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Tangible Ways Entrepreneurs Can Respond to Natural Disasters

Culture

With all the natural disasters and community tragedies we see in the news, it can be hard to know how to respond or help. Eight entrepreneurs share examples of how they support their communities and how that involvement impacted their business. At the end, they give their tips to help you take action too.


Adopt a Classroom

“When Harvey hit, my company (located in Houston) adopted classrooms in low-income areas that were affected by the storm," says Bonnie Treece, founder of The Brain Domain, which offers tutoring, test prep, and college counseling.

“We bought school supplies for classrooms in an elementary school in the 5th ward where about 70% of the students were displaced. It felt good and we ended up getting tons of new clients the next week, but we didn't advertise what we did at all. I think it's about good karma."

Give, Train, and Listen
Brad Shaw, president and CEO of Dallas Web Design Inc., an online marketing firm, says, “As an entrepreneur and businessman, I helped others by doing the following: Donate money and goods to at least 25 families that are affected; train for first-aid and emergency response; [and] take time to talk with the victims. Sometimes, all they need is an ear to listen."
Sharing Time and Spreading Awareness

“I support my community by volunteering locally, and I use social media to spread awareness when it comes to national or global disasters. I also donate to relief efforts," says Ian Young, virtual assistant, and co-organizer of RVA Social Entrepreneurs, a group of entrepreneurs committed to positive social change.

“For local disasters, it's a way to not only do my part in the community but it's also a good way to network with the organization that you're volunteering in."

30 Day Love Challenge

Nachi Salasini, a social impactor's personal development coach and speaker at Live Like YOU, Now!, wanted to create something that “would bring more love to the people hurting over all the pain that's been going around."

“I decided to run a free 30 Day Love Challenge," she says, “to bring more love into people's worlds. Bring a little more hope and a lot more light during the dark times."

“The community appreciated and engaged with the Love Challenge because the need was there and it was a way to start their day on a more positive note. Also, through the challenge, many reconnected with old friends, felt happier, and more hopeful for better days - I know I did."

Mindfulness Meditation Albums

Jaime Pfeffer, a meditation teacher, entrepreneur, and success coach, says, “I responded to both Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma by offering my mindfulness albums free to people who were struggling with the emotional impacts these natural disasters can cause." Pfeffer, who was personally affected by Irma, says she knows “how the build-up to a natural disaster and the aftermath can cause huge amounts of stress, anxiety, doubt, and panic."

“I don't know if I've had direct sales as a result of these efforts but that isn't why I did it in the first place - it's really about helping out where I can."

Helping the Helpers

“This has been such an emotional roller coaster," says Jenny Moore, founder and president of BlingGuard LLC. Despite feeling overwhelmed, when Moore saw a group of rescue vehicles, she spent time “giving hugs and talking to first responders [to thank them...] My spirits lifted, my kids' spirits lifted. I'd like to think we lifted the spirits of all the guys we met, hugged, and spoke with."

That led to supporting first responders with meals and organizing a laundry drive (where volunteers washed first responders' clothes). Later, she helped others affected by the storm by sourcing bedding, organizing delivery of supplies, and coordinating an event to support teachers in the affected area.

“I did all these things to truly help out. I saw myself as a vessel who was simply able to use my network, my ability to solve problems, and my drive to help people. It was so good to do good. That said, my business has exploded! I met so many people, [...] and my exposure in the community as a “do-er" brought me to a different level. I have been contacted for several speaking engagements and business opportunities, and doors continue to open."

Entertaining Fundraisers

Noelle Rose Andressen, artistic director and dancer of Rubans Rouges Dance, a dance company with an emphasis on community outreach programs, says, “We perform dance concerts through our company's outreach to fundraise for national disasters. If it's a local disaster, we provide hands-on assistance with blankets, food, [...] fundraising, and volunteering."

Andressen has seen multiple benefits. “Our employees, administrative and [...] dancers, get a sense of purpose and are pleased and proud to help their fellow humans. It creates the positive brand perception to the community as well. Sometimes, generally speaking, entertainers can be seen as selfish or out of touch; we wanted to change that preconceived notion. We become part of their extended family and not only seen as entertainers, but entertainers who care and give charitably in times of trouble."

“Tax-wise, it is listed as an 'in-kind' service or donation and has always been beneficial for us as well. We have never experienced any drawbacks or negativity from being charitable. A positive karmic deed always returns ten-fold."

Elevate the Issue

“As leaders, we have the responsibility to lead the way by example and first thing is to elevate the issue inside of our companies," says Ximena Hartsock, co-founder, and president of Phone2Action, which helps businesses and citizens take a stand on the issues that matter to them.

After natural disasters and other tragedies, Hartsock uses Slack to communicate with her team to raise awareness and collect ideas. “Our employees immediately began brainstorming ways we could help, including posting information on our personal and corporate social media accounts regarding how people could locate loved ones and donate blood."

Her company also partners with other organizations and offers their technology to schools for free. She says, “Helping others is part of our culture. In fact, one of our employee benefits is three additional days of paid time off (PTO) for people to help on natural disasters or recovery issues of the person's choice. [...] Employee satisfaction and brand alignment increases when you show your employees that the bottom line is not the money."
[Your story here]

The interviewees recommend serving in ways that make sense given your experience, talents, and interests. “Whatever it is that you do best," says Andressen, “give graciously. We all have something to give. Find what you're passionate about and be real when helping others."

