Looped In: with special guest, Eric Donovan

In this episode, Lisa Munter talks with Eric Donovan the Community Engagement Director at Death Wish Coffee

looped in podcast


Lisa: Welcome everyone to Looped in with Knit. I'm here with my friend Eric Donovan, who is the Community Engagement Director at Death Wish Coffee here in Saratoga Springs. Welcome, Eric.

Eric: Ah, thank you so much for having me, Lisa. It's an absolute pleasure to be here.

Lisa: Yes, well, I appreciate you being here as well. I had the opportunity to meet you a few months ago and to talk to you about Knit and to just hear all about Death Wish and their philanthropic efforts within our community as well as others. I was really excited to talk to you today to dive in a little bit deeper.

Eric: Yeah, likewise. Yeah, I think you're doing some really awesome stuff with it and I'm super excited to be a part of it.

Lisa: Great. Well, thank you. Enough about me because we're here for you. Why don't you tell me a little bit about you, because the main thing is all about connections and why people feel connected and I really think it's all about the personal relationships that we have with one another. So why don't you tell our audience who you are and what you do for Death Wish Coffee?

Eric: Yeah, so Eric Donovan, Community Engagement Director. I have been with the company since pretty much day one, since we were selling coffee out of a small coffee shop in Saratoga Springs. I've been fortunate enough to be with us, to see us grow from a very, very small company celebrating selling a few bags of coffee to being a little bit more nationally known. Mike Brown's mission was really to create an iconic brand that married strong coffee, premium coffee, tastes incredible, wants it to be ethical and good, wants to create jobs and help the community. So as we started out online, we saw a ton of success. We saw a ton of engagement with the community around us, both locally and really across the nation even early on because we were an online brand. So I've been fortunate enough to grow and help build our organic program, some of our logistics program, our wholesale program, getting us into grocery stores. And then I've recently taken this awesome job as Community Engagement Director, which allows me to really work directly with charities and even local marketing events and getting to talk to consumers. It's just an absolute joy to be able to talk directly to people, have them taste the coffee, get the feedback, see their eyes light up when they realize that it is strong coffee, but it tastes really good. So yeah, that's what I'm up to. It's a blast. I love working here.

Lisa: Oh my gosh. I mean, so exciting. You're just speaking my language and, again, every day it has to be different for you just because you're engaged in so many different arenas and you get to just talk to so many amazing bright lights in our community. I'm sure it has to be very rewarding for you and for your team at Death Wish.

Eric: Yeah, it's super rewarding. I would say it's rewarding for me, but I get to also tap in teammates from all over the company to come out and do these events and do charity work. It connects them to the company. You see their eyes light up and it also validates what we're doing when they get to have conversations with people who are trying the coffee and grateful for the participation in the community.

Lisa: Absolutely. Well you alluded to that, so in your opinion, why is making connections and building these relationships so important to what you do?

Eric: Yeah. So ultimately, I think business is best when it's really centered around people. And I hope that every one of us can relate to the joy of lending a hand or asking and receiving help. I also personally think that starting a relationship is really easy, but maintaining relationships is where the real work and effort comes in. So time constraints are real, life happens fast, but just slowing down, sending a note, making sure that you stay connected with people and maintain relationships, I think can really go a long way. I think for us, again, building community, I think there's a lot of different ways to do that. One of the things that I think is the coolest thing that I've seen happen with is, we're a coffee company and we've seen this online community grow nationally with literally tens of thousands of people who have rallied around liking our coffee. They've started their own charitable causes together, they've started their own relationships. And so we've got this group of people who are just super engaged and have changed each other's lives with Death Wish Coffee as a catalyst. But really it's just cool to see people get together ultimately.

Lisa: Absolutely. Again, that's just who I am as a person. I don't know if it's just because of my background and being Italian and you just always want to bring in all the people that you love and you just want to all be together and just spread happiness. So I love that. You've talked a little bit about the importance of Death Wish and giving back to community. So how does Death Wish give back? Do you do volunteer days? Do you give personal donations? Sponsorships? Can you talk a little bit about that?

Eric: Yeah, sure. They talk about, what is it? Money, time and treasure.

Lisa: Yes.

Eric: We do all of those. We'll donate straight up money to certain charities and often when we do that, we'll also double down and actually activate at that event, be there, serve coffee, give products, help do raffle baskets, bring our own employees and have them help and volunteer time. So it depends on who we're working with and what the parameters of the charity is. But we really like to engage on all levels because we understand that money for these organizations is going to be what drives their economic engine, and that's important to be able to support. And then we're lucky because, again, being a really good coffee, it's a value add for people who are out, again, if you're doing an event, people are excited to see our truck, they're excited to see our brand and our people there, and we're excited to see them. We're getting to hand out coffee. We'd like to think that what we do makes people want to come back and donate again next year and make sure that they're always there. And then, yeah, same thing. We love to donate our time. It makes us feel connected to the community, to the charity and to the company.

Lisa: Love that. So in your opinion, what are some challenges that donors like you face when it comes to supporting nonprofits?

