Putting the "Tea" in Charity
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If corporate greed depresses you, then you need to meet Jay Frost, 38, and his wife, Yuko Iida Frost, 44, nonprofit careerists turned entrepreneurs. Since its founding in December 1999, their Fairfield, Connecticut-based company, Thousand Cranes Tea (named for the birds that symbolize health and longevity), has been giving 10 percent of its sales to a different charity every month. If profits were down, and their business could have used that extra 10 percent, too bad. But good for charities like American Rivers and Operation Smile, a nonprofit providing reconstructive surgery to children and young adults with facial deformities.
Why did you leave the nonprofit sector to start your own business?
Jay: We had an epiphany where we looked at how we were living, and we decided we wanted to be more independent. So we built a business that reflected our values. Also, [working at nonprofits] was a stressful life. A lot of people think working in the nonprofit world is a cushy place to be, but it's not at all. There's a lot of pressure, you work very long hours and you're not usually [adequately] financially remunerated. We were stressed out, and one of the ways we dealt with the stress was by drinking a lot of tea.
Was it an adjustment, going from raising money to selling products?
Jay: No, I don't think it's very different. I think fund-raising is sales: The only difference is, you're selling a mission. And that's one thing we've totally carried over-our goal is to sell a mission, a tea-oriented lifestyle, if you will, which means taking a few minutes each day and simply having a cup of tea and relaxing. Our whole goal was to build a business that reflects our interest in living a life centered on home, having fun and relaxing.
And a life of giving. You two must sleep well at night.
Jay: [Laughs] Yes. One thing I know about major donors is they feel liberated when they give their money away, and the more they give away, the better they feel. Now, I'm not against making money at all. But giving it away is a liberating feeling, and so I thought, "Why not make it part of our business?" I'm really not as excited about the money as I am that we're telling people about charities that they never knew existed.