is within your reach. It’s not something to strive for, it’s something you find within yourself. For proof, Shapter talks to happiness historians (they exist), scientists, and anthropologists. They’ve done the research and can pinpoint exactly when most Americans stopped being happy. (HINT: Rampant materialism, duh!)

Then, to further prove his point, he interviewed an incredible mix of people from all over the country – men, children, immigrants, scholars, artists, musicians, comedians, old people…. Though they all get there differently, eventually they all come to the same conclusion.

There are a couple of things you should know about the film:

1. It’s going on a screening tour around the country, and they’re paying for that tour in DVD sales. If a quarter of the population in America saw this film, it could change this country for the better. Seriously. So if you can swing the DVD, buy it here:

2. The film is being used to raise money for the sponsoring nonprofit. In the case of last night’s screening, the nonprofit beneficiary is Mobile Loave & Fishes, the organization that takes food out to the homeless and is run by the incredible Alan Graham. (He’s featured in the film.) You can support that organization here.:

There were hundreds of people at this screening last night. I wonder what they’re thinking today.

Teaching philanthropy in (all) Austin schools

You could almost stop worrying about the future of Austin philanthropy thanks to Linda Brucker and the team that created A Legacy of Giving.

Since 2007, the program has exposed almost 6,000 students in the Austin, Eanes, and Round Rock school districts, plus a couple of private schools, to the concept of philanthropy. The program is more than a video or a field trip to the food bank; the lessons in giving are actually weaved into the curriculum.

“What we do is engage the students – from financially secure to low-income – to make sure they realize that being a philanthropist isn’t just about money,” says Brucker, “We tell them that every single one of them has time and talent to share.”

For example, one of the program’s early projects introduced students to the problems of hunger and poverty, first describing it at the global level, then describing the problems closer to home. “When we told them that 41,000 children in Travis County have food insecurity, there was this pause,” says Brucker. For the next lesson, a representative from Capital Area Food Bank came in and introduced them to idea of the food bank … and what a nonprofit is. And then for the next lesson, a storage unit arrived on campus. Students got inside, walked around, used math to figure the dimensions, and decided it would be a great place to store food. Fourteen schools and 3,600 students participated in the project they called ‘pack the pod,” raising 32,000 pounds of food in two weeks.

Program administrators train more than 125 teachers on how to use a Web-based platform hosting downloadable lessons and how to bring in resources from the community to make the lessons come to life. Aside from the poverty project, teachers could also choose a project based on Earth Day, which was coordinated with Keep Austin Beautiful. Another project revolved around financial literacy.

“It’s remarkable how these projects are having such an immediate impact on their lives,” says Brucker. One of the schools that took on the Earth Day project started recycling plastic and aluminum – at the students’ request. And students who participated in the financial literacy project reported talking to their parents about the family’s debt.

“We think we’re changing the conversation so that students feel like they’re part of the solution.”


“I was at Paredes Middle School, in the middle of the courtyard, and we were using meat scales to weigh some of the food that the students had collected. One of the students came up to me and said, ‘Are you Mrs. Brucker? Would that be okay if I talked to you?’

So I said, ‘Absolutely!’ Then she got very quiet and very close and said, ‘This is the coolest program we’ve ever had at my school.’

She took two steps back and said, ‘Mrs. Brucker, I’ve always been the one who had to get the food, and this is the first time I got to be the giver.’”

More nonprofits, please.

I am learning every day. I used to think Austin had too many nonprofits. Now I think we need to encourage, support, and even nurture more.

A nonprofit is an opportunity for people to donate, volunteer, engage, and we need more of these opportunities, not fewer. Each nonprofit has something different to offer, just as every person has something different to offer. How does it benefit Austin to have fewer organizations/people who can help?

I look at it this way: Let’s say there’s a single, working mother of a child with a disability. She needs a hand. If a single person – even one with all the resources in the world – were to try to address her problems and put her on the right track, would that person do better than job a group of people, each with a different skill set, a different way of looking at the world, and their own set of resources?

