Laura Hertz Tackles CSR Programs With Gifts for Good

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Gifts for Good is a Los Angeles-based, online business gifting company with a social impact. They offer premium gifts for companies and individuals that are made by nonprofit or social enterprise partners who make and sell their own products to support their mission. More than 40 charitable organizations already participate, generating impact in 19 states and 65 countries around the globe. Gifts for Good is the very first company anywhere to be solely focused on adding social impact to the already-existing and booming corporate gifting industry. Be it for a holiday, conference, client thank you gift, corporate retreat, or first-day-on-the-job branded swag, Gifts for Good has all corporate gifting needs covered.

December 9th, 2017 marked one month since their official e-commerce launch. During their first four weeks in business, Gifts for Good provided funding for one year of clean drinking water to 857 people in the Central African Republic; 18,000 children with enough Vitamin A for one year; 450 days of job training for women transitioning from homelessness in Los Angeles; the gift of hearing to 20 individuals in developing countries who would otherwise not be able to hear; 188 days of schooling to children in-need in Honduras; and planted 11 trees. While they can’t disclose exactly who their clients are, they’re already working with several of the world’s most valuable brands for their employee, client and event gifting.

MiLLENNiAL caught up with Laura Hertz, the company’s CEO, to learn more about how she founded the company and what it takes to make it a success.

What motivated your decision to start Gifts for Good?

In our final project at the USC Marshall School of Business Social Entrepreneurship Program, my co-founder Jerry and I 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, we quickly realized the material size of our total addressable market and the unique value our 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. Jerry and I quickly realized that if every business purchased gifts that gave back – without spending any more money – companies could easily double their social impact.

Prior to business school, Jerry and I had both worked for – and with – companies that gave gifts to their employees, clients, business partners and leads. Most of these gifts were just throwaways and ended up in a junk drawer. They were never meaningful or thoughtful, just cheesy novelty products with a corporate logo on it.

Additionally, in our own gift giving efforts, we struggled to find products that had meaning and aligned with our personal values. While gift-giving is about so much more than transactional exchange, giving a quality, personalized gift was difficult and time consuming. Jerry and I both felt motivated to bring more meaning and ease to gift giving!

Explain how the program works and the ways in which corporations are giving back.

Gifts for Good takes a company’s current gifting budget and enables them to give back in a unique way. U.S. corporations spend billions annually on gift giving (clients, new hires, retreats, sales conferences, etc). By purchasing all gifts that give back, we’re able to help them support charitable causes – and increase sustainability to the nonprofit community – in an easy and innovative way.

Our free gifting concierge service helps companies and professionals find the perfect gifts for their industry, company size and demographic, corporate social responsibility initiatives, recipient, occasion and budget. We work closely with our clients to identify their top needs, and curate the perfect gifts for them that speak to the causes their company cares about most. This service is highly beneficial for the companies who work with us.

Not only do we help them give their employees and clients more meaningful gifts that are better remembered, but we also help them save time and money throughout the year. We offer companies complete outsourcing of their corporate gifting needs year round.

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Our team is excited about the trends we have been seeing in the realm of philanthropic giving, particularly when it comes to corporate philanthropy. More and more, companies are actively exploring ways to bring social impact into their day-to-day operations. They’re also looking to further support social and environmental causes that are increasingly important to their employees, customers and other stakeholders.

Corporate social responsibility is playing an increasingly important role at most major companies — particularly those that recognize the vital importance of attracting and retaining Millennial talent, who has a strong interest in working for and with companies helping to make the world a better place.

How many organizations are you working with and how do you determine which ones earn your support?

Currently, we have over 150 gifts that support the work of more than 40 nonprofits and social enterprises in 19 U.S. states and 65 countries around the globe. We provide everything from handmade candles to luxe leather totes and unique wooden headphones, all of which support a wide range of nonprofits and charitable causes, including children-in-need, economic development, the environment, homelessness, health, women-at-risk, and more. Each organization is vetted for both the quality of their products and a thoughtful giving strategy.

Since we seek to support a wide range of causes, every product we sell has a unique giving model. Several of our partners directly employ marginalized or disadvantaged groups; whether it’s those transitioning out of homelessness, human trafficking or abuse, we’re helping those in need to redirect their lives and become contributing members of society.

A number of the enterprises we work with follow a buy-one, give-one model. For example, we have audio products that donate a hearing aid to someone who has never been able to hear before for each earbud or speaker purchased; or we have wood products that plant a tree for each product purchased. Other partners donate a material amount of each sale directly to charity.

What is Gift for Good’s business model?

During my time in AmeriCorps NCCC – a full-time federal community service program that has been deemed the Domestic Peace Corps – I saw firsthand how following the 2008 financial crisis, more businesses sought to create sustainable financial models and more nonprofits sought to be less dependent on donations, grants, and subsidies.

Gifts for Good’s business model was built upon this insight — we use product sales to fund the social missions of nonprofits, reducing dependence on donations, subsidies, and grants; as well as helping to scale up the reach and impact of social enterprises. We’re proud to be the only one-stop-shop for business gifts that give back to a variety of social, economic, and environmental causes.

How do you source the goods available for companies to gift?

In addition to our stringent standards for the quality of the product, every cause brand that we partner with has to provide detailed information on their social impact strategy and metrics. We prioritize meeting in person at their location, ask for references, and verify their information through third-party sites likes Charity Navigator and other sources.

We are both proactive in reaching out to companies that would be a good fit, and reactive to those that apply to work with us on our website. Either way we ask a variety of in-depth questions, and review sample products and packaging before we agree to work with a new company. When a customer purchases from Gifts for Good, we want them to know they are getting a quality product with ethical and sustainable impact every time!

What have been some of the biggest challenges in starting this venture?

Most of the nonprofits and social enterprises that we have partnered with thus far have had little experience with bulk, corporate orders. Our business model is truly a new territory for a lot of our cause partners, who are used to serving the B2C market versus the B2B market. Additionally, many of our cause partners do not have concrete social impact metrics down to the product level (ex: each backpack sold provides 10 days of schooling for a child in South Africa). There has been a lot of hand holding along the way, and we’ve had to work closely with several nonprofits to create custom products that are a good fit for the business gifting space.

What was the key step in transforming yourself from an aspiring entrepreneur to an actual business owner?

The key step for me in transforming myself into a business owner was the realization that my mindset as a leader and founder was the animating force behind building my new business, and that – if I let it – it could be a formidable obstacle to my growth and success.

Your mindset as an entrepreneur allows you to weather the ups and downs of startup life with grace; it is required to believe in your own abilities and visions and break down walls of self doubt; it affects your daily habits, the way you manage your company, and the way you make decisions.

While I didn’t realize it during the initial stages of building my business, I was more often than not creating the stress that existed in my life – not someone else or outside forces. As entrepreneurs, negativity, stress and self-doubt more often than not come from within. Never underestimate the importance of gratitude, self-acceptance, and self-love. The things that shape your mindset are the essential engine shaping your team, product, and overall business!

To learn more about Laura Hertz or to support Gifts for Good, visit their website at giftsforgood.com and be sure to follow their journey on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. If you “Like” their Facebook page, they’ll donate a meal to a person in-need!

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MiLLENNiAL is a lifestyle magazine profiling those who are shaping the world we experience. From business innovation and career strategy to sustainable health and cultural disruptors, MiLLENNiAL shines the light on the young change makers of the world.

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