Eric: Well, I would say it really boils down to how we choose to spend our money. You'd like to think that you can always help. You talk about asking and receiving help, and in a perfect world, we'd be able to help all the time and help everybody and have unlimited money. But fact of the matter is we do have to stay a little bit focused and make sure that what we're doing is really impacting people's lives and not just getting recycled into the ecosystem and dissipated without making real impact. So we try to look to partner up with people that we think are doing really efficient work and we tend to focus on a few areas of giving. We really do a lot to try to support youth programs in all phases, whether it's education or special needs or sports programs runs the gamut there. And then we do a lot of focus on first responder and military. A lot of that will be end up being product donations because that's where that goes really far. Again, we get lots of requests from overseas active military who are like, "We would love some coffee. We don't have good coffee here. We need things that remind us of home and have a really quality." So that's a really great opportunity for us to say, "Yeah we'll put together this huge care package for you and send it overseas and make sure that you guys have, again, just one thing that helps brighten your day." Because it's hard, hard, hard work.

Lisa: I know these are the things you just sometimes take for granted or you don't really have a chance to really give a pause and be aware of these needs that are out there. So like you said, if zipping up a care package that you can send over that could just bring a smile to somebody's face is just as impactful if you wrote a very large check to another organization. Right?

Eric: Right. We have people contact our customer service and contact us directly who are like, "Hey, I was stationed in X, Y, or Z and you guys sent over a bunch of coffee and I ended up..." They become fans of the brand and they find something new that they love, which is also super exciting. They'll be like, "Oh yeah..." And we'll see it across the board. We'll see it with medical professionals getting through school and stuff like that. It's like, "You guys helped get us through a tough time in our lives. And now we're really..." They become loyal fans and it's like, "That's great. We love that. We love for you guys to love what we do."

Lisa: Absolutely. It's definitely a give back on both ends, for both sides for sure. I love this conversation we're having because I'm looking through my questions and you're already answering a bunch of them or you're touching upon that, but you mentioned earlier about the importance of being connected to relationships that could be sustainable and that definitely speaks to my heart. What are the key components, in your opinion, in building sustainable relationships between a donor and a nonprofit?

Eric: That's a great question.

Lisa: I know.

Eric: So this is a new job for me. I think in my early stages of really understanding, I have found that communication has been the most important thing as we start working with partners or I've even taken over relationships that we've had for years. And it's just really understanding, very clear cut what is most impactful to the charities and then, again, say we're doing an event, what can we expect, what can we do to help, and really having good open communication. I think communication comes in, I don't want to say waves, come in consistently. Lots of check- ins and just making sure that we're doing things right. So the more communicative the charities that we work with are, especially in the beginning for me, it's really helpful for me to understand what my part in all of it is and how I can impact the most, I think.

Lisa: That's great. And that leads me into the next question I wanted to ask you. Is there something that you would like nonprofits to do or to know before connecting with you that would be helpful, especially if they're a new relationship to you?

Eric: Yeah. I guess first and foremost, I'm always certainly willing to listen, but just to understand that if we get to a point where it's like, " Hey, it's not a fit. Let's go our separate ways and we wish you the best of luck and we hope you find the partners that make the most sense for you. But I think just approaching us with, again, clear ideas, what they want out of it, and maybe some really good suggestions about what we can get out of it. Information really helps drive all of that decision making.

Lisa: Absolutely.

Eric: Yeah.

Lisa: It takes time to nurture a relationship, and as much as nonprofits would like to be able to have that immediate support, sometimes that's not really in the best interest for either party. You have to date a little bit and get to know each other, and to your point, what makes the most sense for your impact and how that looks for them, and for you as a company.

Eric: What I've found so far is people have been really great. It's more often than not a complete joy to get to know folks in this space.

Lisa: Absolutely. Really with my journey with Knit, the nonprofits that I come across and you hear the missions and you get the goosebumps, but then on the flip side, I'm able to work with businesses, even yours and meeting you and hearing all the wonderful things that you do that create impact, I feel very humbled to be in the presence of people like yourself and what you're doing in the community. It's also just bringing awareness, yeah, you're not just a coffee company, but you're so much more than that. And so being able to bring that to light is something that brings me joy as well.

Eric: Yeah, thank you. I super appreciate that. I think when we look at it from our company standpoint too, we do a lot in the Capital region, which is where we're from. We won a Superbowl commercial. In 2016, we got a totally paid for Superbowl commercial based on online voting. And so much of that had to do with the people in the Capital region just hammering that vote button for us and being there for us. They really helped build us up and got our name... We were doing really well, but winning a Superbowl commercial is like, it's something different. And it was the people of this community that really helped us get to that. So, again, we look for every opportunity we can to give back and be a part of it and help build in every area around here. It's super important to us.

Lisa: Yeah, absolutely. So in closing, Death Wish Coffee obviously is a very strong brand, no pun intended, but it's the people behind the brand that also make it to what it is. So I always like to bring awareness to the people that are behind it. So that's you. What is one thing that people would be surprised to know about Eric Donovan on a personal level?

Eric: I think it's a pretty long list for somebody who's as boring as I am. I'm just, at this point in my life, I'm a very boring dude. I've been clean and sober for almost 19 years now. I've toured the country a few times with bands when I was younger and lighter and more willing to sleep in a van. I have a tattoo of my own name because I know I'll always love me. So yeah, I got some strange stories, but I guess what I would say is if you get to know, I will surprise you.

Lisa: I love that. Thank you so much for sharing that. And thank you so much for giving me your time today. It's always great to talk with you, and I look forward to connecting with you soon.

Eric: I can't wait.

Lisa: All right. Thanks, Eric.

Eric: Thank you.