One of the things we discuss from time to time in the Indie Business Network is how to incorporate philanthropy into your business model. I hosted an exclusive member Success Call on this topic a few months ago, and it was one of the most well attended ever. The interview here shares a high level case study of Melissa Camilleri, one of our members, who has added a successful philanthropic component to her small business. It will inspire and encourage you to do the same.
Melissa Camilleri owns Compliment in Northern California. I asked her to share a bit of her experiences incorporating philanthropy into her business model. Here is some of what she said.
Q1 WHAT IS COMPLIMENT?
I am a teacher by trade, but like so many of us who are a “insert-what-you-were-trained-to-do-here” by trade, I have a passion for being with and helping young people succeed outside of a traditional classroom. To follow this passion, I launched Compliment, a handmade jewelry company in Northern California.
Compliment sets aside 5% of every sale, every day, for my Compliment Scholarship Program. We believe in educational equity, and that all students deserve access to opportunities.
Q2 HOW DID YOU GET THE IDEA TO GIVE BACK IN THIS WAY?
I started Compliment when I was a full-time high school English teacher. At the time, I made jewelry as a hobby. I was working with students with tons of potential and very little means. I believe so deeply in educational equity — that all kids deserve a chance to further their education in order to break out of generational cycles of poverty.
One day, a student asked if I could make her a ring to match her homecoming dress. By the end of the week, I had twenty orders from other girls in my class. Many of these girls had been my students for all four years of high school. When I gave them their rings before the dance, I also gave them a compliment written on a small card. The compliment card shared how proud I was of each girl, and how wonderful it was to see them grow into bright and capable young women.
After the dance, noticed that the girls were wearing their rings to school, but more interestingly, many of them had slid my compliment card into the clear covers of their binders. They said that those kind words meant more to them even than the ring I gave them. The idea for Compliment was born from that experience.
Q3 ONCE YOU HAD THE IDEA, WHAT DID YOU DO TO MAKE IT A REALITY?
I figured if the girls were really into these so much, maybe I could make a website and sell them as prom accessories to students in wealthier neighborhoods, and give the proceeds back to my students in the form of college scholarships. I didn't anticipate that the business would take off as it did, so my plan was very basic. At the time, I thought I would be a professional teacher forever, and that Compliment could raise a few hundred bucks on the side from time to time.
I didn't really do anything special to get started. I just committed personally to give 5% of our proceeds to support students on their educational journeys. Each year, the gifts we give grow as our company grows. Compliment is now my full-time job.
Q4 WHAT RESEARCH DID YOU DO TO GET STARTED?
To be honest, I did very little research into philanthropy or nonprofits. Since our founding, I've learned so much more. For companies who want to have a charitable component as a core part of their mission, it's beneficial for your company to either register for nonprofit status or partner with a nonprofit in order to qualify your giving as a charitable gift to give you a tax benefit. That is something we are working on now at Compliment.
Melissa Camilleri, Compliment
Q5 WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY IF YOU HAVE TO DO IT OVER AGAIN?
The only thing I'd do differently is not waste any time comparing my journey with the journey of others.
There was a time when I was worried my business wasn't growing as fast as other people's around me. But that is all time wasted. I put my blinders on and just keep chugging away, now. I think that is the best thing we can do for our businesses. Just believe and keep going.
Q6 WHAT OTHER ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER MAKERS AND CREATIVE ENTREPRENEURS?
Connect, connect, connect. Tell everyone what you're doing. Lots of people won't listen, but lots of people will.
Make those people your tribe. It takes a village for anything to happen.
If you are passionate about your cause and your business, it becomes contagious. People want something to believe in and to feel like they are making a difference. It's OK if what you're doing isn't GIGANTIC. Take baby steps and do what you can where you can, and accept the help of anyone who believes like you. Eventually, you start gaining traction. That's how movements begin. Slow and steady wins the race.
Q7 WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS FOR COMPLIMENT?
Our plans include continuing to grow so we can keep blessing young women in our community who have the courage enough to believe in their dreams and change the trajectories of their lives through education. We believe that we rise by lifting others, and that is the core value that drives everything we do.
I read somewhere that every time we spend money, we are casting a vote for the kind of world we want to live in. That really shifted my perspective as a consumer. I am much more conscious now of choosing to shop with small businesses, especially ones who are doing their little part to make the world a better place for us all.
I’d rather spend a little extra on something knowing that my money is not only buying a beautiful, handcrafted product, but is making a difference in the lives of others. I think the people who buy gifts from Compliment understand this and feel the same.
Learn More About Compliment
What are Your Thoughts, Experiences, and Ideas?
I love how Melissa's story shows that yu don't have to have a massive three-ring binder filled with pie charts and plans to start your business. You need a clear vision and an open path that allows you to take one step at a time, adjusting things as you go. What do you think? How are you planning your business as you go? Please share know your thoughts and feedback in the comments below, or share on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.