You may have seen her on The Talk or even The Marriage Ref. Contact Any Celebrity Member Cheryl Jackson is president of The Giving Movement, founder of Minnie’s Food Pantry and author of What in the World Are You Doing?
We spoke with Cheryl about the many different ways she’s used celebrities in her organization – including how she got Oprah‘s attention!
Tell me about your organization, The Giving Movement.
I conceived my organization after the death of my father. He passed away five years ago. For the last ten years, I had been involved in PR work for philanthropy through the Touch Ministry. My mother had founded the Touch Ministry to honor my grandmother. After the death of my father, I started thinking about how I only had one living relative left, which is my mother Minnie Ewing.
My parents taught me so much about giving back and using your life to make a difference. I told my mom, “I’m about to do the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I’m going to resign from your organization and start my own organization to honor you.”
That’s how it got started. Then we began going into schools and educating kids about philanthropy. We opened up Minnie’s Food Pantry which is in West Plano, Texas. The Census Bureau recently said that if you want to rebuild your wealth move to Plano. Many people move to Plano for that reason.
What I wanted to do was create awareness that there are hungry people in Plano just like everywhere else in the world. People were saying things to me like “My God, you fed 11,000 people the last few months. How did you do that and you’re in Plano?”
My mission in life is to create an awareness about hunger and to also spotlight my mom, who is my hero, my mentor, and a living legend.
Some people call you Cheryl “Action” Jackson. How did you get that name?
My motto is “some people watch it happen, some people ask what happened, and some people make it happen.” If you’re going to make it happen, that means you have to create some type of action. If this is where you want to be tomorrow, what are you going to do? What action steps are you going to take to get there? This approach has always worked for me. Everything that I have written on paper has come to life.
I never went to college, and I got married at the age of 17. I love my husband, we’ve been married 22 years. I have two beautiful children, 19 and 21 years old. But at one point in my life, about five years ago, I sat down and wrote, “I’m going have my own column. I’m going to interview Oprah.” And the first person I ever interviewed was Oprah Winfrey.
How did that happen?
I knew that Oprah was presenting a Live Your Best Life conference in Florida. I live in Texas, but I was so convinced that I would get to meet and interview her. I bought a ticket for this conference, and then six of my girlfriends and family members flew from Texas to Florida with me. I got out there and I was friendly like I always am. Here’s what I tell people: “If you want to be successful, be friendly, smile at everyone you meet, and offer assistance.” I arrived two days before the actual conference.
I once had an opportunity to work for football player Emmitt Smith. When I worked for Emmitt, I learned a lot about what celebrities do. For instance, sometimes they would have diversion limos because everybody wants to get to the celebrity. Their security will arrange to have a diversion limo.
When Oprah’s limo arrived, I looked at the guard who I had been talking to the entire two days not knowing he was a guard, and then the diversion limo idea clicked in my mind. I said, “Yes or no.” And he said, “No.” I saw about 200 people at a limo waiting for Oprah to come out. Then I asked, “North, south, east or west?” and he responded, “North.”
There was a man there who told me, “I have to meet Oprah and I’m all about giving.” I said, “Follow me,” because I knew I would meet her. Jay and I went to the north area. It was just him and me standing there with one limo and the driver. We were waiting on Oprah to come out. It started raining and the limo driver said, “If you don’t leave, I’m going to have security move you.” I told him, “I’ll go inside.” However, Jay stayed there.
Maybe 15 minutes later, in the conference, I heard my name announced across the entire arena. Soon Jay came running after me. He said, “Cheryl, I got to give Oprah all my information, and I got to sing to her.” I was amazed because I had taken him to the spot where Oprah’s real limo was.
Oprah took the stage and she said, “Don’t ask for autographs, don’t ask for any pictures. I just want to pour my life into you.” After that, she asked, “Where is Jay?” and Jay raised his hand. Oprah said, “I want to have lunch with you at intermission.” Everybody was wondering if I was upset that she chose him and not me. I said, “No, there’s a time for all of us. This must be his time.”
I had already written my introduction article about my charity for a newspaper that I had in my purse. I said to Jay, “Would you at least take this and ask Oprah to sign it?” and he did. Jay came back from lunch, and he handed me the signed article. Then during the second half of her presentation, Oprah said, “Who has questions?” and I raised my hand.
