More stories I wish I could assign

That Alan Graham has a million ideas. After speaking with his yesterday, I’m even more compelled to bring back GivingCity in some way. (We announced yesterday that we’re suspending publication to pursue… revenue! What a concept!)

Here are a few ideas for stories in upcoming issues – and there will be upcoming issues – courtesy of Alan’s energetic mind.

1. Popularity Contest

There are rankings of the “most trusted” nonprofits in America. It’s a Harris Poll, I think. I’m not sure whom they’re polling, but one wonders if they’re popularity ranking is high among donors or among beneficiaries.

To do this story, I’d first have to find a ranking – or conduct a poll – of the most trusted or maybe most popular nonprofits in Central Texas. Then I’d take another poll. This second poll would require a reporter to visit a low-income area and ask residents to name the top five nonprofits in Austin.It’s a perfect magazine story, because it requires a little more on-the-ground research. I can picture including some video and photography of the low-income respondents. Data infographics, of course.

I can also picture including interviews of folks from United Way, People’s Community Clinic, Caritas, maybe another large nonprofit that serves low-income Austinites. I’d also want to get opinions from Greenlights and TANO to ask them, “Is it more important to be popular among donors or among clients?”

2. The Poor People Diet

The goal of this story would be to change people’s minds about why poor people eat so badly, and maybe inspire someone to finally do something about it.

The Capital Area Food Bank is a great resource for information and innovation in this area, so I’d turn to Kerri and Lisa there for guidance. From there, though, I’d ask a reporter to do a little drive-around, scanning some low-income areas for fresh food versus fast food. I can picture a short video of this. I’d also work with Torquil to create a map of grocery stores with a decent produce section on the East Side. Or maybe do a comparison of just HEBs-per-person on West Side versus East Side.

We’d include programs that are addressing this problem, and offer ways for you to help, of course. But it sounds like innovation is needed in this area (attention social entrepreneurs!).

3. People in Philanthropy

A list of just some of the people I’d like to profile:

eugene sepulveda

Eugene Sepulveda – famous for caring, giving, innovating

Kerry Tate TateAustinHahn
Kerry Tate – one of Austin’s original business owners who care

David Davenport capital area foodbank
David Davenport – less “just another white guy executive director” than you think

Kevin Patterson Austin Lyric Opera
Kevin Patterson – he’s doing something great for all the arts nonprofits in Austin

Linda Medina
Linda Medina – a young Hispanic leader to watch

John Thornton
John Thornton – so you want to start a nonprofit and a new media model…?

The next GivingCity Austin

After GivingCity 4, we’re suspending publication of GivingCity, the blog and the magazine. It’s an important move for us because it leads us into the next stage of the publication.

The next stage is, for us, a tricky one because we have considerably less experience in this arena. We’re now going to build a revenue model. The revenue model of traditional publishing doesn’t quite fit for GivingCity, but the problem is building one from scratch is a full-time job. And as you know, we already have those. So all that time we used to spend producing content we’ll now spend seeking financial support.

The good news is we aren’t lacking moral support. You’ve been extremely encouraging in your praise and sharing of GivingCity. Every “share with a friend,” every forwarded email, every re-Tweet, every press release, every comment on the blog has helped so much. I feel like I know every single one of our supporters because we’ve taken the hard road of earning one reader at a time.

Thank you. We’re excited about what GivingCity will become, and I can’t wait to share with you how it turns out.

PS: Please keep an eye out for GivingCity 4 coming soon. And as always, please let us know what you think.

3 GivingCity stories I wish I could do…

I just don’t have the time. And I’d be happy to assign them but I just don’t have the money. So instead, these stories sit and wait. Would you believe I mentally sketch out GivingCity stories all the time? Very frustrating.

1. Giving Circles

Reportedly, giving circles are on the rise and proving to be very popular among donors. Examples of giving circles include groups like Impact Austin and the recently formed Futuro Fund.

But while they’re a great way to empower the giver and pool individual donations to make a bigger impact, the size of the donations limits the nonprofits the giving circle could consider. Impact Austin, for example, awarded five grants of $102,000 each. In order for a nonprofit to handle that amount of money, it needs to have the infrastructure in place, and apparently that takes a pretty sophisticated and established organization.

Does this matter? I think only if more donors join giving circles than choose to give as individuals. But I’m not sure. To write this story I’d start with Rebecca Powers who founded Impact Austin and who advises other giving circles.  From there I’d talk to development professionals of large and small nonprofits. The point would be to help you decide whether to join a giving circle and, for you nonprofit pros, how to win the grant.

2. Slacktivism

Another trend that bothers me, though I can’t figure out why. I’m not against them but I also can’t quite support them. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve done this myself. Examples of slacktivism include

  • RT a Tweet from a nonprofit seeking volunteers or donations.
  • Attending a Tweet-up or Charity Bash-type function where your intentions are really just to party
  • Joining a Cause on Facebook
  • 26 Miles for 26 Charities (maybe)

I’m all for people engaging in their community at any level, but I worry these simple, non-committal acts are a replacement for real engagement. For this story I’d interview some of the beneficiaries of these “party for charity” events, some development people on how much work it takes to create and manage a Facebook cause – and whether the return is worth it – and some of the organizers of these event to find out if they feel they’re achieving their goals.

