Have you always wanted to give back to your community? Maybe there's a cause you've been wanting to fundraise and organize for? This week on the Badass CEO, Sheila Morovati shares her non-profit basics and insight on starting a nonprofit organization, connecting with potential donors, and what it takes to make a lasting impact in your community.
- Learning Non-profit Basics
- Garnering Support for Crayon Collection
- One Great Initiative Leads to the Next
- Connecting Heart to Heart
Mimi: Now, on to today's guest. Today, we have Sheila Morovati. She is the founder of a not-for-profit, Crayon Collection. If you always wanted to learn about starting a charity and how to do it, this is the podcast for you.
Sheila saw the habitual waste throughout society and decided to create the changes needed to protect our environment. She started by saving crayons from restaurants that were being thrown in the garbage and donating them to the underserved schools. She has successfully spearheaded the ban on single-use plastic straws and cutlery in the city of Malibu. And from there, she started another charity called the Habits of Waste organization to continue working on the reduction of single-use plastics in the United States.
There is so much to learn from everything that Sheila is starting, so let's just jump right in. To get your top 10 tips every entrepreneur should know, go to thebadassceo.com/tips.
Introduction to Sheila Morovati
Sheila, thank you so much for coming on today. I'm so excited to hear your story because I remember when you kicked off or you started. It was right at the beginning when we met. So I would love for you to talk to us about your story, about why you started this non-for-profit and how you came up with the idea.
Sheila: Yeah. So I was a new mom, and my daughter was just a really picky eater, and having that feeling of anxiety every time I was feeding her was driving me crazy. But then one day, we go to this one restaurant, and she ate everything. And I kept thinking to myself, "How wonderful for her to finally eat." So I kept going to this restaurant, and each time we'd get free crayons. And by the end of the meal, some of them would barely even make it out of the box, and they were being thrown in the garbage. And I kept thinking, "This is such bizarre behavior." Sometimes I think, "What if someone was looking down from Mars or something and watching us with these brand new crayons just going straight into the trash?"
Meanwhile, I kept hearing news stories about the budget cuts in education and teachers not having enough money to outfit their classrooms with basic supplies. So I started asking the restaurants that I was going to if they would be willing to collect the crayons kids left behind that were still in good shape and donating them to underserved schools at a local level, like within five miles. And that was when the Crayon Collection was born.
We took it a step further by asking artists to create project ideas using crayons as the main tool, and that way we could supplement art education resources to these vulnerable schools. Because to be honest, it shouldn't be that you have to be in a certain class or community to have access to art education. So it's a really simple process, but a really big impact.
Learning Non-profit Basics
Mimi: That's great. So once you had the idea, setting up a charity or nonprofit is a big deal. It's takes a lot of work and a lot of details. Can you talk about that process?
Sheila: I think because I didn’t know what it takes, I just naively went into it because I kept talking to all these different restaurants. Because I said, okay, if I could get CPK to do it, maybe I could get Islands to do it, and then maybe I could get Denny's to do it. And then the bigger and bigger my goals became, the harder and harder it became for them to participate in any of this initiative because they were saying, "Are you a nonprofit?" And I kept saying, "Well, no, it's just a good idea. It's just an initiative. We're not really even touching anything. You guys are doing it. We're just pairing you up with a local school." But the more I realized it's necessary to be able to have a nonprofit in order to get these big guys on board. That’s non-profit basics right there.
The universe was really kind to me. A dad in my kids' preschool class was a lawyer, and he was like, "I can help you." And before I knew it, we had our 501(c)(3), and then we had a bookkeeper who kept us in check with everything that we needed to do in order to file properly. And well, that was a long, long time ago, but that's really how it just fell into my lap to become a nonprofit.
Mimi: That's great. And is there a lot of yearly up-to-date things that you have to keep up to keep that charity in good standing?
Sheila: We have to be as transparent as possible, and we really are. And that's the main goal is to just make sure that every single dollar spent, every single dollar received is accounted for, and we have it all in public record. So that's really the goal is to be as clean as possible with the bookkeeping to make sure that you're able to show everybody what you're doing for each program, what it's costing, all that kind of thing. It's like a business, but then your books are open to the world to see. So we're really proud of that part of our work, and it does take quite a bit of time. We're really grateful for the team we have that helps us get all this together.
