My New Role at GiveForward

I am very pleased to announce that last week, GiveForward named Josh Chapman as our new CEO.  Josh  possesses the perfect blend of operational expertise, a proven track record of execution, entrepreneurial spirit, and humble leadership.  I could not be more excited nor could I be prouder that such a quality person will be taking over the reins of the company Ethan Austin and I started nearly seven years ago.

Whenever a company seeks new leadership, the question “Why?” comes up from investors, friends, and family, especially if a company is doing well.   For us, the answer is pretty simple.  We’ve accomplished a lot, but we believe we can do so much more.

Ethan and I are both immensely proud of what we’ve built. GiveForward has helped people raise nearly $160M for loved ones’ out-of-pocket medical expenses, memorial funds and more. As one of the first crowdfunding platforms in the world, we pioneered an industry and have helped redefine the way people give.  Not many are lucky enough to have seen such impact from their work.

But about 18 months ago, Ethan and I started to wonder what would happen if we had a really experienced leader at the helm to take us into the next phase– someone who has seen the movie, knows the plot turns, and has a pathway to greatness.  We imagined the possibilities of what we, first time founders, could learn from a more seasoned leader and what he or she could bring to the future of GiveForward.  We ultimately decided that hiring a new CEO was the best decision for the company’s future, for our shareholders, and, most importantly, for the impact we could have on the world.

Of course, there are other, more personal, aspects to the story, as well.  At the time, I, like many founder CEO’s, was struggling with feelings of inadequacy as I led a senior team where there was a mutual lack of trust and confidence.  I was allowing every peak and valley of GiveForward to invade my personal life, bringing stress and anxiety home with me daily.  I knew that I wanted to have more children, but I was afraid that I couldn’t manage the level of responsibility that CEO, mother of two, stepmother of one, and wife of a Chicago police officer requires.

Fortunately for me, the search took a very long time.  During that period, I had the room to expand on my own leadership skills.  I started working with a coach, read a lot about conscious leadership, built a senior team of A players, joined an amazing CEO group, and got pregnant with my second son, Aedan.

Over the last 18 months, I’ve actually been able to overcome most of the insecurities that had me wishing for a new CEO in the first place.  In fact, I would say I’m the most confident I’ve been at GiveForward in our history.  I’ve led our team through a new and more inspired vision (which you will experience soon!) and helped close the biggest partnership we’ve ever pursued.

I now know that I could continue to be a very solid CEO of GiveForward for years to come.  But GiveForward deserves more than solid–it deserves phenomenal.

And we did meet several phenomenal leaders in our search. Until Josh, though, we hadn’t found anyone that complemented Ethan and me in the ways we needed.  We met many impressive CEO’s from fantastic companies and were flattered when people with big exits considered leading our small business.  But at the end of the day, we craved an operator–someone with a desire to create structure and help execute at a level we’ve never seen before.  We wanted someone willing to get their hands dirty.  Someone who could recognize the magic that we’ve built among the team that we have and preserve that culture and passion as we transition into the next stage of our business.

josh chapman

Josh is that person.  As VP of Operations at Cars.com, he has seen a consumer-facing company achieve scale.  He has launched new products and increased the efficacy of teams and processes.  In his previous roles, he built new lines of business from the ground up, including a project with Xerox that he started with 30 employees and built over three years into a division with 2,000 employees and $65 million in revenue.

Josh is so accomplished at such a young age, yet he has no ego and instantly commands the respect and appreciation of those around him.  And most importantly, he gets us.  He is compassionate and empathetic.  He listens and asks great questions.  He brings value to every conversation and opens our eyes to new possibilities.

As GiveForward embarks on an exciting new chapter of our business, Ethan and I feel grateful that such a positive and strategic leader is joining our team. 

Please help us in welcoming Josh Chapman to GiveForward and to Chicago’s amazing and vibrant startup community.     

So what will I be doing? I’m excited to say that my new title is pretty awesome.  As Chief Strategy Officer, I’ll be able to focus on the areas of our business that I love–product, business development, and representing GiveForward in the healthcare and startup communities.

 

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The Best Way to Give on GivingTuesday

Giving-Tues-Logo

Image from Care.org

Tomorrow is GivingTuesday, a holiday designed to remind us that, amidst the consumer frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, there are people and causes that need our help.  Originally created by the non-profit sector, GivingTuesday has evolved to include all kinds of giving.

To me, though, GivingTuesday is just the beginning of the Giving Season.

As the chaos of the holidays absorb us, it’s easy to get lost in the endless list of to-do’s–shopping, cleaning, cooking, decorating.  But for millions of Americans, that list sits alongside some serious challenges.

