When Shawn Osborne took the helm at Two Ten Footwear Foundation, the United States was one month shy of encountering the coronavirus pandemic. A year later, the nonprofit’s president and CEO is facing a confluence of crises — in the form of the COVID-19 outbreak, the recent treacherous winter weather in Texas and the brutal hurricanes across the Atlantic coast, to name a few.
This week, Osborne sat down for a virtual chat with FN, where he looked back at the past 12 months and charted a path for the year ahead. Here, the lessons learned from COVID-19, the challenges of fundraising and top priorities for 2021.
Take us through how the last 12 months have been for Two Ten.
“Over this last 12-month period of the pandemic, we have given out about 6,500 grants to employees and their families to the tune of $4.3 million to help them through the pandemic. We’ve been around for 81 years, and we have never had a year like this. The foundation has really stood up for the industry as a financial safety net for footwear employees and their families.”
Are you seeing any trends in demographics that are seeking aid?
“We have been talking to senior executives across the industry about financial vulnerability how the pandemic has really exposed the problem, and that it doesn’t discriminate. People tend to think that being financially vulnerable is a generational issue or is only related to certain income levels, but when you look at the industry employees who are turning to us for help, it’s a broad swath of various industry roles, ages, genders, ethnicities, etc. You never know — it could be the colleague sitting next to you who’s struggling.”
We were in touch when the devastating snow and ice storms slammed the South. What have you been hearing since then?
“A few days after the recent winter storms in February, we started receiving applications from the five different states that were hit the hardest: Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee and especially Texas. Industry employees turned to us because their pipes were broken, they had to leave their homes, they needed help paying for repairs, they needed hotel rooms or places to stay. We also received applications from retail or warehouse workers who couldn’t go to work and lost that weekly income. So far, we’ve received about 70 applications. They’re still coming in.”
What are some of the challenges Two Ten has faced as it continues to fundraise amid a pandemic?
“We won’t have our annual event during this fiscal year, which I think may be the first time in our 81-year history that we’ve missed it. It typically happens in December, but due to COVID, we moved it to June 2021 and then had to move it again to December 2021. Historically, the event is our biggest annual fundraising opportunity, but during this fiscal year, we’ve had to miss it entirely. So we’ve been reaching out to our donors, and they’ve been really stepping up to help us.
“We’ve also been working closely not only with our board of directors, but also our associate board, which is a group of young professionals who are the up-and-coming leaders in the industry. They’ve been very engaged in helping us build awareness of Two Ten within their own companies and are going to be taking on a bigger role in helping us fundraise.”
What are some of the organization’s top priorities for 2021?
“As we start thinking about our next fiscal year, we’d like to restart some of our important community building programs like Two Ten WIFI (Women in the Footwear Industry) and our HR Leadership Council. A couple of our terrific WIFI members have volunteered to plan a virtual Two Ten WIFI event in April, which we’re really grateful for. That’ll be our first WIFI event since the pandemic. We recently reengaged our core group of HRLC members and are looking to expand that initiative. These industry HR executives will help us look at our programs, like our relief and scholarship funds, to help us figure out how we can enhance those programs to deliver even better support to the employees and families in the footwear industry.
“Our goal for the remainder of our fiscal year, which ends on June 30, is to continue to focus on our relief and scholarship funds. So many employees in our industry are really struggling from the impact of COVID, so fundraising to meet the needs is really critical. We’re also in the middle of our scholarship application period, which is another area of focus for the remainder of our fiscal year. April 1 is the deadline to get those scholarship applications in for both new and renewed scholarships. On average, we give about $4,000 per scholar per year, and we commit to $16,000 per scholar over four years.”
Do you foresee the team returning to the office anytime soon?
“When I came to Two Ten last year, we had really good systems in place. When COVID hit and we all had to work from home and no one was in the office, we had access to those systems. We also already had a culture that was collaborative and flexible and data-driven that translated effectively to the virtual space. We have adapted so well to this new working environment that we’re probably going to stay virtual.”