I’d want to reader to come away with permission to engage in these activities but I’d want to make sure they understood the real impact of their action.

3. Social Entrepreneurship

What the hell is it? I’m reading, learning, talking, linking and just overall trying to soak in as much information as I can about this emerging trend. Apparently, the concept of genuine social entrepreneurship is still new to Austin, but there are lots of folks trying to create a bottom  line of social impact.

From what I understand, social entrepreneurs identify a social need first, devise a solution, then worry how to pay for it. Their bottom line measures social impact. As opposed to entrepreneurs who identify a market, create a product or service for that market, then worry about how to pay for it. Their bottom line measure profit. I think.

The point of the story would be to explain all this, offer some examples of social entrepreneurship here in Central Texas, offer some kind of five-step how-to become a social entrepreneur sidebar and explain why it’s so difficult to “sell” this concept to the nonprofit world and to consumers.

So many stories, so little time.

Not how I remember Sunday school

I attended teacher training for Sunday school at my church today. I had no idea there were such advanced and complicated curricula! What ever happened to rote memorization of Bible verses and horrifying stories of beatings for sin? For this program, we’re going to have to make sure students are engaged and empowered. As opposed to restless and slightly terrified.

See, I grew up going to Catholic church but spent my first two years in a private Baptist school. Can you tell?

In catechism it didn’t seem like the teachers really cared if were were “engaged” or not. They just wanted to get through the hour without one of us realizing we were being held against our wills in the church basement and there was nothing they could do to stop us if all us kids just walked out. (Daydreaming about this was the only way I could make it through.)

I think my parents figured out we weren’t the catechism types, so we wound up sitting with them for the whole mass and trying to focus on depressing things so we wouldn’t bust out laughing at… well, anything really. There were four of us kids, and all it took was for one of us to turn and make a funny face at another one of us, and it was over.

Hmmm. Now that I think about it, I can say I probably spent equal amount of church time in catechism, the chapel, and the car. Later, like in high school, I got into it more. But from 0 to about 13 years old, I spent the entire time in church wishing I were somewhere else.

My goal, then, as a Sunday school teacher, is to make sure none of my Kindergartners wishes they were somewhere else. How hard could it be?

“At least these days when you tell people you’re hurting, they believe you.”

I’ll never forget that quote I read somewhere from someone in the Austin fundraising community. The person was referring to the fact that in a down economy, prospects seem to doubt a nonprofit’s needs less.

A number of organizations – United Way, Greenlights, RGK Center, I Live Here, I Give Here – are conducting surveys to find out just how badly local nonprofits are hurting; but if they’re trying to make a case to increase giving, I have to wonder how effective they’ll be.

After all, one of the big reasons donations are down must be that people just have less to give right now, and you can plead your case all day long but if there’s no money in the bank, you probably won’t get a donation. That applies to individuals and corporations, too.

But what else might motivate Central Texans to give? Will more data do it? More bad news?

How about a return to the tried-and-true method of requests through personal relationships? Or crafting and communicating compelling stories? Or focusing on awareness campaigns, volunteer requests…. any other ways people can help besides money?

If the surveys reveal that most Central Texans nonprofits have seen a significant drop in donations compared to this time last year, I predict the initial reaction to this information by the general public may be a resounding, “Duh.”

So I hope these organizations will take advantage of the data to create a campaign that says something like this:

“Look, we hear you. You’re broke. You’re obviously not able to make the donations this year. But the needs in this community are greater than ever. Is there another way you’d like to help? We have a few suggestions….”

Austin drops from #5 to #11 in rate of volunteering

The good news is in 2008 30.7 percent of people in Austin volunteered. That rate puts the city at #11 among large cities in the United States. This is indeed a totally decent ranking.

The bad news is in 2007 35.3 percent of people in Austin volunteered, which put us at #5.

Did I also mention that in 2006 37.9 percent of people in Austin volunteered, which put as at #3?

In just two years we lost 7 percent in our rate of volunteerism. This is not because we don’t need more volunteers.

Why are we sinking? I know there are many people who are trying to figure that out so they can do something about it. All I know is, if we were dropping like this in our ranking of “best places for start-ups” or “best places for tech” more people would be doing some serious scrambling. Where will we rank in volunteerism for 2009?

Congratulations to Lights.Camera.Help., first-ever nonprofit film festival

Austin may have fallen in the ranks of big cities that volunteer, but it should be proud of the people who do step up – especially those who do so in creative new ways.

David Neff, Aaron Bramley and Rich Vazquez deserve lots of credit for the immense amount of work they put into Lights.Camera.Help. The first-ever nonprofit film festival was innovative in a lot of ways: It was a fundraiser, it was free to nonprofits, and it honored some great and budding filmmakers whose work puts a spotlight on good causes.

. There are many online “film fests” that link to videos-for-causes, but there’s something about seeing these films in person with a group of strangers that you can’t get online. That setting not only allows you to connect with the film, it allows the audience members to connect with each other. It also makes everyone who sees those films accountable for the knowledge they gain. Everyone at the screenings and wrap party for LCH can and should take an action – we know you were there, we know you saw the film.

Not that that was their intent – to lecture and lean on you. But thanks to LCH, there are more witnesses to the needs featured in these films.