GivingCity Austin Issue #4

Cover of GivingCity Austin Issue 4

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Inside this issue:

John Thornton launches the new Texas Tribune website, the $4 million nonprofit. Learn how you can help reduce the number of high school dropouts in Austin. Sara Hickman offers the merits of volunteering with your children. Thousands of state employees in Central Texas give millions to local charities every year – who knew? The Lance Armstrong Foundation is a global organization with a local commitment. Just because you’re unemployed doesn’t mean there’s not work you can do. Dozens of small churches are cropping up in Central Texas, ready to serve. Finally understand what all this Obama “call to action” business is about. Alissa Magrum starts a nonprofit with a jersey and a dream.

WIN A WISH LIST JERSEY! We’re giving away a Wish List Jersey to the person who best describes their reason for participating in a “ride for the cure.” Do you ride for someone you care about? Have you participated in a ride that had a particular impact? DOWNLOAD this issue and visit the WIN A WISH LIST JERSEY page to enter.

FEEDBACK! Tell us what you think below. Thanks for your support!

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.

For I Live Here, I Give Here – and for GC – patience

I go to church. There, I said it. I attend Shepherd of the Hills Presbyterianon William Cannon. I go to church for a lot of reasons, but the two biggest drivers are my children and the Reverend Larry Coulter.

Larry does exactly what I’ve always believed a church leader is supposed to do: He tells us what to do. There’s no more mystery! It’s obvious! Just do whatever Larry says on Sunday, and you’re golden!

What I mean is that he starts with the Bible, explains the passage by giving you the back story, offering a little about the main characters, the historical context, all the ways that passage has been interpreted. It’s interesting, actually. Then he turns on the light by telling you a relevant story from his own life. He’s had quite a life. Finally he makes a suggestion, and it’s usually something along the lines of, “… and so this is what God wants us to do.”

And somewhere in there, I have a little revelation. “Oh,” I think, “that’s what that means.

So today, when I read Andrea Ball’s column about the Campaign for Philanthropy in Austin, a.k.a. I Live Here, I Give Here, I thought about Larry’s sermon this morning about patience. (Mostly, I bring up Larry so I can source him, but he’s so much more articulate about this, that I wish I could quote him word for word.)

See, what Larry talked about today was patience and “active waiting.” It’s about identifying what you can control and what you can’t, and preparing in the meantime for the event you’re waiting for. He likened it to farmers, waiting for rain. Farmers can’t control the weather, of course, but they can buy the seed, sharpen the plow, prepare the soil, and perform other tasks within their control. In fact, if they don’t do those things, they essentially forfeit the event they’ve been waiting for.

So we wait, but we don’t just sit there and complain about how people in Austin should care more about their community. The I Live Here, I Give Here campaign launched in September 2007, and the main reason I know this is because I had coffee with Patsy Woods Martin two days after the kick-off at City Hall. I wanted to ask her for feedback on the idea of a philanthropy and charity magazine in Austin. You can read my post from that meeting here.

ILH,IGH and GivingCity are both almost two years old now. And we’re still waiting. Are we making a difference in Austin? Are more people giving now as a result of our efforts? Has this been a good investment of our time, money, sweat, and tears?

I have no idea, but I thank God for Larry. Maybe we’re not having a significant impact now, but I bet we will in the long run. These are, after all, seeds we’re planting. We nurture them, we protect them, we pray for them, and we wait.

NEW! GivingCity Austin Issue 3

 GivingCity Austin Issue 3 cover

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Inside this issue:

The New Philanthropists
We photograph the young, active, and engaged people making a difference in Austin now.

Are There Too Many Nonprofits in Austin?
“Yes, no… maybe. That depends.”  We let the experts have their say.

Unscripted Collaboration
The We Are One video proves nonprofits can – and do – work together.

Tom Spencer on Austin’s philanthropic culture.
An all-girls football game for charity.
What you don’t know about Goodwill.
The “social entrepreneur” poster child.
What’s so cool about Leadership Austin?
Teaching philanthropy in schools.
New Austin-born films about giving.
Mando Rayo’s argument for social media.
Katie Ford’s encounter with the convicted.
DJ Stout’s SIGNS for change.
…and photos from the fundraising event, Austin Under 40.

SEND THIS ISSUE to a friend.

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:

GivingCity Austin Issue 2


GivingCity Austin Issue 2

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GivingCity Austin is about encouraging you to …

Learn more about where you live
Share what you learn with people you know
Figure out how you might make a difference in the community
Find a nonprofit to support – or start one yourself!
Be a better philanthropist

GivingCity Austin, Issue 2 is about….

Balancing Work/Life/Service by Evan Smith
Speaking Up for East Austin by Christopher Jones
Brian Luck on the impact one man can have on Austin’s homeless
Sam Woollard on why now’s the time to make a difference
How you can help this 24-year-old Austin woman with breast cancer
Which is better to give, stuff of money?
New data on Austin kids
How buying Girl Scout cookies helps grow girl entrepreneurs
How Innu Salon keeps philanthropy in the mix
Mando Rayo on what we’re supposed to do now
Kyle Canon on taking the next step in volunteering
How two social entrepreneurs are addressing two major needs in Austin


Send us a note to make sure you get the email with a link to the next issue.

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