The following is a conversation between Rachel Doyle, founder and President of GlamourGals, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer WNYM in New York City.
Denver: Intergenerational conversations are so important for seniors, as over half of those living in nursing homes will never have a visitor, as well as for young people. But how do you get these conversations started? Sometimes, you need a tool, like makeup. That was the idea that launched a nonprofit organization, GlamourGals, back in 2000. It’s a pleasure to have with us tonight their founder and CEO, Rachel Doyle. Good evening, Rachel, and welcome to The Business of Giving.
Rachel: Thank you for having me.
I loved beauty, fashion and make-up; and why couldn’t I take the two things I was so passionate about – the beauty fashion makeup and making people smile – and combine them?…The beauty makeovers I used to do with my girlfriends in my bedroom– maybe not the Kevyn Aucoin: “Let’s shellac the face.” But it was this idea of bringing that same essence of how you feel when someone dotes on you and someone compliments you.
Denver: A beauty makeover… what a splendid idea! You were just in high school when you started GlamourGals. What was going on in your life then, Rachel, and how did this whole thing get going?
Rachel: As a young person, I was always driven to service. I walked a walk; I collected cans; I was at every service event. It was just who I was. But I noticed that service wasn’t necessarily connecting with others, and I thought about – at that time, maybe a little selfishly, the things that I loved. I loved beauty, fashion and make-up; and why couldn’t I take the two things I was so passionate about – the beauty fashion makeup and making people smile – and combine them?
At that time, my grandmother was living in a senior home across the country, and she had passed away. I wanted to do something to honor her. All together it came this idea of going to a local senior home, spending time with the women there, and more specifically, giving them a beauty makeover… The beauty makeovers I used to do with my girlfriends in my bedroom, maybe not the Kevyn Aucoin: “Let’s shellac the face.” But it was this idea of bringing that same essence of how you feel when someone dotes on you and someone compliments you.
In August 1999, I had the idea. I walked into a local nursing home… I maybe had gone once to play my violin two years ago during the holidays. I pitched the idea of something called GlamourGals, where myself and my friends would come in and give the women their beauty makeovers. The activities director stopped me and said, “Who’s your corporate sponsor? Who’s the adult in charge?” I got out my notepad, “Yes, sure, I got this. I’ll get back to you.” I walked out those double doors, got in my mom’s minivan, and said, “You’re an adult; will you help me out?” Now, I’m really dating myself because I actually opened up the yellow pages and started cold calling beauty makeup companies and just pitching them my idea. A local Mary Kay representative, Toni Fischler, said, “I love this idea. I have some extra makeup; why don’t I come to your first makeover? I’ll bring the makeup. I can even give you some tips on the makeover and get you started.” So, in January 2000, myself and two girls from homeroom went into the local senior home that had sent out a press release, which unbeknownst to me, the New York Times showed up, along with two local newspapers – I think there was more press there than people but… As a young person starting something, I remembered the vision of why I was there, and it was to make someone smile and feel good and to have just a lovely afternoon with people.
Denver: Was there a seminal moment, Rachel, in those early days where you really knew you were on to something and were making a difference?
Rachel: It’s interesting. Usually those moments come through a challenge. The beginning of those moments start pretty daunting or negative, and then the ending is: you see why you do it. So, it’s important that you follow through. That’s what I always love to tell my volunteers now because my moment is one of the very first makeovers that I had – I went in; we had the group there. The ladies were sitting at their seats. I went over to a woman; she wasn’t smiling. She was very quiet. I even checked with the activities director, “Do you want me to converse with this person?” She said, “Yeah, yeah, go, go…”
I think the bouncy, energetic teenager I was, I danced circles around her. I offered her the lipstick, the blush. She said hardly anything. She didn’t move. She seemed to be just quiet about it. After almost two hours of being with this person, I left the makeover thinking to myself, “Wow, maybe this organization or what I’m building doesn’t really impact people because I guess the instant gratification of being a teenager wasn’t met. Where’s my smile? At dinner that night, I actually received a call from the activities director. I immediately thought I’m in trouble. I’m not answering the phone. She was double-checking about – “You had seen Faye today, right?” I said, “Yes. She was very quiet; she didn’t smile.” She said, “That’s why I’m calling.” She shared that Faye had been severely depressed. Had stopped eating. And said, “She started eating again, after.”
I think if I never got that call, I would have maybe even stopped doing what I was doing. But for me, that really struck home because my grandmother went through the same thing, and I think many people do… actually I was just speaking to a professor who’s studying ageism at Stevens Institute of Technology, Dr. Little, and she shared that on the average, most seniors are happy people, happier than most generations. Hearing that was… this is something that’s institutional in our communities we need to address. The senior population is going to be the oldest it’s ever been in the next 20 years. Our population is going to be the oldest. There are huge discussions around quality of life, policy, social economic decision-making that has to happen with the aging generation. So, it’s important that young people can have a dialogue.
