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.

Have your day at the Capitol

Today is CASA Day at the Capitol, and here’s why this is important.

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) is taking a strong stand to stop budget cuts proposed for Child Protective Services, the agency charged with protecting children and caring for those in the Texas child welfare system and advocating for full funding for CASA.

Hundreds of CASA volunteers from across the state of Texas will gather at the Capitol to dedicate a memorial in honor of the 227 children who die from abuse and neglect each year in Texas. For more than 30 years, CASA has been speaking up for abused and neglected children in the Texas foster care system, often helping children who are in life-or-death situations. CASA programs recruit and train committed volunteers to help guide children through the foster care system and into safe and permanent home.

Tim for CASA storyIn our current issue, we have a story about Linda, a CASA volunteer who was assigned to Tim when he was just three years old. Linda has stayed by Tim (in photo, left) his whole life, protecting him from getting lost in the system and helping him become the productive and capable human being he is today.

We also have a story advising Austin nonprofits to step up to the Legislature and speak up for the children and people they represent.

There will be many more of these “Days at the Capitol” during this session. You don’t have to attend them to support the cause.

Send a letter or email today to your representative and let them know why they should work harder to keep these vital services intact. Just go to Texas Tribune to find your representative. Speak up for Austin this session.

Nominate a New Philanthropist

GivingCity Austin #6 Jan, 2011

New issue available now. Click cover.

We’re looking for budding philanthropists, the Austinites who will help build a culture of generosity over the next decade.

These are not just people who give back, these are people who will be role models for the rest of us. They’re people Austin needs to take the lead; people who have the energy and vision, charisma and connections, and commitment to making this one of the most generous cities in the country.

NOMINATE A NEW PHILANTHROPIST NOW

We need your help to recognize and encourage the New Philanthropists. There is no age limit, but nominees must demonstrate the following:

1. Energy to be a leader in the local philanthropic community for the next 10 years or more.
2. Willingness to be interviewed and photographed for the magazine.
3. Availability to appear at photo shoot in early March 2011.

Nomination deadline: February 28, 2011.

Questions? Email Monica at monica@givingcity.com.

PROCEED TO NOMINATION FORM

*See the 2009 New Philanthropists

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!

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.