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.

Buy a sick-cute pet calendar, support a new nonprofit in Austin

I love discovering new Austin nonprofits, so when Brittani Bash contacted me about, I had to know more.

Plus… I mean, you gotta love this calendar (see below). Ridiculous and sick-cute at the same time.

1. What service do you offer pet owners in our community?

Austin Pet Finder offers pet owners easy access to online pet information in Central Texas. At you’ll find a growing resource for Central Texas pet owners, animal shelters, rescue organizations and veterinarians. We have a user friendly database for those wanting to post an ad in our lost and found database. We also provide essential information on pet health, Austin dog parks, pet friendly hotels, eateries and more!

2. What inspired the site? What need is it filling?

Austin Pet Finder was founded by Austin native, Katherine Holtry, in the summer of 2009. Katherine is a wife, mother and has been a radio and television personality for over a decade.

Katherine’s true passion is pets. As a child, she was always bringing home stray animals, and even today her household consists of several stray cats and dogs. APF was initiated on Facebook after Katherine rescued a stray kitten from a South Austin strip mall. Thanks to APF, the stray kitten enjoys a wonderful life with her loving adoptive family. Shortly after that time, APF acquired

3. What are some ways we can help it grow?

Two ways:

1. In January 2010, APF’s first annual calendar was designed in hopes of taking its cause to the next level, becoming a non-profit organization. Calendars can be purchased online here.

2. We need volunteers. Our organization could not exist without volunteers.

Fundraising – APF is completely dependent on donations. Assist in all aspects of finding individual and business sponsors; develop and assist with fundraising events.

Marketing/PR/Graphic Design – Help educate the public about APF and our mission. Seek out public speaking opportunities; presentations at local fairs and other events; distribute PR materials at events and local businesses. Create a variety of promotional materials including brochures, ads, posters and flyers.

Volunteer Coordination – Assist in all aspects of recruiting, orienting, determining placement of, and coordinating volunteers for APF.

Write – Contribute a variety of marketing materials.

To help, contact Brittani,  Operations Director at 512 413-1064, or

Feria Para Aprender: The biggest Austin education event you’ve never heard of

Feria Para Aprender Austin

When I first heard about Feria Para Aprender, I was shocked. How is it that I don’t know about an education fair in Austin attended by 15,000 Spanish-speaking Austinites in its three years?

Am I the only one in Austin who didn’t know about this? Apparently it was brought to Austin Partners in Education by Hispanic leader Sylvia Acevedo, and it caught on like wildfire. Wow. Here’s some background about Feria from their Facebook page: (Become a FAN!)

Overview: Feria Para Aprender is an education fair for Spanish-speaking parents and students in the greater Austin community. This one-day event brings together over 75 non-profit organizations, school district departments and universities to spread the message that education is the key to economic prosperity.

strong>Mission: Over the last 3 years, Feria Para Aprender has reached over 15,000 Spanish-speaking parents and students by providing educational resources and materials entirely in Spanish. Feria Para Aprender has also raised awareness of the need for bilingual staff members in local non-profit organizations.

Feria Para Aprender spreads the “Para Una Buena Vida” message:

1. Graduate from high school and earn $1 million in your lifetime.
2. Graduate from college and earn an additional $1 million in your lifetime.
3. Learning English and Spanish fluently will give you more employment opportunities and higher salaries.

How you can get involved: Feria Para Aprender couldn’t happen without the support of hundreds of volunteers. Volunteers are need throughout the day on Friday, February 5 to help set up activities and equipment as well as sort the thousands of donated books. Spanish-speaking volunteers are encouraged to volunteer at the event to help guide parents and facilitate the numerous activities around the Expo Center grounds.

Please visit to register for as an exhibitor or a volunteer.

For more information, please contact Christin Alvarado at

Consider the citizen philanthropist

Social media has given voice to the individual philanthropist and there is a great deal of good that can come from opening up the process of philanthropy and helping redefine what it means to champion a cause you personally care about.

– Kari Dunn Saratovsky, Vice President of Social Innovation at the Case Foundation

People find out about GivingCity – nonprofit professionals, PR people, young professionals, everyday folks I can’t categorize – and they ask for help. Either they want us to help publicize something or they want to pick our brains about the nonprofit community.

We are totally happy to help.

But I don’t know whether it’s because I’m an avid user of social media or because there’s a growing trend toward this, but I would say about 75 percent of the people who reach out to GivingCity are what Mashable calls “citizen philanthropists.”