Whether a co-worker’s daughter is sick, a friend’s home is destroyed in a flood, or a cousin passes away leaving behind a mortgage and children, we all know someone who is struggling this holiday season.
This year, 54 million Americans will enter the holidays with medical debt they can’t pay; 10 million of us are un- or underemployed; and many will lose a breadwinning parent.
These hardships create stress and take away from the joy of the season.  But as a friend, a loved one, a co-worker, there are things we can do to help.  Here are just a few:

Give Creatively:

Think about some of the things that make the holidays so stressful and find ways to help a loved one with them.  Send dinner through a service like GrubHub, or set up a meal train for someone dealing with a premature baby in the hospital or caring for a sick relative.
Send a cleaning person via TaskRabbit or HomeJoy the week before Christmas or Hanukah.
Offer to babysit, do some grocery shopping, or pick up the kids from school.

Help Parents with Gift-Giving: 

Nothing is more stressful about the holidays to a parent than knowing that that they can’t give their children what they’re wishing for.  Ask a friend if their kids have wish list items you can help with.   Or, send gift cards “From Santa” to the parents for Amazon or Target, so they don’t feel like you’re offering charity.

Give Connections:

Thanks to the power of LinkedIn and Conspire, most of us are just a few clicks away from people who can change the lives of our loved ones.  If you know someone who is out of work, consider connecting them with opportunities you see on LinkedIn.

Give Emotional AND Financial Support:

The truth is that most families facing a hard situation need support.  They need to know they’re not alone.  Send text messages, words of encouragement, greeting cards–anything that says “I love you and I’m here for you.”
And of course, start a crowdfunding page for them.  The vast majority of bankruptcies happen because of an unexpected life event like an illness.  The average owed for these families is $17,000, which is a lot for one family but pretty easy to cover within someone’s network of friends, family, and co-workers.
If you have additional ways to give on GivingTuesday, I’d love to hear them!

Celebrating what’s special about people

This afternoon I saw The Fault in Our Stars with my sister.  We read the book last year at GiveForward as one of our only book club books.  I won’t give away the plot, but I am going to address some themes, so don’t read on if you want to see the movie with fresh eyes.

At one point, a character describes cancer patient as a mutational experiment gone wrong, and when you think about it…in the most callous terms, that’s true about all of us.  We’re all made up of nature’s mutational experiments.  But the purpose of this character saying this is to exaggerate the point that no one is special and everything is random and unintentional.

At the same time, there is another character who yearns to be great, to have his life mean something so that he is remembered.  Deep down, I think we all feel that way.  We all want to feel like our time here meant something more…otherwise what’s the point?  But the heroine of the story, Hazel, is content to be special to just a few people, to be loved deeply by the right people, which ultimately is the major theme of the novel and movie.

On our ride home from the theater, my sister and I were discussing the movie and our friend’s recent cancer diagnosis, and we realized that we have the most amazing jobs in the world.  We get to live in a space where every single day, people celebrate what is special about someone they love.  With each donation and word of encouragement, we help people live their greatness among those who care about them most.

Sometimes I worry that our competitors are growing too quickly or that we’re not making changes fast enough.  But it’s nights like tonight that give me a sense of tranquility and gratitude that we live in a world where GiveForward can exist.

 

Mother’s Day 2014

Jenna's family is uniting to help her fight brain cancer.

Jenna’s family is uniting to help her fight brain cancer.

This Mother’s Day will be the third time I get to celebrate as “mommy” to an adorable if trying 26 month old.  In the midst of terrible twos it’s tempting to delude myself that the day will be a much deserved 12 hours of all about me time with presents, flowers, delicious brunch, and lots of cuddles from my handsomely clad little boy.

Mila

Mila is fighting Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer. Please unite to help raise funds for her mounting medical and living expenses.

In reality, I know the day will be much different.  He’ll have no idea that Mother’s Day is not about Batman and Umizoomi.   There will still be a fight at bath time, a refusal to wear a button-up shirt, and a wait at our favorite restaurant.

The truth is that the beauty of Mother’s Day will happen in the moments in between all of my expectations.  It will be the cheerful “Mommy!” I get as I enter his bedroom when he wakes up.  It will be the handclapping wiggle celebration when we get ready for the park.  And it will be the slobbery goodnight kisses that I get after we read each of his three “night-night” books.

This is really what we mothers live for… the small moments of peace and affection from the people little and grown that we love more than life itself.

Mary was taken just a few days after delivering her twin girls.

Mary was taken just a few days after delivering her twin girls.

But for many moms on GiveForward, these moments are much bigger because there’s a chance this tonight’s “night-night” kiss will be one of the last.  The amazing thing is that none of them live their lives that way.  They all fight, they all thrive, they all give everything they have to be there for their families for as long as they possibly can.

Equicha friends and family are helping her battle breast cancer.

Equicha is facing breast cancer.

With 4 weeks left to go in my pregnancy with baby number 2, I find it increasingly hard to read their stories of triumph and bravery in the face of the unknown without tearing up.  I’m sure you will too.  But my hope is that you’ll be inspired by their journeys to appreciate your children, your health, and especially your own mom that much more.