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.
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 $9.9 million — for more than 700 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, has given 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.
“We gamify and create visuals to push that competitive spirit to motivate people to give,” says former 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 ($35 million since 2014); North Texas Giving Day ($503 million since 2009); and GiveMN in Minnesota ($300 million since 2019); and Alexandria’s Spring2ACTion.
“We gamify and create visuals to push that competitive spirit to motivate people to give,” says Catherine Lucchesi. “There is a lot of incentive and excitement all day that gets people giving more.”
Fifteen years after ILHIGH launched, Austin still has a ways to go to catch up to its Texas peers. But the project has elevated the level of giving: 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.”
When it comes to philanthropy in Philadelphia, there is much that is missing — in particular, well, philanthropy. According to the Chronicle’s most recent 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. A more recent ranking, with different measures, has us at 33. 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. The pandemic saw a flood of giving — monetarily and otherwise — within our community. And Global Citizen 365, which each year brings together an impressive 150,000 Philadelphians for the largest MLK Day of Service in the country.
And the last several years have seen the launch of a few different giving circles, like Impact100, a women’s group; the Philadelphia Black Giving Circle; and the Asian Mosaic Fund. 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, former president of Fairmount Ventures, who 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.”
“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.”
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.”
RELATED STORIES ABOUT GIVING IN PHILLYHeader: Celeste Quesada, I Live Here I Give Here Board Member. Courtesy I Live Here I Give Here.