When I win the lottery, I promise to act like a grown-up

If you win, can I have some?

I may be a grown-up (ahem), but I still like to daydream about winning the lottery.

A few years ago, before the husband and kids, I would have daydreamed about how I’d spend all that money in a totally different way. Here’s how I would have spent the millions had I won back then:

I would have started with a Louis Vuitton Speedy for everyday, an Hermes Birkin for when I wanted to make an impression, a navy-blue BMW 5-Series, a Cartier bracelet, a trip to Auckland or Hong Kong or Paris or all three… Frankly, I could go on. But for good measure, I also thought it would have been nice to get my entire family out of whatever debt they were in and help a few friends start their own businesses. Things like that. Most of it pointless, some of it actually not selfish.

But recently I realized I was daydreaming differently about how I’d spend those millions. And it was much more fun. I now daydream about how I would give that money away.

First I’d get my entire family out of debt and make sure no one had to pay for college, ever. Then I would indeed help a couple of friends start or grow their own business. That would be fun.

But then I’d start an endowment fund at the Austin Community Foundation, something like the one started by Georgia B. Lucas. She gave ACF $5 million in 1995 and her fund has grown to $15 million today. Since its inception, her fund has made grants of $8 million to more than 200 Central Texas nonprofits.

How fun would that be? To be able to fund the projects and programs having a positive impact on the community needs you care about the most. While you’re alive and even long after your dead.

Now, I don’t play the lottery because I’m good enough at math to know when the odds are against me. I’m also good enough to know a good deal when I see one, and an endowment fund at the community foundation is a safe bet.

And that’s what makes me think maybe I am kind of “mature” after all. Me, daydreaming about starting an endowment fund? What next, am I going to stop laughing at people when they fall down?

Communicating your work

Association of Small Foundations 2010 ConferenceThe Association of Small Foundations invited me to be a part of a panel today about “communicating your work.” This was at their annual conference, which was held here in Austin.

First — and there is no false modesty when I say this, so — first, I have to ask: Really? Uh, okay.

Second, I have to ask: Is this “communications” thing something the attendees are even interested in? Because a lot of times when I talk to people about communications in small organizations, they don’t want to know, and for good reasons:

1. Chances are there is no one on staff dedicated to communications at their foundation, so they’re the ones who have to get the work done… and they have plenty to do already, thank you Miss Panelist.

2. They feel obligated to avoid any kind of PR or marketing because they don’t want it to be about them. “Who, little old me? Why, no one cares about foundations! We want the focus to be on our grantees!” Come on.

3. Thirdly, they actually want to hide. They are overwhelmed with grant applications and have, in some cases, removed all contact information from their website so no one can write to them anymore.

So today I faced an audience of about 70 foundation founders, directors, managers and other professional roles, and to kick things off, we asked them about their current communications. Here was their breakdown (from eyeballing a show of hands):

– 0 had a staff member dedicated to communications/marketing
60 had websites
2 had blogs
12 had Facebook pages
2 had Twitter accounts
30 did annual reports

I had to ask, “How many of you have any desire to communicate what you do at all? Seriously, why are you in this room?”

Okay, I didn’t really ask that. But I don’t think it was an irrelevant question.

Instead I felt compelled to give them a pep talk. Here’s kind of what I said today:

Foundations and grantmakers have a responsibility to be an advocate for philanthropy. Do not be the anonymous donor. People need to see that a person or organization is taking responsibility for an issue so that they can envision a role for themselves. Otherwise, they’ll always believe that “someone else” is taking care of it.

Foundations and grantmakers have a responsibility to be an advocate for their field of interest. You know the field better than anyone else. You know the change that has to happen and the programs and nonprofits that are making that change. If you hide that information from the public, you are doing only half the job that you should be doing.

Foundations and grantmakers have a responsibility to be an advocate for policy change. No one wants to speak up for change lest someone call them out on it. If your foundation is helping to make that change, you have a right to speak up. In fact, you have an obligation to the community to speak up. You can be the voice for that need because you are one of the few organizations actually doing something about it.