Garnering Support for Crayon Collection
Mimi: Oh, that's great. That's great. What has been the hardest part about starting this?
Sheila: I think at the beginning, I assumed that, "Okay. Now I have my nonprofit. Okay, Denny's, let's go. Let's start collecting crayons in every single one of your restaurants and donating them to all these different schools that we knew needed them." But realizing very quickly that, oh my God, I'm just one person, and this is a massive number of restaurants and a massive number of schools. The need is there. The crayons are going into the trash, so it's just a matter of figuring it out. But then I started to worry that, oh my God, if they say yes, how am I going to do this? I'm just one person.
So I started to get creative. So I would call sororities at UCLA and take them breakfast. And then they would start calling all these restaurants with me and pairing them up with local schools. And I definitely did that for a long time, but then realizing, no, actually it's growing too fast, and I need money to pay for people. And I had not really planned on that part of it. I had just planned on just having the 501(c)(3) in order to work with the big restaurant chains.
That was the hardest part to shift gears and suddenly have this fundraiser hat on and start to recognize that I need to raise money to hire people. Because at the time, I didn't feel like I needed any money. I was still doing the work as a volunteer almost, and I just wanted to do some good in the world. And then I realized, okay, no, there's more to it than this, that in order to make a real impact, this has to be a real business and really run like a business. And so that was the surprise that I got. But we succeeded, and we did it. And now we have a full team, and we know how to fundraise now. And it took a lot of seminars, a lot of classes. The Annenberg Foundation really helped us through this process to coach us. And so we learned one day at a time, but we learned.
Proving Your Value
Mimi: That's great. And obviously you've had success raising it. What have you found to be challenging or the most helpful in raising money?
Well, I'll tell you what ended up happening that actually was really key. Within a few years of starting the Crayon Collection, I had a really big pivot in the work I was doing because I was able to recognize that there's a lot of straws being thrown away in these restaurants too. And so I knew that if I could do something about that, then that would be a really big deal.
So I started to spearhead the first plastic straw and cutlery event in history, which was in the city of Malibu. And having that under my belt actually changed the game because people started to take notice of me and my work and my initiatives, including Crayon Collection, and the trajectory changed for us because we started to have a second branch almost of the work that included the plastics and things like that. And that became Habits of Waste.
Now we have two arms almost the same umbrella, and it helped a lot. Because when you prove to people that you are worthy of their dollars, because there's so much competition, but what we became successful at was showing people that we're not just talking about it. We're doing something about it, and here's what we've done. And so I think that that was the key piece to our success is that things started to flow a lot more quickly because everyone started to recognize, oh my God, this woman gets this stuff done.
Ever since then, we've had a series of successes, and that just further proves to anyone out there who is a donor that if I want something to get done in the sense of the environment or art education or whatever, we know that our dollars are going to get stretched to the umpteenth level, and they will do something. They will make something happen. So that's my feeling about it.
Thinking outside the box
Mimi: Now that must have been really hard to get the ban in Malibu. How did you go about doing that?
Sheila: It's interesting. Again, I don't think it was that hard because I had a really good strategy, and my strategy was that I didn't go to city council saying, "Okay, guys, let's ban plastic straws." I went into city council asking if I could co-host a screening of the film called Straws with the city of Malibu and my charity at the time, Crayon Collection. And the effort there was that I wanted to educate the public that this is a crisis. It's not just about a couple of straws that you see here. It is a big issue. It's 500 million plastic straws a day are being thrown away into our oceans, and it was the ultimate oxymoron for a city like Malibu to allow plastic straws.
So through that panel of guests that we had after the screening, we had the director, we had scientists, we had a lot of people, waste hauler, waste management experts, we were able to ask questions and get everybody interested. And by the end of that, there was no one in the room that could argue that this is not a good idea. So the following week, I went to city council and asked for the actual ban, and there was no pushback at that point.
Mimi: Now, did you have some kind of affiliation with the movie, or had you just watched the movie and then decided on Malibu? Because you don't live in Malibu now, do you?
