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.

Top 3 mistakes non-video people make when making videos – learn more at VideoCamp Austin!

This Saturday, David Neff is once again bringing one of his signature events – combining video, marketing, good causes and how-to, hands-on information – to the masses.

The event is VideoCamp Austin, and it’s for anyone with a small budget and lots to say and who wants to learn or perfect how they use video to say it.

I asked Dave for some details about VCA (if I should be so bold as to call it that), and got some good stuff….

1. How did VideoCamp come about? What’s the mission?

After I finished up work on Non Profit Bar Camp my good friend Talmadge Boyd approached me about what it would take to do VideoCamp Austin. The rest is history.

Our mission is a simple one. To bring video to the people by holding a day long conference where anyone can come out and learn how to shoot, capture, and edit video as well as make video social.

2. Who’s attending? What can they expect to learn?

Over 250 people from all around Texas. They can expect to learn everything from how to write a grant to get film equipment to how to turn a camera on to how to prepare 3D Video in Final Cut Pro

3. What are the top three mistakes most non-video people make when creating online videos?

They let their Executive Directors talk the whole time, they never show the mission in action, they don’t give a clear action item for the audience.

4. Okay, let’s reverse that: What are the top three mistakes by video-makers when they’re trying to promote their work?

They don’t listen to their audience before they make the film, they don’t respond to their community when it talks back and they don’t repeat the message enough.

5. In the end, what would qualify this event as a success?

If we have over 200 people show up who want to learn and participate!

More about VideoCamp Austin:

The FREE one day ad-hoc gathering of video, public relations, new media, and marketing professionals will offer discussions, demos and interaction from participants, who are the main actors of the event.

When: February 27, 2010 10:00 AM – 4PM
Where: Jesse H. Jones Communication Center – Building B – CMB, 2504 Whitis Avenue, Austin, TX 78705, Studio 4B
Here’s more details and how to sign up:

3 GivingCity stories I wish I could do…

I just don’t have the time. And I’d be happy to assign them but I just don’t have the money. So instead, these stories sit and wait. Would you believe I mentally sketch out GivingCity stories all the time? Very frustrating.

1. Giving Circles

Reportedly, giving circles are on the rise and proving to be very popular among donors. Examples of giving circles include groups like Impact Austin and the recently formed Futuro Fund.

But while they’re a great way to empower the giver and pool individual donations to make a bigger impact, the size of the donations limits the nonprofits the giving circle could consider. Impact Austin, for example, awarded five grants of $102,000 each. In order for a nonprofit to handle that amount of money, it needs to have the infrastructure in place, and apparently that takes a pretty sophisticated and established organization.

Does this matter? I think only if more donors join giving circles than choose to give as individuals. But I’m not sure. To write this story I’d start with Rebecca Powers who founded Impact Austin and who advises other giving circles.  From there I’d talk to development professionals of large and small nonprofits. The point would be to help you decide whether to join a giving circle and, for you nonprofit pros, how to win the grant.

2. Slacktivism

Another trend that bothers me, though I can’t figure out why. I’m not against them but I also can’t quite support them. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve done this myself. Examples of slacktivism include

  • RT a Tweet from a nonprofit seeking volunteers or donations.
  • Attending a Tweet-up or Charity Bash-type function where your intentions are really just to party
  • Joining a Cause on Facebook
  • 26 Miles for 26 Charities (maybe)

I’m all for people engaging in their community at any level, but I worry these simple, non-committal acts are a replacement for real engagement. For this story I’d interview some of the beneficiaries of these “party for charity” events, some development people on how much work it takes to create and manage a Facebook cause – and whether the return is worth it – and some of the organizers of these event to find out if they feel they’re achieving their goals.

I’d want to reader to come away with permission to engage in these activities but I’d want to make sure they understood the real impact of their action.

3. Social Entrepreneurship

What the hell is it? I’m reading, learning, talking, linking and just overall trying to soak in as much information as I can about this emerging trend. Apparently, the concept of genuine social entrepreneurship is still new to Austin, but there are lots of folks trying to create a bottom  line of social impact.

From what I understand, social entrepreneurs identify a social need first, devise a solution, then worry how to pay for it. Their bottom line measures social impact. As opposed to entrepreneurs who identify a market, create a product or service for that market, then worry about how to pay for it. Their bottom line measure profit. I think.

The point of the story would be to explain all this, offer some examples of social entrepreneurship here in Central Texas, offer some kind of five-step how-to become a social entrepreneur sidebar and explain why it’s so difficult to “sell” this concept to the nonprofit world and to consumers.

So many stories, so little time.

I don’t write the press releases, I just skim them

I don’t read them, for the most part. Here’s why:

They are structured and written as if I have all the time in the world to read them.
They are an email attachment I don’t want to open.
They include quotes that are obviously made up.
And some of them don’t actually pertain to any real news at all.

Now, the last thing the world needs is another blogger complaining about press releases. We blogger types actually need this information. We want you to send it to us. It’s just… I’m kind of busy. Super busy, actually. So what would be great is if you could give me the info in bits. Don’t make me read a sentence if I don’t have to. I’m not lazy, really, it’s just that I have so much to read.

A lot of you know this. There’s a team of public relations people out there – PetersGroup folks, for example – who are just so on the ball. They know exactly what you need, they deliver great information, they hook you up with a great interview… all the stuff that makes me open their emails as soon as I receive them.

Then there are others who seem to think I’m some kind of sucker. Not all corporations can be “the leading” whatever in whatever field. And the run-on sentence leads, in which you describe the entire history of your organization before you tell me what it is you’re writing about today, those can go.

And just, in general, a press release that’s written as if you don’t really want me to know what the company is really about… that’s not intrigue, people, that’s annoying.

And the other thing is, I know some of these bogus press releases don’t come from you. They come from your client who insists – pays you – to issue a press release on these non-stories. Fine, I can understand those releases once in a while.

But there’s no mystery to all this, I think. Don’t worry about following a particular style or making it sound like something it’s not. Just tip me off to a good story in a quick and casual way. In the body of an email. With photos and captions, if you have them. That would be great.

Thanks, and keep them coming.

How to become a civic leader

Autsin offers a lot of opportunities to learn more about growing your civic leadership skills – Leadership Austin, Greenlights, United Way all offer some form of training. Here’s another opportunity for you to break in to civic engagement…

This Thursday, May 22, United Way, UT, and Hands On Central Texas will offer a free course, “Community Workshop – Innovation & Creativity,” from 6 to 7:30 pm.

Coming up with a good idea is difficult—putting that idea to work is even harder. Learn how to discover the needs and aspirations of the community, generate ideas to engage those needs and aspirations, and develop a plan for putting your ideas into action.”

Click here to learn more about the course and sign up.