Andrea Ball, Sandra Zaragoza and the nonprofit media

Last week, Andrea (Austin American-Statesman), Sandra (Austin Business Journal) and I attended a meeting organized by Erica Ekwurzel of KDK-Harman Foundation and attended by other foundation representatives and Border Media.

Erica’s goal was to get us talking about what we could do as a team to get more information out about nonprofits, foundations, and the needs in Austin in general. What a fantastic idea! A few things have stuck with me from that meeting.

1. The first is that foundations don’t seem to really want media attention. Apparently they want to focus on the need and the cause, and not their magnanimous support of the nonprofits that address those needs. I can understand this… to a degree. The problem is, not many organizations are as knowledgeable as foundations about what the needs are and which nonprofits have the biggest impact.

When I go to a nonprofit to talk about, say, high school drop-out rates, they only have part of the information. They have data relevant to their work, but it’s not necessarily data that’s actionable by the rest of the community. Foundations should have this data – or at least be able to tell me where to go. Foundations, we need you to return our calls!

2. The second – and really, most amazing – thing I heard about was the power of Spanish-language radio and the incredible giving power of Central Texas Spanish speakers. Border Media, which runs three Spanish-language radio stations, really knows how to tap into its audience and get them to take an action, whether that’s attending the 7,000-attendee Feria Para Aprender or donating almost $200,000 to Dell Children’s Hospital … in 2 days. And that’s one person at a time, not huge grants from major corporations.

Attention fundraisers and development professionals: Get some help – I suggest Juan Tornoe, Sebastian Puente, and Mando Rayo from Cultural Strategies – and call up Jerry and Todd at Border Media to get in touch with Austin Spanish-speaking donors. Andale!

3. Andrea and Sandra are busting their ass to cover as much nonprofit news as they can. Let me tell you, people who don’t already know this: Those “short and simple” stories you see in the papers every week take real work to put together. I don’t blame nonprofits, but… they don’t always have the time or talent to make a reporter’s job easier, you know. Most of them can put out a fantastic press release, but a good reporter wants to go beyond what the PR people put out there. And that takes some homework, some phone calls, some emails… and usually all three to multiple people.

Did I mention there were more than 6,000 nonprofits in Central Texas, all vying for Andrea’s and Sandra’s attention?

I should also mention that KDK-Harman leads the way in a lot of respects, but what I’m seeing is a very transparent, highly collaborative and innovative organization that others in the nonprofit community should emulate. Thanks again, Erica, for a very informative meeting.

PS: I hope to be back with GivingCity soon, so I can help out Andrea and Sandra…

Maybe our last issue GivingCity Austin ….

The issue above – Issue 4 – will be our last issue. That is to say, until we can afford to make another.

I’m beat. My family wants me to come home. My boss is wondering what I’m working on. And my credit card companies are wondering why I can’t pay them off. How do I explain to them that I’m spending the all my free time and extra money on a project that pays me zilch?

GivingCity has paid off in some ways. The praise is very nice, as are the thanks from the organizations and people we write about. From the emails, requests for introductions, and feedback we get, it feels like we’re having an impact. And clients have hired us for other projects because of GivingCity. All of that’s good. But at some point, and especially in this economy, we need to see a financial return.

We haven’t given up all hope. We’d love to see GivingCity return, and so we’re going to stay plugged in to the community. In the meantime, we’re looking for collaborators, funders, angel investors, and/or winning lottery tickets.

Finally a request and a piece of advice:

1. If you are looking for a custom publication – digital or print – and you have a budget, please contact us at

2. If you are thinking about starting an online publication, website, or other form of media and you have no money… be prepared to bust ass, risk your job, and kiss-up to your spouse. Or else make real nice with a millionaire. (Just make it sound like their idea. That works best.)

Thanks for your support!


GivingCity Austin Issue #4

Cover of GivingCity Austin Issue 4

CLICK HERE to download (takes about 10 seconds)

Inside this issue:

John Thornton launches the new Texas Tribune website, the $4 million nonprofit. Learn how you can help reduce the number of high school dropouts in Austin. Sara Hickman offers the merits of volunteering with your children. Thousands of state employees in Central Texas give millions to local charities every year – who knew? The Lance Armstrong Foundation is a global organization with a local commitment. Just because you’re unemployed doesn’t mean there’s not work you can do. Dozens of small churches are cropping up in Central Texas, ready to serve. Finally understand what all this Obama “call to action” business is about. Alissa Magrum starts a nonprofit with a jersey and a dream.

