When she’s not making prom dreams come true or breaking ground for a leadership academy for children in Liberia, Tammy Tibbetts can likely be found singing Taylor Swift tunes or munching on a snack consisting of either chunky peanut butter or hummus (but not together). At just 24 years old, Tammy is breaking barriers and changing the lives of girls and young women worldwide through the creation of She’s the First, a media campaign launched on November 1, 2009 that strives to promote the importance of the education of girls by connecting donors to schools in under-developed countries with sponsorship programs using an online directory. As the director of the MacDella Cooper Foundation (an organization focused on the empowerment of orphans and children of Liberia,) and creator of DonateMyDress.org (a national campaign dedicated to encouraging girls to donate their prom and special occasion dresses to those in need), Tammy is a true veteran of leadership and service. Here, Tammy takes a break from her various endeavors to share with Her Campus the secrets of her success, how She’s the First is going to make a difference, and most importantly, why you should care.
Her Campus: Congratulations on the recent launch of She’s the First! Who or what inspired you to create She’s the First?
Tammy Tibbetts: She's the First is a mix of three major inspirations: First, the PSA [Public Service Announcement] for The Girl Effect (thegirleffect.org), from the Nike Foundation. “The girl effect” is a new term defined as "the powerful social and economic change brought about when girls have the opportunity to participate in their society." Watch the video here; you'll get chills! But you may be uncertain what next steps to take to help out. I wanted to combine the philosophy of The Girl Effect with a direct call to action to sponsor girls' education. I admired how the 5 Friends campaign drove voter registration for the 2008 election with a viral video on YouTube, featuring Leonardo DiCaprio and his celebrity friends. They directly instructed you to forward the video onto five friends—your contribution to the cause is so clear. Finally, through my day job at Hearst Digital Media, managing the DonateMyDress.org network of prom dress drives, I saw firsthand how a cause campaign can succeed when it leverages the power of a network. By banding together likeminded organizations, whether prom dress drives or schools in the developing world that value female students, we can raise greater awareness and attract greater support, which can then be funneled to each of our members. All of this shaped the mission and vision of She’s the First.
HC: As someone who has interned at Ladies’ Home Journal, Seventeen, and JANE, you have always held a passion for magazines. When did you first develop a passion for nonprofit organizations? Did one passion stem from the other?
TT: I always enjoyed volunteering on a local level, first in Key Club in high school and then Circle K in college, but I found my passion for global humanitarian work by accident. When I was a senior journalism major at The College of New Jersey, I reported a story on the life and charity of MacDella Cooper, an alumna, and became captivated by her work with children in Liberia. When my job as reporter was done, I became one of her volunteers and then her Director of Operations.
HC: Has having a background in communications and digital media played a role in your success in your nonprofit work?
TT: Absolutely! If you haven't read Nicholas Kristof's recent article in Outside magazine, "How to Save the World," I highly recommend it. He argues that "like Pepsi, humanitarian causes need savvy marketing," and I agree wholeheartedly. Communications professionals have a natural ability to make dismal issues appear approachable and hopeful. We know how to connect people emotionally, how to break down a vision into concrete, easy-to-grasp steps. And digital media, of course, is the perfect medium for making a cause viral. We can do so much with social media -- Twitter, Facebook, YouTube -- to promote awareness and drive action for local, national, and global projects.
HC: Who were your role models growing up and who do you admire today?
TT: I discovered an amazing role model in 2005, when I won the Ruth Whitney Scholarship from Glamour magazine, via New York Women in Communications. Ruth Whitney was the legendary editor-in-chief of Glamour for 31 years, who made feminism accessible to American women. She said, "I really wanted to make women feel good about themselves, not just about what they wore." She published light fashion stories alongside hard-hitting features on women's issues, created the annual Women of the Year Awards, and even put the first African-American woman on the cover. She passed away in 1999, before I even knew I had a love for magazine journalism, but everything I do and dream of adheres to her mantra: style and substance. You’ll be inspired by The New York Times' obituary for her.
HC: Between launching She's the First and your involvement with the MacDella Cooper Foundation, DonateMyDress, and network programming in Hearst Digital Media, how do you manage to balance it all?
TT: For my volunteer work, I am part of an amazing team! She’s the First is actually directed by a junior at Syracuse University, Christen Brandt, who is my voice of reason, a fountain of fresh ideas, a meticulous designer, savvy communicator, and a major multi-tasker. For MCF, I work very closely with Bridget Monroe, who directs our volunteers and communications, and Blaire Briody, who manages our child sponsorship program, among several others who volunteer their time for events and fundraising. For my full-time career, I have wonderful professional mentors who have guided me, both here in the Hearst Tower and in New York Women in Communications.
HC: You recently returned from your second trip to Liberia. Can you tell the Her Campus readers about the experience?
TT: It was incredible! We had a groundbreaking ceremony for the academy we are opening for orphaned and abandoned children in 2010, and I visited the schools where we currently sponsor 70 students’ education. We partnered with the Niapele Project to set up a nutritious feeding program for our students, and we instituted an after-school program to give students extra support. Every day, I blogged about what we accomplished on macdellacooper.org, which you can read here.
HC: How would you like to see She's the First evolve? What are your expectations for the future?
TT: In 2010, our goal is that shesthefirst.org will become a household name, so that whenever anyone is discussing the issue of enrolling and keeping girls in school worldwide, they will think of our directory as a means to contribute. We're focused on spreading the word by building up a following on Twitter, fans on Facebook, and plays of our PSA, featuring singer JoJo. We'll also be developing a plan to mobilize college women behind sponsorships, especially through res life and sororities. It’s so easy for a group of friends to chip in small amounts individually and together send a girl to school for as little as $25 a month. It costs us so little yet it radically changes the life of this girl. And while the She’s the First team is developing all this externally, we’re also cultivating the network internally, connecting the sponsorship directors at each of our member organizations on a private ning.com network, so they can share questions, concerns, and advice.
HC: Why should college women participate in nonprofit organizations? What advice would you give to college women who are considering starting their own nonprofits? What challenges and rewards can they anticipate?
TT: Before starting your own project, I recommend gaining experience with an established nonprofit, as I have done with the MacDella Cooper Foundation. Work your way up the ladder just as you would at a for-profit job. Don't just start a nonprofit for the sake of it -- make sure you are filling a real need -- and perhaps look into starting campus chapters of larger established organizations. You'll learn a lot from the headquarters and the founder on what it takes to fulfill a mission and vision. Check out DoSomething.org -- the best online destination for do-gooders under age 25 -- to find local projects and tons of resources. And as for why you should volunteer your time and talents to a cause, there really isn't an answer that I could adequately express in words...because the reason is in how you feel when you do it. Maybe it all goes back to that quote I love: "Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good."
How HC readers can help:
- Grab a group of friends and sponsor a girl together by connecting with one of the schools listed in the She’s the First directory.
- Visit the She’s the First website to find out how you can start a discussion on campus (or with your friends) about the significance of educating young girls today.
- Even though Christmas has come and gone, the season of giving has not. Surprise someone you care about with the perfect belated holiday gift by sponsoring a child in their name.
Sources: Shethefirst.org macdellacooper.org donatemydress.org