As the executive director of I Live Here, I Give Here, Celeste Flores is proud of how the 10-year-old organization is living up to its name.
Ten years ago, a select group of community leaders made a call to action. They noticed a stark contrast between the rise in Austin’s population and the decreasing amount of citywide nonprofit donations.
What started out then as a grassroots marketing campaign has evolved into the present-day fundraising initiative I Live Here, I Give Here, which encourages thousands of Austinites to give back to the community through the donation of one small gift at a time.
Being the artistic, culturally vibrant and active city Austin is, it’s no surprise our sense of community is unparalleled. The mission of I Live Here, I Give Here, led by Executive Director Celeste Flores, is to raise attention and monetary support for the network of volunteers, thought leaders and good Samaritans working tirelessly behind the scenes to keep Austin moving forward.
“There are so many organizations that are taking care of us and we don’t even realize it,” Flores says. “When I think about our mission, I think about it empowering people to act on the responsibility of investing in our community.”
Flores first realized her passion for philanthropy and fundraising in 2001. A San Antonio native, she was living in Houston at the time, taking a sabbatical from work as a tech consultant and craving a career change.
“I quite literally walked into this work,” Flores says. “At the time that 9/11 happened, I walked into the Red Cross and told them my skills and I started working with the team in the development department.”
Flores hardly knew what such a department did.
“I didn’t realize what kind of job that looked like. But I quickly realized that it was someone’s job to ask someone for money for the benefit of others or the greater good. I loved it,” she says.
Fast-forward nearly 16 years from her first day working with the Red Cross, and Flores is living in Austin and working as the leading force behind I Live Here, I Give Here, which celebrates its 10-year anniversary this year. Now an organization led, in part, by a stalwart team of eight women, I Live Here, I Give Here is responsible for one of Austin’s largest days of giving, Amplify Austin Day in March, as well as other philanthropy-focused initiatives such as See Jane Give in June and Give Back Jack in October.
“Our mission is to grow local philanthropies through a host of programs, which are geared toward the individual donor and the merging donor,” Flores explains. “We are laser focused on growing local giving, making sure that families, businesses and individuals are investing in our community.”
For those unfamiliar with I Live Here, I Give Here’s largest fundraising event, Amplify Austin Day is a 24-hour period in which Austinites can log onto amplifyatx.org and browse through hundreds—700 to be exact—of local nonprofit organizations in need of donations. From Alzheimer’s Texas to the Zilker Botanical Garden Conservancy, the nonprofit options are endless.
Flores describes the website as the “Amazon of nonprofits” since a donor can add a variety of different organizations to his or her cart and check out in a single transaction. This year’s designated period of giving, which took place March 2 and 3, raised more than $9.8 million. In the five years since Amplify Austin Day’s inception, the day of fundraising has brought in a cumulative $35 million for nonprofits in the community.
“Of that $35 million, I think it’s close to 300,000 individual gifts,” Flores says of the donations. “That’s a lot of people coming together for different reasons, interests, passions and organizations.”
For her, the phrase “financial empowerment” means not only being smart with your money, but also allocating your finances wisely.
“I think it’s all about taking inventory of all of your resources. We all have a finite amount of time, talent and treasure,” Flores says. “Take inventory just like you would any asset and ask yourself, ‘What can I give and how can I benefit the greater good?’”
She’s adamant that anyone has the ability to be a philanthropist, that making a contribution doesn’t have to mean spending an entire paycheck.
“My grandparents always taught me that we take care of our own,” Flores says, reflecting on the work I Live Here, I Give Here has accomplished in the past decade. “For us, that’s our community. Our Austin community built us and made us who we are, so it’s our responsibility to give back.”