It’s a delicate maneuver to book a charity’s client to speak at a benefit event. After all, they usually are not practiced public speakers. And without the intervening filter of an edited video, pathos too easily could turn to bathos.
Yet nonprofits are taking that chance more often. In three recent and very different cases, it was extremely effective.
For instance, during the “Words of Hope” dinner for Caritas, one could hardly beat the soaring but grounded rhetoric of Lynn and Tom Meredith, winners of the Harvey Penick Award. Their message of inclusion, collaboration and innovation as part of Austin problem-solving should be distributed to everyone who shares a love for this city.
Yet it was formerly homeless client of Caritas who also held the hundreds of guests in her spell. She grew up in an abusive household and married into one. Her life on the streets included acts which she now cannot bear to mention. For the first time in her long life, she lives in a safe, clean place of her own, thanks to Caritas and its partners. Powerful stuff.
Similarly, at the “Building Healthy Futures” luncheon for Aids Services of Austin, a parade of speakers and videos briskly and efficiently made the case for the nonprofit’s efforts to end new HIV cases in the coming decade or so. Nobody harnesses the power of numbers and graphs like this group, which recently opened its one-stop ASA Moody Medical Clinic.
All this was upstaged by two women — one transexual — who told their contrasting life stories linked together by HIV status. They were identified as Foxy and Charlotte. The first described her life on the streets — euphemistically a “social worker” — with trenchant wit. The other was quiet, serious as she talked about the special challenges for her family.
Lastly, the “Imaginarium” for the Thinkery always promises a circus-like offering of educational entertainment. Thus we witnessed the vintage tools of the Daniel G. Benes Science Show and the electrifying — up to a point — Tesla coils of Arcattack. (Repetition does not always increase attraction.)
Again, it was two Thinkery clients, Kendall Farr and Caleb Farr, who, through clever videos made the best case for the hugely popular outfit formerly known as the children’s museum. (At least I assume the Farr siblings are Thinkery regulars.) These bantering kids dressed scientific costumes are so talented, let’s hope they continue to show us exactly what it means to teach and to please.
The Art of the Gala, already one of Austin’s most effective charitable convocations, just doubled its scope and stature.
Founded by Monica Maldonado Williams, publisher of nonprofit tracker Giving City, this annual training day for fundraisers combines speeches, panels and breakout sessions devoted to how to best throw a charity event. It has been a must-go for development officers and volunteer gala captains. (The American-Statesman publishes a weekly column about the area’s nonprofit community through a partnership with Giving City Austin.)
This year for the first time, Williams will partner with Jennifer Horn Stevens, CEO of the JHL Company, producer of the giant Mack, Jack and McConaughey party and other signature events. Stevens has added activities for top donors and nonprofit executives, turning it into a premium networking event for best practices in the field.
Attendees will be able to choose from these topics:
• Day-of Fundraising
• Event Planning & Execution
• Working With Vendors
• Making The Event Magical
• Expanding the Audience
• Donor Retention
• Non-Event Revenue
“The Art of the Gala is a terrific resource for nonprofits,” says Phyllis Snodgrass, CEO of Austin Habitat for Humanity. “Adding JHL to the mix takes this event to the next level. JHL brings creativity, practical donor recruitment and retention strategies and a focus on integrating major events into overall strategic plans and marketing goals of an organization.”
We always cheer the Austin Under 40 Awardsceremony, not just because it benefits two worthy causes, YWA Foundation and the Austin Sunshine Camps, but also because so many rising social stars end up among the winners.
Don’t worry about the future; these leaders will be in charge.
Saturday’s party at the JW Marriott grossed $280,000. The net amount for the charities has not yet been announced.
It’s impossible to ignore how composed and accomplished they are.
The students from the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders are the real celebrities during the annual Reach for the Stars benefit for the Ann Richards School Foundation, now held at Four Seasons Hotel Austin.
They speak with such assurance and wisdom. They are headed to top colleges all over the country. Many are the first in their families to do so.
Julie Apagya Bonney and Ebheni Henderson led the charge before we saw a video interview with Girl Scouts national leader — and former Austinite — Sylvia Acevedo conducted by Maddy Schell and Maggie Saucedo. As if to trump that, young journalist Haley Lone interviewed Oprah pal Gayle King on the set of her TV show.
We throughly enjoyed our conversations at a table front-and-center sponsored by Ellen Richards, the late governor’s daughter who doesn’t have a new book out. (We talked mostly birds and nature.) Then we heard from more Class of ’18 — Eleanor Bailey and Maria Cruz, before Becky Alonso and Gus Flores introduced the winner of the Ann Richards Legacy Award, who happened to be super-sharp former principal Jeanne Goka.
Sorry guys, but I’d trade her for any principal from my past.
