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A Different Kind of Foundation Giving

These days when many foundation communicators are trying to make the best of the new communications tools, including how to say all they can in 140-character tweets and other short-burst online postings, it’s refreshing to see someone ply their writing, editing and design skills on the topic of philanthropy for a written project that takes closer to 140 pages in length. (And not an annual report.)

The debut edition of the Austin Community Foundation’s GivingCity: The Guide for Doing Good in Austin doesn’t quite clock in at that length. But the 92-page online publication shows the commitment of the the foundation and the magazine’s editor, Monica Williams, to use words and pictures in compelling ways to show citizens of the Central Texas city the virtue of philanthropy and how, they too, can give back, and sometimes by getting involved in projects they might not know about without the magazine to point the way.

Williams, who produces GivingCity for the foundation, actually wears two hats. In addition to her editor-in-chief title, she serves as the foundation’s director of communications.  In that role she focuses on projects designed to help the foundation be better known, support its donor development efforts, and handle tasks that would be familiar to any foundation communications director.

Wearing her other hat, Williams turns her eyes and ears to uncovering and highlighting organizations and activities that can help people give back to Austin–from how small donations can make a big difference to any one of 75 things people can do to give back to the community.

Whether the topics she writes about for the magazine are connected in any way to the Austin Community Foundation–other than being in the same town–that’s pure coincidence.

In plotting out the content for issues of the quarterly publication, Willams says the goal is “to present as many interesting and inspiring stories about local giving as we can. If GivingCity can present readers with enough ideas, opportunities, role models and entry points, maybe more people will be able to visualize themselves as philanthropists.”

Williams had been producing GivingCity as an independent publisher and editor before she was invited to join the Austin Community Foundation last summer as its first director of communications.  One of the big differences, beyond the security of having the foundation’s backing for the publication, is that now Williams feels she has “access to the entire philanthropy community.”

As a result, she says, “I hear more story ideas, I meet more interesting people, I can get the information I need much more quickly. Just physically being in the office makes such a difference.”

In her first issue for the foundation, Williams is true to the magazine’s promised editorial mission of providing a diverse range of topics that are meant to appeal to just about everyone who currently gives back or needs a tiny push.

For instance, the magazine’s cover story, “This is Junior League Austin,” introduces readers to the local chapter of this national organization, made up of Austin women who are committed to and passionate about volunteering.

“I did a little ‘Twitter poll’ asking my followers what they think of when they hear Junior League. The most common response was ‘headbands.’  Seriously. So the cover story is meant to dispel some of those myths. These are actually some of the hardest working women and mothers in Austin.”

In addition to articles that offer ways to give money or time to worthy local groups, stories in the magazine profile the official in Austin charged with overseeing volunteer opportunities, showcase a local project that uses hip hop music to positively engage young people, how plans are progressing for a planetarium for the city, and a look behind the scenes at the local community radio station, KOOP.

While there’s plenty in this job for Williams, what motivated the foundation to take it on?

Says foundation President and CEO Ken Gladish: “GivingCity is a perfect partner for a community foundation interested in stimulating the conversation about giving in our town. A creative and independently associated ‘voice’ that shares our passion for building the culture of generosity just makes sense. We are not viewing the magazine as a ‘house organ’…but we definitely want it under our roof.”

Ok, just give into the temptation, and click here to see for yourself.

–Bruce Trachtenberg


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