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.