How Two Freelance Creatives are Turning Advertising into Altruism
Mike O'Donnell / EDITOR
Creatives, philanthropists, and WNW Members Tiffany Appleton and Kirstin Roquemore started their own type of freelance business model. One that turns every print ad, script revision, and 92-page pitch deck into an act of altruism. This long-time creative duo just finished building a school in Nepal and are working on a second one in West Africa. Meet Freelanthropist.
Below they answer the “why,” “what,” “how,” and other interrogative adverbs of what they are doing. It was also rewarding to hear that the majority of freelance gigs that went toward funding their Freelanthropism came through Working Not Working. We considered titling this interview “Working Not Working Built a School in Nepal” but our staggering humility prevailed.
How long have you two been working together?
Kirstin: A long time. 13 years?
Tiffany: My son calls her, “da da”.
When did you first get the itch to become your best altruistic selves?
Tiffany: A few years ago, my mom sent me a newspaper article ranking America’s most “ethical” professions. “Advertising Professionals” was at the bottom, beating out only car salesmen and congress. She’d circled it in yellow highlighter. There was no note.
This is a sweeping generalization. There are those unicorn projects that truly aim to change the world, but mostly, if you’re like Kirstin and I, you spend a lot of time pushing paper towels and garden soil.
We started freelancing in 2013. Thanks to WNW, we’ve never gone back. Our first freelance project was one of those unicorns. We didn’t change the world, but we made a small difference in the lives of at least three people. Maybe four. But still, It was a feeling we couldn’t shake. Kindness is like a really addictive street drug.
What’s Freelanthropist all about?
Kirstin: It’s a new way of combining freelance with philanthropy. We donate 10% of our freelance profits to a good cause.
Tiffany: Freelanthropist was born because we were looking for a way to do what we love - coming up with weird, amazing ideas (preferably for athleisure cat pants,) and at the same time, something that’s good for the world. So, we decided we would donate 10% of our freelance profits to a philanthropic cause. We’re kind of like Robin Hood, except we steal from ourselves and give to the poor. And we only wear tights on Fridays.
What motivated you to officially commit to making it a reality?
Tiffany: Thinking up weird, interesting ideas is the best job in the world. But we always felt that something was missing. Sometimes at the end of the day you’re like, “Wow, I just spend 12 hours doing a banner ad for oatmeal.” But Freelanthropist makes everything important and meaningful. Even a four-hour conference call on font size.
Kirstin: Thanks to WNW we’ve been going strong as freelancers since 2013 and have been able to put the 10% aside. If we were full-time we’d also never be able to take two weeks off to live in a mud hut.
What have the Freelanthropists been up too?
Tiffany: This past May we built a gender-equal primary school in the Nepalese village of Baishakha. We lived in the village and worked closely with the community to build it. We mixed cement, tied rebar, carried rocks on our head. My rock was bigger than Kirstin’s.
Kirstin: We were given Nepalese names, ate with the families, slept in their mud huts. It was one of the most incredible experiences of our lives, excluding the four days Tiffany had E. coli.
It’s a place where women aren’t given much respect or opportunity. The men make the money and the rules. And there we were, two women, who funded 100% of their school. Not our husbands or fathers. And it was our education that allowed us to do that. It was really cool to see how that inspired the Nepalese women.
How did you handle the logistics?
Tiffany: We partnered with BuildOn.org, an amazing organization. They did all the hard, brainy stuff like government contracts, hiring local contractors and making sure we didn’t get abducted by renegade baboons.
Tiffany: Education is what opens the door to opportunity in countries like Nepal. So we’re building more doors. Literally. We’re working towards building another school in West Africa.
How do other freelancers get involved?
Kirstin: Anyone who wants to join Freelanthropist is welcome. Email us. Maybe we can build 100 schools instead of one. Or, just donate to something you care about. It doesn’t have to be 10% of your salary. It could be 1%. Or .006%. Whatever you can do.
Tiffany: We’re in an age of social accountability. Business models like Tom’s and Amazon Smile are respected because people not only support, but demand that type of corporate responsibility. So it’s time we start demanding that of ourselves. In the future, freelancers could team up to be an agent for change. My dream is that in ten years, when we’re commuting to work in drones wearing Alexa smart pants, we’ll also collectively be generating millions of dollars for causes we care about.
Illustration by WNW Member Michelle Kondrich