The plan was for Nicole Rustad to be a stay-at-home mom. But Disney’s Club Penguin had other ideas.
“Before my son, Alex, was born 13 years ago, I worked in the financial industry and I returned to that industry after my one-year maternity leave,” said Rustad, 47. “I was considering finishing work, being a stay-at-home mom and ramping up my volunteer work.”
That’s when Disney’s Club Penguin, the global-sensation, Kelowna-based online playground for kids, invited Rustad to give a presentation about philanthropy as an inspiration to both the company and its employees.
And as she was leaving the building, Club Penguin’s head of human resources approached her and asked if she’d be interested in the newly created job of Kids Helping Kids coordinator.
“I never intended my giving back to result in a career,” said Rustad. “I took the job and over the 10 years I was with Club Penguin, Disney Interactive and the Walt Disney Company, I became the director of corporate citizenship.”
The position spanned so many facets of Disney’s charitable giving.
Over the past decade, Club Penguin’s Coins for Change has seen $15 million go to charitable projects helping children and families.
Coins saw Club Penguin put up a portion of company profits for kids to unlock in the form of virtual coins while playing Club Penguin games.
For three years, Disney has also run the Hour of Code Project at Code.org to connect kids to computer science education with an online tutorial.
Disney characters led the tutorials to make them even more engaging for kids.
This year, it was the Hawaiian teenager Moana from the animated movie of the same name. Last year, it was Princess Leia and R2-D2 from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The year before that it was Elsa and Anna from the smash hit Frozen.
Rustad left the Disney job at the end of last month to start her own consulting business to help companies give back.
She’s not prepared yet to mention who some of her first clients are.
“Let’s just say I’m interested in working with any company that is interested in social responsibility,” said Rustad. “Companies get so many requests and if they give a little bit to every one, it waters down the impact. I can help businesses develop strategies of how to focus their giving and make a bigger impact.”
Rustad’s advice to companies is to support causes in keeping with their target audience or personal connections.
For instance, a company selling childrens’ clothing should concentrate on giving to childrens’ charities and a business making cosmetics should consider causes for women.
Rustad’s volunteering will continue in the social responsibility arena.
“My way of giving back will be to consult for free to non-profits,” she said. “For any charities, relying on donors every year is unsustainable. They need to rethink how they raise funds and consider a social enterprise that creates a revenue stream that allows the charity to continue to do its good work.”
As an example, Rustad cites Urban Teens and Technology in Los Angeles, which she came across during jaunts down to Disney headquarters in California.
“It exposed kids in South Central L.A. to careers in computer science,” she said. “The organization also helps companies develop apps to make money so it can continue its work to help the kids.”
Since university, Rustad has volunteered with a wide range of charities from the Terry Fox Foundation, Partners in the Horn of Africa, Central Okanagan Community Food Bank and YM-YWCA to the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Okanagan, War Child, Free The Children, Wildlife Conservation Network and Kelowna branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Editor’s note: Every week in this space with Top Forty Over 40 we profile a business person over the age of 40 who is having a great career and giving back through mentoring and volunteering. The series is presented by BDO Accountants and Consultants, Kelowna Chamber of Commerce and The Daily Courier. If you know of a deserving over 40 that you’d like to nominate, send an email to: TopForty@KelownaChamber.org.