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  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.

“Happiness Is” not found in a solid-surface countertop

Happiness IsIt’s hard to write a thoughtful reaction to a film that left me so emotional. And I wasn’t the only one. There were quite a few beefy guys walking out of the theater with puffy, watery eyes last night, too.

But “Happiness Is” by Austin’s Andrew Shapter will do that to you. It’s not that it’s a sad film by any means. In fact, it’s pretty hilarious. Shapter interviewed some characters, for sure. The woman who admitted to thinking that happiness could be found in a solid-surface countertop sticks in my mind. (HINT: It can’t.)

What it is is hopeful because the message is this: Happiness is within your reach. It’s not something to strive for, it’s something you find within yourself. For proof, Shapter talks to happiness historians (they exist), scientists, and anthropologists. They’ve done the research and can pinpoint exactly when most Americans stopped being happy. (HINT: Rampant materialism, duh!)

Then, to further prove his point, he interviewed an incredible mix of people from all over the country – men, children, immigrants, scholars, artists, musicians, comedians, old people…. Though they all get there differently, eventually they all come to the same conclusion.

There are a couple of things you should know about the film:

1. It’s going on a screening tour around the country, and they’re paying for that tour in DVD sales. If a quarter of the population in America saw this film, it could change this country for the better. Seriously. So if you can swing the DVD, buy it here:

2. The film is being used to raise money for the sponsoring nonprofit. In the case of last night’s screening, the nonprofit beneficiary is Mobile Loave & Fishes, the organization that takes food out to the homeless and is run by the incredible Alan Graham. (He’s featured in the film.) You can support that organization here.:

There were hundreds of people at this screening last night. I wonder what they’re thinking today.

What it takes to have nonprofit collaboration in Austin

A successful collaboration or merger can seem like a miracle. As the former associate director of Community Action Network and a nonprofit consultant, Sam Woollard, a GivingCity contributor, has participated and lead the formation of a number of collaborations around  Central Texas.

“Collaborations and mergers are all about the timing,” she says. “Even if there’s a consensus to work together and a strong action plan, a single change in a funding model or at the legislature could seriously impact the effort. Plus, participants must come to the table with the needs of the entire community in mind, not just the needs of their board  or their constituency.”

Here are some Central Texas collaborations in which Woollard has participated.

Aging Services Council: Addresses  depression in older adults; coordinates home  repair programs; started a caregiver university.

Success by 6: Supports the annual child  well-being report card; supports quality child  care initiatives; supports education about early  childhood.

Central Texas Afterschool Network: Hosts the annual Lights on After School;  convened a forum about middle school students  and afterschool needs; conduct training for  after-school teachers and administrators.

Ready by 21 Coalition: Created a local  youth council; just released a Go to College  Guide for Educators and Youth service  professionals; manages an initiative to  increase the quality of after school  programs.

Basic Needs Coalition: Coordinates the annual Poverty  Awareness month each January;  coordinate the Best Single Source  program; coordinating a benefits  enrollment assistance training on  May 28th.

Children and Youth Mental Health Planning Partnership: Conducts an annual awareness event each  May; addresses the systemic issues impacting  children and mental health.

Re-entry Rountable : Addresses issues related to people leaving the criminal justice  system.

Ending Community Homelesnes Coalition (ECHO): Coordinates the  Continuum of Care grant every year; conducts  an annual homeless awareness forum in the fall;  sponsors the Let’s Get to Work Forum on May  21st to identify pathways to work for people  experiencing homelessness.

Victim Services Task Force: Conduct  awareness activities during the annual Crime  Victims Rights Week, support legislative efforts to  increase the crime victims compensation fund.

HousingWorks: Hosts annual housing  summit each fall; provides a speaker’s bureau for  housing issues; identifies and advocates for  policies that will support affordable housing.

Are there too many nonprofits in Austin?

This article first appeared in GivingCity Austin #3 magazine. To download the entire magazine, click here.
The data referred to in this article can be accessed via Greenlights here.

The data is in – the Austin community has more nonprofits per capita than any other city in Texas. Now what should we do about it?

