Community Leadership Spotlight: Angie Carmignani
"The culture comes from a from a place inside of strength and goodness and support. It comes from a place of taking care of each other and the foundation as if she sits at the table with us as another woman."
As a part of our Community Leader Spotlight Series, we spoke with Angie Carmignani.
In this candid conversation, Angie walks us through her journey of becoming the CEO of the Taylor Family Foundation.
About Angie and Taylor Family Foundation
Angie Carmignani is the CEO of the Taylor Family Foundation (TFF).
Angie and TFF have provided therapeutic programs to more than 67,000 children in Northern California living with life threatening or chronic illnesses and developmental disabilities. Her ability to lead staff, community members and volunteers has resulted in TFF’s capability to serve a broad and diverse group of children spanning over 45 counties in Northern California.
CLASS: Give us a little background about yourself and TFF.
Angie: Yeah, of course. I've been with Barry and Elaine Taylor for 19 years. My background prior to that was not philanthropy. I actually have an artisanal Italian food and wine background. My background is food, kitchens, restaurants, how they function, and what creates their success, right? Because quite often those places (markets, restaurants, kitchens) are always in fifth gear, right? They’re always very busy, very motivated by different things in the business. I spent ten years in that industry prior to philanthropy. Oddly enough, all of my skills that that I learned in that industry transferred over, and have absolutely played a huge role in my success and my leadership style at Taylor.
So yeah, I think I mentioned I have a granddaughter. I have two boys, two young men. My oldest son is 24. My youngest is 22. And I have a granddaughter I'm so excited about.
CLASS: Wonderful! Well, I can see my parents being all over my child, so I can imagine what it would be like being a grandmother. But while we're talking about your transition from the food industry to philanthropy, I was very curious to learn what brought about the transition for you as a professional. I was looking through your LinkedIn profile and it seemed like you have always been very active in community service. So just very curious to learn what brought about the transition and how did you end up being at the TFF.
Angie: Yeah, it's a long story. So I'll shorten it. But my transition really, I believe, a lot of women go through. I had two little ones at home and I wanted to be home more. The restaurant and the market industry, the food industry, is not a place to work when you have little children (at least not for me). I was working easily 60/70-hour weeks. My boys were getting bigger as toddlers, and I just didn't want to miss out, right? I didn't want to miss swim lessons and t-ball practice. So I decided OK, for the sake of my family and me as a mom, I wanted to be home.
I asked girlfriends if anyone was hiring for a Monday through Friday simple admin job. Which is really interesting, now that I look back as a leader and as a woman. I believed I had to step back in my career and sacrifice in order to be at home. Which in hindsight is kind of sad, right? I think I would do things differently now if I was doing that same move now. But the road still led me to a really great place in finding a job with Barry and Elaine, which really came through word of mouth.
At the time, I had already left the market and the family I worked for. I was doing some consulting work for Whole Foods Market and I knew what Barry and Elaine Taylor were doing, and the work they did. I had donated food and wine to their cause, so I knew a little bit about what they did. And a girlfriend of mine said, “The Taylors are hiring.” And I said, “Well, I don't know anything about philanthropy. That would not be an industry for me.” And she goes, “Oh, but they're building a camp, and they're looking for someone who can help launch their camp program and help out with some of the construction and project management. They’re a really small organization.” And I thought, “I can do that” because I had a little bit of Project Management in my background from the retail food side, but I can do that.
So I sat down one day with Eliane. But I will tell you, on my way to my interview, I remember stopping and thinking, “What am I doing? This is this is ridiculous. I'm wasting this poor woman's time. I'm wasting my time. I don't know anything about philanthropy.” But back then, there were no cell phones and it would have been horribly rude for me not to show up. So, I pressed on. I walked into my interview with her, and I wasn't seated 10 minutes, and in my head I thought, “I don't care what I have to do. I'm going to get this job. I want this job. I want to work for this woman. I want to see this place grow.” And the rest is history really.
The Proud Moments
CLASS: I want to understand (as a leader, when you look back, you've been here for 19 years) what are some of the highlights or the proud moments that you would say you really feel proud of to be a part of this organization?
Angie: Yeah. I think to me, one, realizing that even though I was in a completely different industry, all of those talents that I brought over absolutely transferred. Every single one of them transferred over to what I do today, after all these years today. I think the other thing is when Barry and Elaine approached me and asked me to be the Executive Director in 2008, I was nervous. I thought, “I don't know if I'm ready,” so I sat down and I wrote a business plan. And I told myself if they like this business plan, I know I'm ready. I know I see their vision and their mission. But if they don't like the business plan, then I know maybe I'm not ready, and that's OK. So, I told them that, I gave them the business plan, it was a three-year plan, and they loved it, and so I knew I was ready.