Oprah never acknowledged me until she asked for one more question. Then she pointed at me. Tears were streaming down my face. I wondered, “Will she say yes or no?” I told her, “I came from Texas, and I would be so thankful if you would grant me an interview.”
Oprah said, “OK,” and I was taken to the back. Gayle King came running around the corner, and she escorted me to where they had set up the most beautiful chairs. It was like something from Entertainment Tonight, a set like that. When Oprah walked off the stage, she gave me the biggest hug. She said, “Ask me anything, girlfriend.”
I said, “Why did you give me this interview?” Oprah told me, “Because our spirits connected.” She wanted to know what I love to do. I said, “I love giving.” She told me, “Then pursue that, Cheryl. Remember, your passion is what you would do even if you didn’t get paid.”
So I walked away from Corporate America and I put everything I had into The Giving Movement, into everything that I did when it comes to charity work. I’ve been extremely successful. I never went to college for this, but I’ve interviewed Will Smith, Sarah Ferguson, so many celebrities. Even tonight, I’m going to meet Bob Greene, Oprah’s trainer. I’ll be meeting fashion expert Carson Kressley and Robert Rey, Dr. 90210. I’m living my dream life.
That’s an amazing story.
CJ: Oprah came to Dallas to do the same Live Your Best Life conference. I managed to get two tickets off the Internet, and I auctioned them off on eBay and raised $2,000. With that money, I fed over 200 families. Someone read about me and they gave me tickets to the conference. The seats were in the front row. Someone asked me a random question. I didn’t know that he was with the Dallas Morning News. My quote ended up right over Oprah’s picture in the paper. I’ve had so many Oprah encounters.
You’ve figured out ways to give and that’s brought you attention in the media.
I just finished writing a book called What In the World Are You Doing?. Basically it’s about when you give, it comes back to you in so many different formats and ways. It’s really unbelievable. For instance, this weekend I’ll be giving away $20,000 in beauty products and services at a huge beauty conference.
Bob Greene will be there at the Galleria and Dr. Ray will be there. They chose The Giving Movement as their charity to spotlight. I’ll have 30 minutes on stage to talk about the beauty of giving. I feel so honored, but had I not been doing this I would not have been chosen. I’m living my passion and everything else is just coming into being. I tell people, “Find out what makes you happy and then follow those vibes. You will be successful no matter which direction you turn.”
You also did an Oscar segment. Tell me about that.
Fox TV came around; they did a 16-city tour to find a host for their Oscar segments in Hollywood. I wrote on the application that I wanted to show them that a plain girl from Plano, Texas can win this. “I am your winner,” I wrote, “pick me.” I wrote my phone number about 100 times. I wanted it to really stand out.
Months passed, and I hadn’t heard anything. Finally I called them and I said, “Did y’all make a decision?” The man said, “Yes, we made a decision,” and that was all he told me. Then the man called back and he said, “Cheryl, we called to tell you that you’re one of our finalists. There’s going to be five trucks in front of the houses of the five different finalists and whoever’s door we walk up to − that’s the winner.”
On the scheduled day, I was watching Good Day L.A. on my TV, and then I looked outside. A voice on the TV said, “Now it’s time to tell the winner,” and I saw someone walking up my steps! My entire family was there and we just went crazy! Fox flew me to L.A. and I hosted their Oscar segment. It was only supposed to be about a 45-second to two-minute segment, but they let me stay the entire 45 minutes on the show co-hosting every single segment.
Now I’m actually doing a segment every single week on the largest affiliate station in Texas, WFAA Channel 8 − a segment about saving money and giving back. Everything that I do just falls in line with my passion and my life’s goal and message. I also now write for the Dallas Morning News, and my article goes to 1.4 million homes every single week.
What’s the name of your column?
It’s called Life Savings. I write about people who are using their life to give back. Plus I talk about resourceful ways that you can save money, everything from couponing to using Redbox where it’s $1.00 a night to rent a movie.
You’re also working on a book with Les Brown?
Yes I am and I’m really excited! It’s called The Guidelines and Principles of Success, and in my particular chapter, I write about how to be a philanthropist and how a company and an individual can be successful through giving. I’m writing about creative ways to give back, how businesses can partner with nonprofits. There are four doctors who have partnered with me, and now they’re all getting publicity because they chose to help my organization.