We demand efficiency from nonprofits, requiring them to do more with less – and these days to do even more with even less. So when we see two or more nonprofits with the exact same mission, going after the same donations from the same people, we might wonder why they don’t join forces.  We might also wonder how they survive in this economy. Inevitably, the market will take care of it, right? Just as it does in the for-profit world?

Well, sometimes the market doesn’t  take care of it. That’s because nonprofits aren’t fueled by just donations, they’re also fueled by passion – which is sometimes all you need to keep your organization going. And thank goodness for that; we’d be in serious trouble if it weren’t for volunteers and underpaid nonprofit professionals. On the other hand, you have to ask yourself, as a donor or a volunteer, “Am I supporting a nonprofit that shouldn’t exist?”

Austin has more nonprofits per capita than any other city in the Texas. Which means we’re caring and entrepreneurial on the one hand, but probably frustrated and disillusioned on the other. When someone starts a nonprofit it means they feel there’s a need in the community that’s not being met And while one can appreciate their energy, it takes more than a 501c3 classification from the IRS to be an effective nonprofit in the long-term.

We asked five nonprofit advisors their views on the issue; these aren’t just nonprofiteers, rather they’re people in the position of changing the way Austin nonprofits work as a community. Here’s what they had to say.

Deborah Edward of RGK Center

Deborah Edward professor at the RGK Center, a nationally recognized philanthropy think-tank.

The idea that there are too many nonprofits in Austin is a refrain. But while we complain about it, a city like Boston boasts about it.

From our perspective that means we’re not thinking collaborations or efficiencies. We’re not taking advantage of opportunities. In business, these new ideas for a company come up, and you get investment bankers invested so they can see the idea, and in the end, everybody makes money and everybody’s happy.

But in the nonprofit world, we don’t have those investment bankers…except for these funders. They are in the wonderful position to respond to these new nonprofits and say, “Hey, why don’t you get together?” I bet you can find a number of funders that have experience asking two organizations to merge, but the lessons learned are kept within the family. They don’t have a forum to share those stories and encourage people to think differently about going from the initial idea of merging to creating a program that’s sustainable.

I think we need to map the different nonprofits visually in terms of access, value, and fees you can see distinct dimensions … but who’s going to make that happen? The funder’s in the position because he gets 20 groups that knock on his door, and he can do a better comparison than the groups on the ground. It’s not that he has the responsibility to do it, but he does have the opportunity.

Greenlights has done a great job of helps nonprofits discover opportunities for synergy. But otherwise there’s nobody driving the train. The Austin Community Foundation would be a great place, though traditionally it has been donor centered. The Community Action Network or the United Way have that macro view that could be enlisted to help with this. The zeitgeist is to say that there are too many nonprofits. The challenge is to flip that and say, “We are the best connected system of nonprofits in the United States.”

Matt Kouri of Greenlights

Matt Kouri, executive director of Greenlights, which helps Central Texas nonprofits by providing consulting, resources, and nonprofit training in areas from fundraising to how to start a nonprofit.

What’s most remarkable about this data we’ve put together is that it validates what I’ve been hearing from funders anecdotally – that we do have a disproportionate share of nonprofit organizations, especially compared to other cities of similar make-up. The data for Austin is not totally inconsistent with what we see in other communities. And we might have a disproportionately large share of nonprofits that don’t serve Central Texas solely or that serve all of Texas. But we share the belief with donors that having too many nonprofits is a problem.

That being said, there are some positive sides to having so many. It can mean that more is being done in our community and that there’s lots of innovative problem solving at work. But it can also mean there are some redundancies and inefficiencies in the sector.

The silver lining in this down economy is that it might force more nonprofits to realize that they can’t cut it on their own and maybe it’s time for them to make some hard decisions. That’s our hope. I can think of at least 10 different organizations now that really need to do it, and they’ve needed to do it for a long time, yet they continue to bang their head against the same wall every year.

As to who’s responsible for identifying and leading these mergers and collaboration, I think funders need to be careful. They aren’t at the street level. They can demand and expect results and impact but it’s the nonprofit’s job to make sure those dollars are spent accordingly. At the same time, funders can exhibit influence over their grantees, especially when they see logical opportunities for collaborations.

