New Philanthropists make their own way in Austin

New Philanthropists AustinThe diversity of backgrounds, perspectives and ideas blows me away. But what all our New Philanthropists have in common is a commitment to Austin. They tend to work outside the traditional nonprofit structure, creating their own points of engagement or standing out among their peers for their dedication to their cause.

Some of them left lucrative careers for less lucrative pursuits. Some of them saw connection possibilities where others haven’t, and they worked hard to make them. Some of them applied their experience and skills to the more frustrating field of philanthropy because they saw how great the rewards could be.

We found these 25 people thanks to you. You submitted more than 80 nominations, and had we a bigger budget we’d include them all; their amazing stories are enough to fill the next 8 issues of the magazine. It took a solid week of research and head-scratching to whittle it down to these 25 incredible folks. And we can’t wait for you to meet them.

But I won’t tell you who they are now! How would I sell magazines if I spilled the beans?

Please watch for the next issue of GivingCity Austin, available here on April 5. And mark your calendars for Givers Ball III, our quarterly celebration of Austin’s growing philanthropy community, taking place at the Gibson on April 5. See you then!

MariBen Ramsey, Austin’s best friend

Years ago I would have rolled my eyes if you’d said I’d be working for MariBen Ramsey.  “No way!”

I was intimidated by MariBen Ramsey, or rather not MariBen, whom I didn’t know, but by her stature in the community. She was the vice president of the Austin Community Foundation, after all!

I was reminded of her stature in the community today as she stepped to the stage at the front of the Hyatt’s wide Texas Ballroom to accept her “special recognition” award at AFP’s Philanthropy Day. The entire audience of +800 rose to its feet, applauding and hooting wildly as she accepted the award from Kerry Tate.

Kerry had just called MariBen “Austin’s best friend,” and I can see now that she’s just that. While I’m less intimidated by her now that I work for her, I witness every day how much she does deserve the city’s respect and gratitude.

A story: Some folks who are new to Austin, bless their hearts, aren’t aware of just who MariBen Ramsey is, but MBR would never embarrass them by pointing it out herself. A couple of months ago, MBR and I were on a conference call with such a person, and this person just wasn’t getting it. MBR was being as polite and patient as she could be, but it was clear this person had no idea who he was talking to. At one point, after having explained something at least 28 different ways, she said something along the lines of, “Because I said so,” but the person on the other end of the line was audacious and disrespectful and was really starting to piss us off.

It was all I could do to not yell out, “Seriously, do you know who you’re talking to? If MariBen says it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen! Now apologize instantly!”

Later, when the call was finally over, MBR said something like, “Sometimes you have to get past the people and focus on the cause.”

That’s MariBen.

The fundraising event calendar for Austin

We’re happy to partner with Laura Villagran Johnson and Kevin Smothers of Austin Social Planner to create THE fundraising event calendar for Austin.

Actually, I’m not doing much. Laura and Kevin and team created this amazing platform with Austin Social Planner, and GivingCity Austin is just directing folks to use it. I get lots of “can you please list my event” requests, but without a calendar on which to list them, I couldn’t really fulfill that request. So here’s the answer.

Austin Social Planner is simple yet robust, fun yet thorough, and geared especially for those non-Chronicle type events that seem to fall off other calendars so often. Please check it out, and PLEASE list your fundraising event on this calendar.

Thanks! ALSO, please add our event to your calendar: The next GivingCity Givers Ball is 1/11/11 at El Sol y La Luna! I can’t wait to see you all again.

We’re on The Huffington Post!

A story about Rain appeared in the latest issue of 12 Baskets magazine. Photo by Austin photographer Jessica Attie

So grateful to Andrew Shapter for making us the subject of his latest blog post for The Huffington Post. See it here: “Need Inspiration to Give? Read Stories, Not Statistics.”

In that post, he writes about how stories rather than statistics inspire people to give. And he uses the two magazines I produce – GivingCity Austin and 12 Baskets for Mobile Loaves & Fishes – as an example of that.

