The Do-Gooders

Today’s social-minded Millennials are taking care of business and the community at the same time. With a zealous entrepreneurial spirit and inherent social connectedness, what’s trending now is Millennials getting into the business of giving.

Jayna Cooke is a stellar example. Cooke is the founder of Closet Angels, a non-profit that donates all proceeds from sales of donated designer goods to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to support their efforts in providing high level medical care to children in need.

Jayna Cooke, founder of Closet Angels, a non-profit organization benefiting St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital.

Jayna Cooke, founder of Closet Angels, a non-profit organization benefiting St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital.

At 31 years old, Ms. Cooke is already a business veteran. Working since age 13, she grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and eventually moved to Chicago. Here, she soared to the top of several major corporations, including Echo Global Logistics, a technology-based enterprise transportation management firm, where she helped build the sales team from the ground up, and Groupon, where she achieved the role of vice president of business development.

In October 2012, Ms. Cooke left Groupon to do her own thing. She could have easily launched a for-profit venture, but she wanted her first business to be a non-profit. Her decision was heavily influenced by her business mentors and role models. She explains, “I always had a feeling to give back. Others have given back; my former bosses Brad [Keywell] and Eric [Lefkofsky] [cofounders of Echo Global Logistics and Groupon]. Also Jonny Imerman [founder of Imerman Angels] and Lindsay Avner [founder and CEO of Bright Pink]. I always found them inspiring, and from them, I know it feels more rewarding to run a business that helps others.”

Forecasting growth in the 501(c)(3) industry, Ms. Cooke says, “I see a trend in my generation of small business owners going back to the community and making real connections.” Ever the business-savant, before creating Closet Angels, Ms. Cooke did her due diligence and “looked at different ideas and went through different revenue models.” She knew two things: “I wanted to do something in the space of luxury resale,” a market that she analyzed “is big overseas and just catching on in the U.S.” She also knew she “wanted to do a non-profit that would always exist,” and knew a key to longevity was finding the right partner. Ms. Cooke decided on St. Jude’s because “It’s an organization that has great presence, great awareness and a message that pulls at heartstrings.”

With its one-year anniversary next month, Ms. Cooke’s ambition is to grow Closet Angels to generate approximately $250,000 in sales proceeds to St. Jude’s over the next two years. A lofty goal, indeed, but Ms. Cooke wants Closet Angels to be the largest contribution source to St. Jude’s. To that end, Closet Angels is gearing up to help with St. Jude’s 19th Annual Luncheon and Fashion Show on Sunday, November 24, 2013, at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont. Ms. Cooke’s devotion to Closet Angels, however, will not stop her from continuing to consult with other startups on business ideas and concepts. She laughs, “I have to keep my mind excited!”

Another Millennial ‘do-gooder’ is Alex Sabbag, the 28-year old founder of AM Consulting. Ms. Sabbag established her niche in the non-profit sector by helping them where they need it most: messaging and money. At AM Consulting, she works with a select group of charitable clients to enhance their communications and development functions with her proven acumen in public relations, events, marketing and fundraising.

AM Consulting is celebrating its three-year anniversary this month, and this past August, Ms. Sabbag launched a philanthropic arm of the company, Career Boot Camp, that focuses on mentoring women and empowering them with the skills necessary to enter and excel in the workplace.

Alex Sabbag, founder of AM Consulting, a for-profit business that helps nonprofits with communications and development strategies.

Alex Sabbag, founder of AM Consulting, a for-profit business that helps nonprofits with communications and development strategies.

Before starting AM Consulting in 2010, Ms. Sabbag spent five years honing her skills with a large ‘big brand’ PR firm, but having established firm roots in Chicago, she ultimately wanted to sponsor something local.

One of her first clients was the Chicagoland Area affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Ms. Sabbag started the relationship through a client sponsorship that evolved into various volunteer positions and lead to her interest in the fundraising side of the organization, ultimately prompting the founding of AM Consulting and a hefty education process about nonprofit business operations.

She’s not surprised that Millennials are increasingly starting businesses that focus on social causes. She says, “The corporate atmosphere can be such a thankless grind, so it helps to be passionate. I have been fortunate to find charitable interests that I’m genuinely interested in,” like her current client, Friends of Prentice, a 27-year old volunteer fundraising board that raises significant financial support for research initiatives at Prentice Women’s Hospital.

Having grown up with technology, Ms. Sabbag readily articulates the value she brings to the venerable board as “helping them learn new tricks, such as how an effective digital presence can achieve a significant new stream of fundraising revenue, a social platform to engage supporters and a low-cost viral advertising boost.”

This past summer, Ms. Sabbag helped Friends of Prentice implement and execute key communications and fundraising strategies for the 27th Annual Gala, a black-tie event attended by 700 guests from Chicago’s business, civic and medical communities, that raised almost $1 million to support research and superior healthcare for women and infants.

Ms. Sabbag knows that for her non-profit clients, “The continual question is ‘How can you reach the next level of constituents?’” Her answer carries her Millennial generation’s distinct marker of social connectivity. She says it’s all about “making the right connection with donors, sponsors and supporters and empowering them with the tools to create social change and make an impact.”

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author and should not be considered or interpreted as legal advice, nor is it intended to create a lawyer-client relationship. You should not act upon this information without seeking professional legal counsel.

Lauren Blair

About Lauren Blair

Lauren Blair is the founder and owner of Lauren Blair Consulting, an employment law and business consulting firm that counsels a diverse range of clients on compliance, training, policy and a variety of workplace strategies and solutions to improve performance, protect business interests and manage risk.