Consider the citizen philanthropist

Social media has given voice to the individual philanthropist and there is a great deal of good that can come from opening up the process of philanthropy and helping redefine what it means to champion a cause you personally care about.

– Kari Dunn Saratovsky, Vice President of Social Innovation at the Case Foundation

People find out about GivingCity – nonprofit professionals, PR people, young professionals, everyday folks I can’t categorize – and they ask for help. Either they want us to help publicize something or they want to pick our brains about the nonprofit community.

We are totally happy to help.

But I don’t know whether it’s because I’m an avid user of social media or because there’s a growing trend toward this, but I would say about 75 percent of the people who reach out to GivingCity are what Mashable calls “citizen philanthropists.”

Like me, these citizen philanthropists reach for the easiest and cheapest tools available for spreading the word about their cause. For us that’s been, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and – in the works – a LinkedIn group. Love love love for the free social media tools that have helped us take GivingCity from a cute idea to a broadcast and publishing channel in its own right.

And like me, they’ve identified a flaw in the system, a need in the community that’s not being served from their perspective. So instead of complaining about it to their friends over tap beer at a sticky happy hour table, they start something. They do something about it.

There is a place for citizen philanthropy, whether old-school nonprofits want to admit it or not. But citizen philanthropists have a responsibility to do their research and look for ways to contribute to existing efforts – stand on the shoulders of existing nonprofits rather than dismiss them as a dysfunctional organization. Consider the possibility that nonprofits may know more than you about how to serve their clients.

Nonprofits have a responsibility, too. Open the door. Find a way to support, empower and engage these citizen philanthropists. Make it a priority. Consider the possibility that a nimble and passionate individual can push the world forward, too.

“Just think — what would the civil rights movement have looked like if it were blogged and tweeted like the Iran revolution of 2009,” asked Hargro. “What if Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s passionate and prescient words were tweeted and retweeted worldwide?”

New data reports status of Austin community conditions

This is not good news.

From an email sent by the Community Action Network:

(BTW, CAN’s marking Poverty Awareness Month, y’all! Which begs the question, Do poor people really need to raise their awareness of poverty… and for a whole month? I think they’re painfully aware, thank you.)

Travis County Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs has released its 2009 Community Impact Report on Community Conditions. The report provides a general overview of how our community is doing with regard to basic needs, housing, workforce development, education, behavioral health and other areas in which Travis County invests funds for services.

A few highlights…
•    Since the beginning of 2009,  Austin Energy has received 75% more requests for utility assistance than for all of 2008.
•    In November 2009, 107,288 Travis County residents received food stamps, up 68% from January 2008.
•    Foreclosure postings in Travis County rose 110% from 3,482 postings in 2007 to 7,309 postings in 2009.
•    There was a 28% increase in visits to local emergency rooms by individuals presenting primarily with mental health issues between 2006 and 2008.
•    Between 2003 and 2008, the Austin MLS median home price rose by 22% and the average home price rose by 24%, but median family income increased only by 3%.

Pastor Joe Parker: Leaders Aren’t Always in the Front

In our first issue of GivingCity, we were extremely fortunate to have an opening essay from Pastor Joseph C. Parker, Jr., of Austin’s David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church. I’d heard him speak at an MLK Day of Service the year before, and it struck me how Austin could have such a powerful speaker with such close ties to Martin Luther King, Jr., himself. Hope you enjoy it.

I believe humans have an instinct that flies in the face of what can help us find our true calling. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called it our “drum major instinct,” in that everyone wants to be important, to be first, and to lead the parade.

Watch a group of children try to form a line, and you’ll see this instinct in action. Too many people never outgrow this instinct, Dr. King said, and by constantly struggling to be first, the best and most important or wealthiest or best educated, we forget one of life’s largest truths: that the real path to greatness is through service.

Choosing to serve others as opposed to serving just yourself does not have to be an overwhelming change. In fact, I believe it’s a simple change: All we have to do is take that instinct, which is turned inward, and reprogram it to turn outward to focus on others. I believe that by putting others first – their needs, their causes, their joy – we ourselves can become leaders and consequently find our own joy.

This concept of finding joy by focusing on others is not a new one, but few people are courageous enough to risk their own well being. Those who take that risk, however, marvel at the results. It’s not just the reward; what we learn is that not only is it right to serve others and not only does it lead to our own joy, but it’s also our duty.

