The evolution of Lyft’s local giving and why it works

Art of the Gala Oct 23 Austin
Lyft Jerry

It started with drivers volunteering over the holidays. Then Lyft offered a “round-up” option on riders’ fees, with the extra money going to charity. But as the ride-hailing company continued to explore how it could have an impact in the Austin community, it became more clear that what it really had to offer was rides.

Aaron Fox, general manager for Lyft Central Texas, said its philanthropy evolved from the company’s $1 million pledge to the American Civil Liberties Union in January 2017, a high-profile response to the Trump administration’s travel ban on citizens from Muslim-majority countries. “When we made that donation, that was a powerful time for us as a company,” said Fox.

Later that year, Lyft dove into Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, donating $100,000 to a relief fund, waiving commissions for drivers in the areas hardest hit, hosting food drives and more.

At the same time in August, Lyft began exploring what the needs were in Austin. Recognizing the city’s heritage as a music town, it launched a partnership with the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians to provide codes that would allow its clients to get free rides to medical appointments.

“We’d seen that working well,” said Fox, “so we started finding other organizations that have the same needs.”

In January, Lyft began a partnership with Caritas of Austin to use its Lyft Concierge platform, which allows Caritas to schedule and request rides for its homeless clients. “Caritas knows its clients best, so we left it up to them to find people for whom rides would make the biggest difference in their lives.”

In one case, free Lyft rides helped Caritas’s client Jerry Jackson complete his certification in computer security and development, get to job fairs and job interviews, and land a job at a local tech company.

This week, Lyft launched a partnership with United Way for Greater Austin and its 211 social services hotline. That partnership is at the national level, with Lyft identifying 211 Navigation Centers across the country as uniquely suited to identify clients in need of rides because they call in seeking social services.

Amy Price, 211’s community information director at the local chapter, said that in 2017, the Austin-area navigation center took more than 5,000 transportation-related calls. “Rides are a much-needed resource,” said Price.

United Way says it is is also excited about the data it will be able to track using the Lyft Concierge platform, allowing the nonprofit to understand the transportation needs of the community with more details about where rides originate, where they go, what time of day rides are needed, and more.

Fox says Lyft Austin has pledged more than $50,000 in ride credits for it nonprofit partnership programs in 2018.

“While direct financial support through round-up and donate programs remains a key pillar of our philanthropy, we are excited to lean more into utilizing the core of our business — transportation — as a key part of our community support,” he said. “I think this way we have more of a connection to those people who are actually delivering those services to clients. We feel a lot closer to the action.”

PHOTO: Caritas of Austin client Jerry Jackson used free Lyft rides to finish his certification and get a job that helps him be financially stable. (Photo contributed by Caritas of Austin)

NOTE: This story was also published in the Austin American-Statesman on June 10, 2018.
Art of the Gala Oct 23 Austin
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