Greenlights is investing a lot of time into this issue this year. We worked with RGK to develop a continuum of steps nonprofits can take in terms of strategic consolidation. A lot of nonprofits are already engaged in some form of collaboration, which donors may not realize. But there needs to be a lot more, and it needs to move further down the continuum toward merger.

People who follow the nonprofit sector know that in 2010 it’s going to see some radical changes. We want to help make that change intentional as opposed to just happening to us.

Barry Silverberg of TANO

Barry Silverberg , president and CEO of Texas Association of Nonprofit Organizations, a statewide organization that offers training and support to Texas nonprofits and individuals who want to start a nonprofit.

Personally, I don’t believe in the numbers games because they’re always a function of who’s asking the question. I’m also not concerned with donors who believe they are getting too many requests. I encourage them to make their requirements more clear.

I don’t believe it’s our responsibility to eliminate those choices. Obviously funders can openly decide the fate of the industry by not giving funds, but I don’t believe they’re in the position to say what a nonprofit should do to be more effective. I think the question should be, “How do we get nonprofits to be more effective?”

TANO believe individuals have the right and the means to create better possibilities to serve the community. We help people understand the issue and determine if the best response is to create a nonprofit. From there, we emphasize what it means to run an effective nonprofit.

I think the nonprofit sector has a significant advantage in that people engaged in that sector are able to “do good,” and I don’t think we do enough to leverage that. There are probably too many nonprofits that are ineffective… because they ignore the stuff that could help them be more effective. I also think that funders need to strike a balance between the information they can gather quantitatively on the various forms they use, with the information they gather qualitatively. The fact is, some folks aren’t as good as completing a grant application – but they have a passion that’s unbelievable. That passion, if it’s combined with skill sets and competencies, will result in something effective if it’s guided and focused.

Janet Harman of KDK-Harman Foundation Austin

Janet Harman , founder, and Jenifer Esterline, program officer, KDK-Harman Foundation, a family foundation that focuses on education for economically disadvantaged Central Texans.

Harman : It’s a complex issue because at first glance one would say there are so many that we should consolidate and reduce. However, there’s a lot of room for creativity, so squashing that innovation would be a mistake.

We have actually brought several national nonprofits to Austin, so I couldn’t very well argue that there are too many nonprofits here.

I really think it’s the job of a lot of area foundations and organizations like the Austin Community Foundation and Greenlights, to point out where there is some opportunity to optimize by merger.

We reach out to other funders on a regular basis. In fact, we co-founded an education funders group, Central Texas Education Funders, a little over a year ago. We meet every other month and there are 30 members. One of the projects we’re working on is to put together a matrix of our fundraising efforts to identify the gaps.

Esterline: The model for Central Texas Education Funders is based on the Ready by 21 Coalition, which put together this matrix identifying common indicators, and we’re trying to create a similar one for the funding community. It would help us, but it would also help the nonprofits; they create about 15 different reports to different foundations, so we’re doing this to learn what they’re doing and how they can do it better. Then the other part of that is communicating this information.

As far as whether there are too many nonprofits in Austin, I would say that we are not overwhelmed with requests, but we are pretty focused on what we fund. In conversations among the education funders, we see that everyone’s funding the same nonprofits. They’ve been identified as effective and able to show their impact, so they rise to the top every time.

Everyone has the responsibility to collaborate and communicate. The new face of philanthropy is more transparent, more cooperative. A lot of our colleagues are embracing this because of people like Janet Harman who are young, entrepreneurial, and have a new way of thinking about philanthropy.

To see a list of existing nonprofit collaborations in Austin, click here.

Guess who gives the most during a downturn?

BTW: Along the lines of this article, consider giving $5 to a charity this month. Every bit helps, or as the badass Pamela Benson-Owens puts it: “Even a donation that jingles is a donation.”

I spent yesterday afternoon with seven volunteer leaders from the Capital Area State Employee Charitable Campaign (SECC), learning about how the campaign works and some of their challenges. These are remarkable people who’ve taken on the job – in addition to their full-time job – of inspiring and encouraging their co-workers – tens of thousands of them – to take advantage of the payroll deduction opportunity for charitable donations.

