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.”

The truth behind “Contact your congressman!”

One of the best, most informative parts of Turk Pipkin’s new film, “One Peace at a Time,” is his interview with U.S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett, who represents part of Austin and seven counties southeast of Austin.

After traveling the world to see the true impact of organizations like Austin-based charities, The Miracle Foundation and A Glimmer of Hope, Pipkin sat down with Congressman Doggett to ask about the often-heard call-to-action, “Contact your congressman.” He wanted to know if that was actually effective.

I don’t remember Doggett’s exact words, but the impression I got was that Doggett finds these absolutely effective – but only if your communication is sincere and meaningful.  Doggett said the reality of those “Contact your congressman” mass emails he receives from auto-generating forms don’t have the impact of well-written email or letter from an individual. And even then, it takes a large number of those more sincere emails for the message to get through.

I liked that he was honest. We can all guess that our congressmen receive a lot of emails, letters, and phone calls from people wanting them to vote a certain way or support a certain bill, and that it’s impossible to heed each of their requests. I also liked that Doggett seemed to put the responsibility on us to make that meaningful connection with our representatives.

Because it is our responsibility. Nonprofits cannot do it all. I’ve heard that a lot lately, from the nonprofit and the government agency communities. Both say that our efforts to change the world have to come through both channels. And it’s important to note that both communities have said this – not in critical ways – but in empowering ways.

I met with the leaders of the Texas  State Employee Charitable Campaign last week about their communication needs for the fall 2009 campaign. The campaign consists of 10,000+ state employees from 10 agencies (like Texas Youth Commission, Comptroller of Public Accounts, Workforce Commission, and others) from all over Texas who gave almost $10 million to charity in 2007. (The Capital Area employees alone gave more than $2 million.) What’s remarkable is that these are people who have chosen civil service to work for the people of Texas and who also choose to support the people of Texas through regular deductions from their paychecks.

I think it was Reuben Leslie of Texas Health and Human Services Commission, who’s been part of the campaign since 2005, who told me, “Nonprofits can’t do it alone. Government can’t do it alone. We have to work together. And we need the people of Texas to support that work.”

We ask a lot from our state agencies and our nonprofit charities and our foundations, and we expect them to read our minds and/or do the caring for us. Whether we write an email to our representative, make a donation, or learn about an important issue in our community, we can show our support for their efforts. Remember, we have the easy part.


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