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Ideas We Should Steal: Giving Locally

Philly is one of the least charitable regions in the country. Could a local version of Giving Tuesday, like they have in Austin, be the answer?

Philly is one of the least charitable regions in the country. Could a local version of Giving Tuesday, like they have in Austin, be the answer?

Several years ago, when Patsy Woods Martin was a fundraiser at Austin’s United Way, she came across The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s list of the 50 most and least charitable cities in the country. And she didn’t like what she saw: Austin—a city with one of the strongest economies in the country—ranked 48th on the list, well below Texas’s other big cities of Dallas (number 4) and Houston (number 5).

Woods Martin was surprised. She knew Austin—which is also one of the most economically divided cities in America—could do more. And after a bit of research, she concluded that the problem, as she suspected, was not one of stinginess, but one of knowledge: People in Austin just didn’t know how to meet the needs in their community.

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So in 2007, Woods Martin started I Live Here I Give Here (ILHIGH), a nonprofit whose mission is to make Austin the number one most charitable city in America through a combination of marketing, nonprofit training, mentorship and fundraising. In 2013, ILHIGH launched Amplify Austin, a 24-hour online giving event that doubled its goal and raised $2 million for local nonprofits. The annual event has since raised more than $54 million—including a record $11.2 million for 746 Austin area nonprofits just last week.

In part that’s because of partners and sponsors who pledge matching funds, like the St. David’s Foundation, which gave an additional $1 million to the children charities it supports. ILHIGH also uses competition to spur on nonprofits, offering donation prizes from mostly corporate sponsors throughout the day and at the end of the drive for those that have raised the most money, and the most donors. The group, which hosts the donor platform on its website, has a live ticker and leaderboard all day.

In 2013, ILHIGH launched Amplify Austin, a 24-hour online giving event that has since raised more than $54 million—including a record $11.2 million for 746 Austin area nonprofits just last week.

“We gamify and create visuals to push that competitive spirit to motivate people to give,” says programming director Catherine Lucchesi. “There is a lot of incentive and excitement all day that gets people giving more.”

Other cities around the country have similar endeavors that replicate the idea of Giving Tuesday, including The Big Give in San Antonio ($20 million in five years); North Texas Giving Day ($240 million over 10 years); and GiveMN in Minnesota ($200 million in 10 years); and Alexandria’s Spring2ACTion ($8 million in seven years).

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A decade after ILHIGH launched, Austin still has a ways to go to catch up to its Texas peers. But in the latest Chronicle rankings from 2017, the city had moved up to 33rd on the list of giving regions. And there’s reason to think that ranking will keep rising. Lucchesi says that some 30 to 40 percent of donors through Amplify Austin are first time givers to the nonprofits they support, and that the majority give under $50—a number well within reach for most residents. Most promising: Around 30 percent of donors each year are under 35.

“A large part of our mission is connecting young people to philanthropy,” says Lucchesi. “We know that if people start giving before the age of 45, they’ll keep giving for the rest of their life. That was a key component that was missing in our community.”

According to the Chronicle’s 2017 rankings, Philly is 43rd in the country out of the 50 largest regions when it comes to giving, with just 2.5 percent of our adjusted gross income going to charity.

When it comes to philanthropy in Philadelphia, there is much that is missing—in particular, well, philanthropy. According to the Chronicle’s 2017 rankings, we are 43rd in the country out of the 50 largest regions when it comes to giving, with just 2.5 percent of our adjusted gross income going to charity. That is well below the national average. And this is despite the other nagging statistic in which we are number one in the country: The level of poverty, which afflicts 25 percent of our urban population.

There are various theories about why that is—everything from our dearth of corporate headquarters to our founding Quaker values—but none of those theories provides a clear way forward. Which is not to say people aren’t trying to jumpstart local giving in Philly. Probably the closest thing we have here to Amplify Austin is Global Citizen 365, which each year brings together an impressive 150,000 Philadelphians for the largest MLK Day of Service in the country.

“Fundraising can’t just be transactional,” Kligerman notes. “It needs to be about creating a sense of shared community, about seeing that we are all in this together. That’s how this will change.”

And the last several years have seen the launch of a few different giving circles, like Impact100, a women’s group that has given out $2.7 million in the last nine years, and the new Philadelphia Black Giving Circle, which this year gave out about $30,000 to African American-run nonprofits, and the Asian Mosaic Fund, which has donated $130,000 to Asian American causes. Like Amplify Austin, these groups allow individuals to have an impact with small donations, a way to grow the numbers of people who donate money, if not the total amount given—in theory a pathway to continued giving and involvement in local philanthropy. (Impact100 also has a young givers group, to draw in a younger philanthropic crowd.)

That is the key, according to Don Kligerman, president of Fairmount Ventures, who has consulted with nonprofits in Philly for almost 30 years. Kligerman sees some ways that an Amplify Austin model could work with what we have in Philly: It doesn’t rely on one big sponsor, but on a variety of corporations, foundations and smaller businesses to be matching partners. And ILHIGH is governed by an equally diverse board that also doesn’t rely on the big tech companies like Dell and Amazon that have helped to grow Austin’s economy.

He cautions, though, that a one day donor drive may not be the solution it looks like from afar: Online giving only really works, he says, when a donor already has a relationship with a nonprofit. “I view fundraising as part of an ecosystem,” Kligerman says. “If this one day event can be part of an ecosystem then I think it’s a good idea. If it’s ‘I gave that day, I did my part,’ then I don’t think it’s a panacea.”

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That is undoubtedly true, and unfortunately similar to what happens with our MLK Day of Service, which attracts a lot of volunteers who don’t continue their service beyond one day in January. Lucchesi says ILHIGH has no hard data on how many first-time givers have become involved with nonprofits for the long-term. Anecdotally, she says, she knows of several charities that have used Amplify Austin to draw in supporters who eventually became board members, and one that turned a $50 donation into a spot in someone’s will. “It’s up to the nonprofits to cultivate the donors after Amplify Austin,” she says. That’s why ILHIGH spends the rest of the year training nonprofits on donor stewardship and telling their story across various media platforms, and organizing networking events that in particular connect younger Austinites to charities.

IGHILH recognized early the power of marketing—even the name of the group I Live Here I Give Here speaks to that—and to building a sense of shared community among young Austinites. That is less palpable in the Philadelphia region, where the giving stats bear out a sense of isolation more than togetherness. Kligerman notes that philanthropy in relatively poor Philly is twice as high as in the surrounding, wealthier counties, and that people making less than $50,000 give twice as much as those with a higher income.

“We live in a profoundly racially and economically stratified and segregated city,” Kligerman notes. “That doesn’t create a lot of empathy and understanding. People that are closer to a problem are more likely to support it. But fundraising can’t just be transactional. It needs to be about creating a sense of shared community, about seeing that we are all in this together. That’s how this will change.”

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