Moving forward and learning from them, and learning from my board, then the next really big proud moment was realizing about five years ago that our business was changing and we needed to start, I say reading the story that our numbers were telling, and paying attention to it. Because it was driving our business in a different way, in a good way, but in a different way, and we needed pay attention to that. And I think nonprofits look at their numbers all the time, but they're not putting the chapters together of where the story points. And then the outcome of that is they have a beautiful story, but it's not put together right, and so their numbers aren't being read right to reflect the hard work they're doing in the business there, driving. And that is something that I realized about five years ago. And so I submitted my findings, my thoughts, to my board and to Elaine. I said, “Look, our story is changing. And we either change with it or we're going to waste a lot of money.” We slowly adopted my plan, slowly worked towards an adjusted vision, and where we were going with our business plan for our fourth decade and beyond. I'm very, very pleased with that. I'm proud of the strategy. I'm happy that my board and Elaine have embraced it and are running with it.
The Key Initiatives
CLASS: OK, I think the camp was started back in the 90s, if I'm not wrong. Tell me a little bit more about the camp, how it has been a part of the journey, and where you guys are with it at this point in time.
Angie: Yeah, so camp itself (the program piece) we learned about it through the HIV/AIDS children in the mid 90s, and they were going to camp. Then once Elaine and Barry learned that the value of camp to them, the value that this is the one place where were these children come together, and they can really be themselves: there's no lying, there's no pretending, all the walls came down socially for them.
Now remember, that's 1995/96, the AIDS pandemic, the AIDS epidemic. Kids were shunned from school. They were shunned from swim team and sports because they have this disease. Barry and Elaine thought there's value in this program, and we need to get behind it, because no one is getting behind these kids, right? At that time, Barry and Elaine went and visited the children at their facility, and just felt like this isn't good enough. This facility is not clean enough, that food is not nutritious enough. They decided, “We're going to build our own camp for these children, and it's going to be the best standards we possibly can think of. It's going to look like the summer camps that we send our children to. They have the best food, they're very clean.”
So off Elaine went looking for land to build Camp Arroyo in partnership with East Bay Regional Park District. Yeah, and so as we came to our second decade of the Taylor Family Foundation and camp opening in 2000 (Camp Arroyo) at that time, the AIDS epidemic had made some swift turns for the better for the most part. The first two decades of that epidemic, there was no research and development for children living with HIV/AIDS. So, a majority of the children really were dying off quite quickly. They were also taking medications that technically were made for adult males, so the side effects were horrific, just unbelievable. And as we opened camp in 2000, we went from knowing and having 1,000 children living with HIV/AIDS in the nine Bay Area counties to less than 300 by 2000.
So we opened camp, but there weren't enough children to fill camp. We, as the foundation, decided “OK, we need to reimagine ourselves.” We found this group of children who were kind of the orphan illness at the time. There are more orphan illnesses, we need to go find them. We decided to just cold call hospitals and let them know: “Hey, we have a camp opportunity for you to bring children living with Celiac or Crohn's, Colitis, skin disease, asthma, to come to camp at no charge. Just organize yourselves and come on into camp.” And that's what really helped launch us into our second decade. It was just making those calls, and that word of mouth, and working with organizations who provided services for children's illnesses that were orphaned and weren't necessarily nationally funded or even recognized, right?
That really played a huge role as we moved into the second decade. In 2000, we had seven groups come to camp. By the end of the second decade, we were well into 25 groups coming to camp, 25 sessions of camp. We grew OK for ten years, you know. And then as we now look into our fourth decade, we're at 32 different sessions of camp.
CLASS: Wonderful. Well, that's been quite a bit of a journey for you. As we’re talking about Camp Arroyo, now that we’re in the COVID phase, you said that you have multiple health and wellness programs for these kids, right? How is it at this point in time? If I remember correctly, I read on your website that this is probably one of the years after many, many years that you are not having this camp. How are you supporting these kids and how are you all doing yourself as an organization at this point in time?
Angie: Yeah, you know our keyword is reimagining, right? We need to reimagine quickly. You know, right when shelter-in-place happened, we really looked hard at: “OK, what can we do as normal and what do we need to recreate so that we can do it as normal?” One thing that I think people may misunderstand about us is that, technically we are the funders and the facilitator of, but we're not necessarily boots on the ground at camp. We leave that to the group.
So what we did is we reached out to all of our nonprofits that we work with at camp, which is about 42 of them and said, “OK, what are you thinking about doing and how can we help you?” And each group was very different in what they needed from us. Some had said, “Hey, we're going to take the year off.” Others said, “We're going to do camp virtually. Can you help?” Absolutely and so we brought in people that were the experts of what's the best way to do a virtual camp or anything? What's the best way to do virtual yoga or virtual cooking? How do we do that?
