You most likely haven’t heard of Gabbie Tang. But you should. She’s brilliant.
Young, passionate and smart, Gabbie embodies her generation of talented young women, eager to leave a dent in the universe.
Gabbie just graduated with a Master’s from Columbia University. She could be working at Goldman Sachs, or any other firm dying to pay her six figures for her brains, personality and intellect. But she chose not to. Instead, she decided to help us launch our nonprofit. For free.
The Adventure Project has spent our first year working tirelessly to support entrepreneurs in India, Haiti, Kenya and Uganda. Entrepreneurs working to bring clean water and improved health for hundreds of thousands of people living on $1 per day. And in one year we’ve created jobs for 190 people. It’s a figure that makes me incredibly humble and proud. But, unfortunately for our staff, none of those 190 jobs are ours…because we haven’t taken salaries yet.
We built a grassroots organization on the idea that even small donations matter. And so, we’ve focused on receiving thousands of small donations. Our board isn’t made up of millionaires - they are our trusted advisors. One is even a fourth grade teacher from Iowa - our target audience. We haven’t received large corporate grants or a Michael Birch, and maybe that’s my fault. But I thought it was important to focus on creating results, first. Next year is salaries.
Which means, Gabbie has been working for us since August without pay. She moved in with her parents to save rent. And now, she comes into our office smelling of cupcakes, because she works a morning shift at a bakery. She’s even turned down a job because as she told me, “I just really believe in The Adventure Project, and I’d rather be here.”
It’s her passion that makes me incredibly thankful to have her on our team. And the reality that she’s working pro bono, that keeps me up at night. A good employee will get their work done on time. Gabbie will send me an email at 3 AM saying, “I finished. Oh, and I figured out how to make it better.” Gabbie is indispensable.
We rarely thank all the stars behind the scenes. The ones who work tirelessly to go above-and-beyond to help a nonprofit change the world. They stay up late without fanfare, Wall Street bonuses or corporate perks. They most likely will never be nominated as a CNN Hero, even though their work moves mountains.
Every founder I know is a visionary, but they would be nowhere without their staff. After all, it's their staff that moves their families to Peru, to launch Krochet Kids. Or lives in war-torn northern Uganda, to be behind the camera at Invisible Children. And most likely, there are at least a million "Gabbie Tang's," who work in window-less cubicles around the US, drinking stale coffee and working late… again.
We preach to millennials’ to ‘start something that matters.’ But I think it’s more important to tell them to ‘stand for something that matters.’ You don’t need to be a founder to be a hero.
Let’s be honest. Organizations are only as good as the people who work for them. Having the best staff means donations will be spent efficiently and will create the largest impact. The best donors I know understand that a strong organization is not a visionary founder or a cool logo, it’s people behind the organization.
They are the ones changing the world.
On a personal love note, this is a thank you to all those who have given their time to help launch our nonprofit this year. The ones who made videos, sold ornaments, and tweeted (relentlessly). Thank you to our advisors who grace us with their PR contacts, the pregnant moms in Colorado who are covered in soot from mailing coal, and Sarkissian Mason for donating their office space, so we have a place to sit. To our three graduate interns, Caitlin, Ryan and Brandy, you rock. To our implementing partners around the world, you’re the true innovators. And to our board members who always respond to emails with an enthusiastic, “YES!” Thank you!
To my sister, Liz, who sat Jody and I down in Colorado last year and said, “You can do this!” And to my parents and sister Hanna, thanks for sneaking me food, and allowing us to outsource our crazy tasks to you!
A special ‘thanks’ to my Co-Founder Jody Landers, her husband Andy, and their six kids. Thanks for letting me share your mom! To Stacy, my funniest friend, for letting me sleep on your couch so I could live without a salary. Watching Law and Order would be so boring without you! Thank you for keeping me going.
To the 1,500 friends and supporters who have joined us in giving, we would be nowhere without you. You could be spending your money on lattes and vacations, instead you give so graciously. When I’m in Africa and people say, “Oh, you are American? Americans are so kind and generous.” You keep me saying, “I know. I’m so lucky.”
And to Gabbie Tang. Happy Birthday! This world is better because of you.
(To help me wish Gabbie Happy Birthday, could you please send her a tweet: @_Gabrielle)