Some nonprofits, especially larger ones, have great marketing budgets. If you offer your services and then your name is put on their Web site, that’s an easy way to do marketing without paying any money. People don’t think of that. I just had a huge convention expo where a lot of the business owners were asking, “What can we do?” It’s really amazing. I have a vehicle that was donated to me for The Giving Movement, and there’s a company that is going to wrap the vehicle for free. Everywhere I go, information will be on the vehicle, and that’s advertising for them, too. People will ask me, “Cheryl, who do you use?” I’m going to say, “360 Wrap.”
I did a segment on my show on Channel 8 about a dentist’s office. Normally their patient visit is $260 for someone new. They told me, “Cheryl, we want to give back to the community. We’ll do it for $10,” and I talked about it on my segment. That day they received 61 new patients because they wanted to give back. There are also massage therapists who give free massages on the third Monday of every month. It’s free but they ask for a donation, and all the proceeds go to our food pantry.
We’re raising money, people are feeling good, and then people decide to set up a regular appointment with the massage therapists. The massage therapists weren’t doing this for that reason, they were trying to give back, but in giving it came back to them. One day they had 35 clients; the last time, they had 52 new clients who came through their office. That’s just because they wanted to give something away for free and help the community.
These are creative ways people who own their own businesses can get involved with a nonprofit and also market themselves. They can call and say, “I’m a massage therapist. Can I partner with you at your next event? We can give free chair massages, and in exchange, the only thing I ask is can I put my logo on your Web site. Or can I have my logo on any of your brochures?” You’re not spending money, you’re just doing in kind with your time, and you’re getting your name out there. It helps the nonprofit, but it also helps you as well.
Do you have any more tips for approaching charities? Sometimes with large corporate charities, it can be hard to find the right person to contact.
It’s a matter of connecting with the first person who answers. One of the things I would do is visit their Web site and find out what they do. Also, on my website, you’ll see my upcoming events. Go to that part of their site. What are their yearly events? What are their fundraising events? What can you do in terms of giving out sponsorships?
Choose the right charity and your name will get in front of the right clientele. Offer auction items, offer gift certificates. Imagine if I had an auction table and you put your name out there for a free massage, dinner for two, or a stay at your hotel. Emmitt Smith wins that or we give it to him. If he comes into your place and you give him good service, it’s more than likely that Emmitt’s going to tell his friends. He’s going to come back, too. You just got a client for giving back, and that’s how easy it is. Even if they already held their events for this year, ask them if you can be a part of it next year. Nonprofits love to partner with people. They love it.
Partnering with celebrities, like you were just talking about, is what we teach people to do. And it’s so true… you give something to someone like Emmitt Smith, and he loves it. Then he’ll tell other people.
You’re doing this on your website. The celebrity gift bag opportunities you list there are perfect. What do you want to put in those gift bags where hundreds of celebrities could possibly see them? That’s a great place to start as well. I’m looking at that now. Can I put my charity things in that bag? I’m also seeing if I can put my charity’s name on any of those bags and what it will cost me. What if I get the attention of someone like an Angelina Jolie? To me, that’s priceless.
You’ve been a member of ContactAnyCelebrity.com for a long time. How have you used it so far?
What I’m working on right now, thanks to ContactAnyCelebrity.com, is connecting with Robin Thicke. I found out that he and Jennifer Hudson are coming to Dallas for a concert. I called them and I said, “I would love to meet with you, and I would love to interview you.” I’ll take my own personal camera.
If you go to TheGivingMovement.org and click on our videos, you’ll see that I have interviewed Russell Simmons and Magic Johnson about their philanthropy. As a matter of fact, on the Magic Johnson interview, I asked, “Are you going to let me come and interview you for a day?” I have him on tape saying, “Yes.” So he’s open to having me call him back. I’ve used your service to be able to contact these celebrities, and it’s amazing. What you offer is priceless. In a way, I hate to tell you this because people now think that Cheryl knows everybody. They just don’t know that Cheryl knows Jordan, who knows everybody.
People will say, “Cheryl, can you get in contact with this person?” And I’ll ask, “What’s it worth to you?” They’ll tell me, “I’ll give you this or I’ll give you that,” and I’ll say, “OK, give me about thirty minutes.” Then I get in contact with the people and they can’t believe it.
The other day, I almost got America Ferrera from Ugly Betty lined up for one of my events. She is coming to Texas, and the only reason why she didn’t do it was because my event was two hours. It conflicted with another event she had already signed up for. But I had her one step away from saying, “Yes, I will come to your event.”