Then slowly we just started to upload everything to our groups, and via social media we put everything out there, knowing that there's a lot of parents that are struggling in filling the time, right? Just basic filling the time. Then we also let our groups know: “Do you have families within your network that are not OK right now financially, that are having trouble putting food on the table, that don't have gas money to put in their car to get their children to their hospital for their checkups, and their visits for their illness?” So we stepped in that way to helping families, and that's part of our urgent need funding. We helped our music therapist go virtual by giving them whatever tools they needed, from a technology perspective, to go virtual and do recordings, so that our campers could access them via YouTube anytime they want it, and then keep up with home visits via virtual with our music therapist.
Then through our Barry Taylor Scholarship Fund, we know there's a tremendous number of children in what we call the title one position, that poverty level. We also know that there's a great number of children that live just close to that fence, so to speak. But once COVID hit, and both parents are not working, we definitely slide right over the cliff. So we reached out to all of our ambassadors and community leaders and asked, “What children do you know that are out there that need a laptop, that need Wi-Fi, that need an iPad? How can we get to those kids?” Through the Barry Taylor Scholarship fund, we really reimagined instead of just the college kids, but now the littles, the elementary, the middle school, the high schoolers, there might be four children in a home and one phone that they're all working off of. So yeah, those are some of the ways that we really, in March, sat down and just put all the ideas on the wall and then strategized them from there.
The Unique Leadership Challenge
CLASS: What do you think (and just not that we are in a global pandemic and that's the challenge, but as an organization with the past years, in the current scenario) what do you think has been some of your most unique challenges that you would see as an organization, or even for the nonprofits that you work with in a similar space? What are some of the unique challenges?
Angie: I think for me, for the Taylor Family Foundation, it's reminding people that we still run a business. We still have budgets and a board of directors and it's an important business. I've had people ask me “what do you do?” And I tell them what I do and they go, “Oh that's very sweet of you.” Well, OK. But it's still a business and it's a very high functioning, successful business. So reminding all of the nonprofits we work with that you still keep your eye on the business. What is in reimagining at this time? What just became center, in the middle of your business? What are your goals? Now, everything's changed, right? I really think it's looking at the core of the business and then looking at the ripple effect, if you would, of how we're going to execute now. That is an important point because nonprofits majority are not very nimble. They're very, very stuck and somewhat cemented to a point where it becomes detrimental in their operations. It's hard to get those wheels turning at a rate that needs to happen right now during COVID. For us, we're extremely nimble. We can turn on a dime. And I do believe that's part of our success in everything we do. Nothing is nailed to the ground, so to speak, and so it's really reminding the nonprofits. It is a challenge that we're all in right now, but don't forget, find your goal, get centered, and focus on that.
CLASS: Wonderful. Talking about being nimble and being on your toes. How do you envision (it's hard for anybody to talk about future right now) but how do you envision the next day or how do you envision it as in as a leader of this organization?
Angie: Yeah, you know interestingly enough, we usually work a year to three years out, right? As part of a board of directors. And when this happened, I said I need to work a quarter at a time at this point because we need to keep reviewing what CDC is saying and what's going on. And so, the first thing I did was I asked other camp colleagues to join me once a month on a phone call. So other CEOs, other EDs around the state of California, that do the same exact program we do with medically fragile kiddos. I asked them to all get together on a call once a month and let’s share best practices. Let's share the Uh-Ohs and the Oopsies. Why should we all be creating the wheel? Let's work on it together and help each other move through this.
As far as what next year looks like, we're preparing for the worst, so we're preparing to not do camp. But we're hoping for the best and we're already prepared for that. So, I think it's an emotional connection of, “OK. We need to emotionally get ready that we may go another year without camp. So how can we capitalize on what we just did, right? How can we make virtual camp better? How can we reach more families?” We already know if camp is on, we already know how to do that, so we're ready for that. But now it's expanding on how can we collaborate with our other camp partners and help each other out by swapping videos and sharing tools? We're big at collaborating and that's really where I see us next year is collaborating more than we ever have through virtual programming.
I think even if camp comes back. It will look very different, which means it will be limited in in how many people will be able to come. Which means will still have a significant amount of children who won't be able to have the opportunity. So, we're still going to have virtual programming in our future and so we're really trying to focus on how do we make it better. What do we need to do? That's really what we're focusing on for next year for programming. From a business perspective, this also hits us from the normal fundraiser. Our board made a decision to hit pause on all fund raising this year. Grateful we're able to do that from our business model that we've grown over the years. Not every nonprofit can do that. So, we're definitely encouraging all of our partner nonprofits. Do a virtual event, see how it goes. Push social media beyond anything you ever thought it could do. Do friend-raisers through social media. Bring a friend to the page. Send him a ball cap or scarf or a pin, whatever but really keep active. I think our business model for next year is we are most likely going to hit pause again on fund raising and just focus on our programs. And what we're not spending at camp, we're going to shift over to wellness, and keep an eye on those kids that sit below the poverty level. Making sure they have food on the table, making sure their parents can pay the electrical bill or the car insurance or the gas, or the bus tickets, whatever they need. So, we're really doing a ton of research into that part of our wellness programs.