Denver: Walk us through this process. How do you enlist these young people to become volunteers? How do you connect with more than just one senior home, but a lot of senior homes and to get this thing going? Tell us how that works.
Rachel: In the beginning, I have to say, the good old-fashioned press was a huge driver for interest. We were in every teen magazine. We would get calls and emails. We would grow our base that way. Now, with social media, and after 19 years of service, we have people – younger cousins, my friend from another school, somebody texted me, “This is what I have to do in life.” “My mom told me, my great-aunt told me” – word of mouth is really viral still. It’s still a really strong indicator. Now, we have all the technology tools to guide people toward the resources to get involved. So, we have our website, of course, which is the first place, our storefront, if you want to call it. You could see how you can get involved. We use technology in a way to grow. From those two volunteers, to almost 2,000 around the country, we found that as a small – when it was just a volunteer of one managing things and then growing a staff, using technology to be able to communicate with large groups in an efficient manner… We have an onboarding, online chapter system that the volunteers register in. They receive notifications. They create a chapter online that has a host of tools and resources that keep them going, because if volunteering was easy, everybody would do it. But you need that older sister there cheering you on in your service.
Denver: How many chapters do you have now? And how many states are you in?
Rachel: We serve about a hundred communities. I say communities because a chapter can be made up of, for example, in rural Ohio, four high schools coming together serving one senior home. Or in Staten Island, we have one high school visiting four senior homes. It’s really interesting how the students and the demand or the need in the community is how the chapter is built. We give that flexibility in the structure that we provide.
What’s great about how we build this organization is that we give a framework for leadership positions, so students can really own their chapters and bring their own ideas and creativity to it.
Denver: What happens when the volunteers go to a senior home? How long are they there? What do they do? How frequently do they come?
Rachel: Do you have five hours to explain the variations? What’s great about how we build this organization is that we give a framework for leadership positions, so students can really own their chapters and bring their own ideas and creativity to it. What we might start with is the little bit of the gimmick of the makeup to say, “Here’s an easy way to introduce yourself.” If you have nothing else to talk about you say, “What color lipstick do you like?” “Would you like us to paint your nails today?” It’s just the starter. From there, the students say, “Now that you look great, and you feel good, and we’re talking, let’s stay for tea.” “Let’s play the Wii game together.” “Let’s plan a senior prom together.”
We have what we call a Chapter Creativity Fund where students in their journals can reflect and share their ideas. A lot of those ideas, when they’re shared with us, we can do “economies of scale,” bring them out to the other chapters and share them among the network of chapters. We also provide resources for them to do it. Because as a high school student, you might not have disposable income to buy those extra things that keep you at the senior home not just one or two hours – three hours longer – or on a consistent basis. I look at it as the framework that we provide as an organization is a springboard for all the other incredible things that those individuals bring to the chapter.
I think that when you’re not paying people, you can’t rule as a dictator… In bad times, those people are the first ones on the chopping block because negativity and not finding how to inspire and tap into the talents of your existing pool of people that you work with,… that’s sustainable leadership. It’s intrinsic… when you can find out the why of an individual … they’re invested in it, and they have ownership in it.
Denver: It’s been said, Rachel, that you have never really managed until you’ve managed volunteers, and you’ve managed a lot of volunteers – you’re somewhat of an expert on the subject. What are the keys to doing that effectively?
Rachel: I’ve always believed in positive leadership. I think that when you’re not paying people, you can’t rule as a dictator. I see it so many times in business. I’ve had great conversations with my husband about the bosses we’ve had in the past and things like that where I said, “In bad times, those people are the first ones on the chopping block because negativity and not finding how to inspire and tap into the talents of your existing pool of people that you work with, that’s sustainable leadership. It’s intrinsic.
I find that our mantra for our volunteers, or even internally with our staff or interns, anyone involved in our network, is tapping into and finding what’s relevant to them and finding why they’re there. And when you can find out the why of an individual in, of course, in a process that makes sense for your organization, they’re invested in it, and they have ownership in it. In all different levels and ways to be able to tap into that is what creates sustainable leadership.
I think at any age, when someone spends their most valuable resource– their time– with you and says: “You’re worth my time; not only that, I’m going to make you feel good physically by touch, embrace, then reflect on it with you together” – I think … anybody would feel good after that.