Our problems are complicated. In the example above, the woman doesn’t just need job training, she needs someone to care for her son while she works, she needs transportation, she needs help sorting through medical bills. And her son needs physical therapy, medical equipment, a role model… How would it benefit them to have fewer nonprofits in Austin? Wouldn’t it be better to have a large number of people/nonprofits working together on their behalf?

Too many people are thinking about the number of nonprofits from the donor and resources perspectives – as in there aren’t enough to go around – when maybe we should be thinking about it from the client’s perspective. For us to assume that only certain nonprofits are capable and therefore the only ones worth investing in is like saying only certain people have something to contribute. And that just doesn’t sound right to me.

I’m sure I’m not making the analogy correctly with my example above, but it’s worth considering.

A smart, easy way to double your donation

A $4000 donation to Heart House via GiveRealty.

A $4000 donation to Heart House via GiveRealty.

This is genius.

We’re obviously fans of GiveRealty‘s business model; the real estate broker donates 25 percent of its commission to the charity of the seller/buyer’s choice, in their name. But using the new website RecognizeGood– also born and raised in Austin – GiveRealty was able to double that donation.

A recent home sale through GiveRealty resulted in a $4000 donation to Heart House, a free afterschool program that provides over 200 low-income and at-risk children in Austin with access to caring adult mentors, homework assistance, art enrichment, computer learning, health and safety education, and literacy programs.
Because the gift to Heart House was channeled through RecognizeGood, an Austin-based philanthropic website, and doubled through a matching gift program generously supported by RecognizeGood’s corporate sponsors TyRex Group and ABC Home and Commercial Services.
“The generosity of TyRex Group and ABC Home and Commercial Services significantly increased the impact of our donation to Heart House”, said Loew. “By providing a forum where Central Texans can recognize and reward acts of kindness, RecognizeGood is encouraging philanthropy in a very innovative way.”

All this from a home sale. Think about how many home sales there are in Austin. Think about a25 percent of all that real estate commission, double it, and picture that going to a local charity.

Donors, it’s not always easy to give your money away

Our mission for GivingCity (when we can finally get back to it after all this ridiculous for-pay work) is to make it easier for donors and volunteers to connect with the best-fit opportunity for them. We want to help you navigate the nonprofit world.

But folks, I mean this in the nicest way when I say it … you still might have to do a little bit of work.

Take this recent conversation I had on Twitter with a person who was looking for a very particular nonprofit to donate to. I was happy to help point her in the right direction, as were many of her followers, I’m sure. But I think she was looking for the easy click. I mean, I think she’s become so used to communicating, connecting, creating, and in general, executing everything online that she’d forgotten about other useful means of communication, like the phone.

It can happen to anyone. The fact is, it should be much easier for donors to connect with nonprofits. If only you could Google the type of organization you want to donate to, and the exact match would pop up every time!

Unfortunately, the same people who deliver services to the people in need are the same people SEO-ing their homemade websites. Which of those two tasks do you want them to do better?

JULY 31-AUG 1: World’s First Nonprofit Film Fest -in Austin!

Have you ever been moved by a public service announcement? Have you watched a video on YouTube that inspired you to reach out to the community and do something?

We’ve all seen those little videos on YouTube, another website, or even television, and usually we’re alone in front of the screen. But there’s something powerful about a shared video experience, especially one in which the video relates to a cause or need in the community. And when a video reaches out to you with hope rather than need, it’s a wonderful thing to share with an audience.

That’s the idea behind Lights.Camera.Help, a new nonprofit film festival that will screen 12 documentaries, videos, and PSAs over two nights, July 31 – August 1. It’s the brainchild and work of David Neff, Aaron Bramley, and Rich Vazquez, Austinites with roots deep in the local film community and the local nonprofit community.

I posted earlier about their launch party in May, and you can read an interview with them and see photos from that event here.

You’ll want to get tickets for this event because it’s not just a screening, it’s a competition. Judges will choose the top video effort from among the 12, and donate the entire two-evening’s ticket sales to the nonprofit that’s the subject of the winning video.

Get tickets and see all the details at Lights.Camera.Help!

July 31 – Aug 1

Tickets $7 – $15

(Don’t forget to go to the wrap-up party on August 2.)

See this video for more information:

Thanks to Starfish Television Network.