It brings to mind the quote from Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund: “Service is the rent we pay for being. It is the very purpose of life, and not something you do in your spare time.”

Years ago I gave up a successful law career to give full-time attention to a pastorate here in Austin. To this day, some people cannot understand why I did it. Actually, I don’t think I could be anything else – I was made to serve, and in this capacity.

My father was also a Baptist pastor, and was a friend of Dr. King, having attended college with him and been a co-founder of the Montgomery Improvement Association. Accordingly, he and my father received the same teachings about service, and my family was influenced by those teachings. When I decided to accept my calling to become a minister, I realized that I had found the spot in my heart that had been burning since I was a young boy growing up in Birmingham, and though I didn’t always understand it, I knew it was there all along.

If you have a burning in your heart to serve, to make change in the world, can this fire be made contagious? Can you burn so deeply that you cause others to catch on fire? Can you not hear the words of Dr. King as he stood in the pulpit of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia on February 4, 1968, and preached his sermon, “The Drum Major Instinct?”

“If you want to be important … wonderful. If you want to be recognized…. wonderful. If you want to be great … wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness. And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.

“You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.” GC



Introducing … the Austin fundraising event calendar

Since the beginning, one of the killer apps (does anyone use that term anymore?) we planned for GivingCity Austin was a fundraising events calendar. If you’ve ever tried to organize a fundraiser for a nonprofit organization, one of the hardest things to come up with was the date – you don’t want to compete with another fundraiser or, worse, a Longhorns game.

Beyond planning, a calendar of Central Texas fund raising events would hopefully garner enough eyes to serve as a cross-promotional tool, too. When a nonprofit publicizes its fund raiser, it struggles to reach beyond its own group of supporters for attendees.

Right now I’m in love with Eventbrite. It seems like lots of Austin events are taking advantage of its simple platform, promotion and ticket selling tools. I’ve registered for a number of events through Eventbrite myself, and found it totally easy to use.

The GivingCity Austin fundraising calendar wouldn’t replace online applications like that. In fact, it could link directly to your Eventbrite page. Rather it would include your event on a public calendar – online, in email blasts and in the magazine – publicizing your event to anyone who comes to or gets GivingCity.

(And the other part of the plan is that everyone would come to or get GivingCity to see the fundraising calendar.)

Oy. Don’t get me started about how excited I am about this calendar thing.

I’m looking for feedback, ideas, requests as we speak. And we have top men working on the development now. Top. Men.

Stay tuned!

“You do what you can.”

I’m sure you’re as overwhelmed as I am about the news from Haiti. We work so hard to help the community around us and then we see this destruction and suffering in another country, and it’s all we can do not to just give up.

This GivingCity stuff has introduced me to so many people who make giving and sharing a regular part of their lives; people like Sara Hickman who’s becoming known more for her generosity than her amazing songwriting and performing talent. She works constantly, has two daughters, is a ubiquitous performer… yet never seems to turn down a request for help. Doesn’t she get tired? Doesn’t she get overwhelmed?

Today someone who knows of this kind of exhaustion said to me, “You do what you can, and if everyone else would do what they could, the world would change.”

So if you haven’t already, do what you can for Haitians. Here’s a great place to start.

From there, I guess the only thing we can do is encourage people around us to do what they can.

Here’s what I’m learning: Demonstrating compassion can help you feel more useful, more in control, and that leads to happiness. (I have little kids; nothing makes them happier than feeling useful and like they have some kind of say in their day. Those parenting books are right.)

So even though I should have known this by now, I’m learning that when I start to get overwhelmed by suffering, injustice, and all that crap, it makes me feel better to help. And the more I help, the better I feel. Sara Hickman must be one happy lady.

“In separateness lies the world’s great misery, in compassion lies the world’s true strength.” —Buddha

Still looking for work? How to stand out from the crowd

David Hughen thinks about work differently than most of us do. He’s in HR.

Specifically, he’s a strategic HR consultant and business coach at Austin WorkNet, which means he talks to a lot of people looking for employees and employers. So there’s something to be said for his perspective.

David contributed this to our latest issue of GivingCity Austin, and I thought it was worth excerpting here for those of you who might need a dose of inspiration on your job search. Good luck!