Like me, these citizen philanthropists reach for the easiest and cheapest tools available for spreading the word about their cause. For us that’s been, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and – in the works – a LinkedIn group. Love love love for the free social media tools that have helped us take GivingCity from a cute idea to a broadcast and publishing channel in its own right.

And like me, they’ve identified a flaw in the system, a need in the community that’s not being served from their perspective. So instead of complaining about it to their friends over tap beer at a sticky happy hour table, they start something. They do something about it.

There is a place for citizen philanthropy, whether old-school nonprofits want to admit it or not. But citizen philanthropists have a responsibility to do their research and look for ways to contribute to existing efforts – stand on the shoulders of existing nonprofits rather than dismiss them as a dysfunctional organization. Consider the possibility that nonprofits may know more than you about how to serve their clients.

Nonprofits have a responsibility, too. Open the door. Find a way to support, empower and engage these citizen philanthropists. Make it a priority. Consider the possibility that a nimble and passionate individual can push the world forward, too.

“Just think — what would the civil rights movement have looked like if it were blogged and tweeted like the Iran revolution of 2009,” asked Hargro. “What if Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s passionate and prescient words were tweeted and retweeted worldwide?”

Still looking for work? How to stand out from the crowd

David Hughen thinks about work differently than most of us do. He’s in HR.

Specifically, he’s a strategic HR consultant and business coach at Austin WorkNet, which means he talks to a lot of people looking for employees and employers. So there’s something to be said for his perspective.

David contributed this to our latest issue of GivingCity Austin, and I thought it was worth excerpting here for those of you who might need a dose of inspiration on your job search. Good luck!

In response to this emerging work dynamic, I’ve rethought how I approach these career discussions. Though I’m happy to have a pay-it-forward discussion with someone about “what’s next,” I need to make it more relevant to our current times. Why go through the motions when the very nature of work is being redefined?

This new approach to work should place an emphasis on how folks who are unemployed, under-employed or  nervously employed can distinguish themselves from the other job seekers and define themselves for the long-term.

We’ve come to know that organizations, whether for-profit or non-profit, are under intense pressure to be effective. Thus, the notion of work is emerging with new definitions.

Noted author Charles Handy has suggested that “working organizations” are not in the position to be an alternative community providing meaning and work for one’s adult life. Instead, Handy’s view is that if we each considered ourselves “self employed” throughout our working life, we would never be unemployed.

So my Starbucks sessions now take a different course. If I can gain the trust of this individual who is anxious, stressed, unsure of the future, and at a low point of confidence, then I press upon them the
following principles:

Become a brand

A deep, honest exploration of your skills, interests and competencies serves as the definition of your “brand.” Turn your brand on by giving it a name (something more creative than “Jan Enterprises,” please!), create a website, a domain name, a logo, business cards, a charter statement.

Think about it. When you’ve met someone at a party and asked “what do you,” the job seeker’s response may be “WelL, I’m looking for a job.” Wouldn’t you be better served by responding to that question with your business card and your brand’s charter?

This takes some exercising of different muscles. But, in time, your brand becomes the essence of who you are.

If you have a traditional job—working for an employer as an employee—then your brand is partially, but not exclusively, defined by that job. You have the luxury of carrying two business cards.

Connect your brand to a nonprofit
Your personal definition gains depth and substance when you share your expertise freely and willingly with organizations
doing good in the community. And when I say “share your expertise” I mean find out how you can help the nonprofit improve its operations by applying your expertise.

This act of giving is a form of personal, mental health. It’s the gift that gives back in a number of ways. Practically speaking, it keeps your chops sharp when you aren’t working a traditional job and gives you access to the nonprofit’s well-connected board of directors. It ties you to people who sacrifice every day to give back to the community for low or no pay. That’s a crucial perspective and a grounding force.

There’s something bigger than you

Having spent 10 years in the world of startup, entrepreneurial companies I’ve come to understand the value of humility. In small, fast-moving organizations, you have the greatest likelihood of fitting in with the team if you carry yourself without a sense of entitlement.

Knowing that there’s something infinitely greater than you in this world provides a different perspective. People are more likely to be associated with you when you present yourself in this manner. It means you’re more willing to flex into new situations. And, when it comes to defining your brand, this sense of humility provides substance that goes beyond definition. It’s who you are no matter how you define your work.

Dec-Jan: If you can write, you can help an Austin student make their college dream a reality

College Forward students need help with essays

Please consider the following questions:

  1. Can you write?
  2. Did you go to college?
  3. Do you like helping others?

If you answered “yes” to the above questions then you can make a tremendous difference in an Austin student’s life – and their family and their community – by helping Austin seniors write college scholarship essays.

