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Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, GoFundMe
With all respect to jobs that are good on paper—ones that impress at a glance and whose success falls into very clear parameters—Margaret Richardson makes a case for careers that are built not solely on a linear path. Her course initiated with a motivation to join AmeriCorps, then to help people understand and find justice within the U.S. criminal legal system. This would eventually lead her to her roles in government as Chief of Staff and Counselor to U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr., to Apple as its Director of Trust and Safety, and her current role at GoFundMe as its Chief Corporate Affairs Officer.
GoFundMe's mission is to “help people help each other”; it’s a community-based fundraising platform that benefits causes ranging from a family’s personal medical expenses to a major city’s relief efforts following a natural disaster. As the Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, Richardson leads a team of 54, and it is this team that ensures fundraising stories are told on as large a scale as possible in her role—widening the potential to seek and receive help—and she also works with government entities and nonprofits, especially in times of need.
In this month’s Office Hours discussion, Richardson shares more about her circuitous path and the experiences that have prepared her to help others in her role at GoFundMe. Read on for more.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A CHIEF CORPORATE AFFAIRS OFFICER AT GOFUNDME?
“At our company, it includes communications, policy, community engagement, philanthropy, and marketing. The idea is to bring the full potential of GoFundMe to everyone who might be interested as customers, partners, or beneficiaries, and help to explain how we can solve problems. And to be a part of solutions to complex problems.
“One of the things that we're working on and that we're really proud of is our partnerships with governments where we can help respond to crises, such as natural disasters, or other community priorities. We can get money out the door quickly through GoFundMe and via grants from GoFundMe.org, the independent public charity arm of GoFundMe, and we can also partner with more long-term organizations, nonprofits, and government agencies. This year when wildfires devastated Maui, GoFundMe.org was able to begin delivering cash grants to people within 30 hours. To date, more than 4,200 grants have been sent to people directly impacted.”
IN WHAT WAYS DOES GOFUNDME WORK WITH THE GOVERNMENT?
“We complement the government and nonprofit sector, and we can then help people to understand the challenges in their communities and how community priorities come to life. For example, there's a young man, DeJuan Strickland, outside of St. Louis, Missouri who was distressed by the kids not being able to eat at school because they owed money for lunch. He started a GoFundMe and raised money to pay off the lunch debt for his entire school and then for his entire school district, so every student in the district could start the school year without debt and everyone could have lunch.
“I'm just so delighted GoFundMe could support his efforts. What we do is share his story more broadly and help to make others understand that they can take action in their communities if there are problems or opportunities to make other people's lives better. We also recognized him as a GoFundMe Hero, a program that spotlights the stories of everyday people using GoFundMe to make a difference in their communities. We have had him speak to our team and share what motivates him, so that we are constantly learning from the leaders in our community.”
WHAT’S MOTIVATED YOU TO WORK IN THIS SPACE?
“Part of it is my personal experience. In 2007, I was inspired to join the Obama campaign when it was a very long shot campaign. The issue that I was most focused on was criminal justice reform. When he won the election, I joined his administration in the office of U.S. Attorney General Holder, where I stayed until 2015. I had the opportunity to work with people across the entire federal government to better support formerly incarcerated people and their families. Being able to influence change at that scale—and realizing everyone wants to make the world a better place, even if what that means to them may differ—it's remarkable how much people can find to have in common.
“Because of my own experience, I believe that if you're bringing solutions and great ideas—whether it's government, private, or nonprofit sector—there's so much we can do. When our team at GoFundMe is thinking about how to help communities strengthen themselves or help individuals and families respond to a specific need, it brings that most human desire to help each other into focus. You can see the power and that, when people are given the opportunity to do something on behalf of others, they take it. I think that's something the world needs to be reminded of, especially when it feels like people are retreating to different corners or fear is so much of the conversation.”
HOW HAVE YOUR PAST WORK EXPERIENCES TAUGHT YOU THE SKILLS THAT YOU UTILIZE IN YOUR CURRENT ROLE?
“Attorney General Holder is probably the most important mentor of my career. I didn't know him when I joined his team [in 2009]. He took a chance on me and helped me to become a better lawyer, a better strategist, and a better leader. I learned so much from his example. He often would tell people that their jobs were not to win cases, get convictions, or make arrests. Their jobs were to do justice.