Denver: We talked about Faye before, but talking more broadly, when women get made up like this, they have this deep connection with the volunteer. How does their behavior change in that senior center?
Rachel: We say “women,” but we have plenty of men who come to the makeovers. It’s a popular thing to come into a room of young people chatting with older people, although women do outnumber men eight to one in most senior facilities; so, we can broadly say, “women.” I think at any age, when someone spends their most valuable resource– their time– with you and says: “You’re worth my time; not only that, I’m going to make you feel good physically by touch, embrace, then reflect on it with you together” – I think … anybody would feel good after that. We do an annual senior home survey each year. A hundred percent of anybody we’ve ever gotten a response from – activities director, president of the senior home, sometimes a daughter of a mother who is in a senior home – they say, a hundred percent say their mood has changed for the better, and they long and wait for the next time the students come back.
Denver: As nice as it is having the students there, sometimes the anticipation of them coming is just as good.
Rachel: They’re looking forward to it.
Denver: It’s an event, it’s an activity.
Rachel: They say loneliness or isolation is as bad as smoking 16 cigarettes a day. It’s a secret issue because it’s not seen. Smoking, you see it on the streets usually. But with loneliness and isolation…
Denver: These thousands and thousands of volunteers that you’ve had, they keep reflective journals from the people that they visited as being part of GlamourGals. Share with us some of their thoughts and reflections.
Rachel: We read them every day, I think it’s important for us as an organization that’s spread throughout the country to have a barometer of: what’s happening in North Carolina, Southern California, New York? When you’re able to read sometimes real experiences that happen to teens in the senior homes, you as an organization can remain agile and see that. We had a professor at Yale read over our scholarship essay applications in some of the journals, and she found that there is a deep transformation that happens within students, and even our last year’s volunteer survey shared that 89% of our volunteers share that the experience with GlamourGals informs their future careers and academic decisions, as well as 50% of them said they were interested in careers in STEM.
Denver: Why that correlation, do you think?
Rachel: I know that with our college chapters, many of them are pre-med students. I think it’s important to deal with seniors – it’s this idea of bedside manner maybe in the future as a doctor. You have to interact with people who have illnesses or things that are happening to them that they can’t control, and being able to relate to patients in the future.
Denver: Another thing you do with these young people is you have a leadership training program. What is the focus of that?
Rachel: We found that there is this incredible exchange between the different generations. You have the seniors who are feeling dignified and having companionship and being able to share their stories and life advice. And then the students would digest all of that. We give them the platform to take this experience and reflect on it through our journals. They can earn intergenerational service awards that can work towards scholarships, LinkedIn recommendations, recommendations for college, as well as we have a relationship with Saint Peter’s University, a Presidential full-ride scholarship reserved for students who have academically achieved, as well as achieved a certain number of service hours in journals with GlamourGals. And I think what’s really unique about how we approach leadership is this idea that it’s based in service. It’s an experiential leadership program. All along the way, we’re using the tools of technology and outreach. We constantly share the opportunities to foster being an empathetic leader within this.
Denver: Compassionate leadership. How does that fit, do you think, in the whole leadership framework these days? … because you’re really on the cutting edge of that, and it’s becoming, it seems to me, more and more popular and important and critical in terms of leading organizations?
Rachel: A couple of years ago, we were hosting our 13th annual leadership training that we host every Saturday before Thanksgiving in New York City, with upwards of 200 volunteers. We stream it live to our volunteers who can watch with hot cocoa in bed somewhere else. It was a week or two after the Paris attacks. I said… and many people might say, I don’t want my son or daughter going into New York City, it’s a big city; something could happen. I said, “More than ever, this type of conference that allows young people to reflect in the way they do in here, and be inspired by leaders and entrepreneurs and people and professionals who can share how important it is to be an empathetic decision-maker as a future leader or business person or teacher – whatever they become, is so critical. We just need more of that. We need our leaders to be that way.
Denver: It is a critical skill to have in the 21st century. There’s no question about it.
You’re a nonprofit, but you’re also a business. How do you operate and where do you get your financial support from?
Rachel: My professors will be proud when I say: diversified revenue stream. Name it, we’ve tried it. What works the best? I think, it depends on the year and time. You look at your budget and plan for it. I’m really lucky to have counsel and board members who see… we have their critical donations happen in the first quarter. We keep the lights on by saying, “We know that we have this base of donors who are willing to see the long-term vision in our organization and say, ‘I’m going to make my donation in first quarter…’ so we can always plan for that.” From there, they open up their networks.
We have our executive council that I call the “choose your own adventure council” because these people they’ve tapped into what really interests them in the organization, and maybe they don’t always have the time, but they have the resources or the network to share. They do share it, which is great. It’s everything from program revenue when you can… because a lot of times as we grow, we’re growing into neighborhoods that need these resources and need us, but don’t have the ability to pay that hundred dollar registration fee. And I’ve never wanted money to be a reason why a girl doesn’t attend one of our leadership trainings. So, we sometimes charge $5 to come, or they get sponsored. I know growing up, I had opportunities that were presented to me and my parents said, “I’m sorry… We can’t do that.” You miss out on being inspired by some incredible people. So, I never want a financial burden to be why somebody cannot participate in our program.
We’ve brought on some really great corporate sponsors as well. This past year, we’ve been focusing on building that out. I spoke at an HSBC conference before. My executive council member invited me to have a dialogue about how all the different ways, the suite of ways, corporations can get involved. A lot of times it starts with just saying, “Here’s the person you contact in the office to get involved…” Because most employees don’t even know that. It’s just such simple things as an email blast. Just say, “Here’s the contact person.” It can start with 5 employees or 200. And I think a lot of times professionals are so busy they think, “Oh, I have to do this. One day a year with a thousand employees.” Really? For nonprofits, it’s better to have that consistency, a couple of employees each month, engaging with the nonprofit because somebody who has three staff – a thousand volunteers, that’s great once. It doesn’t necessarily serve the nonprofit always.
Denver: The business model is whatever it takes. With all the wonderful work and the impact the organization has, I’m sure you’re faced with a lot of challenges in addition to what you just mentioned. What’s your biggest challenge right now?
Rachel: We’re going through an interesting growth period, where for the past 15 years, we’ve built a suite of really rich, incredible leadership, critical events in New York City, where the base of 50% of our volunteer chapters are. We want to be able to preserve that quality that we built over the past 15 years and still address the demand for probably upwards of our new chapter demand coming in…is a majority of them are outside of New York City. As a nonprofit, we’re trying to balance and say, We need to find the funding to sustain the leadership development program that we’ve supported our local volunteers with, as well as the resources for chapter engagement outside of the New York City area.
We have a chapter process that doesn’t start really when they’re volunteering. It’s all the things you have to do to get to your first makeover or your first meeting. That’s finding your chapter leaders, scheduling with the senior home, getting approved by your school, and our staff walks the volunteers through that every step of the way. We have a chapter process that begins with that phone call, that text, that email. And that might take one month or three months to get the chapter started.
I’m most proud of the volunteer that I’ve never met in Wisconsin or Texas, or Chicago, all these places – that is inspired by the mission and about their work, and not by me.
Denver: Let me close with this Rachel. As you look back over these past 20 years, there is so much to be grateful for, and so much to be proud of. In terms of gratitude, who would be the person that you would be most grateful for? And in terms of pride, what are you most proud of?
Rachel: I’m most proud of the volunteer that I’ve never met. When you create an organization, especially at such a young age, I got a lot of press around it, it was like Rachel’s thing, Rachel’s thing… As it continued to grow, I found that the story was much larger than me because people would email me. I had hundreds, probably a thousand emails from people around the world sharing how this means something to them or their families. I’m most proud of the volunteer that I’ve never met in Wisconsin or Texas, or Chicago, all these places – that is inspired by the mission and about their work, and not by me. I think that is, as a leader, to have something that’s bigger than yourself and that can live on and be successful without you, is the biggest thing I can be proud of.
The other thing is, of course, I’m just really lucky to have such an incredibly supportive family. We were joking before about the idea that, my first board meeting was at the dinner table, “Pass the string beans…” ended up in the notes. We take very copious notes. The lawyer was like, “Who’s Allan?” That’s my dad; he was at the dinner table. “Well he’s not part of the board.” I think that I’m really lucky to have a supportive family who have always fostered sometimes my crazy, creative ideas that I had and allowed me to explore them, and in any way support me to do them. I want to pay that forward now to the volunteers that I serve, and the women that we serve in any way that I can.
Denver: Rachel Doyle, the founder and CEO of GlamourGals, I want to thank you so much for being here this evening. Tell us about your website and what visitors will find there.
Rachel: Glamourgals.org, you can also find us on social media, on Instagram, @ _glamourgals or Twitter @GlamourGals. Just google GlamourGals Foundation, and you’ll get us. There’s a great… there’s actually a four-minute video right on the homepage of our website. I encourage everybody to take a little coffee break today and be inspired by all the incredible people in our organization.
Denver: Thanks, Rachel. It was a real pleasure to have you on the show.
Rachel: Thank you so much.
Denver: I’ll be back with more of The Business of Giving right after this.
The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at www.facebook.com/businessofgiving.