Thanks to College Forward, there are a number of Austin kids who are the first from their families to be accepted to college. But now they have to find a way to pay for it.

Okay, maybe this wasn’t your favorite part of getting ready for college. But you’re different now. You’ve been through college; you know what they’re looking for. And now you can finally put your college years to work! Imagine this for a moment:

Picture sitting at a desk with a student, going over her essay, helping her identify parts of the story she left out. Now picture her saying thank you and promising to let you know how it turns out. Now picture yourself finding out she’d won that scholarship – thanks to you.

How amazing would that be?

You can be one of the 40 volunteers College Forward needs to make all this happen. Here’s some information:

When: Saturdays, Dec. 5, 12, 19 and Jan. 9
Time: 10am-2pm (you’ll attend a short training session before the workshop)
Where: 312 W. Murray Ave. Manor, TX 78653

To learn more and sign up, contact volunteer coordinator Karena Rogers or 512-452-4800 ext. 225 to

P.S. Have you heard about College Forward? They’re an Austin-born nonprofit that helps low-income and first-generation students consider, apply for, navigate and attend college. Since 2003 its helped hundreds of Austin students and this year its students have been accepted to more than 70 colleges and universities  – and that’s just in this past November!

According to Jesse Noyes of College Forward, “We also help students STAY in college. A lot of our students, since they are first-generation college students, need support while they are in college and that’s a big part of what we do, supporting students while in college.”

And here’s where you fit it: These students have come so far, and now they have to pay for it! So please spend a little time this Saturday – or one of the following Saturdays – to help.

Real progress! East Austin doing something about drop-outs


Imagine having no middle school for your child. That’s the situation for many East Austin families. A new middle school not only fills that void, it creates an innovative learning environment that prepares these kids for college – not just high school but college.

Tomorrow night (November 5), Southwest Key will host an open house for the East Austin College Prep Academy. They’re very proud. And they want everyone to attend.

We had a feature about mentoring and middle school and drop-out rates in AISD in our latest issue (download it here). Frankly, the numbers scare the hell out of me. And if you plan to raise a family in Austin, they should scare you, too.

Great news: Not only can you do something about it, others are doing something about it, too.

Southwest Key has a weird name but you should get to know them because they are the largest Hispanic-serving nonprofit in Austin. They started this middle school where there was none, and it’s going to make a huge difference in Austin’s Hispanic community.

We talked to John Turner, the Interim Director of Communications for Southwest Key.

1. This year there were 90 sixth graders that started the academy. Next year you’ll have a seventh grade and then an eighth grade campus. Who are these students and what middle schools/high schools would they otherwise attend?

We are based in the Govalle/Johnston Terrace neighborhood in East Austin, a neighborhood that has not had a middle school for many years. As there is no local middle school, the students were being bused out to middle schools in other parts of the city.

 Our students come from 26 different schools in Austin and have chosen our school because it is based on the highly successfully YES college prep model that has been ranked among the top 100 schools in America by US News & World Report

 2. Why a middle school? Wouldn’t a college-prep program focus on high school students?

There’s a number of reasons why a middle school. We canvassed the local community and parents, and they overwhelmingly requested a middle school. Many parents found it hard to get involved with their kids education due to the busing, so housing the school in our community center made a lot of sense.

We also analyzed research about at what stage was the best place to start affecting education and the drop-out rates, and it was apparent that starting with middle school would have a greater benefit and impact for local kids and families. 

3. So at this open house tomorrow, what can we expect to see?

All of the classrooms and facilities will be open, visitors will also be able to talk to the principal Dr. Nellie Cantu, school staff about the curriculum and approach, and hear from Southwest Key CEO, Dr. Juan Sánchez, about our future plans to expand quality education alternatives in East Austin.  

(Editor’s note: I heare there will also be food and drinks….)

4. I want to support your work with this middle school/academy. What are some ways I can get involved?

We always need advocates and supporters for our approach, which is simply providing an alternative quality education for children in East Austin.

Volunteers are welcome for the many after-school and other support programs, (the Boys and Girls Club is also housed here), offering to host field trips for the students service projects, and donations of school supplies are most welcome too! 

For more information, please contact Victoria Gutierrez at vgutierrez@swkey or 512-583-2567.



Open House
Thursday, November 5, 2009

6002 Jain LaneAustin, TX 78721


Appetizers, wine and hors d’oeuvres, performance, and more!