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How Tampa Bay charities encourage young professionals to give back

From left: Valerie Ellis, Amanda Page, Alyssa Rhoads, Kostas Stoilas, Courtney Lovinger and Camille Gomez checked out a Professional Philanthropy Network happy hour benefitting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at Tampa’s Aloft Hotel in August.
Published Dec. 11, 2014

Floridians are a little less philanthropic than their neighbors, according to a study of 2012 charitable giving figures culled by The Chronicle of Philanthropy. While Georgia and Alabama residents donate more than 4% of their annual incomes to causes traceable by IRS filings, the Sunshine State is at just over 3.2% during the same period.

The problem was most severe in the 25 to 44 age group, said Ned Pope of Florida Next, a non-profit organization based in Tampa.

"Even the college kids were kicking our butts," he laughed.

Still, there some local causes that have been able to buck the trend in 2014 and draw not only the support of young adults but also quite a bit of their hard-earned beer money.

The secret? Keep it local, keep it simple, and offer something tangible in exchange, charity boards say.

"Everyone has different gifts and talents, and to keep them excited you need to find out what they like and let them do that," said Katie McGill, executive director of Dress for Success Tampa Bay, which got its own young adult subcommittee in March.

Big-time commitments can also be hindrance to working people, so some local charities have laser-focused on a specific time of year and or event to prevent burnout. "We only need volunteers on a very select basis," said Julius Tobin, co-founder of onbikes. "So there is no major time commitment, and we spend of lot of effort on doing experience-oriented things like bike rides, where people can go and have a good time but be doing something good in the process."

Small charities are running like startup businesses, presenting donors with a cause and letting them see the end product of their dollars immediately. "If you can make something accessible, give people a choice to find their passion, you'll see a massive uptick in participation and monetary contributions," Pope said.

A few local groups shared their secrets to success in Tampa Bay with tbt*. Their leadership and volunteers are overwhelmingly youthful, with 70% to 90% of board members under age 40. Here's how they found their way into your hearts and wallets in 2014.

onbikes

Keeping young people engaged is a two-pronged process for onbikes (onbikes.org), a four-year-old local charity that provides bikes to children in need for the holidays.

"I think it's all about personal relationships and grassroots," said Julius Tobin, 32, a valuation analyst from Tampa and co-founder of onbikes. "When you have one-on-one contacts with people and you put a tangible final product in front of them it resonates a little more. It makes supporting it a no brainer."

Tobin founded onbikes with Drew Weatherford and several other friends after they took a bike ride around their neighborhood on a lark, and realized how much fun it was and the great memories it brought back.

"Who doesn't remember their first bike and the great feeling the had when they got it?" Tobin asked. "We wanted to share that joy with kids who wouldn't otherwise get the opportunity."

The charity has graduated from hosting bike rides and taking donations from cocktail and happy hours to recently hosting its first 24-hour bike build, where 90 volunteers worked in four-hour shifts around the clock to build 500 bikes to be donated to children in the foster care system under Eckerd Youth. Tobin said he was surprised to have 12 to 16 volunteers at the 4 a.m. shift, but not astonished at the support onbikes receives from the community.

"There are a lot of young people who work and work but might not be happy or passionate about their jobs," Tobin said. "We give people an outlet to something good and something they are passionate about and it really provides change for them."

Board member Kendra Stevens, 35, a commericial real estate appraiser from Tampa, said she was looking for a charity opportunity when a friend introduced her to onbikes two years ago. "If you think about back to years ago, charity events centered around old people at big galas," Stevens said. "The charity bike rides and 24-hour bike build have really taken off, and I'd say 90% of or participants and volunteers are age 23 to 43 and getting younger and younger."

The secret is simple, she says. "It's a fun way to get out and meet people that doesn't involve partying or drinking. It's doing something selfless around people your age who are also doing it."

Professional Philanthropy Network

Happy hours are as essential to young adults as keggers are to collegians, so many local organizations try and capitalize on their proliferation. Alyssa Rhoads, 32, owner of event planning business Eventing Tampa Bay, said she and two friends were looking for a way to support multiple charities when the Professional Philanthropy Network (facebook.com/PPNTampa) sprung forth.

"We were all in Business Buddies, which supports Best Buddies, and we were just trying a way to spread the love and not be so focused on one cause," Rhoads said.

Personally, she had many causes dear to her heart because of her personal experience. "I was in the MS Walk committee," she said. "My husband has multiple sclerosis and everybody has these causes that are near and dear to them." So a volunteer board of under-40 movers and shakers formed in 2012 and PPN began hosting a Wednesday night happy hour networking party once a month to support a different charity.

The six board members use their connections to get local bars and restaurants to lend them the space gratis and even kick in for one drink per guest and some finger food. "Venues love us because we pack out their place on a Wednesday night," Rhoads laughed. "They are giving us free things but they are also bringing in customers."

In the past, charities were chosen via referrals, but for 2015, PPN had an official application process. More than 60 organizations tried to be the beneficiary of one of PPN's 11 events on the calendar.

"There are so many young professionals who want to give back but don't know how to," Rhoads said. "Our members can come out to our events, pay $10, get a drink and some finger food and support a good cause. You can't beat it. I've paid $10 for just one cocktail at a bar before."