Foundations, you are doing fantastic work. The city thanks you. But don’t leave “change” on the table. Tell people about what you do, let them know things can get done and invite them to join you. People want a reason to give big. Give it to them!

Walk, run, pledge, volunteer: Austin 5K fundraisers

It’s 5k season, and that means runners, walkers, strollers, dogs, people in costumes, dogs in costumes, people in ambulances, people cheering from sidewalks, and volunteers take over the streets. I’ve done dozens of 5ks, so allow me to share …

Found under "slow" in the dictionary.

“Monica’s Tips for a Fun 5K”:

1. Wake up at least 10 minutes before the run starts.

2. Park right next to the starting line. Everyone thinks they’d never get parking that close, so nobody tries. Plenty of spaces.

3. Line up ahead of the strollers to avoid being clipped by lazy babies.

4. Wait for the starting horn, then walk calmly to the starting line. What’s the rush?

5. Start running when you finally have room, about 10 minutes after the horn. Take every water break.

6. Find a nemesis — I usually choose a woman fitter looking than I am who I want to eat my dust — and pursue that person until you realize you’re finished with the race.

7. After the race, head straight for the car. Stop by “Tacos & Donuts” on HWY 290 on the way home.

Now go!

Water 2 Thrive 5K
Saturday, September 18
Start Time: 8:30 AM, 9:00 AM
Register Online
Location: Hill Country Galleria, Bee Cave, Tex.
Distance: 5k timed run, 5k walk, 1k kids fun run
$28 adults, $12 kids registration fee. “Our current efforts are supporting rural and impoverished communities in Ethiopia and Sierra Leone.”

Colin’s Hope Kids Triathlon
Sunday, September 19
Onsite Registration:
7:00 AM
Start Time: 9:00 AM
Register Online
Location: Lake Pointe Swim Center
Distance: 5k timed run, 5k walk, 1k kids fun run
$30- $35 kids registration fee. There will be multiple age groups from 5 to 15 years old. No team competition. This race is designed to build confidence by allowing each young athlete to complete all three disciplines on their own. We will have participation awards, T-shirts, goody bags, and age-group awards.

CASA Superhero Run
Sunday, September 19
Onsite Registration:
7:00 AM
Start Time: 8:00 AM, 8:45 AM
Register Online
Location: The Domain
Distance: 5K timed run, 5k walk, 1k kids fun run
$25- $30 adults, $15- $20 kids registration fee. Create a personal fundraising page. Superhero costume contest. Photobooth, craft tables, moonwalk. “Because every child needs a hero, but abused children need superheroes.”

Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s PurpleStride
Saturday, September 25
Onsite Registration:
7:00 AM
Start Time: 8:00 AM, 8:15 AM
Register Online
Location: Hill Country Galleria, Bee Cave, Tex.
Distance: 5k timed run, 5k walk, 1k fun run
$30 registration fee. Create a personal fundraising page.

NAMI Austin Walk
Saturday, October 2
Onsite Registration
: 8:00 AM
Start Time: 9:00 AM
Register Online
Location: Walk begins and ends at Auditorium Shores Parking Lot at the corner of W. Riverside Drive and S. 1st Street
Distance: 5k
No registration fee. All walkers must register to participate. Walk will take place rain or shine.

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Light the Night Walk
Saturday, October 16
Onsite Registration:
5:00 AM
Start Time: 7:30 AM
Register Online
Location: Lake Park at Mueller
Distance: 5k
No registration fee. Individuals may register alone or as part of a new or existing team. Participants pledge to raise money for LLS.

Saturday, October 23
Start Time:
8:00 AM
Register Online
Location: South 1st St. Bridge over Lady Bird Lake
Distance: 5k
$35 registration fee. Individuals may register alone or as part of a new or existing team. Participants pledge to raise money for LIVESTRONG.

