Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Leadership Austin - The State of Giving in Central Texas

The December Leadership Austin Engage Breakfast tackled the topic of "Giving".

What is the state of giving in Central Texas and how will we meet the region's growing philanthropic needs? With state and federal funding for initiatives at an all-time low, not-for-profit organizations are facing challenging times. Can corporations help close the gap? Do traditional fundraising methods even work anymore? What can we do to inspire more people to give? The expert panelists discussed these questions and more in an interactive conversation.  

  • Jim Spencer - KXAN
  • Jeff Garvey - President & CEO, Austin Community Foundation
  • Patsy Woods Martin - Founder and Executive Director, I Live Here, I Give Here
  • Lynn Meredith - President, MFI Foundation
  • Gerry Tucker - Vice Chair, A Legacy of Giving; Vice President of Human Resources, Austin Community College
The reality is that we have gone through several tough years.  The economic downturn has impacted everyone, no matter the segment where they work.  Non-profits, government, healthcare, corporations, etc... have all been touched.  It began with a high degree of pain, but has gone from pain to fear. Nearly everyone is worried about the future.

The good news is that charitable giving is on the rise again for the first time in three years, and most of the dollars are coming from individuals.  Corporations only account for 5% of all giving in the United States, while 73% comes from individual citizens.

State and federal government programs are being cut, and our community will need to pick up the difference. While Austin is doing better than much of the country, we are seeing an increase in need right here in our community.  Those of us who live, work and play in Central Texas must take care of our neighbors.

The problems facing non-profit organizations are of common sense.  With less money to spend, they must operate within their means.  This means they cannot have more money going out to serve those in need than is coming in from donations.  Foundations and other have less money to give, as their investment portfolios are not having the same returns they did four or five years ago.  The whole ecosystem is impacted, and it is not only a matter of corporations or the rich writing additional checks.

But the Austin non-profit community has felt the pinch of the economy before.  Those of us who have lived here for a long time know that in the 1990s and early 2000s we saw similar downturns locally.  During these times civic leaders came together, collaborated, brainstormed, joint ventured, and merged many non-profits.  This made the groups stronger.  We can look at our current situation as an opportunity.

Austin has more non-profits in the area than there are gas stations and restaurants ... combined!  That is a lot of groups competing for the same limited pool of money.  But it is not only about the dollars, these groups need volunteers.  Organizations need advocates because there is no substitute for real passion (both for fundraising and getting the work done).

Lynn Meredith pointed out that that passion is often ignited when something hits close to home.  When a parent lives through a tough situation with their child, that passion is often released and they go out and make things happen.  

[This is what happened with my family after our daughter's surgery when she was an infant.  We launched the "Kate Singer Endowment for Cranio-Facial Surgery and Research" at both Dell Children's Hospital in Austin and Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego (where Kate had her surgery).  For four years we have donated 5% of the money we earn from my speaking fees and have raised additional money for both institutions.  Without that personal experience that touched our family, we may not have ever gotten so active in a cause. Over several years our small donations have added up to make a difference.  This has taught me that anyone can (and should) make a difference].

When you make a donation, regardless of the size, you are a philanthropist.  The final messages from the panel was that we need to create a culture of giving in our community.  Making a difference is not just reserved for the wealthy, but rather something that is available to everyone.  Get in the habit of writing checks and volunteering (bring a friend and bring a child when you volunteer!).

Thank you to Leadership Austin and the panel for a great experience at the Engage Breakfast.

More information about Leadership Austin at www.LeadershipAustin.org.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

1 comment:

Amber Fogarty said...

Thanks for posting this. I really hated missing this breakfast today, as the topic is near and dear to my heart. I appreciate your fantastic summary!