In response to this emerging work dynamic, I’ve rethought how I approach these career discussions. Though I’m happy to have a pay-it-forward discussion with someone about “what’s next,” I need to make it more relevant to our current times. Why go through the motions when the very nature of work is being redefined?

This new approach to work should place an emphasis on how folks who are unemployed, under-employed or  nervously employed can distinguish themselves from the other job seekers and define themselves for the long-term.

We’ve come to know that organizations, whether for-profit or non-profit, are under intense pressure to be effective. Thus, the notion of work is emerging with new definitions.

Noted author Charles Handy has suggested that “working organizations” are not in the position to be an alternative community providing meaning and work for one’s adult life. Instead, Handy’s view is that if we each considered ourselves “self employed” throughout our working life, we would never be unemployed.

So my Starbucks sessions now take a different course. If I can gain the trust of this individual who is anxious, stressed, unsure of the future, and at a low point of confidence, then I press upon them the
following principles:

Become a brand

A deep, honest exploration of your skills, interests and competencies serves as the definition of your “brand.” Turn your brand on by giving it a name (something more creative than “Jan Enterprises,” please!), create a website, a domain name, a logo, business cards, a charter statement.

Think about it. When you’ve met someone at a party and asked “what do you,” the job seeker’s response may be “WelL, I’m looking for a job.” Wouldn’t you be better served by responding to that question with your business card and your brand’s charter?

This takes some exercising of different muscles. But, in time, your brand becomes the essence of who you are.

If you have a traditional job—working for an employer as an employee—then your brand is partially, but not exclusively, defined by that job. You have the luxury of carrying two business cards.

Connect your brand to a nonprofit
Your personal definition gains depth and substance when you share your expertise freely and willingly with organizations
doing good in the community. And when I say “share your expertise” I mean find out how you can help the nonprofit improve its operations by applying your expertise.

This act of giving is a form of personal, mental health. It’s the gift that gives back in a number of ways. Practically speaking, it keeps your chops sharp when you aren’t working a traditional job and gives you access to the nonprofit’s well-connected board of directors. It ties you to people who sacrifice every day to give back to the community for low or no pay. That’s a crucial perspective and a grounding force.

There’s something bigger than you

Having spent 10 years in the world of startup, entrepreneurial companies I’ve come to understand the value of humility. In small, fast-moving organizations, you have the greatest likelihood of fitting in with the team if you carry yourself without a sense of entitlement.

Knowing that there’s something infinitely greater than you in this world provides a different perspective. People are more likely to be associated with you when you present yourself in this manner. It means you’re more willing to flex into new situations. And, when it comes to defining your brand, this sense of humility provides substance that goes beyond definition. It’s who you are no matter how you define your work.

Sometimes you can’t even give it away

Social entrepreneurism is an important model to observe and perfect if we’re going to make fundamental changes. It’s also important that we define and support it… and that’s not always easy to do.

When I interviewed Laurie Loew last year, what she told me about being a social entrepreneur stuck with me. Laurie is an Austin realtor who gives 25 percent of her commission to the charity of the seller’s choice in the seller’s name. She’s essentially a “realtor for good,” as is the rest of her team at GiveRealty. (Which donated almost $37,000 to local charities last year, BTW.)

And although you’d think nonprofits would be lining up to support her, that’s not always the case. Here’s Laurie:

“I think social entrepreneurs feel they need to do more for the community and be more involved and helpful, and we’re trying to figure out ways to do that. But it’s much harder for a small business – the price of admission to get on the nonprofit radar is way too high.

“Big companies can write the big checks that get attention. But the local coffee shop is just struggling to stay afloat. And it’s very hard for small businesses to feel like they can have an impact when the dollar amounts they can give are very small.

“I guess you would hope the nonprofit community would encourage small businesses – the ones that give back – and support what we’re doing. They can be some of your biggest promoters in a lot of ways. Their audience is the kind of people you’d want to be your clients.

“I understand why nonprofits can’t promote any particular small business. That’s why I’m a part of several groups – from Bootstrap Austin to I Live Here, I Give Here, the Austin Chamber, and others. We’re looking for ways for small businesses who want to have a social impact to work together to make the whole thing easier.

“Maybe that’s what it will take – someone forming a larger group that can make the case for social enterprise. But it’s got to be genuine and it’s got to be easy. I’m a small business owner. I’m very busy!”

 Learn more about social enterprise in Austin.