Darian Rodriguez Heyman is only 35 years old, but as the founder of a company, the leader of a foundation, an investor, and a fundraiser for social causes, he is already well versed in entrepreneurship of the profit-oriented and the socially focused varieties.
Heyman was born in Los Angeles. After his parents divorced, his mother, a middle school art teacher, raised him and his brother in Toms River. Heyman went on to the University of Michigan to earn his bachelor’s in international relations in 1996.
He began his studies as an engineering major but later dropped that to focus on a career in teaching. “I had resigned myself to a life of poverty,” he says. But plans changed when he joined a couple of friends putting a class project business plan into action. Heyman and his three classmates founded a digital advertising agency, Beyond Interactive, right out of college and grew the company at 600 percent a year four years in a row.
Heyman describes the company as being more than a business. He says it was like a family for those who worked there — in fact, he was the only one of the four founders who didn’t marry an employee. So when the Internet bubble burst and the company had to go through massive layoffs, Heyman took it hard. “That was really disillusioning because I thought we were a family,” he says. “But I realized once we had to go through layoffs that we were actually just a business. So I lost my passion and decided to go traveling and went on sabbatical for six months.”
On that trip, Heyman decided to not only stop working for the time being, but to change the focus of his life. “I came up with a personal mission statement, which is to maximize my sphere of positive influence,” he said. “Essentially trying to make the most change possible, the most positive change possible, and really directing it toward significant and sustainable social progress.”
Since Heyman’s change in focus, he spent four years as the head of the Craigslist Foundation, reviving it from a dormant state into an active provider of training to small nonprofits. He conducted fundraising for various social causes and is now working with the United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development to work on leveraging technology to address development goals around the world.
Heyman will speak about his experiences in social entrepreneurship and the lessons he learned as part of a panel including Ralph Nader, consumer advocate and former presidential candidate, and Dick Sweeney, co-founder of Keurig Coffee at the 2009 Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Conference on Wednesday, September 16, at 8 a.m. at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison. Cost: $145. Call 973-443-8842.
The social change he’d most like to accomplish is to salvage capitalism. “When I think about climate change, to me that’s not a problem, it’s just symptomatic of a greater problem, which is that the interests of the corporations are not aligned with the interests of the people.” He dreams of finding a creative way, possibly through legislation or publicly created accountability, to make it within the best interests of corporations to do the right thing.
It’s not your cause or community. Heyman wants people thinking of starting a nonprofit to make sure they do their due diligence before putting in the work of establishing one. “In the business community, you’d never see a business plan without a competitive analysis,” he says, “whereas in the nonprofit sector you see people starting nonprofits all the time without doing any homework to identify who else is out there. Really, you owe it to the cause and to the community to do your homework.”
Even if you feel like nobody is addressing the need you want to address and you feel like you’re fundamentally different, Heyman says, at least you need to know how you are different and who else is out there.
Heyman suggests going one step further and contacting other nonprofits to identify ways to support their work rather than starting up another organization. He also suggests looking at options such as fiscal sponsorship, where you can come under the umbrella of an existing nonprofit. By not having to go through the cost and hassle of setting up a new 501(c)3, you’ll have more time to focus on the work instead of the administrative aspects.
“Many people, when you ask them who owns their nonprofit, they’ll either say they do or the board does,” says Heyman. “But in reality, every nonprofit in the country by definition has the same owner, which is the community, the people. The board is merely acting as a trustee to protect that interest.” Make sure you are keeping the interests of the cause foremost and not your own interests of legacy or leadership.
Focus on support networks. Heyman advises that people already established with a cause try to surround themselves with people doing similar work and embrace the sense of community by trying to help them with their work. Ultimately, says Heyman, this will come back to you, through shared contacts, ideas, or resources.
“This is where I’ve seen the most progress and success,” says Heyman. “People are getting outside of themselves and don’t worry about sharing. Instead they just focus on the work and how they can support other people doing good work as well. The results are really fantastic, advancing everyone’s work. I think the point is that it’s a movement and we’re all in this together.”
There are different types of leaders. Recognizing this is what made Heyman decide to move on from leading the Craigslist Foundation. “I had the image of a weightlifter in my head,” he says. “The muscles that you use to get something off the ground and do that heavy lifting, those are the really entrepreneurial muscles. Then there are the muscles that you use to stabilize something and to hold something and sustain it. Those are more the managerial muscles. A lot of times people starting non-profits tend to think of leadership as a monolithic institution. They want to believe that they can do it all when in reality nobody can.”
Heyman also suggests bringing in additional support or transitioning on into another role or another organization.
The value of personal contact. Heyman thinks that many people have too much faith that their cause will speak for itself when it is fundraising time. He says the reality is that often who you know is as important as what you know.
“Identifying the opportunities to get out there and mingle with the potential supporters, whether they be institutional or individual, is really important.”
Prioritize on-the-job training. “The sad truth is that 50 percent of executive directors in the nonprofit sector not only leave their job, but they leave the sector within five years,” says Heyman.
The main reasons for such an exodus are fundraising responsibilities, frustrations with boards of directors, and work-life balance issues.
Heyman forecasts a leadership vacuum as the Baby Boomers begin to retire and thinks that grooming new leadership starts with offering staff time to learn and to develop professionally.
“That’s really hard to do because every nonprofit is at capacity, just like almost every business,” he says. “There’s always more work that can be done. But it’s really imperative to carve some time out of every week for professional development.”
Discover your passion through volunteering. Heyman recommends that people interested in doing good volunteer at several different organizations and find a place where they are passionate about the work being done.
“When they think about volunteerism, people think about pouring soup or licking envelopes,” he says. “But if you’re an accountant, you can volunteer one day a month and do the organization’s books. Or if you’re into tech, you can set up the non-profit’s local area network.”
Ultimately, Heyman says, it’s giving of yourself and a personal inventory about what it is you have to offer, combined with what are the topics and the community needs you are most passionate about. “Then look for a combination of those two,” he says.