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!

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)

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.

McCombs MBA students looking to serve on nonprofit boards in Austin

Lauren Blitzer, president of Net Impact McCombs

Austin nonprofits: Consider hosting an MBA Board Fellow this semester.

Lauren Blitzer is president of Net Impact McCombs, a professional club for socially-minded MBA students at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business.  She filled me in on this fantastic idea.

This month, Net Impact McCombs launched a Board Fellows program in which students serve on the board of directors of local nonprofits in a non-voting capacity, attend meetings, serve on committees, and complete a Board-level strategic project.

What MBA students get: MBA students learn about Board governance, the realities of operations of nonprofits, and get to apply their business skills to serve the community.

What the nonprofit gets: The nonprofit benefits from a fresh perspective and gains the business insights of an MBA student.

Here’s a little more information from Blitzer:

“Since the program is new to McCombs, and we want to focus more on the student/organization match than on strict guidelines, we plan to be flexible in our selection and matching process and encourage ALL organizations to apply.  Nonprofits come in all shapes and sizes, and we think this program should reflect that.  Please be assured that a good student match, enthusiasm, and commitment to the program will outweigh these criteria.

  • Nonprofit (501(c)3) status  (STRICTLY REQUIRED)
  • An operating history of at least one year
  • An annual budget of at least $350,000
  • A minimum of 3 full-time staff members
  • Have a board member willing to serve as a mentor (STRICTLY REQUIRED)

As long as you are confident that someone at your organization could be available enough to facilitate a positive student experience (provide mentorship and needed information/data for their project in a timely manner, etc), then we’d love for you to apply. That said, we can’t guarantee you (or any other organization) a Fellow.  We will be working this summer to ensure that the needs of the organizations match with the students’ skills and interests.  If we are unable to match you, please know that it isn’t because of those ‘criteria’; other schools who have done this before have all warned us about the disasters of a bad student/organization match, so we would rather not facilitate a match then force a bad pairing.”

Still interested? Blitzer asks nonprofit to apply by August 15, but if you want a student to start at the beginning of their semester, please apply sooner.

Get more information by sending Blitzer an email or just apply online now.

(In)Fighting for East Austin’s kids: Grant applications for Promise Neighborhood planning due today

Okay, an amendment to a previous post…

Backstory: In March, I wrote a post about Southwest Key’s efforts to improve the educational opportunities and help strengthen the community for the people living where Southwest Key lives, Central East Austin around the former Johnston High School, now Eastside Memorial High School.

In that post, I talked about learning how Southwest Key established the East Austin Children’s Promise, which it modeled on the Harlem Children’s Zone. The HCZ itself serves as a model for the federal government’s new Promise Neighborhoods planning grants, which will offer about $500,000 to about 20 community efforts like HCZ around the country. Southwest Key — the Juan Sanchez team — is applying for a planning grant.

A few weeks after writing that post, I had lunch with Allen Weeks, a community organizer who lives in the St. John’s neighborhood in Northeast Austin, and has also worked to improve educational opportunities and help strengthen the community for people living where he lives. The Weeks team has organized a large collaboration to apply for a Promise Neighborhoods planning grant as well, this one for the Northeast Austin neighborhood around Reagan High School.

I wondered if it helped or hindered Austin’s chances to have two grant applications competing among the 900+ nationwide. And regardless of that, does the competition help East Austin?

Applications due today: Recent Statesman news stories, editorials and blog posts about the Promise Neighborhoods planning grants pick Weeks’ team over Sanchez’, saying that the former effort was better planned and includes more heavy-hitting collaborators, including AISD, UT, City of Austin, St. David’s Foundation, United Way Capital Area and more. They also criticize the Sanchez team for not being as well prepared and for being sore losers.

All this just substantiates the point I was trying to make in my March blog post: In a city the size of Austin and considering the plight of so many East Austin students, are we really allowed infighting? Still?

I think even AISD Superintendent Maria Carstarphen said something along those lines, too. At the same time, though, Carstarphen inherited what many believe to be a history of AISD’s inability to address the educational needs of East Austin.  Maybe the AISD of the past could have evolved its approach to account for the increasingly diverse and urban population?

AISD needs to do that now, and working with both Promise Neighborhood grant applicants should be a top priority. I’d love to know exactly what each team was asking from AISD. “Support” can come in many forms; surely AISD can support two efforts in some way.

I’d also love to know more about why the Statesman thinks the Northeast Austin proposal was stronger. It’s been reported that Southwest Key didn’t submit its proposal to AISD until the last minute, in June, but it was also reported that Sanchez said he’d been trying to meet with Southwest Key for months. And it’s not like AISD didn’t know about Southwest Key’s charter  school; the East Austin College Prep academy enrolled 90 6th-graders in 2009 and now has a waiting list for its 6th and 7th grades.

The only amendment I can add to this story is, maybe Carstarphen needs to include AISD among her mention of the infighting adults.

PS 1: Here’s a listing of some of the communities Austin is up against. There were 941 “intents to apply.” The grant applications are due today, June 28. Grants will be made available this September.

PS 2: Also, here’s what I read for fun on a Sunday night: A link to the PDF of FAQs about the Promise Neighborhoods planning grant applications.

PS 3: After spending hours with both Weeks and Juan Sanchez, Southwest Key’s CEO, I got the impression I was looking at two sides of the same coin. Both are effective and passionate community leaders, but each approaches their work with completely different strategies. It’s worth getting to know both of them better to learn which of their two distinctively different leadership styles is more effective for East Austin in the long run.

Hopped up on coffee and ideas

Coffee and meetingsThis morning I hustled up to Genuine Joe’s to meet Matt Kouri, Ann Starr and Haila Yates of Greenlights. Then down to Scholz’s to meet Jason Denny of the Austin Jaycees. Then to Lift to meet Priscilla Cortez and her new daughter, Isabella, of FuturoFund this afternoon. And I am still wide awake and hopped up, man.

It’s great to ramp up GivingCity and soak up all that positive, “be the change” energy again. It reminds me of why I wanted to do this in the first place. I could stay up and work all night! Yes, the caffeine has something to do with it, but what really gets me hopped up are the people.

The fact is, I get to talk to some of the best people in Austin almost every day. Smart, interesting people who care deeply about the city and spend significant time and energy working to make it better. I sit across from them at those tiny coffee shop tables, listen for the clues and put them down in my handy-dandy notebook as fast as I can.

Do you work around smart people who inspire you every day?

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Don’t forget!

  • Greenlights & OneStar team up to bring us the Texas Nonprofit Summit, September 23-24 here in Austin.
  • The last opportunity to become a member of this year’s FuturoFund is to make your pledge by July 31. FF will choose its grant winners this November.

It’s going to be a fun fall.