Salasini suggests that “entrepreneurs reconnect with their 'why,'" or their motivation, because “the best way they can serve their community will come from [that]."

“If it makes sense for your business or product," Hartsock says, “start with your product and offer it for free to help the efforts already in motion."

She also reminds us that we don't need to come up with ideas by ourselves. “Crowdsource ideas for how you can help from within your [company]. An employee may already be helping via their own community organization which you could partner with, or they may have a great idea of how your company could help."

And every local area has a place you can help, says Young. “Look for organizations who are nearby. The biggest one is HandsOn; there is a chapter in almost every major city in the country."

“Remember," says Salasini, “'It's not about you, but it starts with you.'" When talking about her Love Challenge, she says, “I made it as easy, fun, and valuable [as I could] for the people I serve. I made it about adding more light and love to their world."

As these entrepreneurs have said, there are many benefits to supporting your community. Whether you do it for the tax write-offs, team unity, brand exposure, or the knowledge that you did a good deed, let these examples and tips inspire you to help your community in a way that feels the most natural to you.

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Fresh Voices

How I Went From Shy Immigrant to Co-Founder of OPI, the World's #1 Nail Brand

In many ways I am a shining example of the American Dream. I was born in Hungary during the Communist era, and my family fled to Israel before coming to the U.S. in pursuit of freedom and safety. When we arrived, I was just a young, shy girl who couldn't speak English. After my childhood in Hungary, New York City was a marvel; I couldn't believe that such a lively, rich place existed. Even a simple thing like going to the market and seeing all the bright, colorful produce and having so many choices was new to me. I'll never take that for granted. I think it's where my love affair with color truly began.


One thing I had was a strong work ethic. I worked hard in school, to learn English, and at jobs including my first job at Dairy Queen -- which I loved! Ice cream is easily my favorite food. From there, I moved into the garment district where my brother-in-law's family had a business. During this time, I was able to see how a business was run and began to hone in on my eye for aesthetics and willingness to work hard at any task I was given.

Eventually, my brother-in-law bought a dental supply company in Los Angeles and asked me to join him. LA, a place with 365-days of sunshine. How could I say no? The company started as Odontorium Products Inc. During the acrylic movement of the 1980s, we realized that nail technicians were buying our product, and that the same components used for dentures were used for artificial nails. We saw a potential opening in the market, and we seized it. OPI began dropping off the "rubber band special" at every salon on Ventura Blvd. in Los Angeles. A jar of powder, liquid and primer – rubber-banded together – became the OPI Traditional Acrylic System and was a huge hit, giving OPI its start in the professional nail industry. It was 1981 when OPI first opened its doors. I couldn't have predicted our success, but I knew that hard work and faith in myself would be key in transforming a new business into a company with global reach.

When we started OPI, what we were doing was something new. Before OPI came on the scene, the generic, utilitarian nail polish names already on the market – like Red No. 4, Pink No. 2 – were completely forgettable. We rebranded the category with catchy names that we knew women could relate to and would remember. The industry was stale and boring, so we made it more fun and sexy. We started creating color collections. I carefully developed 30 groundbreaking colors for the debut collection -- many of which are still beloved bestsellers today, including Malaga Wine, Alpine Snow and Kyoto Pearl.

There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does.

With deep roots in Tinseltown, we eventually started collaborating with Hollywood. Our decision to collaborate with the entertainment industry also propelled OPI forward in another way, ultimately leading us to finding a way to connect with women beyond the world of beauty, relating our products to the beverages they drink, the cars they drive, the movies they watch, the clothes they wear – even the shade they use to paint their living room walls! There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does. It also propelled my growth as a businessperson forward. I found myself sitting in meetings with executives from some of the top companies in the world. I didn't have a fancy presentation. I didn't have a Harvard business degree. I realized that what I had was passion. I had a passion for what we were doing, and I had my own unique story that no one else could replicate.

Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today

Bit by bit, I grew up with the business. Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today -- an author, public speaker, and co-founder of OPI, the world's #1 professional nail brand.

I learned quickly that one can be an expert at many things, but not everything. Running a business is very hard work. Luckily, I had someone I could collaborate with who brought something new to the table and complemented my talents, my brother-in-law George Schaeffer. My business "superpower," or the ability to make decisions quickly and confidently, kept me ahead of trends and competition.

Another key to my success in building this brand and in growing in business was being authentic. Authenticity is so important to brands and maybe even more so now in the time of social media when you can speak directly to your consumers. I realized even then that I could only be me. I was a woman who knew what I wanted. I looked at my mother and daughter and wanted to create products that would excite and empower them.

There's often an expectation placed on women in charge that they need to be cutthroat to be competitive, but that's not true. Rather than focusing on my gender or any implied limitations I might bring to the job as a female and a mother, I always focused instead on my vision. I deliberately fostered an environment at OPI filled with warmth. After all, at the end of the day, your organization is only as good as its people. I've always found that being nice, being humble, and listening to others has served me well. Instead of pushing others down to get to the top, inspire them and bring them along on the journey.

You can read more about my personal and professional journey in my new memoir out now, I'm Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry One Color at a Time.