Although Austin may be a hub of nonprofit activity given its philanthropic environment and home to state government, stakeholders say innovation and creativity are integral to fostering nonprofit growth as the city continues to expand and emerge from weak economic times.
A panel of nonprofit experts, including Jeff Garvey, president and CEO of the Austin Community Foundation and co-founder of Austin Ventures; Gerry Tucker, vice chair of Legacy of Giving and vice president of human resources at Austin Community College; Patsy Woods Martin, founder and executive director of I Live Here, I Give Here; and Lynn Meredith, president of Austin’s MFI Foundation, spoke on Austin’s state of philanthropy at Leadership Austin’s breakfast on Dec. 6. The event was part of the group’s Engage Speaker Series, which focuses on the obstacles facing Austin's growth in the coming years.
Since the economy began its downward spiral in 2008, the nation began a budget-tightening process that continues to affect the bank accounts of families, corporations and groups throughout the United States, the panel said.
“There was just a serious level of pain that was measured in different ways for different people,” Garvey said. “I think what has followed, and what still exists today, is that we have now gone from pain to fear, and that is a powerful passion that makes people behave differently.”
Although America’s nonprofit giving has increased for the third year in a row, it’s still 11 percent lower than where it was before 2008’s economic bust, Garvey said.
“Almost 80 percent of giving in this country comes from individuals,” he said. “The truth of the matter is individuals are what drive philanthropy in the United States.”
To that extent, Austin nonprofits should place more emphasis on forming relationships with donors to engage them in their activities and causes, the panel said.
“You don’t ask someone to marry you on the first date,” Martin said. “It’s about the process and meeting the needs of the individuals you are asking to support you.”
For Tucker, the methods nonprofits use to connect with regular and potential donors should be innovative and creative enough to spark an instant connection.
“The most creative way is to connect the donor with what you do,” she said. “You have to find out what tugs at their heart. And what’s worked before is not going to work in this economy. Get creative about what you do, because that will tell your donors that you’re taking business seriously.”
Local donors can also help nonprofits by selecting a group to work with that inspires passion within them, an action that may drive more regular and consistent volunteering and donations, Martin added.
“I would invite you to step back and think about how you’re making your gifts—are you doing it reactively, or are you doing it intentionally? Figure out what your passion is and get engaged,” she said.
Passion, the board concluded, is the key to facilitating success in Austin’s nonprofit success as the city works its way out of the recession.
“There is no substitute for passion,” Garvey said. “The most successful circumstances I’ve been in where I was alone or part of the group soliciting contributions was always when it was so easy to talk about the cause because it just came out. You want to have your more passionate people deliver the ‘asks.’ Passion is contagious.”
Previous coverage of Leadership Austin's Engage Speaker Series:
- Local arts panel talks concerns, support for Austin's creative industries
- Leadership Austin panel targets transportation, funding in city growth setbacksAlthough Austin may be a hub of nonprofit activity given its philanthropic environment and home to state government, stakeholders say innovation and creativity are integral to fostering nonprofit growth as the city continues to expand and emerge from weak economic times.