An Interview with Patricia Steffy of IBG, Inc.

IBG, Inc. or Inspire, Believe, Give has accomplished an incredible amount over the last three years, including raising over $100,000 for various charities. Patricia Steffy, their head of event production, talked with us and gave not only background on this wonderful organization but also advice for other non-profits.

1) Can you tell us about the founding members and how they came together to form IBG, Inc.?

Elizabth De Razzo, Karen Mendez and Caleigh Scott formed the original organization. They were inspired by the charity work of Gillian Anderson and saw a way they could make a difference themselves---and immediately started to sketch out their plans on a diner napkin (which I believe they recently found). I was recruited to the organization to help produce their first live event. Danielle Turchiano came on board a few months later when we began the legal process of moving the organization from a fan organization into a formal corporation and then a 501(c)3.

2) I see reading your blog that you've recently picked up two new members of your staff. What can you tell me about the new additions?

We're very excited about the new members! Susan Richards joined IBG as our new VP of development. Her main role will be to reach out to external philanthropic organizations to procure additional support for the events organized by IBG. Meghan Wilson joined IBG and handles social media and company outreach (so if you're reading us on Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr, you've probably alread run into Meghan).

3) Which charities have you helped support in the past?

Sincer December of 2008, IBG Inc. has disbursed more than $100,000 to participating charities such as: American Cancer Society, Artists for a New South Africa, Artists Striving to End Poverty, Boys & Girls Aid, Kids Defense Team, Fezeka Scholarship Fund, LUNGevity, Neurofibromotsis Inc., SA-YES, Rape Treatment Center of Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center, The Relational Center, Share Our Strength and UNICEF.

4) What are some of the bigger events you've done over the years and which of them are you most proud of?

This is difficult; it's like picking your favorite child. I love the Conversation Series events. You tend to get a lot of behind-the-scenes information about developing a series, a character, a script...etc. I love getting that kind of information because it goes so far beyond the typical fan-type gathering.

In terms of big events, the largest event we've completed to date is the SA-YES event featuring Gillian Anderson, David Duchovny, and Chris Carter. One of these days, we'll need to do a "Making Of" documentary for that thing because the process of developing that idea, writing the proposal and the speed of what followed still amazes me a bit. I remember the seconds before we put out first announcement on our Facebook page. We just kept asking each other: "Are you ready?" We knew that the second I hit enter; we weren't going to sleep until it was finished. And you have to remember there were only five of us and a lot of moving parts. We went through three venues in the first two weeks (we blew through the capacity of the first one within hours). The response was amazing, and really it was our desire to keep the event somewhat intimate that capped the ticket sales. Anderson, Duchovny, and Carter were fantastic---genuinely nice people who, despite some tricky scheduling problems,  were willing to do what they could to make the day fun for donors and to raise as much money for the charity as possible (which was substantial).  But more than the experience of the event itself, I will never forget the response we got from SA-YES when they found out exactly how much money was coming to them. It was very emotional. Whenever I get frustrated with things, I pull that email as an amazing reminder of why we do these things and how much impact we can really have.

5) What are some pending events and fundraisers that you are excited for in the coming year?

Unfortunately, because we don't have contracts in place with particular guests yet, I can't be too specific about upcoming events. I can tell you that we'll be doing another wine tasting even early in February, and that in addition to another year of Conversation events, we hope to introduce a much larger, performance-based event into the mix.

6) What has been your experience in creating a non-profit? What pitfalls have you faced and lessons have you learned?

The qualification process for the 501(c)3 is very rigorous. I think non-profits, because of the possible tax-exemption, are under quite a bit of increased scrutiny these days. You really need to know exactly what your goals are, what types of services you want to provide and be as transparent as possible.

7) What has it been like being an all woman run charity? What advice would you give to other charities run by or consisting of a majority of women?

I've never worked on the development side of a charity of mixed genders, so I am not sure that it is significantly different. I think the perception is that because we are all women, we're all going to be on the same page, all the time; that it would somehow be more egalitarian, etc. That's not necessarily true. We have differing opinions, backgrounds and approaches, and I don't think that dynamic would change greatly if we suddenly added a man as a voting member. In terms of advice, I'd say the the best possible thing for any charity is to have a very clear mission. It's not that this won't evolve over time, but if you start out with vague notions, no matter how altruistic, you'll run into structure and planning problems quickly. Also, be realistic. You'll have a lot of people making it seem like funding grants will be falling from the trees as soon as your incorporation finalizes. I can tell you this is 100% false (or we're standing under the wrong trees). You have to have a track record of success, in most cases, before grant panels begin to take you seriously, which means you will need a way to fund your activities for the first few years on your own.

8) Similarly, what have you, as women, learned from working in various media-related field in Los Angeles?

I think working in the entertainment industry is fraught with perils regardless of your gender, so I don't tend to think in those terms. I think people need to value themselves. I'd like to think that if you have respect for yourself and treat others with respect that this will translate to a certain amount of success. I'm not saying it does; of course, I'd just like to believe that. No, seriously, I think like any industry, media is changing every day, and people need to keep informed about the possibilities and pitfalls of working in and using it. It may sound cliched but media has the power to transform---in many ways we are counting on it because part of what IBG does is raise awareness of start-ups and micro-funded organizations through media coverage of our events. But everyone has to be aware of how perception and reputation can change instantly in a world of SEO and Twitter's 140 characters of potential destruction.

9) What changes in the media's representation women to you hope to see over the next decade?

In my ideal world women (and men) would always be portrayed as people of substance, and they would act as though they deserved to be viewed that way in their daily lives. I think reality shows portray everyone (men and women) poorly for ratings and comedy. I get that people enjoy it, and I'm all for showcasing certain foibles for humor, but it's so pervasive that it's hard to enjoy the images even when you don't watch those shows. I often wonder who the television role models are for young women today. Are they aspiring to be like Scully (someone strong, intelligent, and honorable), or are they hoping that they can get a book deal or a clothing line if they fall over drunkenly enough while not wearing underwear around cameras?

10) Finally can someone who doesn't live in the IBG area help IBG? If so, what is the best way to show long distance support?

You would be surprised how large the percentage of non-local donors is for IBG. That is in large part [due] to their ability to buy DVDs of the events which lets them be a part of the events, as well as the fundraising process for the benefiting charities. Of course, we love receiving direct donations from supporters no matter their location (there is a button on the front of our website for just this sort of thing). We take a very small percentage from the event to deal with expenses, but the rest of the costs are funded by IBG. We really do rely on Friends of IBG and other donors in order to continue producing the fundraisers.