By Brittany Lamas
Staff members of I Live Here, I Give Here rushed around the plaza outside the Long Center on March 4 preparing for a night of
charitable giving dubbed Amplify Austin. People hurriedly attached balloons to signs as the band finished its sound check and supporters and non-profit organizational members began to trickle in.
Like an old-fashioned telethon where people called in and pledged donations to certain charitable causes, Amplify encouraged people to go online, choose from a list of more than 300 local groups or causes and donate directly to that specific organization between 7 p.m. on March 4 and 7 p.m. the next day.
The idea centered on connecting the Austin community to non-profit groups and to raise awareness and giving. “Austin likes fests, like South by Southwest (SXSW) and ACL,”Karen Frost, consulting director of non-profits for I Live Here, I Give Here, says. “We thought this would be a way for people to get excited about philanthropy.”
The organizers set a city-wide goal of $1 million in 24-hours for the first-year–a goal that Austin more than doubled–and hope to make it an annual event with increased target amounts. Frost says other cities have done similar events and seen success: Minneapolis raised $15 million its first year, and Denver pulled in $8 million.
In Austin, Amplify reached out to the media and received $1 million in in-kind media support and also recruited 20 businesses which agreed to raise funds among their employees.
Deborah Kirk, board vice chair of Austin Smiles, a group that performs surgeries on children with cleft lips and palates, says an event like this is good for getting smaller organizations names to the public. “We want more people to know who we are so they can donate,” she says, and Amplify helps provide that with access to the media. “They’ve been touting this for a couple of months on the internet and social media; I think this is going to reach a lot of people.”
As a smaller organization, however, Kirk says she was wary about getting lost in the shuffle of some many non-profits, but is grateful for the opportunity for any donations. “I mean it’s not any money out of pocket, it’s totally worth any money we get, but I can just
imagine it will get bigger and bigger every year.”
Austin Smiles raised more than $13,000 from 207 individual donors, money that will provide 52 surgeries for children. “We did a lot better than we thought we would,” Kirk says. “I think at first I wasn’t sure, but I was blown away.” She says she is already excited for next year, and thinks the success came from the community nature of the event. “Because it was 24 hours and involved the community it was like ‘Let’s do it together Austin.’”
For the Special Olympics Texas, proceeds from the event will help people with intellectual disabilities to compete in the 19 sports provided, and learn more independence in an inclusive social culture. “We just want people to know that they’re here, and they can be in a social setting, and they have fun. They’re just normal people like the rest of us,” says development director Melissa Matherne.
Special Olympics Texas drew $3,042 from 49 different gifts. “Overall we did okay,” Matherne says. “We didn’t meet our goal, but we met a lot of new people, and raised awareness, and most importantly our athletes had fun.” She says the organization plans to use this as a learning experience, and do it again next year. “We have had positive feedback, and people who want to help more next year.”
As the night kicked off, the fundraising amount hit $500,000 within the first two hours, and by 7 a.m. Tuesday morning, the total
reached $800,000. Around 9 a.m., the $1 million goal was reached with 10 hours of giving still left. “It took a year to put all the parts in place,” Frost says. “It was fun to see the community showed a ‘we like this idea’ attitude.” Since the original goal reached so quickly, the group then encouraged the community to shoot for $2 million. “We almost tripled our goal,” Frost says. “We are pretty excited that Austin thought philanthropy was fun.”
The final tally as the day closed was $2,796,151 given by 20,359 individual donors. University Federal Credit Union agreed to match donations up to $100,000 and Austin Community Foundation matched $60,000, which helped to increase the value of each gift. “We are locally owned ourselves,” UFCU Marketing Director Corinne Watts says. “It seemed like this event would be a good fit for us to help the community. All of this money is going to back to these non-profits in the community which is going to give ba
ck to the community at large.”
Going forward, Frost says the team will assess the numbers and figure out what kind of goal to set for next year, but right now it is just grateful. “Right now we’re just at a place of gratitude,” she says. “Gratitude to the team, gratitude for the non-profits that embraced the idea, and gratitude to the individuals and groups who participated.”