The Pig Jig

Rallying around a friend in need used to mean hosting a bake sale or throwing a house party, but in these technology-savvy days, starting a giving campaign is as simple as a few clicks on a fundraising site and a stirring Facebook post. That's what makes the high- and low-tech approach of Tampa's Pig Jig (tampapigjig.com) appealing enough to draw 3,000 people to Curtis Hixon Park in November.

Chris Whitney, 32, vice president of his family's commercial dump truck business, decided with his friends to settle an argument about who made the best barbecue by hosting a cook-off. At the same time, his best friend, Will, was fighting for his life against a rare kidney disease that would eventually lead to him needing 20 hours of dialysis a week — even after getting a transplant.

"We didn't know anything about Nephrotic Syndrome and FSGS (Focal segmental glomerulosclerosis)," Whitney said. "But Will is great, and so we said, 'Why not raise so money to help him out?'"

The little fundraiser that raked in $6,000 in a South Tampa backyard its first year has grown into a major event for the NephCure Foundation, which funds research on the disease that effects 5,000 people annually, Whitney said. Competing friends morphed into competing corporate teams, and a guy with a guitar gave way to seven bands on two stages, but the Pig Jig's central idea remains even if the workload quadruples for volunteers.

"In the months leading up to the event, it's like a second job, the amount of hours that goes into planning an event this big," Whitney said. "But if Will can spend three nights a week in dialysis, then this is nothing."

The Teal Recovery Project

Rena Carideo, 34, a event planner from Tampa, relishes each time her charity helps someone suffering from cervical cancer, because she was the first recipient of that help. She was in dire financial straits without a job when she was being treated in 2012, and her friends raised money to help her get through the worst part.

Now in remission, Carideo heads the Teal Recovery Project (tealrecoveryproject.org) as it chooses one woman each year to help cover the financial burden of fighting cervical cancer. The group hosts a benefit gala in April that's more like a huge party, with a silent auction hosted through an app and some really famous attendees.

"Last year, Evan Longoria came and auctioned off field passes and suite tickets. I think he even auctioned off his shoes. It was fun," Carideo said.

Teal Recovery's 10-member board, all under 40, is fully volunteer, so the majority of the funds go directly to the woman in need. Seeing that help is what garners the most support, she said.

"People don't always want to sit at a $1,000 plated dinner," Carideo said. "Our generation is looking for new and unique ways to do something."

Young Executives for Success Tampa Bay

Zuri Woodard attended the Dress for Success Tampa Bay 15th Anniversary banquet and got totally energized.

"I thought I needed to be a part of it and that there needed to be a young-professional component involved in this cause," said the 28-year-old associate merchandiser for HSN.

Luckily, the national organization founded in 1997, which provides interview attire, training and job support to women in need, already had the framework in place. Twelve young women came together to for Young Executives for Success Tampa Bay — a young adult arm of the local charity.

"We draw in a lot of young women who want to give back," said Katie McGill, executive director of Dress for Success Tampa Bay (dressforsuccess.org/tampabay). "For a lot of them it's the opportunity to work one-on-one, helping a client pick out a suit and doing mock interviews to get them ready, that they find really rewarding."

YES caters to professional women who want to be involved in the charity, but don't necessarily have time to go out and help suit clients on weekdays. "We find that they really appreciate things they can do on their way homes," Woodard said. "That's why we host a happy hour once a month with a minimum $10 donation."

Since forming in March, YES has collected more than 50 hand bags, 500 totes and more than $1,000 to Dress for Success.

"We find ourselves in need of funds to purchase plus-sized suits because those aren't being donated to us," McGill said. "In the past year, we've spent more $3,000 on plus-sized suits to help local women in need."

In the future, Woodard wants to take YES beyond networking with the big dream of merging a passion for fashion with a passion for giving back. "I hope to do something at Tampa Bay Fashion Week," Woodard said. "A fashion show would be such a natural fit for this organization."

Give Day Tampa Bay

Microgiving and crowdfunding has made magical things possible, from a Veronica Mars movie to the world's largest jockstrap. Florida Next, a non-profit advocacy organization for entrepreneurs, small businesses and young talent got the idea to crowd fund local charities through an impact meeting with the community.

"We did pretty well, and we're encouraged by what we accomplished with our four-month implementation this year," said Ned Pope of Florida Next. "We learned a lot and we've become much better at organizing."

The setup was simple. Any charity with an active 501(c)(3) ­license and a clean record could sign up as a beneficiary of Give Day Tampa Bay (givedaytampabay.com). Over 24 hours in May, Give Day raised $1.09 million from 5,000 individual donors. Donors could go to the website or download an app and choose which of the hundreds of listed charities they wanted to support. In the same time it took to buy that My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic DVD online, people could give to one or dozens of local charities in need.

Pope thinks the model is so good, they can do more next year. "We're hoping to get our numbers of individual donors up over 7,000, which may put our total in the $1.5 million range," Pope said.

Crowdfunding targets millennials where they live and gives them a chance to get involved and get back, Pope explained. "We don't track the ages of our donors, but next year we'll be keeping track of how many people give via the cell phone app to get an idea of the preferred medium."

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