Good Conversation #3 Theresa Evanoff

Good Conversation #3: Theresa Evanoff (Gift-It-Forward)

“As a mother of three young kids, I see first-hand how much STUFF kids get at birthday parties, most of which they neither need nor appreciate. I started Gift-It-Forward because I wanted to solve a real life need to teach our children about generosity and charity, while giving back to the local community. For busy parents like myself, I also wanted to simplify party planning and help reduce toy clutter.”

This was the inspiration behind Gift-It-Forward, the brainchild of Theresa Evanoff. She started Gift-It-Forward after spending a number of years in the corporate world. While she was on maternity leave with her first son, her company restructured. By the time she went back, she was offered a retrenchment package, which she happily accepted so as to spend more time with her family. In a sense, luck played a part in her leaving.

It was also during this time that she comtemplated about her career. She realized that going back to an intense corporate role with extensive travel was not the right thing for her at that time. She also wanted to do something that would keep her active professionally, but also meaningful enough to justify time away from the kids. So she started Gift-It-Forward.

Making a difference through Gift-It-Forward

Gift-It-Forward is an online invitation platform that helps people plan parties with a charitable twist. It aims to create more meaningful gifts and teach children about generosity, while simplifying the event planning and the overall gift-giving experience for parents.

“Gift-It-Forward is truly a passion project, as I really believe we can help children, families, individuals and charities. I genuinely believe that by educating young kids to be socially aware, they will grow into socially responsible adults who can make an impact on their community and their world in their own time, and it’s never too young to start making a difference.”

Starting a business is never a smooth-sailing journey even if one has all the resources, talents, and corporate experience. In fact, in her time with Gift-It-Forward, Theresa has her fair share of failures or “learnings” as she calls them.

Starting a business often begins with a business plan, which Theresa also did. On hindsight, her business plan was definitely more aggressive than the reality. She also underestimated the amount of work that it would take to get this off the ground. Her word of advice to other entrepreneurs: don’t be too disappointed about not reaching their stretch targets right away.

Moving away from failures, success to Theresa is for Gift-It-Forward to be the default way that people celebrate. In other words, instead of getting gifts that they don’t need, they share their gifts with someone in need through a local charity of their choice. She wants to make Gift-It-Forward a household name that would be synonymous to celebrations.

Success to Gift-It-Forward is twofold. Firstly, it would be to help raise funds and awareness for the charities that they work with. Secondly, it is to help children and families learn about charity, spread generosity, and give back to the community in a fun and meaningful way.

A typical day…

“Hectic! Ha ha. It starts around 6am, as I need to get myself ready before the kids wake up (though they are usually up around the same time). We have breakfast together as a family, then I send my oldest son on the school bus at 7:15am. After that, I take the two younger ones to their pre-school down the street, and then I can start work.

My work day can then start after that around 8:30 or 9:00. I usually arrange to meet with my charity partners, developer, and other business partners. There is a lot of administration and business development work and I do to keep the business running and growing. As much of the business is relationship based, I try to reach out to customers to give them a personalized experience.

During the evenings, I often attend networking events or workshops to meet new people and learn more about how to develop the business better, and catch up on loose ends from the day.”

Your most satisfying moment in business…

“To date, we have raised close to $11,000 for our partner charities! For me, that is one of the biggest accomplishments for Gift-It-Forward so far, because all funds are going to helping those in need but would otherwise have gone towards toys and other gifts! This validates our belief that kids (and people in general!) don’t need all the gifts that they are often blessed with, but can actually be happy with and grateful for the one or two special gifts they do receive.”

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

“While I have lots people I admire, I must say that my greatest inspirations have been my parents. They have always been role models for exceptional generosity and community work, and showed me that you can always give even when you think you can’t. Their unwavering faith, positivity, and perseverance when the going gets tough is admirable and qualities I aspire to have.”

What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?

“These days, my non-work time is spent with the kids and keeping them happy and busy! We spend lots of time outdoors at parks and places like the zoo and Botanic Gardens. My husband and I love to travel, but admittedly don’t do as much as we’d like to with the young kids. Before kids, we travelled frequently and did loads of scuba diving around the world! We’d love to get our kids into that too when they are old enough though!”

Final shout outs

“I’m very grateful to the charities that partnered with us even before we had a website built: Babes, HOME, Canossaville, Dayspring, and Highpoint. They believed in our values and our mission as much as we did from the very start.

Shout outs to MaryAnn at The Studio Loft, who did wonderful photos for our website, and runs her own start-up photography studio. Also, Mr. Bottles Kids’ Parties who does great party entertainment and supports our charities.”

The Good Conversations features insights gained through interactions with social entrepreneurs, business movers, top public servants, social innovation experts, and non-profit leaders.

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