WIN A WISH LIST JERSEY! We’re giving away a Wish List Jersey to the person who best describes their reason for participating in a “ride for the cure.” Do you ride for someone you care about? Have you participated in a ride that had a particular impact? DOWNLOAD this issue and visit the WIN A WISH LIST JERSEY page to enter.

FEEDBACK! Tell us what you think below. Thanks for your support!

Win a FREE Wish List Jersey!

Win this Free Wish List Jersey

In 1999, Alissa Magrum and Tammy Stanley met while training for a Texas AIDS ride. Both had HIV-positive family and friends and both were avid “ride for the cure” participants.

“The riders are incredible, and their stories are just so moving,” says Magrum. “We all just bond.”

Wanting to tell their story, Magrum and Stanley reached out to Brian Andreas, a writer well-versed at summing up huge emotions and hope at the same time. He came up with this story:

I wish you could have been there for the sun & the rain & the long hard hills.

For the sound of a thousand conversations scattered along the road.

For the people laughing & crying & remembering at the end.

But mainly, I wish you could have been there.

Stanley, a graphic designer, took the story and, with permission from the writer, designed the Wish List Jersey. They’ve sold thousands to riders who want to honor someone they’ve lost. And all proceeds from the sale of the jersey got to AIDS, cancer, and various other disease-fighting nonprofits in Central Texas.

WIN THIS JERSEY: It’s easy to enter: Just comment on this post and tell us why you participate in a ride, run, or walk for the cure – any cause or organization will work, as long as it’s a race that benefits a health-related nonprofit.

We’ll review the entries and pick a winner. Please make sure to leave a valid email address.

Get more information about the Wish List Jersey (valued at $100).


GC4 Cover Preview: John Thornton of Texas Tribune

GivingCity Austin 4 Cover Preview

We’re experimenting with some great photography by Joel Salcido of John Thornton, the founder and chairman of Texas Tribune, the soon-to-launch, nonprofit, news website. He’s our cover story this month, and we’re thrilled to have snagged an interview with this super-busy guy.

GivingCity Austin Issue 4 to come soon. Facebook fans will get the message first, so if you haven’t yet, please visit our page and fan us now. (Did I just say that?) Or just sign up to get the email here.

If your nonprofit message matters, design matters

This post is for nonprofit boards and the nonprofit staff who love them.

I was reading this blog post from Good magazine, and it made me think of those board meetings, when everyone’s sitting around listing all the to-dos for the annual fundraiser. This is for those of you who, when you start to wonder how you’re going to promote the fundraiser, think, “Do I know anyone who can design the invitation for free?”

Don’t. Cheap. Out.

Here’s why:

1. Cheap shows. When you get an intern or a junior designer or even a design firm on pro-bono (which, by the way, uses the project to keep its interns and junior designers busy) to design your collateral for really cheap or free, it shows.

And please, do not call in your nephew on this one. InDesign and a Mac do not a designer make. Just because you have a hammer, some nails, a measuring tape, and some wood doesn’t mean you should be building your own deck.Get a pro. They’ll make it right.

2. Cheap, in the end, can cost you more. When you get an inexperienced person to create your collateral, they may not know enough about production, printing, mailing, materials, etc to save you money.

So the invitation might look great from the printer, but now you’ve got an odd-size envelope to mail, which means extra postage. Or you’ve got signage for an event that looks exactly like the hotel signage – and you have to start from scratch. A million things can go wrong. An experienced designer knows how to avoid them.

3. Cheap is not what your donors – or prospects – want to see. Think of it this way – if all your donors, volunteers, prospects, and supporters were in a room, would you send the intern or junior member of your staff to talk about your fundraiser? While you might think the professionally designed invitation makes it looks like you blew money on a fancy designer, from the recipient’s perspective, it looks like you’re an organization that’s going places.

If you’re unemployed and broke, you don’t show up to a job interview in tatters. You bust out the good suit, shine the shoes, and try to look like a million dollars.

Besides, the pro is a better value every time. Good design is worth every penny.