Today, U.S. corporations spend over $60 billion every year on corporate gifts but donate less than a third of that to charitable causes. For Jerry Eisenberg and Laura Hertz, this offered an amazing opportunity to tap into this market with the launch of their unique business, Gifts for Good. Gifts for Good curates premium corporate gifts that give back. Each product supports one of 40 non-profit and social enterprise partners tackling the world’s most pressing social, economic, and environmental challenges.
Since their launch last fall, Gifts for Good has generated impact in over 19 states and 65 countries around the globe supporting such causes as children in need, women at risk, environment, economic development, homelessness, health and wildlife conservation. Gifts for Good believes that if every corporation purchased gifts that gave back―without spending any more money―they could redirect billions of dollars every year a year to create sustainable change. I had the opportunity to chat with Gifts for Good’s Chief Impact Officer Jenise Sterverding to learn more about this exciting new organization. Here is what she had to say.
You have an interesting educational and business background mixing sociology, business, and philanthropy and went back to school in 2005 to receive a Masters in Public Management. Why did you want to combine all of these disciplines and what benefit has it been for your career?
It’s funny, I never really felt like I fit in when I graduated college because it seemed that if I cared about making the world better I had to go into non-profit and if I wanted to go the business route, it was mostly about creating high profits for the business owner. At the time there was nothing in-between and not a lot of people using business for good.
As someone whose personality is more of a hybrid, when I looked at roles in non-profit, they were mostly about running programs and doing service delivery and that didn’t feel like the right fit. I started my career in small businesses, but was not fulfilled because the sole focus was on profit. After about 5 years, I quit and moved to San Francisco and ended up going to work in higher education at Stanford University School of Medicine. Again, after a few years, I was frustrated by the bureaucracy of higher education as I have an entrepreneurial mind. I decided to go back to school but didn’t want to be pigeon-holed into one field. At the time, in the United States, my choices were a Master’s in Business Administration, Master’s in Nonprofit Management, or a Master’s in Public Administration. Each one of those felt too specific for me. I did some research and found SDA Bocconi University in Milan, Italy that had a Master’s in Public Management which was combining business, government, and nonprofit. So I quit my job and moved again, this time out of the country.
After you received your Master’s degree, you worked for a non-profit organization called Giving Children Hope and then at TOMS in the giving department. Tell me a little bit about your role and what you learned. How has that experience helped you in your job today?
I first went to work for a non-profit called Giving Children Hope, a faith-based non-profit organization that works to alleviate poverty, both domestically and internationally, through disaster relief, health and community development, vocational training and advocacy. Shortly after being deployed to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, I was put in touch with TOMS’ newly hired Director of Giving. I had been watching TOMS grow and was interested in their model but I wasn’t certain they were really interested in making an impact. At first I declined talking to them, but later changed my mind. What I discovered is that TOMS wasn’t a marketing ploy but was truly working to drive impact. Additionally, my background in gifts-in-kind from Giving Children Hope uniquely positioned me to help them grow since that was such a specific niche; I had been moving product around the world for 4 years into impoverished communities. By the Spring of 2010 I jumped in as the second hire in the new Giving department.
Like any fast-growing company, you learn a lot. I was hired to manage the relationships between TOMS and it’s non-profit Giving Partners, but we were growing so quickly that I could not do it alone. By the end of the year I had hired someone in Ethiopia (where TOMS was doing quite a bit of work), inherited a team member in Argentina, and hired two direct reports in the office. Within 6 months I had a few more direct reports in HQ. I remained solely focused on building and scaling shoe-giving as the Director was building out new programs like TOMS sight-giving.
On the shoe-giving side, we had numerous challenges we had to decide how to handle: at what point would we put a cap on giving in any particular country; how did we ensure kids weren’t being given shoes by more than one organization; how did we ensure we weren’t hurting local economies; how did we know what sizes to send since we were doing custom orders; could we give additional funds to cover the expenses of shoe-distribution; and so many more lessons and challenges. It was like getting a second MBA only you weren’t reading a case study and when you are living it out, emotions and people are involved.
Gifts for Good was founded by Jerry Eisenberg and Laura Hertz who attended the same business school to receive their Master’s in Social Entrepreneurship. How did the idea of Gifts for Good develop and what has been the mission?