Dell Children’s 5K and Family Fun Fair
Saturday, October 30
Start Time:
8:00 AM
Register Online
Location: Dell Children’s Medical Center, Mueller
Distance: 5k and 1k
$30 adults, $10 kids registration fee. All money raised for this event, through generous sponsors and participants, will go to help the areas of greatest need at Dell Children’s and to establish the Carl Teel Music Endowment here at the medical center.

Walk to Cure Diabetes
Sunday, October 31
Onsite Registration:
10:00 AM
Start Time: 11:30 AM
Register Online
Location: Walk begins and ends at Auditorium Shores Parking Lot at the corner of W. Riverside Drive and S. 1st Street
Distance: 2 miles
No registration fee. Individuals may register alone or as part of a new or existing team. Participants pledge to raise money for Junior Diabetes Research Foundation.

I’m all for slacktivism after all.

Does this guy look like a slacktivist to you?

Oh, haters. I understand you. I am one, too — critical of anything that looks too cool, to0 simple or too clever.

I’m the one who coined the term “slacktivism” in the first place … well, I mean, I used it on this blog about a year ago, before it was cool. (Is it cool, yet?)

Back then I was worried that these acts of slacktivism were replacements for genuine engagement in social issues, and now I know better: They’re not replacements, they’re a part of something bigger.

Let’s take HelpAttack, for example. It’s  a new application that works with your Twitter account. You register with HelpAttack by connecting it with your Twitter account, pledging a penny or 10 cents or a dollar – any amount – per Tweet to any nonprofit organization of your choice. The system estimates how many Tweets you tweet per month and estimates what you might donate to that nonprofit per month, and even lets you set a limit just in case you find yourself in a Tweeting frenzy and wind up pledging your house away.

Simple? Yes. Too simple? Maybe. And your point is…?

“But these people aren’t doing anything! They don’t care about that organization! Why wouldn’t they just donate the money directly to the nonprofit? This makes them feel like they’re doing something — they’re not!”

Here are three reasons I think these actions are worthwhile.

1. Slacktivism is an entry point to philanthropy. For people who have never donated to a cause before, apps like these can be a simple way to start. Philanthropy has offered these types of opportunities for years; think about the Salvation Army’s red bucket or the Jerry Lewis telethon. What’s the point of making it difficult for people to make a donation? Remind me…?

2. Slacktivism is another way for people who already give and care about a cause to give even more. If I’m already a volunteer and I make an annual donation, why not tag on an extra 10 cents per Tweet? It’s simple to do and even kind of fun. Again, remind me why this is bad…?

3. Slacktivist enablers (yes, I just coined that term) bust their asses to bring you these “simple” applications. Have you ever met Alex Winkelman, founder of Charity Bash? She has every opportunity to spend the bulk of her time shopping, but she’s chosen to organize these parties that raise about $5,000 per month for charity. Yes, attendees just have to pay $10 at the door and look hot, but if you’ve ever organized an event with sponsors, entertainment and a beneficiary, you know what a ton of work it can be. Sure Alex is an enabler… an enabler that donates about $75,000 a year to local nonprofits.

And as for HelpAttack… I was actually asked by Dave Neff to serve on the board for HelpAttack, and I have to say I’ve learned more than I’ve given back (as usual). What I’ve learned is how much time, money, sacrifice and long nights it takes to create and launch these applications. Sarah, Dave and Ehren have every right to have ignored their idea for HelpAttack and pursued something sexier — like bringing the world another location-based application. (Yawn.)

But they chose to use their powers for good. In the meantime, they’ve taught themselves how to launch a new business, how to promote cause-oriented applications, how to partner with nonprofits and how to work together as a team. And, by the way, they’ll probably raise thousands of dollars for charity.

Too simple? Hardly. Worthwhile? Totally.

Donate: The man is selling space on his arms, people.

Rob increased the distance "to give my donors the feeling that they're getting their money's worth."