“He really believed in the mission and he helped people. The analogy for any leader is this: It’s never any specific task that defined us, it was the reason we were doing whatever we were doing. There's a story that I love to reference of President John F. Kennedy Jr. going to NASA right after he had given the moonshot speech, and he asked someone who was mopping the floor, ‘What do you do here?’ The man said, ‘Mr. President, we're putting a man on the moon.’ Even though his day-to-day responsibility was keeping the floors clean, he understood he was a part of the moonshot. And I want that to be the way I lead.”
“...when people are given the opportunity to do something on behalf of others, they take it. I think that's something the world needs to be reminded of, especially when it feels like people are retreating to different corners or fear is so much of the conversation.”
WHAT IS A PIECE OF ADVICE THAT CAREER ADVICE THAT YOU WISH YOU WOULD'VE GOTTEN AT THE START OF YOUR CAREER?
“I wish someone told me that doing what looks smart on paper may not be the right thing. The moments that I've felt I've had the greatest impact, where I've had the most fun, and frankly, the most professional success, are not the things that from early on people said, ‘Oh, that's a good idea!’ Knowing yourself and knowing where you fit and what matters to you is more important than having a job or career that will look like an obvious path to success for others.
“When I was right out of college, I had an offer for a management consulting job, and I decided to do an AmeriCorps program instead. It was a fraction of the salary, but I knew it was work that mattered to me. This work led me to criminal justice reform, government, and being able to impact the world in ways that I would never have been able to imagine if I had taken the other path. Or maybe I would have, but it might have been an even more circuitous route.”
GOFUNDME SAYS ITS GOAL IS TO “HELP PEOPLE HELP EACH OTHER.” HOW DO YOU INTERPRET THIS FOR YOURSELF?
“It is not only a very human instinct, but also a human need: To be able to offer help to each other. It strengthens our sense of well-being. It also strengthens communities and societies when people feel like they're in it together. And GoFundMe gives people the opportunity to demonstrate that and to ask for what they need. There's something deeply empowering about being able to tell your own story and then have other people respond to it.
“We've seen everything from young people raising money for their robotics team to be able to travel to the championships, to people being responsive to various crises. With the Maui wildfires, some restaurants were raising money to make sure that they were able to continue to pay their workers, to rebuild, and to be able to determine the course of their future. They may not have qualified for a traditional loan or been the type of business that could raise capital in a different context, but their stories inspired those close to them and those who heard about their stories. [GoFundMe is] a real-time reflection of what people care about and need.”
AS WE’RE NOW IN THE HOLIDAY SEASON, WHEN GIVING IS FRONT OF MIND, HOW CAN WE MAKE IMPACTFUL CHOICES WITH HOW WE GIVE?
“This is a great time of the year to think about what it is that inspires you, what you care most about, finding organizations and individuals who are furthering that work. To make this as easy as possible for customers, we launched the GoFundMe Holiday Drive, where one tax-deductible donation helps individuals with essential needs like rent, food, and bills. We also have features that allow you to look for fundraisers in your zip code or organizations doing the work that matters most to you. Together with our subsidiary company Classy, a leading nonprofit fundraising platform, we’re able to service thousands of nonprofits through powerful technology helping them share their stories, connect with supporters, and reach new donors where they are.
“Supporting causes through donations and amplification is important but starting fundraisers and asking your community to back you is really transformational. It feels so good to be a part of the solution and to feel connected to other people and causes that you care about. I think that is something to hold onto, whenever it's giving season or beyond, that it’s only people who are able to make changes, and any amount of contribution is deeply impactful.”
WHAT SKILLS AND QUALITIES DO YOU LOOK FOR IN PEOPLE YOU HIRE?
“I think someone who is solutions-orientated, really focused on understanding problems deeply and then figuring out what is the most full range of ways in which we might be able to do them. They should have creativity, a strong sense of purpose, and an unflappable sense of humor. I think you have to—especially when you're dealing sometimes with the hardest moment that somebody is dealing wit— be able to have a sense of purpose and integrity in those moments. And then, take your work very seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Those are the things I've seen that lead to success, as well as that resilience of being able to keep showing up, knowing that there will be amazing days, but also some hard days.”