In their final project at the USC Marshall School of Business Social Entrepreneurship Program, Laura and Jerry were challenged to develop a strategic plan for a social enterprise that provides an innovative solution to a pressing social problem. The plan had to specify the social enterprise’s vision and mission, its business model, its growth strategy and how the enterprise would measure social impact. Toward the end of the semester, they quickly realized the material size of the total addressable market and the unique value the business idea could bring to the corporate gifting industry.
Today, the gifting market is estimated to be a $131 billion industry, representing around $1 in every $10 spent by Americans annually. Spending by corporations – just on promotional gifts/swag alone – represents 17 percent of the total gifting market, or $22 billion – compared to $18 billion on corporate charitable giving each year. They realized that if every business purchased gifts that gave back – without spending any more money – companies could easily double their social impact.
We’re on a mission to get every business to buy gifts that give back!
You joined Gifts for Good in the summer of 2017 as Chief Impact Officer and Gifts for Good officially launched just this past fall. What has been your role and where do you hope to see the company in the next year?
As with any startup, you end up doing a variety of things (which is what I love). Primarily I’m responsible for managing the relationships with our brand partnerships (which are nonprofits and social enterprises), as well as vetting new partnerships. We look for quality product that fits the B2B market and high impact organizations. We also prioritize items that can be branded since this is a common request from our clientele. I also spend a lot of time talking with new partners to quantify the impact of each product.
While those are my primary responsibilities, I also work on marketing, PR, customer outreach, and customer service. Similar to TOMS and other roles, when you join something in the early days you do whatever needs to get done.
As for what we hope to do in the next year, we plan to continue to add new great products and bring on many new customers. We’ve had a lot of traction in the entertainment industry providing gifts to celebrities and for show’s wrap parties – we plant to continue and grow our presence there. In 2018 we plan to do more outreach into the tech industry.
What makes Gifts for Good unique in the marketplace?
We are the only company focused on B2B sales and social impact. So while there have been more businesses that are using business for good in the consumer space, we have curated a selection of quality products that businesses are looking for and many that can be branded. So we become a one-stop-shop for businesses to find quality products that also do good.
Additionally, our free gifting concierge is a fantastic tool to help businesses save time and money by using our team to suggest gifts that meet their criteria. We offer a quarterly social impact report that we can generate if a business shifts their gifting to us. For instance, if in a quarter a company ordered 900 branded tee-shirts, 100 water bottles and 300 laptop covers we could issue them a visual report showing they provided through their gifting budget: 75 hours of job skills training to at-risk youth in California, 600 months of clean drinking water for individuals in Central Africa Republic, and 1,200 hours of dignified employment to fight the orphan crisis in Haiti. We’re really focused on taking that pre-existing budget and turning it into a budget for good and then providing businesses the tools to communicate that good with all of their stakeholders.
Why are you so passionate about working in this field and “giving back”?
A couple of reasons. First, from an early age my parents taught me to give back. From my earliest allowance, I had three envelopes. I had a percentage I could spend on whatever I wanted, a percentage I had to save in my savings account, and a percentage I needed to use to give back. So I had to give money away for every dollar I earned. I remember being a child and also sponsoring a child in need through World Vision. So in many ways, I credit my family for instilling this passion in me at an early age. Second, I would also say that giving back in an outgrowth of my faith. If I take my faith seriously, we are called to care for the least of these and so there’s a responsibility to give to others from a belief in God. Lastly, it’s simply good business. My experience has been when you use business for good hat you gain more customers, you have happier employees, and you are more fulfilled.
To check out the full line of products from Gifts for Good, visit www.giftsforgood.com. You can shop by cause, price, customizable products, categories or occasion. For each product, you learn who makes it and how it benefits the organization.
Jenise’s background spans the private technology, higher education, and nonprofit sectors. As the second hire in TOMS Giving department, she scaled partnerships across the globe. As the second hire for the corporate sponsorship team of the 2015 Special Olympics World Games, she worked on global cause marketing campaigns and sponsorships. She studied sociology and business at Westmont College and received her Master’s in Public Management at SDA Bocconi University in Milan, Italy.