I barely glimpsed Ann Richards writer/actor Holland Taylor before slipping out during the “pompoms up” funding round.
My only private concern: Is anyone doing this sort of things for the Bertha Sadler Means Young Women’s Leadership Academy across town? We’ll ask around.
People’s Community Clinic
Anyone who thinks that repasts such as There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch are merely light social duties has not been to this fundraiser for People’s Community Clinic now held at the Four Seasons Hotel Austin.
Surrounded by folks at our Becky Beaver-led set of tables such as Nancy Scanlan, Melissa Miller and Nancy Inman would have been intellectually exhilarating enough. But then we heard from clinic CEO Regina Rogoff, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Louis Appel and longtime board member Dr. Nona Niland, all of whom could easily hold my studious attention.
Niland introduced Philip S. Dial, reluctant winner of the W. Neal Kocurek Award, named for the strategist behind much of the city’s enlightened civic health. Despite his reluctance to take the limelight, financial expert Dial made a fine speaker and reminded us that the quiet money aces often make a nonprofit grow and thrive, as he has done for People’s.
The meat of the lunch, so to speak, was a public conversation between Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith and Dr. Karen DeSalvo, former acting assistant secretary for health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and now at the University of Texas Dell School of Medicine.
DeSalvo was head of the health department in New Orleans during the Hurricane Katrina crisis and learned much about decentralizing health care and going “upstream” to encourage health before care is needed through community clinics. She believes we need to get past debates on coverage — everybody should be — to talk more about how to save money and lives through community solutions, including a “blue-cities-in-red-states” ones, like the grand experiment going on in Austin right now.
She’s a firecracker and I’d love to profile her for this publication.
The Library was the place to be. Not the Central Public Library. But the blue-and-red rectangular meeting room at Hotel Van Zandt.
It was the location for a Toast of the Town salon to support the Neal Kocurek Scholarship Fund for health sciences careers, operated by the St. David’s Foundation. Thirty of so lucky souls were treated to an enlightening public talk between journalist and author Lawrence “Larry” Wright and journalist and Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith.
The two had met soon after Smith moved to town in the 1992 to join the staff of Texas Monthly. He was assigned to edit Wright’s piece on the chemical castration of sexual offenders. Wright was for it.
Smith went on to lead Texas Monthly and now the Texas Tribune, while also interviewing top minds on “Texas Monthly Talks” and then “Overheard with Evan Smith” on public television.
My nominee for best reporter in Texas, Wright has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since he left Texas Monthly in the early 1990s. His books include the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11” as well as “The Terror Years: From Al-Qaeda to the Islamic State,” “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prism of Belief” and “Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin and Sadat at Camp David.”
If those accomplishments were not enough, he writes plays and screenplays, appears on stage, and basks in the glow of the lauded TV adaptation of “The Looming Tower” now streaming on the Hulu channel.
Can you see why I dropped everything for this benefit dinner? Smith devoted his early questions to terrorism and world affairs. Wright believes, for instance, we are ignoring the proliferation of Al-Qaeda and Islamic State beyond their Middle Eastern origins while we are distracted by other crises. He continues to state that the intervention into Iraq was the single worst foreign policy decision in American history.
Smith then moved on to main subject for the evening, Wright’s recent book, “God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State,” parts of which appeared in The New Yorker. On that field in inquiry, both sharp minds need no urging.
Wright’s editor at The New Yorker had asked him to explain Texas, a big task. He did not rely on the standard reports about the recent changes in the state; he spent a year observing the Texas Legislature. After all, Texas could tell us more about the future of the country, especially if its voters participated in elevated numbers.
He came away from his research with with a volume full of conclusions and an urge to run for governor. Wright thinks that the primary jobs of state government are education and infrastructure. Those needs tended to be ignored while state leaders spent an inordinate amount of time and energy on bathroom rules and sanctuary cities. He lays heavy blame on traditional business advocate Gov. Greg Abbott, who sided late in the session with radio personality Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick against outgoing Speaker of the House Joe Straus, who held together state government against all odds.
Wright has much more to say about state and national politics and culture, but as they say, buy and read the book.
One speaker in town who could give Smith or Wright a run for their money is Amy Mills, CEO of Emancipet, an Austin nonprofit that provides free or low-cost spay, neutering and veterinary care at seven clinics in four cities.
The early part of its annual luncheon, which has moved gracefully from the Four Seasons Hotel Austin to the larger banquet hall at the Hyatt Regency Austin, was spent on the tasty vegan fare, video stories of clients and statistics shared by eager board members.
The room grew hushed when Mills rose to the stage. After all, she can so cogently and quickly explain a rapidly expanding and sustainable nonprofit, she would likely trounce every other participant at Philanthropitch.
