Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Nicole Sexton of Entertainment Industry Foundation Is Helping To Change Our World

Yitzi Weiner
Authority Magazine
Published in
6 min readJun 25, 2023

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A fundamental component of leadership for me is trust — trusting instincts, and perhaps most importantly, trusting the team and individual talents. I ensure that everyone on our team feels fully empowered to lead, grow, and generate new ideas that benefit us all. One of our team members has developed a large portfolio of partners who work with us to amplify their cause messaging. It has been a business built from the bottom up using our access to promote great work, and its development has been more successful than we could have hoped.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicole Sexton.

Nicole Sexton is the President and CEO of the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF). EIF was established in 1942 to unify Hollywood’s generous giving to maximize the amount of charitable dollars raised annually and guarantee that worthy charities receive these contributions. As President and CEO, Nicole is responsible for day-to-day operations and for developing strategies and plans, ensuring their alignment with the short-term and long-term objectives of the organization.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My career in philanthropy began when I helped to establish the FEED Foundation and served as its first Executive Officer. After that experience, I was the Executive Outreach Director of the ONE Campaign before segueing to Chief of Staff of the Central Park Conservancy. The role at EIF sparked my excitement because it leverages the power and reach of the entertainment industry to amplify important issues affecting millions of people all over the world. The collective impact of the entertainment community has driven worldwide attention and funding to causes including disaster relief, inclusion, social justice, health, mental wellness, education, and youth services.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

In a brainstorming session during the pandemic, we came up with an idea to create a television event that celebrated the 3 million high school seniors who missed their 2020 graduation. GRADUATE TOGETHER was born! EIF, XQ Institute, and the LeBron James Family Foundation hosted a joyful, one-hour roadblock primetime special that attracted an audience of 20 million and garnered a Peabody Award nomination.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. 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?

I planned a fundraising event, and I mailed 1,500 invitations with the wrong date. The reprint included the wrong RSVP information, as well. I called every friend to the rescue. We set up a call center and successfully contacted every single name on the guest list, providing them with the right information and making a personal appeal. It was one of the best fundraisers I have ever worked on. I learned the importance of one-to-one contact and of course, PROOFREADING!!

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

The EIF Careers Program is led by a collaboration of studios, networks, and career pathway providers. It was created to build a more diverse pipeline to film and television careers. We identify work-ready talent sourced from the industry’s most respected internship and career training programs from communities that have been historically excluded from the entertainment industry, with a particular focus on racial, ethnic, gender, disability, and socio-economic status. The inclusion of diverse perspectives is essential to achieving systemic change — whether in entertainment or any other industry.

EIF’s programs and partners touch nearly every pressing issue of the day. From social justice to arts education and cancer research funding, EIF is supporting the industry in putting a spotlight on need and providing a guide to how the public can get involved.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I can tell you how an individual impacted our company and cause. Several years ago, we launched the Delivering Jobs campaign to create a pathway to employment and leadership opportunities for neurodiverse people. Even though research shows that employing neurodiverse people is good for companies, more than 80% of adults with developmental differences do not have a paid job. We needed a receptionist at the time, and we interviewed Caley Versfelt through our partnership with Best Buddies. Caley proved that she was capable, reliable, and better than any other candidate for this role. No matter what mood you’re in when you arrive at our office, you will have a smile as soon as you walk through the door. Caley’s energy and warmth are infectious, and she elevates our entire team.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

They are doing it! By leveraging individual platforms across a multitude of issues and concerns, the entertainment industry is truly bringing influence, understanding, and opportunity to some of the most important universal challenges of our time.

In addition to EIF’s programs, we also provide fiscal sponsorship to artists and athletes seeking to expand their footprint in philanthropy. EIF serves as a fiscal partner to funds led by Charlize Theron, Jennifer Hudson, Colin Kaepernick, Kevin Love, G-Eazy, Melissa Rauch, Alicia Keys, and Cher, among others. They address issues ranging from mental wellness to inclusion to social justice to animal rights. Ukraine Children’s Action Project, led by Dr. Irwin Redlener and Karen Redlener, was founded to provide mental health and educational support to Ukrainian children. For all of our philanthropic partners, we are honored to help them solve challenging and complex problems here and around the world.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

A fundamental component of leadership for me is trust — trusting instincts, and perhaps most importantly, trusting the team and individual talents. I ensure that everyone on our team feels fully empowered to lead, grow, and generate new ideas that benefit us all. One of our team members has developed a large portfolio of partners who work with us to amplify their cause messaging. It has been a business built from the bottom up using our access to promote great work, and its development has been more successful than we could have hoped.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why.

· Don’t second guess your instincts

· Lead with kindness

· No job is too small or too big

· Everyone has something to teach you

· Patience

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. :-)

Acceptance and support of differences when it comes to employment. We challenge all businesses to identify ways they can incorporate neurodiverse people into their diversity and inclusion plans and empower HR personnel to invest in the long-term success of all employees.

We are starting to see progress. Human Resource professionals are striving to improve hiring practices by tailoring the interview process to allow neurodiverse candidates to best demonstrate their qualifications. Companies are more diligent in educating employees to facilitate a positive and empathetic work environment which is essential to success. More job training programs are being created for people with neurodifferences to prepare them for the workforce, and society is embracing the idea of inclusion like never before.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Wherever you go, there you are” … meaning that no matter what or how situational changes occur, you will continue to have to rely on your instincts and understanding of your personal challenges and strengths to be successful both in life and in the workplace.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

Ray Dalio — he is an inspirational leader.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Facebook: facebook.com/EIFoundation

Twitter: twitter.com/EIFoundation

Instagram: instagram.com/EIFoundation

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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Yitzi Weiner
Authority Magazine

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator