Q: What’s the story behind The Giving Keys?
B: In 2008 our founder Caitlin Crosby was passing through New York City on a music tour, and the hotel she was staying at had real room keys to use in order to access your room. Inspired by the uniqueness of the hotel, Caitlin wore the key as a necklace and had the idea to start stamping keys with inspirational words. Realizing that in a way we are all like these keys – unique, flawed, and scarred, she would encourage the crowds at her shows to find a key with an inspirational word unique to them and wear it. Once they didn’t need the word anymore they were supposed to pay it forward to someone else who needed hope and inspiration.
Q: We love how you encourage people to give away their key to someone else needing that message. Can you share with us a story about people paying their key forward?
B: One of my favorite stories is about a mother that was fighting cancer. Her daughter gave her a STRENGTH key to help encourage and uplift during her battle. Eventually her cancer went into remission and this woman passed her key along to another woman in the cancer ward who she befriended. That woman’s cancer also went into remission and she passed the key along to another woman. The key ended up getting paid forward four times as each woman’s cancer eventually went into remission. It’s a beautiful thing to see the power of words in people’s lives.
Q: One of the things we admire about The Giving Keys is that you employee individuals transitioning out of homelessness. Can you share a story and how this central value has shaped the organization?
B: Our key engraver Darnell writes this, “My challenges all started about four or five years ago when the recession was in full swing. In my quest for employment, I traveled to a few different states: Arizona, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and California. Fortunately, a friend of mine told me about a place called Chrysalis. At first I was kind of apprehensive because I had already been to a few employment agencies that all promised employment, but I was still unemployed and frustrated out of my mind. I had nothing to lose, so eventually I decided to give Chrysalis a shot. This was my doorway to The Giving Keys, and for this I am extremely grateful. Today I have a job with people I love, and I work in a highly unusual environment that feels like family. It has been a long journey, but I now consider myself very fortunate to have landed at The Giving Keys doorstep. It has had a huge impact on my life.”
Our team is our lifeblood. We really care about our impact and that’s why partnering with Chrysalis and other community partners is part of our financial model. The Giving Keys pays for the case management services for our staff and that will always be a part of our business.
Q: The “One for One” business model that started with TOMS has really changed the way many businesses and organizations operate. Talk a bit about this model and why it’s changing business?
B: What TOMS did with the One for One business model has challenged and inspired people to use business for a bigger cause. They broke the mold. Non profits have been the avenue for people to give back to their community and the world. But now, businesses are being built on the foundation that for-profit companies can actually be a self-sustaining way to improve the lives of people. TOMS cracked open the world of social enterprise by creating a general framework for others with the same goals of using business to improve lives, not just make profit.
Q: Our question this week is how can business benefit others? From your perspective, how have you seen this practically manifest itself at The Giving Keys?
B: As the keys started to spread Caitlin knew she wanted this to give back somehow but wasn’t sure how until she met Rob and Cera, a homeless couple on Hollywood Boulevard. Caitlin invited them to dinner and about two hours into the meal she complimented Cera’s necklace to which Cera responded, ‘Thank you! I made this myself and I love making jewelry.’ This was Caitlin’s a-ha moment. She started employing Rob and Cera to make the key necklaces and step by step they moved from the dumpster they were living in, to a hotel, and then into an apartment. Rob is now going to college in Seattle and Cera lives in San Diego and works at the San Diego Zoo.
Since then The Giving Keys has partnered with several different community partners including Chrysalis, LIFT, PATH and Downtown Women’s Center to find candidates for our employment program. These partners provide case management services and support around housing, education, financial literacy, mental and emotional health and much more. We have employed over 26 people through our program and have helped 22 of them finding permanent housing.
We are huge believers in the power of purpose. You can’t underestimate the power of a job to transform someone’s life. In our case, we are working with people who may not have had a job in decades or the job they occupied was not in a nurturing environment with a culture of support, healing and development. A job can provide a profound sense of purpose and a space to develop meaningful relationships. Beyond the paycheck, the culture of your work environment can shape the future of everyone in it. We are using employment to get to people’s hearts - we dig into relationship with our staff to help move them forward. Other companies are nailing it on the culture front, everyone wants to work at Google because they’re getting something right - their humanizing the work environment.
As an employer, you have got to become a place where people want to spend 40 hours of their life every week and that’s all about the culture you create. We’ve watched our staff go from breaking into the office to sleep, getting in fights on the street, and having their money stolen to successfully managing conflict, facing their substance problems, creating a budget and savings plan to get a roof over their head, and dreaming about the next steps in their career. We really believe these life transitions and transformations are motivated by a sense of purpose and through supportive relationship. On the consumer side, business can benefit others by creating truly meaningful products that spark human connection and aren’t just empty consumer products. People want to invest their dollars in products they love with brands that aren’t out to make maximum profits at the expense of human souls. Businesses benefits others when they have the right priorities - and the world wins.