Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Austin and the New Philanthropy. Leadership Austin Engage Breakfast - December 2012

The December 4, 2012 Leadership Austin Engage Breakfast was a sold-out event.  Each month Leadership Austin hosts a conversational conclave to discuss issues important to the Central Texas Community.  While always a great gathering, the topic of "Giving" was one that seemed to resonate with an extra "umph" with those in the audience (not really surprising, as Leadership Austin attracts the type of people with servant's hearts!)

"The New Philanthropy: A Fresh Look at Giving in Central Texas" was a discussion about charitable giving and how companies and individuals can make the right choices on where and how to give back.

The Panelists included:

  • Nichole Aston - Central Texas Program Officer, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation
  • Dennis Cavner - Co-Founder, Innovation +
  • Laurie Loew - Broker and Founder, Give Realty
  • Robert Maxwell (Moderator) - Morning Anchor and Reporter, KXAN-TV
All involved, and their organizations, are known in the community for how they go beyond the dollar donations to encourage people to be involved with the charities they support.  They each possess a clear passion create a better culture for giving in the greater Austin area.  The old-school philanthropy was simply writing checks is going away.  Today's leaders take a holistic approach to funding and growth.

Arguably, Austin has more charitable organizations per capata than any other city.  Our entrepreneurial culture lends itself to a variety of philanthropic start-ups appearing each year.  But with so many choices, how do people know where to give? (and are many simply repeating the infrastructure and not maximizing the impact they can have on the greater good.  The trick is to get the human capital involved and connect the smart people to the smart ideas.  The issue is not about more charities, but instead it is unleashing a culture that allow the most effective to thrive.

"Venture Philanthropy" is a new concept, and Austin is well positioned to become the center of "Social Innovation".  Each panelist shared exciting ideas and their success leads the way for a better future for giving.

Dennis Cavner's Innovation + organization works to help organizational maximize their growth beyond a small focus.  Working with  Austin's College Forward, they helped the organization create a 5-year plan that will allow them to reach many more college bound students from lower economic neighborhoods.  Traditionally only 8% of kids in these areas will complete a 4-year degree, where as College Forward students graduate at an 80% rate.  This kind of success needs to have a bigger reach and getting the right people on board can allow successful charities to expand their reach. Identifying the groups that have the ability to make long-term and far reaching results is paramount moving forward.

Nicole Ashton shared how the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation goes beyond just issuing checks, but also work to help organizations learn how to grow their focus and diversify their funding sources. Educating those they serve has become a key component to helping the organizations maximize their money and reach.  They use their resources to assist groups with matching fund or challenge grants to help get more people involved in donating to a major fundraising project.

Laurie Loew founded Give Realty with part of her business plan to be the donation of 25% of her commission to the local charity of the client's choosing.  With 10,000 Realtors in the area the idea was originally to help her stand out in a crowded field.  But giving can become contagious  and her model has grown into her life's mission,   While some question if her company can really do this, she has built it into the plan from the beginning and has now contributed over $200,000 in just a few short years.  She pointed out that if every real estate agent in town did the same thing that number of monies given to the local charities would be between $80 - $100 million in the same time frame.  (WOW).

As Austin continues to grow it is important that we work to help get new residents connected to the philanthropic community. Austin has the potential to become a global example of giving, but this must be more than a few key foundations, organizations and social entrepreneurs.  We all need to find our niche and get connected into the groups we support.  Getting involved with a cause than one feels connected to matters, if they want to be engaged for the long haul.  You do not need to be wealthy to be a giver...., we can all make a difference.  

I walked away from this breakfast meeting inspired, but wanting to know more about how the average person gets involved.  Most people I talk to want to do something, but are not sure what that means.  Big foundations or other organizations lead by successful business leaders get a lot of attention, but we need help average people discover that it is not just the uber-successful that can have an impact on our community.  As a small business owner Ms. Loew has done great things with Give Realty, but her 25% donation number might scare some interested business owners away from doing something similar.  

I say that any giving is good, and we need to bring this conversation to the everyday vernacular (not just an annual breakfast panel discussion!).  As we are attending holiday parties in the next few weeks each of us should engage our friends, family and professionals in conversations about giving back and serving the community.  

What do you think?  

Have A Great Day

thom singer

PS - Five years ago when I became a professional speaker my wife and I created the "Kate Singer Endowment for Cranio-Facial Surgery and Research" at the Dell Children's Medical Foundation.  We donate 5% of all money earned from speaking fees.  While any one donation is small, over several years, coupled with some fundraisers and other donations from my clients... we have created a permanently funded endowment.  We have also created a similar giving structure at Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego (where our daughter Kate had surgery as a baby).  The goal is split the 5% between the two foundations indefinitely.  Over time these small numbers will add up.  The key is to start early and give consistently! 

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