“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

So why would a local restaurant donate to a local nonprofit anyway?

Yesterday, I posted about Rio Grande’s Philanthropy Week, during which they’re donating 10% of bar sales during happy hour to a different nonprofit each day. You can see the details here.

Lots of local businesses contribute a portion of their sales to a local nonprofit from time to time. Why? Is there anything in it for them besides the potential for profit?

The fact is, it takes lots of planning and coordination with a local nonprofit – and probably an accountant – to make the whole thing work. So it can’t all just be about attracting customers. Plus, if you do use it to attract customers, the fact is you’re only going to attract a certain kind of customer – the kind that has a conscience. Most other restaurants don’t care if their customers have consciences or not; they kinda just want your business.

So it is special when a restaurant hosts a “philanthropy week,” like Rio Grande is doing this week. The thing is, restaurant owners are people, too. Duh. When they feel compelled to give back, they usually do so through their business, creating a win-win for the community: You get a nice drink, they get a little money, and a local charity gets a little money. Why not?

Here’s a real live restaurant owner – a person! – talking about why his restaurant, Rio Grande, is giving back.

MAY 4-8: Choose Rio Grande Restaurant this week to help raise money for local charities

It seems like there are opportunities to support local charities in just about everything you do. Here’s another example.

Anyone like tequila? From May 4-8, Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant on San Jacinto is donating a percentage of the day’s bar profits to five selected charities (one each night).

Monday, May 4: A Legacy of Giving, 5-7:30pm
Tuesday, May 5: Austin Sunshine Camps, 5-7:30pm
Wednesday, May 6: Lance Armstrong Foundation, 5-7:30pm
Thursday, May 7: The Austin Theatre Alliance, 5-7:30pm
Friday, May 8: Red Cross of Central Texas, 5-7:30pm

Wow. Great cross-section of local charities there. So let me get this straight:

Q. Is this the first time Rio Grande’s done someting like this?
A. Yes, this is the first annual Rio Grande Philanthropy Week.

Q. It’s a nice mix – kids, health, basic needs… how were the charities selected?
A. Rio Grande wanted support a mix of organizations that do so much for the Austin community.

Q. How much does Rio Grande hope to raise in total for all charities this week?
A. The amount they raise will really depend on how many people come out each night to support the charities. Groups like the Austin Theatre Alliance are pushing out to their members of more than 20,000. So it goes without saying, the more visibility we raise for this event, the more Rio Grande will be able to contribute.

You heard ’em, folks. It’s reason enough for me to make Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant Mother’s Day Date Night Headquarters. And I GUESS I’ll have to have A DRINK or two. It’s for a good cause, right?

GivingCity Issue 1: Download it here!

Please feel free to send this link to a friend of colleague. Also, thanks for adding us to your media list – we’d love to hear more about your organization and cause.

To download your copy, just click on the cover or on the link below. Please let us know what you think. Feel free to send me any feedback or post a comment below.

(File size 5MB)

The guide to doing good in Austin
The guide to doing good in Austin




Work the phones and help hurricane evacuees find help this weekend

Have you heard of 2-1-1? It’s like 4-1-1 except that it offers free, statewide, 24-hour access to health and human services and disaster information through its multilingual helpline.

As you can imagine, it’s a great resource for people all over southeast Texas who are being displaced by the hurricanes. They call to find out where to find shelter or food, how to get help moving special needs people, even how to get help moving pets.

Thanks to Gustav, the 2-1-1 line had a 300% increase in volume of calls over one weekend. And hurricane season is not over yet. You’re heard of Ike, right?

There are a couple of ways you can help:

The first is to make a donation to 2-1-1 so they can get the folks and other resouces they need to serve the people displaced by Hurricane Ike.

The second is to VOLUNTEER YOURSELF in Austin this weekend. There will be training, and all you need to get the job is the ability to care about people and help them find their way. If you’re bilingual, you’re especially needed. Just register with United Way Capital Area to get started.

OR if you are interested in becoming a Disaster Response Volunteer for 2-1-1 Texas, call 2-1-1 or email Kimberly Blackburn.

Thanks for your help!

Hundreds in Austin Shelter need your help now

Central Texas Red Cross just sent out an email asking for volunteer help in their shelters. This is a great opportunity to go over there and spend some helping out. 

We need shelter workers. 

Are you available????? 

Volunteers are needed for the 6AM – 6PM shift and for the 6PM -6AM. Volunteers are needed Wednesday, September 3 – Sunday, September 7 (Must be at least 18 years old).

To volunteer, please call 512-929-1200 or 512-928- 4271. Or email rturner@centex.redcross.org

Thank you in advance for serving your community! 

Kim Landry, Director of Volunteer Services, American Red Cross of Central Texas

I called and found out more:
1. Mostly they need support for their managers on-site. You would help serve food, answer questions, register evacuees, etc. 
2. Training would be “on the job” style. 
3. They need volunteers at the Delco location. See more about the shelters here. 
4. To volunteer, you should probably register online first. The site gives you the instructions. Once you’ve registered, they’ll call you. 
CenTex Red Cross will take calls until 7 p.m. tonight, but if you register online now, expect a call tomorrow. Thanks in advance for your help!

Click here to help Midwest flood victims

Salvation Army affected by Midwest Floods of 2008

I’m reading about how the floods in the Midwest may effect meat prices – corn and soybeans grown there are grown to feed cattle. For some of you, the immediate thought is how that will affect people and nonprofits already on the edge of being able to afford meat at all. It’s the gas crisis on the table.

Maybe it’s just me, but since September 11, there seems to be one disaster after another, right up to the floods in the Midwest. It’s estimated that 35,000 people have been displaced and everyone in the area is dealing with toxic water teeming with raw sewage, farming chemicals, and whatever was in the toilets, basements, refrigerators and buildings across thousands of acres of the Midwest. Most of us can’t imagine what it’s like to be flooded out of our communities and homes, but we want to find an easy way to help.

(NOTE: I don’t think there’s any shame in looking for an easy way to help. In gift-giving it’s the thought that counts, but when you’re giving to people in need, just thinking about it isn’t enough. It’s the job of the nonprofits to make it easy for the rest of us to make a difference in someone’s life.)

Here are some organizations that are helping Midwest flood vicitms – and who accept donations online (how easy is that?):

American Red Cross: You can choose to give specifically to the disaster relief fund.

Adventist Community Services: This is the humanitarian-aid arm of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Click to donate and choose whether you want to give open-ended cash or cash for a specific need like clothes or water.

The Salvation Army: The organization is also helping in China and Myanmar now. Easy online form.

AmeriCares: An organization that helps worldwide. Has shipped more than 200,000 bottles of water to the Midwest so far. You can direct your donation so U.S. disaster relief specifically.

Consider, also, giving directly to the local chapters of some of these organizations. Look for them in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Missouri.