What’s so amazing about their energy is that they wholeheartedly believe, as do we at GivingCity, that all people want to give, and that they just need to be asked or given an easy opportunity to give. The positive vibes in that room made me want to sign up for paycheck deductions, too. And I don’t even work for the state. Or have a paycheck! (My temporary unemployment, though, is a whole ‘nother story.)

One thing they said toward the end, though, has stuck with me. In this sour economy, it’s inevitable that some donors would make smaller or less frequent donations. But there’s a inspiring phenomenon that happens as well.

At a time when everyone is rethinking their spending, more people of less income tend to donate a higher percentage of their income more often.

“People criticize us because we invite state employees who don’t make that much money to participate,” said Tammy Vega, chair of the Capital Area committee.

“Some people assume that they wouldn’t want to give,” said Holly Chacona of Hospice Austin, an active supporter of SECC. “But why would we assume they don’t want to give?

“It’s not about tell people they should, it’s about givine people the opportunity,” says Chacona. “What we’ve seen at Hospice Austin in the past is that donations from individuals from low incomes homes actually increase. They also tend to give a higher percentage of their income that high-income donors do.

“And I don’t know if it’s because maybe they finally feel secure and now they want to help the people below them feel secure. Or that they’ve been recipients of services in the past, and realize that more people are getting those services and so they should help… we just don’t know.”

Vega, who works at Texas Youth Commission, concurs. “We repeatedly see the correctional officers, who don’t make a lot of money in the first place, give the highest percentage of their wages and give on a more consistent basis than a lot of other TYC employees.”

The other part of this, they say, is that a lot of these people wind up giving more later, when the economy improves.

“People don’t mind being asked when you present it as an opportunity,” says Chacona. “This just gives them a chance to shine.”

Update from GC HQ

Wanted to update you on some of what we’re working on…

1. GC3: This issue is our biggest to date, and the most hands-on effort so far. There are probably three times as many photographs and five times as many people included in this issue, and we have to check every single caption, name, word, punctuation, link, etc. Please keep an eye out for it via Facebook, Twitter, and email. We’ll let you know! Also, check out some preview pages below.

2. GC4: We are heavy in execution mode for the next issue with lots of content being made as we speak. We’re looking at a cover story on mentoring – why it’s so effective, why Austin needs it, and how you can support it or get involved. We also have stories planned about the State Employee Charitable Campaign, the Lance Armstrong Foundation, the impact of the Serve Act on Central Texas, church plants, and a few other leads we’re hunting down. Look for a wonderful essay by Sarah Hickman, too.

3. We support and help Hands on Central Texas as much as we can by doing pro bono collateral and content as well as getting the word out about their volunteer opportunities. Right now there’s some fun stuff in the hopper, like a volunteer fair for Hispanics on June 18, some report that we’re making “look pretty,” and a number of volunteer project leadership training sessions over the next few months.

4. We’re looking for advertisers/sponsors for the upcoming issues. I meet so many people who appreciate what we’re trying to do, but the fact is we can’t do it ourselves. And we certainly can’t fund it ourselves. Our business model includes two bottom lines: profit and social impact. It also includes two forms of revenue: advertising and sponsors.

Local businesses, restaurants, consultants, and other professional service providers can really benefit from placing an ad in GC. First, because GC is read by people who really care about the community, these tend to also be people who invest in the community, and that means spending their money locally. Second, because GC is digital, pass-along is X5. And your ad it totally clickable – we link your ad to your Web site. So you can easily track the value of your ad purchase just by checking incoming links. For more information, check out our media kit.

I’ll be seeking advertisers and sponsors for the next few issues as we expand our readership. We’re about to enjoy some really exciting growth over the next few issues, and we’re super excited to help Austin nonprofits get their messages out.

5. As always, please continue to send me your news and story ideas. I can’t cover them all, unfortunately… but we’re working on it.

Thanks again for your support.





How Austin Does Earth Day: Calendar of Earth Day Events

By Amanda D. Quraishi

Earth Day is officially observed on April 22, but we celebrate it all month in Austin. With so many opportunities to celebrate, there’s no excuse not to. Remember, this is what “Don’t Mess with Texas” is all about.

