Networkers in the Community

A Conversation with Stephanie DuPre about Network Marketers and the Heart of Business.

By John David Mann

Stephanie DuPre is the PR manager for a major direct selling/network marketing company. In her position, she is the natural communication liaison for her company's representatives who are involved in charitable and community-based projects. While such projects form a steady procession all year long, Stephanie also observes that there is an annual swell of social-service endeavors at the end of each calendar year. We recently spoke with Stephanie about these projects, and about why network marketers across the board seem drawn to greater than average levels of community involvement and social responsibility. -- JDM

Stephanie, can you describe in broad terms what all these different programs look like?

They are all fund-raisers based around selling a children's "plush toy" that our company sells, Tabby the Cat, and donating all the proceeds (as well as the toy animals themselves) to the charitable organization. This is not an official program of the company's, but over the years, it has more or less evolved into a tradition. The toy differs every year, but they are always plush toys produced by the Gund corporation.

Every holiday season, we see an increase in the number of fund-raisers taking place across the country. This seems to be a time when people self-reflect and take stock of their good fortune, and they naturally want to reach out to others, to make the holiday season brighter for all.


So, you serve as coordinator for these programs?

No, I'm more of an assistant to all our hard-working managers and representatives who are out there in the communities, trying to make a difference in the world.

We know that our business depends squarely on our representatives; everything at corporate exists to support them and their efforts. As part of my job as PR manager, I stay in close touch with our field representatives, so not surprisingly, I'm the one at corporate who tends to hear about these projects. I bring the news of the good work they're doing home to our corporation for our own internal communications; I also take it to media outlets in their hometowns.

One reason I work to get this publicity for them on a local level is that the causes they support are very worthy causes, and we want to help them get the best results they can. Obviously, when you're trying to sell 5000 plush toys to raise money for this organization or that, the more people who know about your efforts the better.


Who takes the initiative to create these projects?

I think it ultimately stems from our company's corporate culture. At the very top levels of our organization, from our CEO on down, the company is committed to being a good corporate citizen, and this goes far beyond the products and career opportunity we provide.

For example, in the wake of tragedies like 9-11 and various natural catastrophes, our company has consistently been one of the first to respond to the needs of the victims.

After 9-11, we set up a Heart of America Fund to help the children who lost parents and other loved ones in the tragedy. We've set up national fundraisers with the Red Cross, because with any kind of terrible crisis, they are always first on the scene.


So the company's culture provides a fertile soil, and the seeds of the specific projects are planted by...?

They all come entirely from the representatives' own individual initiatives.

Representatives tend to be very involved in their communities. We have a lot of people very involved in their churches, in the local Rotary Clubs and various other social and business organizations. When your business is out in the streets of your community, you tend to hook up with organizations that interest you. Our representatives tend to be very aware of what's going on in their communities, and they are often the first to respond to people's needs.

We are a relationship-based company. Honestly, so is any direct selling company. At a very grassroots level, our representatives' livelihood depends upon their friends and neighbors and the people who live in their communities. They are their customers, and over the years, they become their friends, too. When your livelihood depends upon your neighborhood, you're more naturally inclined to try and make your community a better place--and to contribute to that community.

And remember, these are simply big-hearted men and women! We're fortunate to have some of the kindest, most wonderful people in the world associated with our company. When they hear stories about suffering in their own communities, they feel compelled to give back.


Can you give us examples of specific projects your people are involved in right now?

Representatives in the Prescott, Arizona area are selling Tabby the Cat for the benefit of a 22-year-old woman who was diagnosed with Nephrotic Syndrome, a rare and terminal kidney disease. She has two children, one three years old and the other just one year old; her husband has had to quit work to take care of her, which means the family has no health insurance. The prognosis is very poor; surgery is not an option, and the medications they've been using to try and help her are not working.

Our representatives in her area have so far sold about 1000 Tabby Cats, and obviously they hope to do more. All the proceeds are going to help defray the woman's medical costs and help take care of her children and support her family; the Tabby Cats themselves are going to a local children's hospital.

In Tucson, local representatives are selling Tabby the Cat to raise money for the Humane Society. This project also has a public service dimension. In Arizona, the Humane Society recently implemented a charge for dropping off animals there, so now there's concern that people are going to start abandoning their animals in the desert to die; the representatives are using the fund-raiser as a public awareness campaign. They've set their sights on selling 2000 Tabby Cats, with the proceeds going to the Humane Society; the Tabby Cats they sell are donated to the fire department and a local mental hospital.

In Salt Lake City, we have representatives selling Tabby Cats for the benefit of the Primary Children's Hospital, where they'll donate the money (and the Cats) at a special Christmas Party for the children at that facility.

One representative in Sacramento is working for the local children's cancer hospital, donating the proceeds from the sales as well as the toys themselves to the children at the hospital.

Representatives in Riverside California are working with the Sheriff's Department; they have officers carrying Tabby Cats in their patrol cars to give to distressed children they meet in the line of duty.

You mentioned that network marketers, by their nature as well as by their activity, tend to be more actively involved than average in their communities. Why do you think that is?

My experience is with our own representatives, but anyone who makes her living as a direct seller has an unusually strong tie to her community.

It's easy not to get involved when you just climb into your car, commute across town and stay in an office all day. But when you're out there, in the neighborhood, meeting people, your lives just become intrinsically tied together; it goes beyond business.

I witness this every time I speak with one of our representatives: this is not a business you can work in a silo--you have to get out there and be in touch with people. That's one of the most wonderful things about our business: it makes for a better community awareness and a greater sense of responsibility.