Quarterlette: Tell us about yourselves – education, your career backgrounds before starting GoodyBags?
Rena: I got my BS from Cornell University and my Master of Social Work from Yeshiva. I ended up in advertising my first year out of college while I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. As I was trying to figure out what really motivated and inspired me, I realized that all of my volunteer and philanthropic efforts throughout the years were what I really enjoyed. I decided that I wanted to turn that into a career instead of a hobby and so I applied to social work school. I’m now a licensed social worker and would eventually like to be able to do private practice for children and families and run GoodyBags.
Morgan: I studied Art History and German at Princeton University and then worked as an investment banking analyst right out of college. I enjoyed the fast-paced action of a bank and loved working with incredibly smart people; however, I wanted to be waking up every day to talk about something I really cared about, which ultimately was not corporate derivatives. I went back to school and got my Master’s in Art Business at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, where I discovered that my interests lay on the non-profit side of things. I’m still in the art world but love being able to run our own philanthropic organization as well – both endeavors feed my creative side, and I feel so lucky that I get to work with one of the smartest people I know (and my best friend).
Qlette: So tell us about GoodyBags. How does the organization work, what’s your mission, and how long have you been operating?
GoodyBags gals: Our mission is to provide backpacks of items to children living in unstable living conditions—i.e. foster homes, homeless shelters, or extreme poverty. Our official mission statement is “GoodyBags provides backpacks of items to children seeking safety from dangerous or unstable living conditions. In times of trauma and upheaval, GoodyBags offers the tangible and enduring sense of security, comfort and relief that all children deserve.”
We started working on GoodyBags about a year and a half ago and we’re currently waiting for our 501(c)(3) status to be cleared so we can really go full steam ahead. We are all set for our pilot program to take place in December this year.
Qlette: How did the idea for GoodyBags come about?
GB gals: GoodyBags was developed after many brainstorming sessions! We knew that we wanted to start a philanthropic organization together and GoodyBags was really the culmination of figuring out what population we wanted to target and what we could start without a lot of overhead costs.
Qlette: It’s not easy to find a great business partner. How did you two meet?
GB gals: We met while working together at a non-profit in Manhattan. We became fast friends and as we talked about our individual career goals we realized that we both had a desire to help others and wanted to also run our own enterprise.
Qlette: Sometimes the hardest part of running a business or organization is just taking the first step. How did you get started?
GB gals: We are extremely lucky to have very talented and successful friends who are willing to give their time and services to us at very low costs or free of charge. Once we figured out our idea and what we wanted to do, we prioritized what key elements we would need to grow our business—in our case, it was a logo/branding and legal help. We were very lucky to have two good friends to provide branding and legal services for us quickly and for a very fair price!
Qlette: Which communities are you serving with GoodyBags now, and how did you decide to start there?
GB gals: Our pilot program is taking place in St. Elizabeth’s Parish, Jamaica. Rena met someone through her current day job who is from St. Elizabeth’s Parish and has been running a family foundation (The Bernice & Melvin Clayton Foundation) dedicated to helping the children of the parish for years. They were worried that they would not be able to provide the necessities this year due to lack of funding and we decided it was the perfect fit for GoodyBags—St. Elizabeth’s Parish is extremely poor and the children certainly fall under the umbrella of living in unstable living conditions—extreme poverty, crowded housing, very chaotic. We will be going over there in person to help with the distribution and volunteer in the Parish.
Qlette: What has been the most exciting moment with GoodyBags?
GB gals: The most exciting moment was when we met all of the members of the Bernice & Melvin Clayton Foundation and saw just how appreciative and grateful they were to us for coming in and pledging to bring backpacks and necessities to the parish. It was a really incredible moment because we got to see firsthand the positive impact that something we had a hand in creating had on other people.
Qlette: What is the most fun part about running your own organization? What are the challenges?
GB gals: The most fun part is being able to make all of the decisions—there’s no “corporate ladder” to climb so you get to wear all of the hats of running a business which is a lot of responsibility. It’s great to know every single thing about an operation from the ground up, from small things such as how to manage our bank account or our website to having phone calls with potential investors. It’s also fun to be able to work anytime, anywhere—we’ve had many phone calls in our pajamas where no one is the wiser!
The most challenging thing has been separating business from friendship. We are best friends so sometimes we’ll have one sentence about business, and then the next sentence will be about planning Morgan’s wedding, and then back to business! We were worried about being able to maintain our friendship while also being business partners since we’ve heard so many horror stories, but we manage it really well—we know each other so well and we make sure to always communicate which is definitely important.
Qlette: Are you running GoodyBags full-time?
GB gals: Not yet! Once we get our 501(c)(3) status this answer may change…so stay tuned!
Qlette: Any advice for others aspiring to start a non-profit?
GB gals: Go for it! I don’t think there can ever be too many non-profits—the world needs as many philanthropic organizations and people wanting to “Give Good” as possible! I think it’s very important to research so you make sure you are creating something that is a niche—figure out what is lacking in your market and the real need of whatever community you are trying to help.
Qlette: What’s next for GoodyBags?
GB gals: We’re all set for our trip to St. Elizabeth’s Parish in December which is our first official pilot program. We had an event in the Spring and we’re hoping to do another event this Fall to raise more funds for the children of the Parish. Unfortunately, until we have our 501(c)(3) status it’s hard to raise substantial funding since companies and big investors need their contribution to be tax deductible. Once we have our status, we will of course be on all of the fundraising websites—the I Do Foundation, Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, etc. There are so many children around the world that can benefit from what we are doing and we can’t wait to be able to expand our reach.