How drinking myself into oblivion helped me create a nonprofit

This post is written by our CEO, Carter Gibson.


There are moments in life when you know that everything has changed. During those moments you recognize that the way you had been living is no longer satisfactory. I had one of these moments when I was younger during an incredibly embarrassing talk with my boss at the Ad Council when I was interning there in 2011. It was my first internship, I was lucky to score it, and I loved working in campaign management (no matter how uncomfortable wearing a collared shirt made it). The embarrassing talk I mentioned came the day after my 21st birthday when I was 4hrs late to work… for the second day in a row… for the same alcohol-induced hangover-causing reason. It was completely stupid, but the conversation that followed was a fantastic moment of growth.

The conversation I had wasn’t about drinking (I’m still really good at that). It was about something much more important. Ricki presented me with a pretty clear option: care about your job and helping others or don’t. The lesson I learned from a “forceful mentoring” was that I don’t get to make mistakes like that if I’m going to devote my life to helping others. This moment helped me realize how firmly I believed that the Ad Council’s approach to increasing awareness was making the world a better place. That talk helped me realize that Ad Council was more than just an advertising agency. It was a connector, a storyteller, an enabler, the manager, the caretaker – the Ad Council was in the business of giving organizations struggling to reach a wide audience with their a message a chance to make amazing societal advances.

More than creating pretty ads, their emphasis on storytelling is so vital in the marketing industry that it’s quickly become cliched and buzzy. It reminds me a lot of the “humanizing the web” phenomenon that we’re admittedly we’re still in. Ultimately though I don’t think that we’re ever able to escape our desire to humanize our online presences through stories and be successful. When it comes to stories, you absolutely have to tell amazing ones to be heard at all. The web is saturated. There’s so much noise that only the best story will win. There’s no room for mediocrity. Sadly too many nonprofit organizations are left with amazing stories and not enough resources to tell them effectively.

Sitting on my desire to do good and my frustration with the state of nonprofit storytelling, crowdsourcing, and never knowing the impact individual donations made I got an idea. That idea eventually got the name The LittleBigFund.

Taking a page out of the Ad Council’s notebook, The LittleBigFund is, at its core, a storyteller. We work with three regionally-focused nonprofit organizations a month, telling their stories, promoting their cause, and ultimately delivering them assets to use in the future. As we’re telling stories people donate small amounts of money to form a big fund. They then vote on which nonprofit they feel would use the fund the best. At the end of the month the organization whose story resonated the most with the donors receives the entire fund. The donors feel like they made a huge impact with a small action and we continue to gather stories from the organization who received the fund thus giving donors tangible results. The reward is the story and empowerment it gives – not a tote bag.

In all honesty though, the Ad Council truly prepared me to not only work, but to care. And all because of binge drinking! Who knew!? But in all seriousness, fantastic growth can (and should) come out of every mistake. That conversation I had with my boss was the wakeup call I needed. I’m not sure what that wakeup call for all people to support nonprofit causes is, but hopefully The LitleBigFund will be the catalyst for many.