On September 2, Rob Cunningham will swim in Town Lake from the 360 Bridge to Tom Miller Dam, 4.1 miles total.

Then, in October, he’ll ride his bike from Dallas to Austin, 200 miles.

He’s not a “fitness freak,” per se. No, Rob’s more of a philanthropy freak. Because you don’t just jump in the lake or on a bike and go, by the time Rob completes these tasks, he will have trained for months, swam about 100 miles and biked about a 1,000. All to raise $4,000 and awareness for four Central Texas nonprofits.

And you can either make a pledge or purchase space on his arms — think, Your Ad Here.

“I honestly want my donors to think of me in a lot of pain on event day and to be satisfied that they’ve given money for a significant effort.”

As per usual when I come across crazy interesting people, I have to ask a lot of questions.

Q What are you doing, swimming out there in Town Lake every morning?

Usually trying to keep my mind off of how bad my arms hurt. That is, until they go numb.

I made a commitment to my supporters and four local nonprofit organizations to not only raise money but to complete this physical challenge.

Thinking of my supporters and the nonprofits that I’m working for is a pretty powerful motivator for long training sessions. I know that if I’m not out there training and getting ready, then I run the risk of falling short of my physical goal on event day, and I don’t want that to happen.

Plus we have a great team of 19 other Got2Swim(mers) who have taught me a lot.  They’re a big group of fun loving people who make great training partners.

Q. Group training makes a difference. And no one ever does this stuff alone, do they?

My family has also been an integral part of my fundraising efforts over the last seven years.  For the 100-mile-rides for the Ronald McDonald House, Amy, Finn and Barton served as our rest stop coordinators and traveled with our ride team, over a 10 hour day. In the sixth year of that ride Amy even took on the 100 mile challenge herself.

The memories that my family have from those events are some of the best memories we have together.

I’m also fortunate to work at FOX 7, a company that is a big part of the community and has a big commitment to giving back.  I’m certainly not the only person at the station that supports a nonprofit or two throughout the year or raises money for a good cause.

To name only a few, there are ladies at the station that have a bake sale every year to raise money for the JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes; Keri Bellacosa is on the Board of Directors of JDRF Austin; and Loriana Hernandez co-founded Maggie’s Hope, which is a nonprofit that helps families dealing with Autism.

From FOX 7’s the top floor down to the lobby we feel a strong sense of being a community builder here in Central Texas, and I’m just happy to be a part of it.

Q. Why did you choose these four organizations?

I chose the Ronald McDonald House, Colin’s Hope and the Capital Area Food Bank’s Kids Café Program because I like the idea of helping local kids. I may not be able to give my own kids everything I’d like but at least they know that they’ll always live in a loving home and (by the grace of God) always have food on the table.

It breaks my heart to think that not all kids are that fortunate so I gravitate to causes that focus on helping kids. I also like the idea of giving back to wounded soldiers in the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior program. Those “kids” deserve all the help we can give them.

Rob in the water, training for the big swim on Sept 2, with help from his wife.

Q. What’s your “dream” for all this? What impact do you hope to have?

This all started seven years ago when, as a new board member of the Ronald McDonald House, I was trying to figure out a way to make a significant financial contribution to the House. Since I couldn’t just write a check, I made an impromptu decision to ride my bike 100 miles and ask people to sponsor me by the mile. That year I raised $1,700.

After that first year, through word of mouth, other riders joined in the fun and over the six-year history of that ride together our ride team raised a little over $200,000 for the Ronald McDonald House.

Q. How can we support you?

You can support my 204.1 mile effort by making a donation on-line at www.Got2Give.org/rob.html.  If you prefer to write a check you can make it out to Got2Give and mail it to 102 Squires Drive, Austin, Texas, 78734.

I’m also selling both of my arms to help raise money. I have ad space available on each shoulder for sale to a corporate sponsor for a donation $500 or more.  Just think, I’ve been training really hard…your logo here?

