Gossip is a Form of Connection… and I Don’t Want a Part of It

A couple of years ago I heard a group of people making fun of me after I left the room. In a fury, I started writing a short and not-that-sweet blog post about it- a post titled “Gossip: It’s Low Vibe Energy.”

I often write about the things in life that irritate me, and almost immediately felt better afterward. I’ve written about the things in life that are painful- heartbreak, my experience in treatment, depression, and trauma. I’ve revisited stories of high school bullies and people who pushed me out of their life. I’ve talked about my alcoholism before people could start whispering about where I had been for a month or my poor behavior in the past. I’ve tried to own my side of the street, and took back my narrative before others tried to construe the truth- or think their words would break me.

I’ve noticed how gossip isn’t necessarily meant to be malicious or cruel toward other people, though. As a person who used to have a habit of taking everything personally, I was deeply hurt when people gossiped about me. Whether it was a flat out lie or laughing at my misfortune, I withdrew from connecting with people out of fear. For years I kept to myself and avoided interaction whenever possible.

This all began to change when I moved to the city. In San Francisco, being quirky was widely accepted. In New York, it was encouraged to drink during the day. In Boston, well, people were more concerned with themselves than even giving you a second glance, let alone gossip.

Now back in my hometown of 14,000 people in the city proper, of course gossip runs wild. Whether it’s school board scandal or frowning on changes in the community, people thrive on the dirt. They feed off of it.

I’ve learned an important lesson though- one even more pertinent than owning my narrative:

A lot of people use gossip to connect.

They talk about others to feel heard. They whisper about people behind their backs to gain some sort of validation from their peers.

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Connection is a powerful thing, but a lot of people aren’t comfortable with sharing their own truth. They connect based on other people, shallow aspects of life, and material gain. They judge other people by what they have or what they’ve accomplished, but not what’s inside their soul.

Today, I connect based on truth.

I’ve been invited to meet old friends and I’ve received messages from acquaintances who are merely curious about my personal life. I’m aware not all of these people truly care about me as a person, but they do care about what sort of drama or problems I may have.

It’s okay, though- I’ve beat them to it.

I’ve already shared what’s really going on with me throughout the web, and I hope to have more opportunities to share my story with the world. Whether it’s public speaking or writing, I know my experiences have helped people learn they’re not alone in their struggles.

My own struggles have brought me strength, for I have overcome them. Gossip may still be low vibe energy, and it’s not something I will participate in today. I wish the best for those who have snickered behind my back or tried to watch me fall; because today, I continue to rise. I hope they find their own way of doing so, too.

Uniting A New Generation of Philanthropists- A Chat with Chelsea Toler-Hoffmann

I met Chelsea Toler-Hoffmann over a decade ago when I was working at her parent’s law firm in Austin, Texas.

We kept in touch over the years and always tried to catch up when she and her mother, Shawn, visited the East Coast to meet with clients. They are a joy to spend time with, so I was excited to see the family this past spring in Boston’s Back Bay to chat about life and their newest venture- a Family Foundation.

Chelsea now serves as the President of The Keep Families Giving Foundation, an Austin-based organization created to unite a new generation of philanthropists- something we both feel strongly about.

“You’re never too young to become a philanthropist. Whether you’re passionate about a cause as a teenager or are looking to contribute family funds later in life, there are endless ways to get involved,” Chelsea told me.

I had the opportunity to ask her a few questions about the organization, her plans for the year, and hopes for the future.

How did you and your family decide to start a family foundation?

While my family has always been passionate about giving back to our community, the loss of my grandmother, the matriarch of our family, really served as the catalyst for the decision to start our family’s foundation. After her passing, I decided there was no better way to honor her than to transition into the role of serving as the President of the Keep Families Giving Foundation and to help other families identify their giving passions to better pursue their philanthropy journeys. 

We are unique in that many family foundation’s are passed down from multiple generations and incorporate legacy as well as giving into their purpose. Some of these foundations have strict guidelines on what they will fund and give to and or have specific focus areas that each generation must learn to honor their family’s traditions. For our family, I had the unique opportunity to co-found this foundation along with my parents and really co-create what our foundation would focus on/give to. Together we developed our mission to cultivate and educate the next generation of philanthropists while creating a collaborative community across generations and sectors for social good. 

We have adopted a unique model in which our next-gen advisory board works alongside a mentor advisory board to nominate organizations and causes that they care about for KFG’s grant awards. Each next-gen philanthropist then has the unique opportunity to really explore their philanthropy passion areas and learn alongside their peers as well as mentors. Their interest areas range from film and the arts to healthcare and education.

Further, we do not limit our giving or partnerships to particular cause areas, but instead help support next-gen philanthropists in identifying and finding the causes they care about to make meaningful impact in the world.

We envision a world where the next-generation of philanthropists are provided with the education, mentorship, community, and tools needed to not only carry on their family legacy, but also champion their own social good causes and experiences.

What were you doing before you started Keep Families Giving and how does it correlate?

