Try and avoid single use items. This is really challenging since single-use items are so prevalent. At Gifts for Good, we sell items like water bottles and metal straws to help equip individuals to pack these in their bags to avoid plastic water bottles and plastic straws. You might also consider taking reusable containers in your bag to dinner if you think you might have leftovers and want to avoid the Styrofoam to-go containers and certainly bring your reusable totes when you are grocery shopping.
Avoid fast fashion. This can also be a challenge since the world shifted in a way new clothing became very cheap and trends changed almost by the week. However, if your clothing seems so inexpensive you wonder how they could produce it at that cost, chances are someone didn’t get paid along the way. Buying secondhand from places like Goodwill, you can keep quality products from the landfill while also supporting a social mission.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t say, give items that give back and are ethically sourced. That’s our whole concept at Gifts for Good where we are creating employment opportunities for those with barriers, selling champagne the funds counseling programs, or making up-cycled products from plastic water bottles, auto parts, or billboards. As we continue to vote with our dollars we can see real change.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Millennial entrepreneur, Laura Hertz, the co-founder and CEO of Gifts for Good: an innovative, millennial-driven, and socially conscious startup whose mission is to disrupt the world of business gifting. As an agent of change for both large corporations and smaller companies alike, Gifts for Good’s digital platform is the only resource in the $100 billion corporate gifting industry that curates premium and purposeful gifts that give back.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I learned about the struggles of nonprofits to raise funds when I deferred my college acceptance to join the federal community service program AmeriCorps, rebuilding homes in New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina, helping wildfire victims, feeding and clothing the hungry and homeless, and teaching high school geometry to inner-city youth. Later, after graduating from UC Berkeley, I worked for Deloitte, and noticed how much money companies were spending on gifts for employees and clients — and how these gifts were often low quality stress balls and meaningless, branded paperweights that ended up in a junk drawer.
I believe in the use of business as a force for good. That is why I founded Gifts for Good after completing the Master of Science in Social Entrepreneurship (MSSE) at the USC Marshall School of Business. In fact, the idea for Gifts for Good was originally developed during an MSSE class project! Just two months after graduating from the MSSE program, the business was born!
Gifts for Good is reinventing the $90 billion U.S. corporate gifting industry as the first source for business gifts with a social impact. As a B2B marketplace, we sell life-changing products made by over 40 nonprofits and social enterprises to businesses purchasing employee and client gifts in bulk. Our platform helps companies send more meaningful corporate gifts, while providing the B2B marketing team these cause-based organizations need to better sustain themselves and grow their reach and impact.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
During our first holiday season — just one month after we officially launched our business — we received a very large order from one of the most influential billionaire families in Los Angeles to do all of their holiday gifts. We had to get products and custom gift packaging delivered from several different states by air and freight, kit them, and then hand deliver dozens of gifts all around LA to celebrities’ homes — all within a ten-day time period.
At the time, we didn’t have a fulfillment center. So we had to use one table in a small conference room at our shared office building to hand package a hundred units of our highest end gift boxes (worth over $500 each) … all within just two days! My husband and coworker were literally super gluing lace on large wooden gift boxes, and packaging products with a wooden crinkle called “excelsior” (that gives you splinters all over your hands!) for 14 -hours straight for two days. Luckily, the gifts came out beautifully and the client couldn’t have been happier. But if you had seen the disaster that we made that conference room for 48 hours… it was an experience our founding team will never forget!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When we first got started we exclusively had the vendors shipping directly to our customers and we wanted to make sure our name was included. We designed and printed postcards and sent them to our vendors to include with each shipment that they sent out on our behalf. We were so focused on the design (and looked at the cards so many times), we never noticed that on the final card we sent to print we misspelled the name of our own website! Once we received the printed cards and caught our error — we unfortunately had to re-print thousands of cards and had already mailed out hundreds of cards with our website spelled wrong to customers for several weeks… Now our rule is three eyes on everything before it goes to print!
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
We have a number of products that are creating employment opportunities for those with barriers to employment. In 2019 alone, we generated over 21,197 hours of employment! This included women transitioning out of homelessness from skid row, to individuals with disabilities, to those living inside refugee camps. By creating employment opportunities for those with barriers, we believe we are giving in a way that is dignified and truly solving a problem.
Over the last two years, we’ve partnered with some of the biggest brands in the world — including National Geographic, Facebook, Google, and American Express — to create an incredible social impact in 65 countries through their gift giving including (but not limited to):
- 53,973 of job training for marginalized communities
- 20,201 trees planted
- 6,655 meals provided to children in need
- 42,800 pounds of fresh fruit given to American families in need
- 28,000 children with enough Vitamin A for 1 year
- 12,019 people provided with one year of clean drinking water
- 5,568 water bottles recycled and 1,037,925 gallons of water saved
… and so much more!