(Editor’s note: Rob is about 6’13” tall, so no worries about running a big logo.)

Trying to raise a minimum of $4,000 I really need support from anyone and everyone in the community that I can reach for both small and large donations, they’re all important and every donation makes a difference.

I was thinking that if all of my Twitter followers and Facebook friends donated just $10 that would equal $8,000, which is a real illustration of how everyone can help no matter what size the donation is.

Austin teen runs annual food drive, basket by basket

Broushka, a 15-year-old Austin teen, has raised thousands of pounds of food for Caritas.

An Austin teenager, Bridget Boushka, has been organizing an annual food drive in her neighborhood since she was 12 years old. What started as a volunteer project through her school, St. Gabriel’s Catholic School, led to her collecting 542 pounds worth of food for the nonprofit Caritas, which serves low-income and refugee adults and families. That was the first year.

Two years later, Boushka raised 2,029 pounds of donated items, including food, drinks, diapers and clothing. In addition to in-kind donations, the drive raised $700 worth of H-E-B gift cards, $560 in bus passes and $2,300 in cash donations.

Boushka attributes the success of her food drive to the generosity of her neighbors, but she also has a sure-fire plan of action. She outlines her project to neighbors on a flyer that she attaches to a large basket and delivers to each doorstep. The flyer asks donors to simply leave items they want to donate in the basket on their front porch for pick-up within the next week. 

Mindful of the most urgent needs of Caritas clients, Boushka also includes a wish list for neighbors to reference on what to give. As promised, she then travels up and down neighborhood streets picking up baskets filled with donations.

“My neighbors are always so enthusiastic to be a part of the drive, they feel like they are making such an impact,” Boushka beams. To adequately demonstrate the collective impact, Boushka photographs all the items together and includes them in thank you notes.
Executive Director for Caritas of Austin, Beth Atherton says, “I am so impressed by Bridget’s passion, energy and drive. It is encouraging to see such exemplary leadership in a young adult and Caritas is fortunate to have her support.”

This year, Boushka will celebrate her 16th birthday, but the busy St. Michael’s Catholic Academy student, All-State swimmer, track and cross country runner says she will definitely continue her annual food drive, saying, “I love doing it, it is so rewarding.” With a 16th birthday between now and then, the only difference is that next year she will be the one behind the wheel delivering donations.

Hurry! Make Chase send big money to Austin via Facebook

UPDATE: Four of the nonprofits below won $20,000 each from Chase. Congratulations, and thanks for all your votes!

Are you on Facebook?

You might have heard about Chase Community Giving’s ongoing campaign to give $5 million in donations to 200 charities across the country. They’re asking Facebook users to vote for their favorite charity; Chase will give the top vote-getter $250,000, the five runner-ups $100,000 each, and the rest in the top 200 $20,000 each. Ch-ching.

Here’s the thing: Voting ends Monday! And five Austin charities in the top 200!

I’m not a fan of these corporate marketing schemes cloaked as philanthropy, but I’m a big girl, I know how this stuff works, and… I mean, it’s $20,000. So go!

Austin charities in the running for the prize as of this writing are:

#117 Cedar Park High School Band Boosters, 1071 votes
#118 Colombian Orphanages, 1070 votes
#135 Little Helping Hands, 1035 votes
#141 Walter Diez Molina Fund, 1019 votes
#177 Challah for Hunger, 973 votes

Marissa Vogel, executive director of Little Helping Hands, tells me the nonprofits have been working together to make sure they all stay in. “We’ve been working so hard on this for a month now,” she says. “It’s one thing to ask people to do it, but then they actually have to do it!”

So we’re going to make this simple:

1. Click here. Log on to Facebook if you have to.

2. Go to the green “Voting Open Now” and click “Like.” Follow instructions from there.

3. To vote for the above nonprofits, best go to the “Leaderboard” tab and click though until you get to the Austin charities.

You can vote for up to 20 nonprofits. So go crazy! Let’s get $100,000 to Austin charities!