Prior to serving as the President of the Keep Families Giving Foundation, I had the unique opportunity to serve in I Live Here I Give Here’s, a 501c3 nonprofit organization, first development/fundraising role on a team of 6 women that helped raise $10 million in 24 hours for over 750+ nonprofit organizations in Central Texas as a part of our city’s only online giving day, Amplify Austin Day.

This unique experience helped me better understand philanthropy and the power of bringing sectors together for social good. In this role I helped work with the corporate sector on community engagement as well as family foundations that participated in the day to support many of their grantees. Helping others find their giving passions became larger than a career, but what I wanted to dedicate my life to. Together our city came together to better our city and support our local community in a unique and innovative way. 

After my time at I Live Here I Give Here, I felt prepared to transition into leading my own family’s foundation and continuing my lifelong purpose of helping others find their giving passions and pursue their philanthropy journeys to better the world. 

What are your plans for this next year?

We are thrilled to announce we will be launching our city’s first InterGEN Summit on February 29th-March 1st in Austin, Texas. This summit will bring together 150+ foundation, family office, university, nonprofit, and corporate leaders from around the globe for a unique opportunity to test, co-create, and innovate more impactful philanthropic models and solutions for change. This years’ summit will focus on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Our goal for the gathering is to inspire doing good together while establishing Austin as an innovative philanthropy hub for the rest of the world, just in time to kick off SXSW!

We have partnered with UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the Intergen Family Initiative with the Family Office Association, and Abilitie (a leadership training simulation company) for this initiative.

For our keynote conversation, we will hear from powerful philanthropic families like Jim Epstein (the great, great grandson of James Gamble — co-founder of Procter and Gamble, and the grandson of Clarence Gamble — the founder of Pathfinder International) from the Gamble Family about how they have successfully engaged many generations in their community work in partnership with a nonprofit organization their family founded, Pathfinder International. This will serve as a great example of the importance of the SDG goal — 17 Partnerships. Since the next-gen advisory board has selected the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as our theme for this year, all of our speakers will incorporate one or more of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals into their sessions.

We look forward to learning a great deal from hosting this inaugural summit about how to better our world when we work together across generations and sectors for change.

How can people get involved?

We will have various events and programs available to get involved in throughout the year. You can identify a next-gen board member that shares similar passions and connect to them by sending a message to summit@keepfamiliesgiving.org. We are also always open to partnerships and or collaborations if you might want to work together on a social good initiative. 

We are also in need of volunteers and a few mission aligned sponsor for our upcoming spring summit. You can learn more about this by reaching out to me directly at chelsea@keepfamiliesgiving.org.

What fuels your passion for giving back?

Seeing others find causes and initiatives they care about and then being able to make real change in these areas. Every person deserves to understand the gift of generosity.

Your voice and your passions matter — together we can make real impact in the world.

You can connect with Keep Families Giving on Facebook, Instagram, or register for the Intergen Philanthropy Summit via the links below. Use discount code KFG20 for 20% Off:

OFF THE RECORD 2 DAY PASSES

OFF THE RECORD SATURDAY PASS

OFF THE RECORD SUNDAY PASS

We hope to see you in Austin!

Forever Five Stars: My Thoughts as a Former Yelp Elite

An Elite event in San Francisco, 2010

Over the weekend I watched Billion Dollar Bully, the Yelp documentary by Kaylie Milliken, for the first time.

I was a Yelp employee in 2008 (but couldn’t stomach the cold calling), an “Elite” from 2010-2014, and am still friends with some of the first upper-level employees, former community managers, and fellow Elite Squad members. There’s a lot of truth, but also a lot of misunderstandings in the film. It broke my heart to hear the stories of people who suffered from their treatment of the company, but I want to reflect on the good it has done, too.

Everyone has their own feelings about Yelp, especially business owners, but I can say that of my 492 reviews and 837 local photos, I write to share positive or constructive feedback to help small businesses grow- not to hurt them. I met some wonderful people at Elite events in SF and NYC, ate a lot of amazing food, and had tons of laughs. I learned about places I never would have been before, and was able to share my experience with the community.

I left San Francisco in 2011, a year before the company IPOed– so I can’t say how the culture changed after it went from a startup to a public company. Nevertheless, I still see a huge value in real people writing real reviews. What I don’t believe in is pressuring businesses owners to spend money that simply isn’t in their budget, not giving them the ability to remove their listing, or living in so much fear they feel the need to buy fake reviews from people who hardly know their business.

I definitely don’t think most Yelpers are out to get people- it’s usually the faceless reviewers with 0 friends (I have 850) who cause the trouble. It’s a shame some people ruined it for the rest of us.

So why do I still write on Yelp, you ask? Although I am no longer incentivized to write reviews as there’s no Yelp Elite community in Northern Michigan (plus my status was dropped my second year in New York City), I think it’s important to share my positive experiences, show potential customers what my own experience looked like, and to engage with new businesses. It always makes me smile when a business owner writes to thank me for my review, or recognizes me when I come back into their establishment.

Whether people still use Yelp to find a new restaurant here or not, I always am sure to take a photo of my meal, share my thoughts, and help others find my favorite hidden gems, too.

Yelpers in the East Bay, 2010