Sheila: I live adjacent. I picked Malibu because they had recognized my work at Crayon Collection, and I had been in touch with the environmental department there because of the out-of-the-box thinking that I had with the crayons and also inspiring young children that you don't just go to a restaurant and throw away your good crayons. You donate them. This is not a normal behavior that we want our children to have. And they were very much in touch with me. And I had been asking them a while back, "Why are you guys still giving straws out?" And the woman that was heading up the environmental division in the city said, "We need to actually have an ordinance." And I said, "So how do you do that?" And she said, "Well, you've got to come to city council and talk about it."
At the same time, a friend of mine was an executive producer on Straws. And she said, "Do you want to screen this with me?" And we had talked about doing it somewhere cool, like Soho House or whatever. And I said, "I would be really open to screening it with you, but I want to do it in a way that we can actually make change. Why don't we do it with the city of Malibu?" And that's when the conversation began. So we sent the screening to the city of Malibu, again, environmental division. They checked it out, watched the whole thing, approved it, and then we went forward with the request to co-host the screening.
Building participation and earning recognition – more non-profit basics
Mimi: That's really amazing. Now, you also have had some great accolades that you have listed on your website, the Guinness Book World Record, and you've had shout-outs from the White House, I think it was, or from the Senate. Can you talk about those? How did you get …?
Sheila: So part of my philosophy about environmentalism and running a nonprofit is that we need people to participate. My organization, both of them, are global organizations that if you're a human being on this planet, you can participate essentially. And that's our goal is to get loud and let everybody know. And so we decided to set a Guinness World Record because, yet again, it's back to school time, and yet again, so many children are going to school without the supplies they need.
We're just looking to the teachers to spend their personal earnings. And it was about an average of $900 a year last year, pre-pandemic. And I think that that is just wrong on so many levels. We are the richest country in the world, and we're just depending on our teachers to buy with their very little minimal salaries to be able to outfit these classrooms.
So I said, "Well, what if we made some noise around this and started to collect crayons and benefit these teachers in the city of LA and show everybody that crayons are not trash? They are really not trash."
So we decided to donate the most crayons in history. And we did 1,009,500 crayons to 700 teachers that attend LA USD and have basically entitlement schools, which are when more than half the students live under the poverty line. And they were so grateful. And that was a very special day for me because it's actually really hard to set a Guinness record, and you'd be surprised at how much we went through in order to get that done. But my goal in that was, once again, to show the world that, hey, we need to step it up. We need to stop throwing away good crayons or good supplies.
Even if you ever go to the golf clubs, they have pencils that they use once and throw away. So why are we doing that? It's just rethink that and start to support your local schools. And at crayoncollection.org, we have a school finder where you put in your zip code and all the Title I schools or Head Start centers in your zip code or near your zip code will come up, and you can support them in any way.
Mimi: That's great. What's amazing is that you did something about it. Every time I fly, and especially if you're up in first class and they give you those little bags filled with all those little toiletries, and especially the men never use them. You see these perfectly fine bags sitting there, and you know they just throw them out and they just get rid of them. What happens to all those toiletries? I always think to myself, what happens to them? But you did something about it.
Sheila: Yeah. That'S a really good example of the homeless shelters would love those. And every time I've ever heard anybody asks me about those, I say, "You've got to take it to the homeless shelters." And it's just a lot of steps in place for that, for a person to grab one at a time and go. And I hope that the airlines can do something in that regard and just have a collection of those, because you're right. It's just such a shame. Everything a homeless man or a woman might need are in there.
Mimi: Right. You know what it is? It's a logistical nightmare. So look at your situation when you took on, okay, I'm going to do the crayons, how did you logistically take whatever container? We had a container at our nursery school that you must have given them. And so you have this huge container of crayons. You just pick up and take that container to the school, or do you have to go and package?
Sheila: No. So we wanted this to go to scale very fast, and I realized very quickly that I obviously cannot go and pick up crayons from everywhere and donate them everywhere. So I thought to myself that the best way to do this is to have it be a community model where anyone in any community can help their schools. So essentially, what we're doing is we're helping.
If someone can't figure it out on our website, because we have all the resources right there, the goal is that if you live in Milwaukee, if you live in Tulsa, wherever you are, you are able to start a collection, a crayon collection, in your restaurant or in your school if your school is in a well-served neighborhood. We have even a sign that that you can download. We have a partnership with Penguin Random House, who has been sending out really cool boxes to restaurants who want to participate.
