I have had the pleasure of spending time with Christena and to say she’s a powerhouse is an understatement but she is also, extremely smart, kind, funny, compassionate and caring and she has dominated the luxury resale space with Union & Fifth’s business model of raising funds for non profits by selling donated designer clothes, shoes and accessories.
Founder Christena Reinhard On How To Raise Money
Christena Reinhard, CEO and founder of philanthropic fashion company Union & Fifth, isn’t afraid to ask for money—a helpful trait that’s enabled her to raise over $1 million from 1100 donors, for 200 charities over the last three years.
But money hasn’t always been her forte.
“I have lived in a car, I’ve been homeless, I’ve been evicted after shopping with the rent money,” she says. “I learned very quickly that I do my best work when my back’s up against the wall.”
The fruit of that work is Union & Fifth, which, like TheRealReal, ThreadUp or Tradsey, promotes sustainability in fashion by selling designer consignment items. The twist is that instead of all the money going into a consigner’s pocket, 50% goes to a tax-deductible donation to a charity of their choice. It’s shopping meets, sustainability, meets social impact. Gucci for good.
A self-described “crazy fashion girl” who bristles at the title of entrepreneur—“I still have to spell-check ‘entrepreneur’ just to be clear,” she laughs—Reinhard has a clear vision for how her fearless attitude can shape the fashion industry, empower women and teach more people to confidently ask for money.
Style And Substance
“One of the things I’ve learned from starting Union & Fifth is how important it is to be authentic,” Reinhard says. Her first move as a founder was to ditch her corporate wardrobe. “I’m just not a suit person. If I could wear a tutu and glitter to work every day, I would,” she laughs.
Reinhard’s approach to fashion goes beyond the sartorial. A glitter tutu, a power suit, a hashtag emblazoned t-shirt—all make more substantive statements, she says. “When I stopped wearing what other people thought, I was able to be more effective because I could just be 100% real.”
That ability to make a statement also makes fashion a force for empowering women—and not just the one wearing it.
“I think we have a responsibility to think about our purchasing power as women and what it means to the women around us,” Reinhard says. Take for example the real cost of wallet-friendly fast fashion buys. “The research is pretty clear that means there is quite often substandard working conditions for laborers that are primarily women,” Reinhard says. “When we make smart shopping decisions, we have the power of the dollar.”
A Workplace To Empower Women
That ethos of empowerment extends from Rehinhard’s closet into her company. “I think that as women, we have responsibilities to hire women and mentor women,” she says—a philosophy she’s benefited from enormously.
A self-described “late bloomer,” Reinhard found her way to college at 28-years-old thanks to fierce encouragement and support from her sister-in-law Pam Trefler (who is also Reinhard’s cofounder and Chairman of Union & Fifth). “She literally took me to school my first day of college because I was convinced I wasn’t going to be able to do it,” Reinhard says. “My driving force is to give someone else a shot because someone gave me a shot.”
At Union & Fifth, Reinhard has built this spirit into the fabric of the company by not just hiring but investing in women. “The best thing you can do for somebody is have high expectations and give high levels of support [to reach those expectations],” she says.
That strategy has paid off big at Union & Fifth. As an example, she cites their head of digital marketing, who started working in the company’s warehouse. After noticing a detail-oriented analytical spark, Reinhard sent her to study digital marketing. “There’s so many ways to give someone a shot,” she says.
How To Ask For Money
For both founders and philanthropists, successfully asking for money is important. For the founder of a non-profit, it’s make or break. “People get afraid to ask for money,” says Reinhard. “We’re so afraid it’s rude. We have this thing that it’s not polite and I don’t think that’s right.”
When people ask her how she’s built a successful company by asking people to fork over a check or a Chanel bag, she says the number one thing to remember is that you’re asking for money for a purpose—not to be impolite. “The wave of most successful non-profits are going to be the organizations that run like for-profits,” she says. “It may sound lofty, but I really believe we can change the face of philanthropy.”
Here’s Reinhard’s advice on how to ask for money more confidently:
- Forget what you value. It’s easy to go into a pitch stressing what’s valuable to you about an investment. But when someone is giving you their money, it needs to be about what’s valuable to them. “If I’m a good fundraiser, if I’m good at my job, most of my conversation with you is going be asking what you’re passionate about,” says Reinhard. “Good philanthropists are not just writing checks. They’re also really interested in being part of the solution.” Once you have your finger on the pulse of what they’re passionate about, position your conversation as a strategic partnership to make it happen.
- Think beyond the check. If you’re only thinking about a dollar amount, you’re thinking too narrow, says Reinhard. The idea for Union & Fifth was born while Reinhard was working at a non-profit in the Bay Area and a donor asked for another way to get involved. “We really needed Mac laptops and it wasn’t in the budget, so we ended up cleaning out this woman’s closet,” she says. The spring cleaning netted the organization $43,000. Whether it’s volunteering, plugging you into a network, hosting an event, or even offering up some Jimmy Choo’s, there’s more than one way to raise resources. “You’re not doing your job if you’re not offering multiple vehicles to have your donor get engaged and be supportive,” says Reinhard. “Once someone has shown a propensity to give, it’s the fundraiser’s job to figure out what vehicle will help them engage.”
- Make it tangible. “We’ll talk about the impact that a single handbag can make for the cause,” says Reinhard, a strategy that helps donors feel personally responsible for making an impact. “We have a 90 percent participation rate of women cleaning out their closets and bringing stuff to support the organization,” she says.
- Just ask. Period. “When you ask people why they don’t donate, a lot of times it’s because no one asked them,” says Reinhard. In her view, you can’t ask enough. “Every time a fundraiser tells me that they’re afraid of donor fatigue, I’m like, that’s not a real thing—that’s you being afraid. There’s always ways to create innovative, really great strategic partnerships with brands, with individuals and with powerhouse women who want to make a difference.”
This article was originally posted on Forbes.com, written by Macaela MacKenzi