A new record for state employees: $2.3 million donated!

We really like follow-up stories like this.

In the last issue of GivingCity Austin (link opens PDF), we ran a story about the Texas State Employees Charitable Campaign and how Central Texans who work for the state donate a phenomenal amount of their paychecks to the local nonprofit community. In 2008, donations from Central Texas state employees were just under $2.2 million.

No one expected the SECC to beat the 2008 number – a record… until 2009. In its most recent campaign, which ended in October, Central Texas state employees committed to almost $2.3 million. Not only that, many more nonprofits are raising their hands to be a part of the campaign.

The SECC organizers – all volunteers and state employees – raised margaritas to themselves last week, congratulating themselves, and all the employees who signed up to donate, for beating the odds in this down economy. Way to go, Tammy, Debbie, Reuben, Gretchen, and the rest of the SECC team!

Central Texas nonprofits interested in being a part of the 2010 campaign should contact Jackie Rogers  (512.225.0378) at United Way Capital Area (which helps administer the campaign) by Friday, April 2, at 5 p.m. There’s an application to complete.

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.

You can help get Austin kids to college. Here’s how.

Two new collaborations kicking off this month are determined to get more Austin kids ready for college, and they could use your help.

Mentoring Austin middle school students

The first is a mentoring project called 1 Hour for Kids, which was created by United Way Capital Area to forge the efforts of eight Austin nonprofits that serve children in their middle school years. The goal is to recruit 400 volunteers by late fall to mentor an at-risk student from one of six Austin middle schools.

Why middle school? The collaborators found that there are fewer mentors and other support systems catered to this age group than others, a lost opportunity considering that research shows that middle school students with at least one supportive adult in their lives are almost twice as likely to graduate as those who do not.

The genius of 1 Hour for Kids, though, is a revelation, at least for the volunteers. If you’re considering being a mentor for a student in Austin, you’ve probably browsed the obvious opportunities, but if you dig a little deeper, you’d find many more opportunties beyond that. That’s when it gets complicated, right?

But what 1 Hour for Kids does, as evidenced even by its compelling name, is make it simple to identify the right opportunity for you. It comes down to a simple quiz that helps you figure out what you care about. And you take it online. And from there, you sign up. It’s this straightforward entry structure that demystifies mentoring a bit. I’m always on the lookout for this myself -things that inspire the people who are thinking about community engagement to take that first step – and I love when a nonprofit makes this a priority.

They’ve even taken advantage of social networking sites to let you direct friends to the cause. (And now I direct you! See the Facebook page. Join the cause. Invite @aplusk, whpever.)

Now, the process of becoming a mentor is… a process. They don’t just send you the name of a kid and you send him an email and go see a movie. There are background checks and a little training to take, etc., before they put someone else’s child in your hands. But neither do they leave you to your own devices after you’ve gone through the training. There are guidelines, suggestions, and an on-staff support person mentoring the mentor, so to speak.

But once you’ve gone through the training, you’ll find being a mentor can come naturally. Every positive effort you make to be a part of a child’s life has an enormous impact. Mentors I’ve spoken to describe how startling and significant the rewards of mentoring can be. We’re going to speak to several mentors to learn more about this in our next issue.

CLICK HERE to learn more.

College readiness workshop

The second is a college readiness workshop that kicked off this past weekend.

Saturday was the first of eight full-day workshops for Austin students accepted or enrolled in college. Now, if you went to college and think back on the many opportunities you had to totally blow it, you can see why a little extra direction from wise elders might help. So a group of them, lead by E3 Alliance, The Blueprint for Educational Change, and the University of Texas Institute for Public School Initiatives created a series of workshops to cover all those non-academic challenges. 

The workshops will cover topics like financial aid, social life, money management… lots of things I wish someone had prepared me for. And the information will be presented by experts as well as other college students. The audience will consist of 250 students who come from low-income families and may be the first from their families to attend college.

And here’s some interesting information: As an added incentive, the UT System donated a total of four $1,000 scholarship awards to be drawn during the event on June 27th. These awards are for parents/guardians in attendance on either day may enter. The winners must be a parent/guardian of a student attending a college anywhere in the U.S.
In addition, Advance Micro Devices (AMD) and Applied Materials have each contributed a $1000 scholarship, available to any student who is registered and participates in the CTC program on any of the other dates.

When and Where:
June 20: UT School of Social Work, Room 2.112

June 25: ACC Highland Business Center, Room 220

June 26: ACC Highland Business Center, Room 220

June 27: UT School of Social Work, Room 2.116

July 1: ACC Highland Business Center, Room 220

July 2: ACC Highland Business Center, Room 301

July 16: ACC Highland Business Center, Room 301

July 17: ACC Highland Business Center, Room 301

CLICK HERE to learn more.

Please share these opportunities with people you know.

5 Reasons Why We Still Need United Way

The recent news about United Way Capital Area having to lay off 10  employees is disheartening. UW runs pretty lean, and the people there work around the clock and even on weekends to accomplish their mission. When you work for United Way you take on a lifestyle, not just a job.

