When Erika Righter openedHope Tank
a year and a half ago, she thought Denver's Arts District on Santa Fe would be the best place for the charitable boutique. But this year she made the move to Broadway, where her original idea continues to grow, with more events, bigger names and more opportunities for people to help others.
"People were coming down to Arts District for First Friday and that was it, and this is the kind of project where I really need to be able to have a conversation with my customers and really connect with them and introduce them to all of these different organizations and projects," Righter explains. So she found a new home for Hope Tank at 64 Broadway.
Not only does Righter now have more space for her products and events, but she is able to reach more people with her concept. "This is definitely our neighborhood," she says. "We've had such a warm reception. People have had such a wonderful response to what I'm doing."
Righter also took the initiative to reach out to businesses around the area to help them find ideas to make charitable giving less frustrating. "I want to make sure that we are also a place where businesses -- whether they're corporate, small business, whatever -- can come here, meet with me and brainstorm how they can get involved in the community," Righter says. "I can kind of be the mediator between the nonprofit and the for-profit."
The new space has also allowed Righter more variety in what she sells. While she still focuses on local companies like Gallo en Fuego, she is now carrying more items from companies outside of Colorado, including Austin-based Mitscoots. "They employ homeless people, they give them all these wonderful work skills, and then they make these awesome socks, and when you purchase you're helping support that process. But also for each one we sell they will give us a pair of socks that we can then distribute locally," Righter explains.
Although she's offering more products, Righter still carefully selects the companies and artists she works with. "I have been able to really make sure that the artists have a motivation that matches what my mission is, and that the charitable component is just as important to them as their sales," she says, adding that she doesn't want to be involved with companies that attach a charitable cause to their product only to increase their sales.
For Righter, charity doesn't have to follow a certain standard of fundraising. "If you're not innovating, you're going to close down. You can't rely on grants for all your financial backing," she notes. "The nonprofits that are able to see the future and connect with people in a different way, I think that their futures are bright."
That innovative thinking is what she wants to foster with Hope Tank, by allowing people to participate on different levels. "If they just want to shop, they can just shop. And if they want to do more, then they can do more and we're going to have lots of opportunities for that," she says.
The opportunities for community involvement will include care-package events, where people can make care-packages to carry in their cars. "So if someone is asking for change and you don't feel comfortable doing that and you want to give someone something that might really benefit them, we're going to have little care packages of water, sunscreen and a pair of socks," Righter explains. Another event Righter is planning for the end of September is a fashion show in conjunction with Max Love, a local organization dedicated to supporting families with children going through cancer.
Many other workshops and activities are in the works, and Righter welcomes ideas from the community. "I want this to be a space where we're doing different things that are going to enhance the community," sh says.
Righter's work with foster children as a social worker fuels her passion to involve children and teenagers, a powerful demographic for fundraising that is often ignored. "These kids have an allowance, they have jobs, and where they choose to spend their money really says a lot about where we're heading," Righter says. "And they care if it has to do with somebody else being helped. They want to know, 'What is this hat and why is it important?'"
As Hope Tank's mission continues to evolve, Righter continues to hold the the long-term goal of expanding to other cities. But she knows that will take time. "I'm not in any position to do that right now. I really want to focus on this store and this community," she says.
"When I say this community, I don't mean Denver," Righter explains. "I'm talking about the community of change-makers, the community of people who are taking an innovative approach to solving and challenging social issues."
It's all in the name. To Righter, Hope Tank means that her space is a think tank for people to inspire hope in others -- and a key part of this is looking at what other people are doing to change the landscape of fundraising. "Charity doesn't have to be boring," she says. "And I think when you give people some ownership of it, they just give and give and give. But you have to let them have a little choice, and a little fun."
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