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your cause?
We worked with a big healthcare client who gives a large amount of gifts every year for nurse’s week. This has previously been a monotonous project. Once they found Gifts for Good, they ordered all of their gifts from us where we produced thousands of branded leather items with our partner in Haiti. The impact was substantial. Not only were we able to create 1,227 hours of employment in Haiti, but our client was also impacted. She was moved to tears as she realized how her purchase was supporting individuals where unemployment is close to 60 percent. This formerly monotonous project had been transformed to something impactful, giving her greater purpose in her work.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
As a marketplace with broad products that support multiple problems, we don’t have one problem we are focused on. However, here are some ways people can do good.
- Try and avoid single use items. This is really challenging since single-use items are so prevalent. At Gifts for Good, we sell items like water bottles and metal straws to help equip individuals to pack these in their bags to avoid plastic water bottles and plastic straws. You might also consider taking reusable containers in your bag to dinner if you think you might have leftovers and want to avoid the Styrofoam to-go containers and certainly bring your reusable totes when you are grocery shopping.
- Avoid fast fashion. This can also be a challenge since the world shifted in a way new clothing became very cheap and trends changed almost by the week. However, if your clothing seems so inexpensive you wonder how they could produce it at that cost, chances are someone didn’t get paid along the way. Buying secondhand from places like Goodwill, you can keep quality products from the landfill while also supporting a social mission.
- I’d be remiss if I didn’t say, give items that give back and are ethically sourced. That’s our whole concept at Gifts for Good where we are creating employment opportunities for those with barriers, selling champagne the funds counseling programs, or making up-cycled products from plastic water bottles, auto parts, or billboards. As we continue to vote with our dollars we can see real change.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is about life and about making other people’s lives better. True leaders are devoted to others and want to make a positive contribution to their company, community, and society.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Trust your gut. On too many occasions during my first two years in business, I did not trust my gut with many decisions and always regretted it. When you have a feeling that something isn’t going to work out, it probably won’t. Trust your intuition.
- Write down your gratitude. As an entrepreneur, it is easy to feel like things are always going wrong. Entrepreneurship is a long and bumpy road, full of incredible peaks and deep gullies. During the first year of building my business, it often felt like I was living solely in the valleys, rather than the peaks. So today, first thing when I wake up, I write down three things I have to be grateful for, three things that would make that day great, and one daily affirmation. Right before I go to sleep, I write down three amazing things that happened that day and answer the question: ‘How could I have made today better?’ The daily practice of writing down what I have to be grateful for, and reflecting upon who I want to become, helps me rewire my brain and improve my happiness.
- Real change takes time. Nonprofits, businesses, government, and individuals all embody their own DNA. It can be hard to change things once it’s set in place. To move the needle on global poverty — and huge problems of that kind- in any substantial way takes a long time. It requires courage, grit, and tenacity. Be patient.
- Practice self-acceptance on a daily basis. As entrepreneurs, negativity, stress and self-doubt more often than not come from within. While you might not realize it, there’s a high chance that you are creating the stress that exists in your life — not someone else or outside forces. The things that shape your mindset are the essential engine shaping your team, product, and overall business — don’t let them be a formidable obstacle to your growth and success.
- Manage yourself first, and then your team. Your team will go where you go. Schedule “you time” every day. Whatever time it is that you need to reset — an hour long bike ride alone on Sunday morning, a daily walk with your dog, or five minutes of meditation before bed every night — don’t forget to invest in the most important aspect of your business… yourself!
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
My mission in life is to empower the world to help people and the planet through gift giving. I envision creating a world where every gift purchased gives back. Why? 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. Yet 50% of corporate swag ends up in a landfill within two years. If every business purchased gifts that gave back — without spending any more money — companies could easily quadruple their social impact. And if every individual person purchased gifts that give back, too, we could help millions of people in need around the world every year… and all through money we are already spending!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Last month, I attended a Diversity and Inclusion Summit and had the honor of hearing former President Barack Obama speak. During Barack’s speech, he said: “Life comes down to two things [that he tells his daughters every day: 1) be kind; 2) be useful.”
His words truly touched me. Being kind is the greatest (and most underrated) asset of every human being, both personally and professionally. Throughout your career you should always reflect, “Is what I am doing purposeful and useful to others?”
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Yvon Chouinard, the Founder of Patagonia. Yvon is one of the true founders of Social Entrepreneurship and I admire the brand he has built more than anyone. His brand challenges the status quo on a monthly basis and isn’t afraid to forgo revenue to stand up for what they believe in. Plus, I have no doubt he would share some incredible stories about all of his outdoor adventures!
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