APRIL 18: Earth Day: Gateway to the Green Economy
The Austin Farmers’ Market presents a series of events for the entire family, starting with the Austin Farmer’s Market and eARTh Day Expo. Visitors can expect to find lots of local produce and nature-inspired art. There is a special area set up for Kids; and a free Solar Jam concert featuring local musicians who have each donated a 30-minute set. Sponsors, exhibitors, performers and volunteers are all needed.

Date: Saturday, April 18, 9:00am – 3:00pm
Location: Republic Square Park (4th and Guadalupe)

APRIL 17-19: Green Apple Festival

The Green Apple Festival is a nationwide celebration of Earth Day founded in 2006 by executive producer Peter Shapiro. Cities across the U.S. including New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., and Denver participate by coordinating a series of volunteer opportunities which meet the unique needs of the communities in which they are held. This year, Austin’s Green Apple Festival volunteer opportunities include the Shoal Creek Cleanup, Green Gardening with Keep Austin Beautiful, and the YMCA Healthy Kids Day. Visit the Volunteer link to learn about and sign up for all of the events being held this year.

Date: April 17-19
Location: All over Austin!

April 17-18: LCRA / McKinney Roughs Nature Park Earth Day Festival

The LCRA and McKinney Roughs Nature Park are teaming up for a series of fun events over the weekend before Earth Day.  The fun begins on Friday, April 17 with Stargazing at the Roughs.  The next day the Earth Day Festival features crafts, activity booths, nature and animal presentations, vendors, food and music.  Later that day the Earth Day Kayak Trip allows kids and adults to enjoy the Colorado River wildlife and scenery.

Date: April 17-18
Location: McKinney Roughs Nature Park, Hwy 71 13.2 miles east of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on the westbound side.
Contact: (512) 303-5073  /

APRIL 22: Keep Austin Beautiful: Lady Bird Lake Cleanup (VOLUNTEERS NEEDED)
KAB will lead a team of volunteers to clean up the beloved Lady Bird Lake and Trail.  This area is a favorite destination for thousands of Austinites each week and we all have a stake in keeping it beautiful.

Date: April 22
Location: North shore of Lady Bird Lake underneath I35
Contact: Andrea Dravigne, 610-7768 or

APRIL 22: ACES: Earth Day Luncheon
The Austin Coalition for Environmental Sustainability will hold a luncheon, silent auction and musical reception along with other fun events at Jay C. Hormel Nature Center.
Date: April 22, noon
Location: Ruby Rupner Auditorium / Jay C. Hormel Nature Center
Contact: Susan Hurm,
Volunteers: Susan Hurm,

APRIL 22: Free Reusable Bags from HEB

In celebration of Earth Day, H-E-B is striving to remove 1.5 million plastic bags from the environment.  Next Wednesday, April 22 from 3pm to 7 pm, customers can bring in 5 plastic bags and receive one reusable bag for free. H-E-B hopes to give out 300,000 reusable bags in a four-hour period. No purchase is necessary, but there is a limit of one free reusable bag per customer, and the free bags will only be available between 3 P.M. – 7 P.M. while supplies last.

Date: April 22, 3:00 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Location: All HEB stores

APRIL 25-26: Eastside Café: Recycling Challenge! (VOLUNTEERS NEEDED!)
The Eastside Café is calling for volunteers to join teams of non-profit organizations for the Art City Austin Recycling Challenge.  Volunteers will man recycling stations and the winning team will receive $1000 for the non-profit organization.  As an incentive, the volunteers will receive free admission to the festival (regular ticket price is $8/$15 for two-day pass), a t-shirt, and an invitation to the volunteer appreciation party.  Art City Austin is a fantastic art festival with over 20,000 visitors expected this year.

Date: April 25-26
Location: Along Cesar Chavez Street from Colorado Street to Lamar
Contact: (512-476-5858 /

Amanda Quraishi is a freelance writer, professional blogger and activist.  She’s spent nine years working in the trenches of the Austin non-profit community in roles ranging from volunteer to executive director.  This year she was honored by the National Women’s History Project as one of the Women Helping to Save the Planet because of her work on her sustainable style blog Fashion, Evolved (  You can learn more about Amanda’s freelance writing on her online Ezine: