Evolve Giving Group was founded on the principle that organizations of all sizes have the power to change the world. As we celebrate Women’s Small Business Month this October, we sat down with President and CEO, Amy Schiffman to share the story of Evolve and her advice to women across the sector.
Hi Amy! Thanks for taking some time to take us behind the scenes. What was your inspiration in starting Evolve Giving Group?
I have been working in the nonprofit world for over 25 years – 16 years in direct fundraising and communication roles and 12 years as a consultant. I have never wanted to do anything else! And building a team of professionals with shared values, interests, skill sets and a commitment to improving the world (one nonprofit at a time) has been extremely rewarding. Evolve is an outgrowth of the work many of us have been doing together for over a decade. It allows us to bring our services to even more individuals and organizations who are looking to grow their capacity and better service their communities. We’ve also launched some new business lines that are very exciting and allow us to more fully attend to our clients’ needs.
What have you learned as a small business owner?
I have learned a lot — in fact I am learning every single day. Perhaps the most valuable lesson is that it’s ok to fail. We tell our children this all of the time (at least I do), but women like those on my team are fast-paced, smart, detail-oriented, and focused on success – so we’re not in the habit of failing! That said, if we don’t take some calculated risks, we don’t grow. I’ve learned at least as much from situations where things went wrong as from those that went according to plan. That’s how we get better.
What are some of the unique challenges women face as business owners? How have you overcome them?
I’ll never forget landing one of our first big national nonprofit client projects. I was so excited — and when the client told me he had just one more question before signing the contract, I was all ears. He said, “I just want to understand what happens when one of your kids is sick – does the project pause? How do you handle that?” I found I was shocked and took a breath to pause. Without thinking for very long, I responded, “I am more than happy to answer that question, as long as you can honestly tell me that you would ask the same question to a male consultant.” He laughed and said, “I retract the question.” We went on to develop a very rewarding partnership, but I believe we both learned something that day. Women business owners often face different challenges than male business owners. We sometimes have to work to prove ourselves and our worth a little harder than men do. Given the strength and experience on my team, I don’t worry too much about that anymore, but it’s a very real hurdle for many women working to establish themselves in the consulting world and beyond.
Why is empowering women one of the core tenets of Evolve?
Women are 75% of the workforce in the nonprofit world but we make up only 45% of the senior administrative teams. That feels wrong to me. From the very first time I was able to hire my own team (until today), I have looked for ways to promote, mentor, engage and offer professional development to women who have dedicated their lives and careers to bettering the world. I wish there was more of that when I was “coming up” through the ranks of the nonprofit world, and now that I am in a position to hire consultants and coach female nonprofit professionals, I want to give women an opportunity to grow, thrive and reach their professional potential.
What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to women thinking about starting their own business?
Go for it! Find a mentor, or several, and get as much advice as you can. Turn to your female colleagues and friends for support and collaboration. Take as much risk as you can (without losing your money or your mind). The world needs more of us!