Then every month you have a paired school within five miles that will pick up the crayons. So your school had a partner school that was picking up the crayons once per month. And sometimes, a representative from your school might drop it off. It's just the way that the schools figure it out, essentially. So actually Crayon Collection is just a facilitator to make sure that everything is going smoothly. And if someone is out there, like I really can't find a school, then they call us and we make sure we find a match.
Amplifying Models of Success
Mimi: That's interesting. What are you currently working on? Is there any other current projects in the works that's new or any …?
Sheila: Yeah. So as I mentioned with Habits of Waste, we began to recognize that the straw and cutlery ban in Malibu was really important, but what about all that takeout food? How come I keep getting plastic cutlery even if I don't want it? And I just don't know what to do anymore. So I started to put my sociology hat on, which is what I actually have a degree in, not environmentalism, funny enough. And a friend of mine actually, we were talking on the phone, and we realized that if you change the default settings in these food delivery applications so that you don't actually receive plastic cutlery unless you want it, that's the only way to start to curb this insane amount of trash.
So we launched #CUTOUTCUTLERY. It's a campaign that basically was an email campaign where we were sending emails with one click, it's still on our website, to Uber Eats, Postmates, DoorDash, and GrubHub, asking them to change the default so that it's opt-in.
Luckily, within a couple of months, we got the attention of Uber Eats and Postmates, and they both changed. Postmates just announced that within a year of joining the #CUTOUTCUTLERY campaign, they saved 122 million packs of cutlery from entering the waste stream. That equates to $3.2 million of savings for restaurants. And Uber hasn't given us their numbers yet, but they just delivered their billionth order, so I have a feeling it's way more than 122 million.
Right now, we're still trying to convince GrubHub and DoorDash. We've added Seamless, and we've even added some restaurants like Chipotle to the mix so that they can also start to swap to opt-in because the behavior changes so much when it's opt out. I did this based on a study that was done in the UK about organ donations, where when you opt-in, it increased the organ donations to 80%. And so they call it nudges.
It's a nudge, and you can shift societal behavior a lot with these nudges. And so #CUTOUTCUTLERY was another one of those big successes that people are like, "I can't believe you did this, you and your tiny little organization." And I'm really proud of it.
Mimi: It's true. We literally have a drawer of cutlery because I refuse to throw it out. So I literally have a drawer that's all of that from the to-go stuff. And the other thing that drives me nuts, and maybe we could figure this out, is the FedEx boxes and the FedEx bags. Is there not something that's reusable? Or even I get something from Amazon every day. Just give me a cart that says the MacLean's, that literally you pick up and drop off. You're at my house every day anyway, so just swap it out.
Sheila: We actually started a campaign called Ship Naked. And the idea is that many of the products that we buy actually come in its own box, and we don't need it to go in another box. So at least those can come in naked, we call it. So we have, again, emails ready to go to Walmart and Amazon. We're just about to launch that one. So everybody's tired of that actually, and that's a huge problem, especially for the number of trees that are being cut down just for these cardboard boxes.
Mimi: It'S crazy. The only thing I would say about that is at Christmas time, I remember there was a whole article that these kids were coming home, and they were seeing their Christmas presents because it was like shipped in an empty box. It didn't have the box, so they could see that it's the dollhouse, whatever. So that's the only thing. But I was like, there has to be another option, like how they used to do 15 years ago, for your laundry bags, they were still the plastics. Now they finally switched. I kept asking my dry cleaners, "Why don't you have re-usable bags? This is crazy." So it's the same thing with these shipping containers or these shipping bags. Why are we not just reusing reusables?
Sheila: Or at least to be able to have the option. Again, if it's Christmas, I get that. But I bought a Dustbuster, and I didn't need it to be in an extra box. That kind of thing is just at least give people the choice, I think.
One Great Initiative Leads to the Next
Mimi: Totally. I totally agree. It's amazing that you're doing so much. And do you have all these initiatives on your website, or do you have different websites for each initiative?
Sheila: So crayoncollection.org is basically everything to do with the crayons. So crayon recycling, art education. We also did a color kindness program where we have kids write notes of kindness to other kids along with the crayon donation that they may have. Because it's not just restaurants who are throwing away crayons, it was kids in well-served communities, and we really want to teach them environmentalism and philanthropy through this very relatable experience.