Our goal has always been to highlight and help grow a culture of philanthropy in Austin. With 12 Baskets, we get to share the stories of area homeless people and the good folks who are trying to help them. With GivingCity we call out the good works people are doing in Austin and offer ways for you to get involved, too.

Please share these magazines via email, social media, word of mouth with whomever you think might need a little inspiration to give right now.

Thank you for your continued support!

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!

How much should charity workers get paid?

Somewhere between “a living wage” and Dan Pallotta is the truth.

To ask a nonprofit professional – and in particular, those who actually have to work to earn a living – to make less money than their for-profit peers is to take advantage of their compassion and altruism.

People (not so much those who donate, because they tend to get it) who scold nonprofit professionals for whining about how little they make compared to their for-profit peers seem to believe that nonprofit professionals are content to suffer. Indeed, that they should have to suffer a little bit.

Consider these scenarios:

When your daughter is in the hospital with a long-term condition, and your family needs a place to stay nearby to be by her side, how much do you think the staff at the Ronald McDonald House – the staff person who’s helping your family get through this ordeal – should make compared to the concierge at Four Seasons?

When Hill Country Conservancy saves more than 5,000 acres of historic and environmentally sensitive land in Onion Creek from being developed into a shopping center, and works with environmentalists; federal, state and local agencies; developers; business leaders; and ranchers to secure that part of Central Texas for you and your grandchildren, how much do you think the Hill Country Conservancy lawyers should make compared to your average real estate attorney?

When we complain that too many of our children are obese, that they’re being fed too much junk food and playing too many video games, and we hear that the staff at the free People’s Community Clinic is teaching mothers about how to make their at-home meals more nutritious, how much should that staff person make compared to the franchise owner who’s opening yet another Church’s Fried Chicken on the East Side?

This is not about how much a nonprofit professional should get paid. It’s about what they’re worth.

Give… but don’t give… to help panhandlers. I think…

PERSONAL NOTE: I keep a few dollars in my cupholder to hand out to panhandlers at a red light. I “tip” panhandlers on the street better than I tip the waitstaff when I go out at night. And when I don’t hand out money, I try to smile and say hello. So all this below is my confused — and confusing – attempt to try to understand this “Know Before You Give” campaign. Geez, people!

Today there was a news story about the “Know Before You Give” campaign, which encourages people to give to social service agencies. Great idea! Please do give to social service agencies.

Need a beer sign

You ever hold a sign like this?

And if you feel like giving a few bucks to a panhandler on your way to drink beers with your friends, go ahead. Throw a few at the valet and the bartender, while you’re at it. Why not? Those guys could use a beer, too!

Wait. What I meant to say was, don’t give money to the panhandler, who probably has to sleep under I-35 (and who will probably just spend the money on beer).

The best way to help him is to give to a charity like Front Steps. Front Steps is a nonprofit that operates ARCH, the homeless shelter. The City of Austin provides the building and a grant to Front Steps to operate the shelter.

So if the city’s giving to Front Steps and you’re giving to Front Steps, these poor bar and club owners won’t have to worry about people outside their doors asking for money — and they can get more of your money inside!

Uh, and what I meant by that was that we should support local businesses and work together to keep downtown safe AND help the homeless. (Except that… well, studies have shown that most panhandlers aren’t homeless, and most homeless people don’t panhandle.* Hmmm.)

Anyway! That’s why we’re asking you, Austin partiers and beer drinkers, to take more responsibility. Know Before You Give partners created this campaign, now it’s your turn: Stop feeding the cats! They’ll just keep coming back! If we stop feeding them, maybe they’ll just go away!

Let’s educate ourselves on the importance of not giving to panhandlers. (At the same time, just in case, feel free to brush up on your own panhandling skills.)

* “Contrary to common belief, panhandlers and homeless people are not necessarily one and the same. Many studies have found that only a small percentage of homeless people panhandle, and only a small percentage of panhandlers are homeless.”  (U.S. Dept of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services)