TREND: More Austin businesses giving back

In Austin, we just may be at the tipping point for charitable giving from local businesses.

Ask Debbie Johnson, who manages Austin Gives, a program that recruits and recognizes local businesses that give back. Though the program is less than two years old, it already has almost 200 members, many of which stepped up their giving to be a part of the program.

Many of these businesses will be recognized at the annual Austin Gives luncheon on January 7, 2014. Recognition is an essential part of the program, but the event is also about sharing ideas and inspiration local businesses can take back to their workplace.

For a growing number of businesses, philanthropy is a no-brainer — there are too many benefits to ignore: it’s great for attracting and retaining employees, it distinguishes a brand from its competition, and it demonstrates a willingness to be a part of the community.

Before your business embarks on its own philanthropy, learn what these businesses do to make their giving programs work.

WATCH Courtney Clark talk about Austin Gives on FOX 7’s Good Day Austin this morning:


1. Understand that employees want to get hands-on.

Take eBay Inc.‘s six-month “Small Business Challenge Austin Non-Profit Edition.” For this project, eBay selects 30 of its employees with skill sets ranging from technical coding to business development to program management. Then those employees hear pitches from about 15 nonprofits, and they select the 5-6 they want to work with.

The brilliant part of this program – what makes it succeed — is that eBay dedicates 10 percent of each employee’s time over the course of the program to working with their nonprofit partner. eBay pays them to volunteer.

For six months, eBay employees were able to help with problems such as revamping a website, taking pages mobile, growing volunteer bases, and helping staff make the most of their existing software.

The program is just one of the ways eBay supports its employees’ charitable work. It also matches monetary and volunteer donations and gives grants through its foundation.

2. Technology can build a bridge between a business and a population in-need.

Southside Flying Pizza learned that when it makes a special accommodation for one group, it can result in an increase in business overall. In 2009, it wasn’t sure people were ready to order pizza online or buy smart phone. But it also recognized that neighbors from the Texas School for the Deaf were having difficulties ordering by phone.

So Southside reached out to a software company, which donated the initial software. And from there they decided to give a percentage of all online/smart phone sales to The Texas School for the Deaf.

“Over time, and especially with the advent of smart phones, the percentage of online sales has grown significantly,” says Art Goldstein, CEO of Southside, “and we have needed to adjust our commitments to manage the total cost. We are proud that we are giving much more than we had initially predicted.”

Today, Southside gives 5% of all Internet sales to the School for the Deaf.

“One could ask if this was a ‘one off’ situation. After all, how many times will technology find this sort of niche?,” says Goldstein. “Our response is that all of us our surrounded by valuable niche opportunities every day. We just need to keep our eyes and ears open”

3.  Don’t wait to be asked for help.

At The Advisory Board Company, a global research, technology and consulting firm, they’ve created a program that focuses primarily on deploying its experts to work with a local nonprofit, specifically taking advantage of its skill sets in healthcare and education.

These opportunities didn’t just fall into ABC’s lap; rather ABC went after them, tirelessly seeking a nonprofit that would best use what ABC could offer.

For example, its tech team created an analytical framework for People’s Community Clinic that will help them make better decisions regarding day-to-day operations and long-term strategy. Its HR team developed a growth plan with Breakthrough Austin as they expand into additional schools and areas, which included identifying new funding leads.

It also deploys volunteers for its “Saturday Service” events, its weekly Meals on Wheels run, a monthly activity at Ronald McDonald House and more. But ABC also backs up its volunteerism with monetary and in-kind contributions. This year they held a golf tournament organized by our staff that raised thousands of dollars for Operation Homefront, and a 5K Charity Challenge that raised over $1000 for Austin Children’s Shelter. It also provides Community Impact Grants and product donations like computers to organizations or individuals in need.

“Overall,” says Graham McLaughlin, director of community impact, “the Austin office has volunteered almost 5000 hours this year, about a quarter of that being skills-based or board service, and have contributed almost $250K in monetary and volunteer impact to the local community.”

LEARN MORE about AUSTIN GIVES and RSVP for the January 7 luncheon, with guest speaker John Paul DeJoria,  here.


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