On May 5, I Live Here I Give Here announced that its then executive director Tom Spencer was stepping down after joining the organization in August 2013. He was the second E.D. of the organization, replacing founder, Patsy Woods Martin. ILHIGH was launched in 2007 as a response to Austin’s low ranking among large cities for its charitable giving, and it operates a number of programs aimed at increasing local, charitable giving, most notably the annual Amplify Austin campaign.
Amplify is ILHIGH’s best-known work. The 24-hour, online fundraising campaign raised $7.7 million this past March 2015, $5.7 million in 2014 and $2.7 million in 2013, its inaugural year. It leverages social media and traditional social networks to drive thousands of small donations to hundreds of participating nonprofits. Amplify, like similar campaigns across the country, is an exceedingly complicated project.
Spencer is best known for his previous position as executive director of Interfaith Action, a nonprofit that cultivate peace and respect among faith communities, and as the host of KLRU’s Central Texas Gardener. His departure leaves an interesting hole in Austin nonprofit leadership. We asked Matt Swinney, ILHIGH’s board chair, a few questions about the organization’s unique role in Austin.
Q. ILHIGH is a totally unique nonprofit organization among Austin nonprofits. What defines it and what makes it unique?
SWINNEY: I think what truly makes I Live Here, I Give Here unique is that at the end of the day, we’re a connector between donors and all nonprofits that function in Central Texas. Our goal is simply to cultivate young donors and help get them in the habit of giving — not to us, but to whatever causes they care most about. With a net of 110 new people moving to Austin every day, we want our organization and Amplify Austin to be a newcomer’s welcome to the city’s giving culture. If we do our jobs right, we’ll welcome them and then help shepherd them to whatever local nonprofit most fits their needs.
Q. Patsy and Tom are also, obviously, uniquely talented people with clear leadership skills. What are the characteristics of a person who could run an organization like ILHIGH? What skills are needed?
SWINNEY: Patsy is a visionary. She had an idea and brought it to life. That’s not easy to do. Tom has stewarded that vision into a fully functioning organization and helped foster Patsy’s vision for the next leader. Essentially, Tom’s leadership has helped make us understand what we truly need to ensure Amplify Austin can continue to grow and make an incredible impact on the more than 500 nonprofits it supports. We believe the next leader of the organization will be highly entrepreneurial and a bit more tech-forward. The Amplify platform is a tool that we believe will continue to change the overall culture in our community. A cutting-edge leader who understands how to harness that tool and make it the most valuable giving resource in the city is ultimately the person we think could be best suited as the next leader of I Live Here, I Give Here.
Q. Why is ILHIGH still important to Austin?
SWINNEY: It’s more important than ever. Cultivating the next generation of givers is the only thing that will keep the overall culture running in Austin. Forty one percent of all gifts given during Amplify Austin 2015 were NEW gifts to organizations. Those nonprofits can now steward those new donors and continue their path of giving, but it takes a group like I Live Here, I Give Here to ultimately get that group to give in the first place. You’ll see in the coming months and years our vision for how to expand that giving across 365 days while still having one of the most successful singular giving days in the country.