Then everything outside of the crayons is at habitsofwaste.org. So another campaign that I'm really excited about that we're just launching now is called Eight Meals. And I think Eight Meals is probably going to be the biggest thing we've ever done, because it is so important that we do it. Basically, I've been in this environmental field for many years, and I've always tried to go vegan, but every time I've attempted it, I feel like something ends up happening within the first five, six weeks that I fall off the bandwagon, so to speak.
I kept feeling guilty because I thought, "This is my world. This is my business. How can I fail at being vegan?" And then I stopped punishing myself for it. And I started to realize, "Well, Sheila, the point is that if you feel that way, imagine how the rest of the country feels that aren't in this small pocket of environmentalists." That's the important piece to understand. We want to inspire everyone to take part, and it can't be that you expect everybody … I always say Mr. Joe Barbecue is not going to go vegan. So what can we do to convince him? And he is just this made-up idea of who I'm trying to reach.
Be inspired by the math
I read a study that the University of Michigan and Tulane University that talked about even going partially plant-based can make a huge difference. 40 to 50% is the minimum that Western cultures need to decrease their animal protein consumption in order to combat climate change. So I just did some very basic math. I figured we eat 21 meals a week. What if we took 40% of those? That becomes eight meals. And I asked the researchers, "What would this equate to?" And so by eating eight plant-based meals a week, you save 540 kilograms of carbon, and that's the equivalent of driving a hybrid car for a year. So it's no joke.
Mimi: It's huge. I know.
Sheila: We really do have a lot of power here. And so what I'm trying to do now is launch an Eight Meals campaign where we challenge one another and friends, and we're creating an application so that there's all sorts of recipes. There's a calendar, so you can plug in your eight meals and essentially create a lifestyle, not a diet, but a lifestyle that incorporates more plant-based eating. It's good for your body. It's good for your planet. And the way we're doing it, we're not trying to ask people to go and buy a million vegan supplements. But how about you eat beans and such-and-such? Or how about you try a recipe that has lentils in it? And it doesn't have to be expensive, and we want it to be accessible to everybody. In fact, our goal is for the meal that you make to cost less than you would have otherwise spent.
Mimi: Right. And I'm pretty familiar with it, but just for people who are listening, who might not be, why is it important for people to go vegan? That's why there's the Meatless Monday. So can you explain to people why that's important?
Sheila: The amount of greenhouse gases that comes from animal agriculture is probably the most horrendous piece of the puzzle for climate change right now, and we in America are responsible for a lot of it. And I think that that's essentially what we're trying to combat. But the point is that also it's a societal norm to assume you need to eat all this animal protein with every meal. And now we have so many great options, and I've just been so excited about the meals I've been making with my family.
It's almost like a game, trying to find that really yummy dahl that we just finally made. And it's Indian food, and it's fun. And actually in the pandemic, it's a really good time to get creative like that and try new things. And so we're basically doing all the work for everybody in this app, and we're going to consolidate all our favorites that don't cost a lot of money, don't have a lot of crazy, wacky ingredients and make it easy and doable for anyone out there to participate.
Mimi: That'S great that you're doing that because it does make a difference. You never would think the gas from cows would make the difference. And then also, I had this conversation with my mom once. When they were younger, she said, "We would have meet once a week." On a Sunday, you would have a pot roast. She's like, "You didn't have the quantity of meat." It was too expensive. The quality was too great, so it was expensive. So unless you had a lot of money, you didn't have meat every day. And we have just cheapened meat. So it's become so cheap that people can have it every meal. But it's great that you're doing it. I didn't realize you were doing all these other initiatives.
Get creative with(out) packaging
Sheila: Oh, yeah. I could keep going. I have so many, and there's so many problems out there. Another one that we're working on is called Bars Over Bottles. And what we're trying to say is the shampoo companies need to come up with more bars. So Pantene right now is the number one shampoo in America. So we're asking, "Why don't you guys help create a better option for the planet? So make that shampoo, but in a bar format."
We don't expect people that live outside of LA, New York, all these places that can go to the malls and buy the fancy shampoo bars. But we want to start asking and putting the onus on these large companies like Procter & Gamble, L'Oreal, all these guys, to invest in creating those same wonderful products that everybody loves, but in a bar format so that there's no packaging.
