How 108-year-old nonprofit 'She Runs It' is providing value amid coronavirus

The organization isn't letting the COVID-19 pandemic keep it down.

The coronavirus pandemic has put a dent in every industry around the world, with non-profit groups taking major blows. She Runs It – a 108-year-old organization dedicated to advancing women in marketing and media – relies on live events for money, but rather than giving up when COVID-19 hit, the non-profit decided to not let anything get in the way of its mission.

Campaign US caught up with Lynn Branigan, president and CEO of She Runs It, to hear how the organization is forging ahead during these uncertain times. Find out about its Water Cooler Convos, Lessons from Leaders and more in the Q&A below.

All companies have had to adapt to working from home in the last month. What’s been the biggest change for your team at She Runs It?

Our biggest challenge has been financial. We are a non-profit (501c3) organization and the lifeblood of our financial health is live events.

The team had to pivot really quickly to virtual events, which we are currently offering to our community twice a week at no charge. Now that we’re learning how valuable these sessions are to our members and the industry at large, we’ve started to ask for donations to keep the virtual sessions vibrant and expanding. 

How has that worked out so far?

We’ve had some incredible responses from our corporate alliance partners and other sponsors who have told us, "She Runs It is more important than ever before, keep it up." In fact, just this week we welcome Avocados of Mexico as a new corporate alliance partner.

Partners are supporting us not only because they believe in our mission, but they are also increasingly seeing the value of our virtual sessions in keeping their teams inspired, connected, and productive. Other companies are seeking to sponsor some of our virtual events because the audiences are so engaged with our content and our community.  

Non-profits have been hit especially hard due to COVID-19. How have you tried to keep your staffers’ spirits up?

We are a small team – I like to say small and mighty – and we meet at least once every day on a video call (Microsoft Teams). These connections feed our spirits and they also make it possible for us to plan, program and deliver our virtual sessions.

Like a lot of teams, we also do a weekly happy hour on Fridays, and we dedicate our Monday morning calls to talking about weekend fun, new recipes, exercise milestones and other topics that are more focused on self-care. 

Aside from your internal efforts, She Runs has focused a lot on its member community. Tell us about your Water Cooler Convos.

Water Cooler Convos is an idea that was inspired by one of our ambassadors. When we first started programming content, we asked our community what topics matter most to them. She told us that one thing people missed most were the casual conversations that happen "around the water cooler." So we recreated the experience on line. 

We typically have a guest speaker and I interview them on a topic. For example, one of our first WCC’s was with Priscilla Valls from Pandora who talked about the impact that music has on the human psyche and she tipped us off to some playlists and great offers from Pandora.

Another WCC was with Allison McEntee from Some Spider Family (Scary Mommy, Fatherly), and author of Little Black Book: Asking for Money. She talked about how to pursue sales in the time of Covid.

We’ve started to record our sessions and we post them to our website (linked to Vimeo), so that people can experience them if they missed the session. 

We typically have more than 300 people register and attendance averages above 200 highly engaged guests. 

How about the series Lessons from Leaders? What’s that one about?

The Lessons from Leaders sessions most closely mirror our popular C-Suite Meet series. These are breakfast meetings that feature an industry executive talking about how they are keeping teams engaged through the crisis, or how brands are responding, and often the topics are not coronavirus-related at all.

Carla Hassan from Citi did a session for us last week and she talked about how women have to be intentional about achieving success. The conversation did pivot to the brand and how Carla is working with her agencies to address new challenges, but it also focused very much on how women need to be their authentic selves, learn from failure, be empathetic. She is such an inspirational leader and our community has been fortunate to learn a lot from her experiences. 

We’ve heard you’ve also re-launched the Breakfast Club series for Executive Class Members. Why’s that?

We’re in the process of scheduling our first virtual Breakfast Club for Executive Class, targeting late April or early May.

Our Executive Class is a group of senior level women who seek a like-minded peer community that focuses on the challenges and opportunities universal to the C-Suite.

The breakfasts are intimate gatherings of five to eight women, and they focus on urgent and trending topics with an emphasis on shared strategies and solutions. We are going to reinstate them virtually to give our senior executive members an outlet for this dialogue and exchange.

Are you still adding new members to She Runs It?

Yes, we are! On April 15, we had two new member meetings that were attended by a total of 76 people. Our colleagues are seeking community and networking opportunities now more than ever.

I’m also excited to announce that we are creating a new class of members that will ultimately make She Runs It accessible to the entire planet. We’ve learned through our virtual sessions that a broader and broader universe of people – women and men – want to be part of our community, so we are creating an e-membership that will enable individuals from marketing, media and tech to become part of She Runs It even if they live outside of our current "neighborhoods" of New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

What do you think the industry will learn from this tough time – in a silver lining sort of sense?

I’m already seeing a silver lining. People are kinder. Brands are more purpose driven. Sales are pursued with greater empathy. Ads are more responsive and compassionate. Our industry is learning new ways to communicate and collaborate. It’s been a brutal episode, but we are going to emerge stronger and better.

And lastly, what’s your hope for She Runs It in 2020? What do you want to help the industry do or accomplish? 

Our first goal is to stay strong and vibrant through this crisis so that we can continue to serve our community and pursue our mission to pave the way for more women to lead at every level of marketing, media, and tech.

As I mentioned, we are a not-for-profit organization. During this time when we can’t rely on ticket sales and live events to fortify our bottom line, we are leaning on our allies, sponsors, partners, and friends more than ever before in our 108-year-old history.

We are getting smarter and more resilient with each passing week. We have every intention of being here to lift women up at every career stage.

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