The Partnership with CLASS Consulting Group
CLASS: One thing that I wanted to ask was, I believe the first time you came in touch with CLASS was back in 2014. How did you really learn about CLASS? How did you come to know about us?
Angie: I actually couldn't remember if you guys reached out to us or if we reached out to you. But there's three of us still on staff that were there in 2014, and experienced the project with the CLASS team back then. And it was completely familiar when I when I received the email, I go, “Oh my gosh, they're still around.” It was wildly successful. There were, I believe, ten goals. We turned it into 11 after the group departed. We really prioritized those ten goals, and executed them by way of priority, and they have been very successful pieces of our business in our strategy from then until now.
CLASS: That's great to hear. It's always great to hear the testimonials from customers and the journey. That's true, it's inspiring that's some impact. It's been a wonderful chatting about the programs and everything that you're envisioning to do in the future, but one thing that I wanted to ask you was you’ve been with Taylor Family Foundation for 19 years now. So I'm sure there must be something that has kept you in this role. I'm just curious to learn what is it that you enjoy about your role the most? What inspires you every day to be here and do what you do?
Angie: It all comes back to culture. I mentioned for 10 years I was in the food and wine industry, and I worked for a small family company. There’s a culture that I grew up with in that company. I joined them when I was 19. I was a young girl and the culture really came from the premise of family, right? You’re family. Everyone who works here is family. We need to take care of each other. Look out for each other. You can't make your shift, swap it, and whatnot. When I left there, I really believed in my heart, I would never be lucky enough again to work for another family who had this amazing culture and an entrepreneurial spirit that I didn't realize I had learned and gravitated towards and just took those assets in and integrated them in my daily (both part for professional and personal) life without knowing. I think because I was so young and it was just something taught.
Then when I came across Barry and Elaine, I thought, “Oh my gosh. How could I get so lucky to end up with another family business with two people who drive everything from an entrepreneurial spirit. I must have been really well behaved in my previous life.” But to that matter, it comes back to culture. There's something very special, for me anyway, in a culture where:
Anyone will teach you anything you want to learn, anytime. If you ask, if you say, someone will teach you.
There are no silos, there's no departments, you can learn anything you want to learn. I'll give you an example of that. If I were to leave the foundation tomorrow, every person in my office knows a piece of my job. The foundation could continue to run with no problems. In which case from a business perspective, she would be well taken care of. No one would miss a beat.
But the culture comes from a from a place inside of strength and goodness and support. It comes from a place of taking care of each other and the foundation as if she sits at the table with us as another woman. And I think having the support of a super talented high functioning board that believes in that culture, they believe in the entrepreneurial spirit, they believe in taking care of each other, of one another, they believe in teaching and leading. That is very unique and special.
I find a lot of great nonprofits that I work with. But I don't believe they have the culture or the soul that we do. I've I walked into my boss's office (and they would be irritated that I called them bosses) but for this... I walked in my boss's office and I've said, “Look, I screwed up. This is what happened.” And they look at me and they go, “It's all fixable, it's fixable, don't worry.” And that really has translated into my leadership role. I have over the years, one of my teammates will come in and say, “This went wrong. I don't know what to do.” I said, “Don't worry about it. The building's not on fire. I can fix this, we fix this. If the buildings on fire, I can't fix that.” Any good tends to bring someone right back center to OK. Let's roll up our sleeves. Let's get to work. There's going to be work, but it's fixable, right? Everything is fixable. And I think learning that from both men and women over the course of my professional career, boy was I lucky. And now it is something I'm more than happy to pass on to anyone who wants to learn it. Because I'm a product of that environment, and I see the success in it. I see how it's made me a better leader, right? I don't get hung up on the small things. We don't get hung up on egos. We get hung up on the vision and the mission and the core of what our goals are. But that's it.
CLASS: Wonderful. It's been lovely talking to you. I wish that all the great work that you're doing continues with that. Until we speak next time, stay safe. Bye.
About The CLASS Consulting Group The CLASS Consulting Group is a trusted advisor to the board of directors and senior leadership of the Bay Area nonprofit organizations. It is a boutique management consulting firm headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area that provides consulting services to senior management and board of directors of nonprofit organizations and offers community leadership opportunities to professionals. Since 2002 CLASS’ volunteers have been assisting nonprofit organizations in the SF Bay Area and supporting the communities in which, we all live and work. Learn more about our mission and story. Interested in finding more about our services for nonprofit organizations? Simply request a meeting here and we’ll get in touch to tell you all about this opportunity and how our passionate volunteer-run teams are helping nonprofits make the Bay Area a better place, one community at a time.