Giving with April Pedersen
'Tis the season to be giving, and April Pedersen is helping us do just that. April, a woman who has spent her entire career at the intersection of technology, nonprofits, and politics, has taken her vision and entrepreneurial spirit in a direction that makes it easier to make every season the giving season. Having recently launched The Giving Box, April is giving us all an opportunity to give in a meaningful way this year. I sat down with April to learn more about what it’s like to straddle the non-profit and for-profit worlds and to learn what advice she has to keep people going venture after venture.
Lauren: You’ve had multiple ventures in your career. You’re a co-founder of Frakture, a tech company focused on helping non-profits and businesses make sense of their disparate data. You’re also a mom, a wife, and a vibrant member of political scene in Washington, DC. All of that makes for a pretty full plate! What propelled you to create The Giving Box?
April: I’ve actually been sitting on this idea of “The Giving Box” for quite sometime. But at the time the idea struck, I was busy running DemocracyInAction, an organization I co-founded with a mission to make online organizing technologies accessible to nonprofits so they could engage people to build a strong progressive movement. So for about 10 years, my idea for The Giving Box lay dormant as I focused on encouraging giving and engagement in a different way.
Then, the election happened. I have never been as utterly shocked, saddened and scared as I was that dreadful day. After only a couple of days of being immobilized in disbelief, I started to think about re-committing myself to the issues I care so deeply about. Simultaneously, people with similar sentiments, kept asking me, “What can I do? Where should I start donating?” And it was obvious that there was no more timely moment than now to conjure that idea for The Giving Box back up and launch it.
Lauren: Tell me about The Giving Box itself and why you think people will be drawn to it.
April: These days there is a subscription box for everything. For wine, coffee, clothing, shaving, toys, whiskey — you name it. These subscriptions are based on the idea that you don’t always have the time or want to put in the effort to make purchasing decisions, so you trust a curator to do it for you. The Giving Box is the same idea: curated subscription giving for your charitable donations. I like to think of The Giving Box as a mutual fund for your charitable donations.
Lauren: When you purchase a The Giving Box either for yourself or a friend of family member, you’ll receive a virtual box each month in your inbox chock-full of information and updates from the groups you’re supporting, and more ways to get involved.
April: I’m building on my extensive non-profit experience, and working with a team of experts on multiple issues to ensure that the donations we curate ensure making the biggest and most lasting impact possible. When you purchase a Giving Box for a friend or family member, you not only celebrate the holiday or special occasion with a unique gift, you’re also giving back to the community.
Lauren: What are you most proud of in your career?
April: I’m proud to have built a career where I can do well by doing good, without compromising my progressive values. DemocracyInAction and Salsa Labs changed the landscape of organizing technology and helped thousands of organizations, which previously didn’t have access to sophisticated technology, come online and start engaging with supporters. At one point we had about 70 million unique individuals who were part of this network of progressive organizations. And we grew Salsa with our values very much reflected in every part of the company from our staff to our clients. I always said it was a company with a soul. If you remove that, the company falls apart.
Lauren: You've had an interesting entrepreneurial path, successfully blending non-profit and for-profit efforts. What's been most challenging about straddling those worlds?
April: It’s totally possible to operate as an impact-oriented company where revenue is generated from clients and propels your growth. However, if the mission is purely charitable and non-revenue generating, it makes sense to incorporate as a nonprofit. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the years is to not confuse the two and to operate transparently.
Lauren: What do you think the biggest hurdle is for women in the workplace from your vantage point as a leader?
April: From a global perspective, both gender bias and lack of family-friendly work places are still huge hurdles for women. For every 10 women promoted past entry-level positions, 13 men area promoted. And the pipeline of promotion shows women are being passed over at every stage. Companies need to actively work to make sure their procedures are free of bias and give women equal opportunities — not just on paper. Having a baby should never be a hindrance to growth and progress, but that’s rarely the case because things like paid parental leave and flex-time just aren’t in place and the burden to maintain work-life balance falls more heavily on women. We must work to be active participants in shifting both policies that support women in the workplace and in our own organizations.
Lauren: What advice do you have for people planning to launch their own new ventures in the new year?
April: There’s nothing better than being in charge of your own destiny. And nothing harder. One of the hardest parts of being an entrepreneur is measuring success or knowing what success means to you because it’s different for everyone. My advice is to take the time to figure out what your definition is. Then write it down. It will help guide you during the rough parts. Because starting something that’s really successful right out of the gate is extremely rare and you have to know when to push harder (while avoiding burnout!) or when to call it quits.
Lauren: I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment. Success looks different for everyone, and people – especially driven people – are quick to keep moving towards the next goal without reflecting on or acknowledging the success they’ve already created. And obviously it’s a great time of year to reflect on the year that has passed and set meaningful goals for the year to come. I think I’ll put your advice into play for myself! Thank you so much for your time and thoughts.
April: My pleasure. I loved the questions! Thank you so much for including me!