That fast-action pitch session from nonprofit leaders was an early-week Austin highlight. (I can’t tell you how many ambitious Austin nonprofits are exporting their great ideas around the world. Just a few decades ago, they didn’t look beyond the Austin city limits.)
Some statistics appeared in the printed program. In 2017, the group provided
• 71,539 preventative care visits
• 33,300 free or low cost spay/neuter surgeries
• 622 heartworm treatments
• 177 special surgery procedures
• $883,930 in free services to Houston-area families affected by Hurricane Harvey.
Mills expanded on the last number. With animal welfare partners, they focused, not on lost pets, but on vet care for families hit hard by the storm. They announced that their clinical services would remain absolutely free for 90 days. As workers arrived the first morning, more than 100 people were in line. Some had never visited a vet before. They saw a total of 6,641 animals.
Also in 2017, Emancipet opened its largest clinic ever in Northeast Austin and its first in Philadelphia. It responded to rising vet care costs by seeing 93,576 pets. Just as importantly, they trained 28 vets to take their business model to other markets. They can’t do it all themselves.
Mills saved the most dramatic news for last. Hurricane Maria scattered pets all over Puerto Rico, who then rapidly multiplied. Emacipet with 23 other groups is headed there to spay/neuter 20,000 of them. They will then leave their surgical tools and other equipment there for vets they will train to keep up the work.
I would have given each group $100,000. No, make that $1 million.
At the LBJ Auditorium, reps from each of seven nonprofits made their cases for three minutes at Philanthropitch, then followed up with three minutes of answers to questions from six judges, all successful entrepreneurs.
That’s it. No stacks of paperwork. No hours of pleasing donors.
Just pure, compact rhetorical power. And oh yes, a good cause. And a plan that includes growth and internal sustainability. This is how the celebrity judges split up the money:
“There was this amazing moment in the judges’ deliberation room where Kendra Scott asked if she could announce two internship placements for Code2College (which coaches nontraditional students to code) and the answer was obviously, YES!” reports Dan Graham, CEO of BuildASign.com cofounder of Notley, the group behind Philanthropitch, which has spread across the country and to the U.K.. “Immediately Gay Gaddis from T3, Jag Bath from Favor and Mellie Price from the Dell Medical School also committed to two internships each!”
On stage, as the the winners received big checks, Lisa Graham announced “Oh and Mr. Stephenson, we have another announcement for you” and proceeded to announce all the internships, which give Code2College added credibility and sustainability.
“As Lisa was finishing, Matt Stephenson (founder of Code2College) began running around hugging the judges and that’s when a woman starting sprinting up the aisle,” Dan recalls. “It was Amy Averett with Alamo Drafthouse announcing that they, too, were committing to two internships! That’s a total of 10 internships.”
Interfaith is very Austin. The city is open to ideas. And to faith. It is no wonder that Austin hosts multiple interfaith groups, which not only encourage dialogue among religionists but also action based on shared convictions.
One of those groups, iAct, helps refugees, fixes up homes and provides other opportunities for talking and doing good together. Most years, they work very closely with the American-Stateman’s Season for Caring program. More than one recipient from that annual campaign to help the neediest were present for the Hope Awards, iACT’s annual tribute to interfaith leaders at the Bullock Texas State History Museum.
After some unavoidable fluff, the ceremony picked speed and gravity when Executive Director Simone Talma Flowers used her not insubstantial oratorical skills to lay out the group’s mission. Then Rev. Stephen W. Kinney, iACT’s board president, introduced the first Hope recipient, Imam Mohamed-Umer Esmail, whose pastoral humility and dignity reach far beyond his Nueces Mosque.
The remainder of the program was given over to a conversation between another Hope honoree, Luci Baines Johnson, and Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith. There isn’t a better public interviewer in town and Smith pushed Johnson to reflect on sad state of civic life today. Yet Johnson focused instead on the inspiration of her parents and her own guarded but urgent optimism for her children and grandchildren. At any rate, she is an increasingly disciplined speaker who struck just the right chord for the evening.
Mexic-Arte Museum first staged Taste of Mexico on the street. Then the sample-and-sip fiesta moved indoors and slipped into a more traditional a gala format. The benefit, which attracts a wide range of ages and cultures, now seems to have hits its stride at Brazos Hall.
A dizzying array of food and drink could be had on the first floor, while the open-sided deck upstairs was set up more like a crafts market. The sheer number of culinary options was overwhelming. And the copious crowd love it, swirling from one table to another just enough abandon, given the generous sips of tequila and other potent potables. At times, it felt like a pop-up nightclub, but with better food than any nightclub has ever assembled.
The program was miraculously short. And a good thing, because the speakers could not be heard beyond the front rows. I like this event. It think you would, too.