Andrea Ball’s story was on the money; what got me was the comments. Can it really be that United Way doesn’t have a place in the nonprofit environment anymore?

As a recent data-pull by Greenlights shows (see our third issue for the story, “Are There Too Many Nonprofits?”), Austin has plenty of frontlines service providers, maybe too many. The concern is that not all of these nonprofits are effective, so one idea is to increase collaboration and maybe even mergers. From what I understood in putting the story together, collaborations can be more effective and more efficient than what a nonprofit can accomplish on its own.

But who’s out there putting these collaborations together? Nonprofits individually can be so in the weeds trying to get their own work done that they can’t spend enough time looking around for help. That’s where agencies like United Way can come in.

I talked to John Turner, United Way’s director of marketing, to run by him some of the reasons why I think UW still has value. These are just some of the things I thought of off the top of my head:

1. Collaborations like Success By 6, which brings together more than 30 local nonprofits, community leaders, and concerned businesses to build more quality into the network of early childhood centers. SB6 has helped more than double the number of early childhood centers with a quality rating in two years.
2. Their 24×7 helpline 2-1-1 Texas, which fielded almost 200,000 calls last year from Central Texans in need of assistance, connecting them with help, whether with utility bills, finding a local food bank to escaping Hurricane Ike.
3. The over $140 million UW has raised in the past eight years for the community and nonprofits. What would happen if they were not here to go out and raise it? Most organizations do not have the resources or capacity to go out and raise that kind of money. It takes money to do it, and UW is an efficient way to collect and distribute donations.
4. The community engagement arm, Hands on Central Texas, organized and mobilized more than 2,500+ volunteers last year, and 3,000+ volunteer connection to agencies. They contributed over 6,000 hours to help local nonprofits and schools, again providing a valuable service to the local community.
5. Their new collaboration One Hour For Kids, which has several partners including E3, AISD and Manor ISD, and is recruiting volunteer mentors and tutors for middle school kids to help improve the drop out rate.

Again, these are the programs and accomplishments I can think of; UW does so much more than this. And I’m certainly not alone in my perception of UW being efficient. Charity Navigator, an independent online charity evaluator, gives it its highest rating for efficiency.

Thing is, United Way Captial Area does important work. And just because they’re reducing staff doesn’t mean they can scale back their mission. So how’s this going to work? There are only so many hours in the day…

If you think you can’t help United Way, think again. Any sized donation helps, but I invite you to share your thoughts about United Way with people you know or reach out to United Way to find out how you can support their work.

In fact, reach out to ANY nonprofit in Central Texas. They could all use a little more help these days.

How to tell your friends to Give5

The United Way Capital Area is a great opportunity to get first-time donors keen on the idea of philanthropy. It’s happening now and through Memorial Day weekend… but they’ll probably take your $5 any time of the year.

So YOU give money, and you want to encourage your friends, co-workers, and family to give some money… but what do you say? The following are some suggestions for conversation starters.

“Sorry I’m late for the meeting. I was donating $5 to the Austin United Way online and the stupid computer froze up. Did that happen for you guys, too?”

“Saw this homeless woman on my way in to work. I was thinking, you know, if each of us put in $5, we could probably feed that woman for a week. We should just do that, you know? There’s this Web site…”

“You know the sales this weekend will be awesome. And there are lots of stores that are donating 5 or 10 percent of sales to the Austin United Way… like I need an excuse to shop!”

“Did you know [INSERT NAME] just got laid off?  Sucks. All these people not working… and you know if every person here put in $5, we could probably pay their bills for a month? There’s this Web site…”

“Dude, it’s $5. Don’t be so cheap. Just go online and use the AutoFill. And hurry up, we’re late.”

Here’s where to send them: http://www.unitedwaycapitalarea.org/give5/

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.





VIDEOS: We ask McCracken/Leffingwell about growing culture of philanthropy in Austin

The United Way’s Spring Day of Caring event always brings out the crowds, and the most recent on April 24 was no different. This time, though, it also brought out the mayoral candidates.

Candidates addressed the crowd of volunteers, encouraging them and mostly staying away from any campaign talk. It was nice to have their support. Brewster McCracken talked a bit about Austin’s great spirit of giving; JD Gins, who showed up for an ill Lee Leffingwell, made similar comments to the crowd; and Carole Strayhorn threw some energetic one-liners that sounded like they truly came from the heart. (I heard she stayed for the whole morning, working on a volunteer project.)

After the pep rally, we spoke to McCracken, Leffingwell, and Strayhorn, though an equipment malfunction totally ruined the interview with Carole. Sorry, Mrs. Strayhorn. (Thanks to the Leffingwell team, who let me borrow the rechargeable batteries from their own Flip.)

We chatted with them about volunteering and asked for their thoughts on how Austin could do philanthropy better. See the videos below.

A couple of things here intrigue me, mostly J.D.’s reference to a “Mayor’s Corp.” I wonder how this will turn out?

Thanks for the invitation, United Way. And thanks for letting me bring my son along. He took some … interesting photos. Might post those later.