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?

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.

Introducing 12 Baskets for Mobile Loaves & Fishes

12 Baskets Homeless Austin Danny Maggie IAMHERE T3Last fall I was chatting with Alan Graham at some event when he asked me, “So did I see something in one of your Tweets about custom publishing?”

And that’s how 12 Baskets started. Six months later, we’re about to launch the first magazine issue, timed to coordinate with the launch of a huge campaign to raise awareness about homelessness and put Danny & Maggie, a homeless couple from Austin, in a permanent home.

I wanted to thank all the people who contributed, but especially recognize Robin Finlay, who donated her time and talent as an art director to make the magazine…. well, it just works. That’s what great art directors do, and Robin — sitting across from me now, btw — is definitely one of the best art directors in Texas.

Please open it here. More importantly, get to know the people in this magazine and, if you’re so inclined, help them by donating or volunteering. You can even text “Danny” to 20222 to donate $10 to get Danny and his wife, Maggie, off the streets and into a permanent home.

Thank you, and let me know what you think.

P.S. Thanks, Alan, for the opportunity. We learned a lot and had a great time.

A new record for state employees: $2.3 million donated!

We really like follow-up stories like this.

In the last issue of GivingCity Austin (link opens PDF), we ran a story about the Texas State Employees Charitable Campaign and how Central Texans who work for the state donate a phenomenal amount of their paychecks to the local nonprofit community. In 2008, donations from Central Texas state employees were just under $2.2 million.

No one expected the SECC to beat the 2008 number – a record… until 2009. In its most recent campaign, which ended in October, Central Texas state employees committed to almost $2.3 million. Not only that, many more nonprofits are raising their hands to be a part of the campaign.

The SECC organizers – all volunteers and state employees – raised margaritas to themselves last week, congratulating themselves, and all the employees who signed up to donate, for beating the odds in this down economy. Way to go, Tammy, Debbie, Reuben, Gretchen, and the rest of the SECC team!

Central Texas nonprofits interested in being a part of the 2010 campaign should contact Jackie Rogers  (512.225.0378) at United Way Capital Area (which helps administer the campaign) by Friday, April 2, at 5 p.m. There’s an application to complete.

“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

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.