That's another campaign that we're rolling out in 2021, because it's time to stop expecting us as the individual to have to do everything and try to navigate all these obstacles. But if I go into a CVS right now, I will not be able to find one package-free shampoo, and that's not okay anymore. It's time.
Connecting Heart to Heart
Mimi: Because of all the throw-out. So for anybody who is thinking of starting a charity or being entrepreneurial, any recommendations that you would give them?
Sheila: My first instinct is make sure you really are passionate about what you're doing in order to start a charity. This is not for the faint at heart. This is hard work. And when you have a business, you're selling something, and you make an exchange with people, where you get, I have this, you pay me this, and I provide you with that. And it's just a simple one plus one equals two.
In charity, you have to figure out a way to connect with that person's heart to give you their money and to fundraise. And if you aren't passionate about what you're doing, it's very hard to reach that other person's heart and understand that conveying this message to them is so important to you and to the world and the impact that can be made and bringing them into the picture as a donor. That is really the challenge.
I would really recommend that you have a huge amount of passion because my whole thing is that even if tomorrow my charities failed and I had no more money left and I couldn't have my team and all that, I would still be doing what I'm doing. And that is what always gives me comfort, that I can keep working towards a cleaner planet and all of the things that I shared today even if I didn't have the charity. So I know that that is my guiding light, essentially, that this is, with or without the team and all of this stuff I've built, I would still be doing this.
Mimi: That's great. Well, you're doing some great things. And I know you have a family, so we'll end on this. But how do you juggle it all? Is there any advice? Do you have something that you do in the morning, like a morning routine? Do you have an app? How do you do to keep it all together? Because we're all trying to keep it together and balance it all.
Sheila: I think the first answer that I think every working mom would probably say is, "Thank goodness for smartphones," because I cannot tell you how many serious emails I've sent while sitting at my kid's tennis lesson. That is a gift, for sure. But my routine in the morning is definitely, I like to wake up before everybody else does. That's my quiet time with the coffee. I love to journal. I take a minute to reflect and set an intention for the day, and I like to manifest what I want to have happen that day.
Ritual of journaling leads to manifesting
Sheila: Many times the Uber Eats and the Malibu straw bans and stuff, those were all things that I manifested in my mind on my journal that I'm going to do this, and it's going to be easy, and I'm going to make it happen, and I'm going to convince them what I think is the right thing to do. And I just keep at it in that regard. So that's one thing.
And then as far as pandemic time has been really, really challenging. There'S no question about that. Trying to get anything done is 10 times more difficult because, as you know, you're just starting a phone call or anything, and then there's someone asking, "I can't get on my Zoom," or "What's for lunch?" But yeah, before pandemic, when I didn't have that, I would really line up a lot of my main work with their school time because I'd still have to pick them up after school and do all those other things. And so I would do the lighter load in the afternoon when I didn't have them at work. So that helps and works it out.
Sheila: But yeah, and then also taking some time for myself. I've really been focused on tennis right now. That has also given me a lot of meditative qualities because there's an hour a few times a week that I just focus on hitting that ball and watching it bounce and hit, bounce, hit. That's all I think about, and that clears my mind and opens it up for actually creative thinking and the new campaigns that I think of and opportunities to come forth from my mind that I never really know where they come from, but suddenly, when there's room in your brain, it just makes sense.
Mimi: Thank you so much. Those are great advice, starting with non-profit basics. And this has been a pleasure to talk with you, and I'm so impressed at everything that you have done over the past 10 years. It's just unbelievable. And I know that there's going to be other great things that keep coming from your charity. So thank you so much.
Sheila: Thank you, Mimi. I would just like to invite anyone out there who's interested to follow us at Crayon Collection or at H.O.W. Changers to just keep up-to-speed. And then we keep on bringing up these new campaigns where anybody out there can get involved and participate. We'd really love all your listeners to join in.
Mimi: That's great. Well, thank you so much. Thank you for joining us on The Badass CEO. To get your copy of the top 10 tips every entrepreneur should know, go to thebadassceo.com/tips. Also, please leave a review as it helps others find us. If you have any ideas or suggestions, I would love to hear them. So email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. See you next week and thank you for listening.