Tammy Tibbetts is one of the most active, inspirational Gen Ys I know. I am a board member of her organization, She’s the First, which is a 501 (c)(3) not-for-profit that sponsors girls’ education in the developing world.
Tammy generously agreed to answer some questions about how she started her organization and what advice she would give to other Gen Ys who aspire to nonprofit careers.
Q: How did you first have the idea to start She’s the First?
A: My fun motto is “rock the prom, rock the world,” and this is because when I was 23, I decided to start a media campaign and website called She’s the First, inspired by the experience I had creating DonateMyDress.org for Hearst Magazines [in my first fulltime job after graduating from college].
DonateMyDress.org was a directory of prom dress drives nationwide that became successful. So I thought, why not create a directory of school sponsorship programs for girls worldwide and apply the same marketing skills? At the time, I was volunteering for a non-profit that had a sponsorship program in Liberia, so my inspirations mixed and She’s the First was born.
I didn’t intend for it to become an incorporated 501(c)(3) not-for-profit. I thought She’s the First would be just a side media project, like a hobby. It then started to resonate with young women more than I ever dreamed. I think that’s because the She’s the First brand is universal. We can all think of who we are or what we want to be the “first” at. It fuels an intense desire to pay it forward, especially since our website is a storytelling platform about the lives and dreams of girls worldwide.
I realized that in order to achieve the full potential of She’s the First, we’d have to evolve and become an official organization. Until She’s the First receives funding, I still have a day job that I truly love, but my heart is strongly in She’s the First.
Q: So, you’re working fulltime in addition to running a nonprofit. Can you describe how you balance (or not!) your time between all of your activities?
A: Yes, I work 40 hours freelance at a teen magazine, managing social media. I don’t sleep much and I drink lots of coffee and Crystal Light Energy! Sometimes, I am not sure I have the greatest life-work balance, but then again, I’m not the kind of person who would be happy just lying on the beach or going home and watching TV. My brain is wired to do five things at once. Maybe when I get older that will change, but right now I am 25 so I’ll take advantage of the energy!
Q: What is your best advice to other Gen Ys who want to launch nonprofits?
A: My #1 piece of advice is NOT to launch a nonprofit UNLESS you have worked or volunteered intimately with one before. You HAVE to learn how other organizations and leaders function in order to understand what you want to emulate. You will be learning the most important lessons and values that you will need to be successful.
Q: What have been the biggest challenges of founding and running a nonprofit?
A: Every day is a challenge. I think all non-profits have the same answer — the lack of resources. The flip side of that is it requires us to be incredibly creative and think outside the box. That is one of the greatest rewards!
Q: What have been some other big rewards?
A: The biggest rewards are the stories we hear from the girls we have helped. We’ve been particularly affected by:
- Receiving a letter from a girl we sponsor, especially the Kisa Scholars, sponsored by [our benefit concert] GIRLS WHO ROCK 2010, because their sponsorship includes Internet access to directly email us.
- Working with a teen volunteer in New York City who uncovers her leadership potential to advocate for girls her own age in developing countries.
- Hearing about a college student holding a bake sale in order to raise money to sponsor three girls and then traveling to meet them in person!
Q: You are a rock star at using social media to promote your cause. What role has social media played in the success of She’s The First and what lessons can you share with other aspiring nonprofit founders?
A: Social media is like a magic wand. We’ve asked for many resources and contacts via Twitter and Facebook and received a tremendous response. We also recruit the majority of performers for our GIRLS WHO ROCK benefit concert via Twitter. We’ve found some of our best volunteers and friends via the “new follower” alerts that Twitter sends.
The reason it works for us is because we have an authentic voice and we are diligent about showing our supporters the outcome of their support. We reply to every tweet and Facebook comment we receive because it’s important to us. As my friend Selena Soo once remarked, “Twitter is a dialogue, not a monologue.”
Q: What does the future hold for She’s The First and for you?
A: In the near future, I hope we will earn grants and corporate sponsorships. This will allow us to grow our operations and administrative budget to maximize our fundraising abilities and the scope of our mentoring worldwide. We’d really love to travel more to visit the girls in the sponsorship programs we support.
Photo by Marc Hall. Left-to-right: She’s the First Executive Director Christen Brandt, Arlington Academy of Hope (Uganda partner school) founders John & Joyce Wanda, GIRLS WHO ROCK Co-Founder Cynthia Hellen, She’s the First Founder/President Tammy Tibbetts