With Robin Thicke, I’ve already received two tickets to the concert thanks to Contact Any Celebrity. They told me, “Cheryl, if he doesn’t come to your set at Channel 8, you can come to the concert. Perhaps we’ll let you interview him after the event.” Now I’m set when they come. I wanted both Robin Thicke and Jennifer Hudson to do my show on Channel 8. If not, I’ll still get my own personal interview with Robin Thicke.
When you see celebrities at an event, it can be a quick interaction. You may not have a lot of time to talk to them. How do you let them know your organization is for real? Celebrities are always skeptical about everyone who is trying to get something from them.
Statistics are so important. My executive director, Erica Simon, keeps the statistics for The Giving Movement. Then when someone is asking me questions, I have bullet points. Since August 2008, when we opened up Minnie’s Food Pantry, we have fed 11,247 people. We have delivered over 450,000 pounds of food. Those numbers are real.
So when I say that I need a celebrity’s help, I can let them know what we’re doing. I can tell them that we’re shining the spotlight on hunger. Whatever you’re doing, statistics validate it. Since we began the Pantry, we’ve talked to people like Russell Simmons and Magic Johnson. We’ve talked to them about the importance of feeding the hungry, and said, “We would love for you to join our organization and our cause.” When they see that, number one, you’ve got your statistics together, and number two that you’re hobnobbing with other celebrities, they’re more apt to lend their name to your organization.
I know you do a lot of speaking engagements.
Do you have a booking agency or do you do this yourself?
No, myself. I wish I did have a booking agency. I was thinking about it but they’d probably be too much. The easiest thing to do if you’re new to speaking is to start off contacting organizations such as rotary groups. All rotaries need speakers. All Chambers of Commerce need speakers. Make whatever you speak about as enlightening and entertaining as possible. And always give them something.
I don’t care what it is, leave them with a pen, leave them with something, so they remember you. “Oh yeah, that’s the girl who gave me the Frisbee. I haven’t thrown a Frisbee in ten years.” Or “That’s the girl who gave me those cool pens that light up in the dark that my children love.” Always leave them something so they’ll be talking about you and wanting you to come back.
And always bring something else that’s bigger than what you leave with the audience. Do a drawing, raffle something off, because people aren’t expecting that. At the last event where I spoke, I brought something for every single woman. It was a woman’s conference, and we had items, beauty items, in the chairs for every woman. These were not just little items.
If you’re a nonprofit, you can start partnering with companies. Then always give back to your community. If you give back, it will come back to you. People will call you and say, “Hey I noticed you had this in your gift bag. When are you going to do another gift bag?”
Right now, I have the ability to give away a book. If you work with children, I have a book called Success for Teens, and my goal is to give away ten million of these books. Over 600,000 have already been given away. All you have to do is email me and say, “I would love to have this many books.” We’ll pay for the shipping, we will pay for everything. If you’re a speaker and you speak to kids’ groups, this is something that you can give away to the children so they can have it. It’s great reading. And it’s motivational. It’s personal development for teenagers. You should always have something to give.
In my bag this week, we’ve already prepackaged different products. We’ve received over $35,000 in donations of products that we can put in our bags. We’re also giving away $20,000 in beauty products and services. That’s because we’ve established ourselves as the nonprofit who gives back to the community. As a result, companies want to have their products and services in our bags.
This is what you do as a nonprofit and as a business. Establish your nonprofit or business as the one that gives back to the community. I tell companies, “When the community finds out that you’re in the business of giving back, they’ll come and support you. They’ll buy your items. They’ll say, “You know what? I saw that you help Minnie’s Food Pantry. Because you gave back, I want to give my money to you. Because I want to continue to support people who support others in the community.”
Are there any other ways that people can help you? Also, how can they find out more about The Giving Movement?
It costs just $5.40 to feed a family of four for one week. You can donate to sponsor a family at our website TheGivingMovement.org. That’s the easiest way to help. I won $5 on Deal or No Deal, so I always ask people, “Will you please donate $5.40 minimum to help me feed a family of four for one week?”
Our goal is to feed 25,000 people by December 30th of this year. That’s my mother’s birthday. We’re aiming to reach that goal this year, and we’ll do it through the support of the community and people from around the world. Just $5.40 is all it takes to make me smile. Anything over that will make a lot of people smile, a lot of families smile, keep our lights on, and keep us going.