Freddi Zeiler was an amazing kid who, at the age of 14, wanted to help kids learn to give to charities and to be able to tap into kids’ natural instinct to help others. She came up with the idea to produce a children’s book that provides kids with a “how to” way to collect and donate money to their favorite charities. Her book, A Kid’s Guide to Giving, covers three important issues: Why you should give, how to choose a charity, and how to contribute money, time or things. The book outlines over 100 charities for kids to consider in the categories of children, animals and environment. Since publishing her book, Freddi, now 26 years old, has continued to have an impact on charities all over the world. She has gone on to college, recently graduating from University of California, Berkeley and started her own business – a mail house that puts together mailings for non-profits. Starting when she was a teenager and continuing today, Freddi has led kids on a charitable quest to make a difference. Let’s read more about Freddi in her interview below!
AK: Was there a specific incident, or experience that prompted your zeal for charity work at 14 years old?
FZ: When I was twelve years old I moved from the middle of Los Angeles, to a small town in the mountains, just outside the city, called Topanga Canyon. It was so much more beautiful than where I had grown up. There were great big oak trees, streams, coyotes, frogs and owls – all in my back yard! I couldn’t believe how beautiful it all was. My mom would take us on hikes in the State Park near our house, and I’d often notice pieces of trash littering the trail. It made me so upset to see that someone had simply discarded his or her garbage here, in my beautiful canyon! I began to take trash bags on those hikes, collecting bits of rubbish as I went. I came to realize that if I cared about something, I had to take care of it. It wasn’t long before I realized just how many things in the world I cared about.
AK: Did charity work affect your management of your personal money? How so?
FZ: Yes! I wanted to donate half of my allowance every month – so that took some budgeting on my part. But my parents were happy to give me money for chores, so I could always earn a little extra if I needed it. When I was 15, my mom helped me open my first savings account at the bank. Putting money directly into my bank account was great, because it’s easier to save money when it’s not sitting right in front of you, tempting you to spend it.
AK: What inspired you to compile your research on charities into an actual book?
FZ: I wrote my book out of frustration. I received my first computer for Christmas when I was 13 and it opened the world up to me. That’s when I started researching causes online. I wanted to start donating my allowance, as I mentioned before, and because I didn’t have very much money, I had to narrow it down to one charity to donate to. That was such a difficult decision! I was determined to find the perfect cause! I started by making lists of the pros and cons of different organizations and came up with a set of questions I would email and ask them. For example, “How much of each dollar donated goes directly to the causes?” These questions became the basis for my entire book. And going back to my original mission of finding the perfect charity for me – I ultimately chose Save The Children, because they gave me the opportunity to help other kids. They even let me become pen-pals with my sponsored child. She was only about 4 years old, but she’d send me pictures she drew every month. I loved that I was helping an actual person! I knew just where every penny of my gift was going.
AK: Describe how a mentor in your life has influenced, or guided your work?
FZ: My mom was always so supportive about everything I did. She’d give me rides to beach cleanups, pet adoption days at the farmer’s market, and she’d often match my donations. From a young age, my parents raised me to be a considerate, responsible human being, and I know they’re very proud of the fact that I’m so involved in charity work.
AK: After publishing your book, what would you say is the most rewarding thing that has resulted from it – a specific experience, or perhaps an encounter with a reader?
FZ: I have to say the most rewarding thing that happened to me was when Bill Clinton wrote about me in his own book Giving. I will always consider that one of my greatest achievements.
AK: What advice would give kids looking to donate to a charity while managing their allowance wisely?
FZ: One thing that I did when I started donating to Save the Children was to ask my parents to match my monthly donation. It cost $30 a month to sponsor a child in need, and I gave $15 every month from my allowance, and so I would be able to afford it, my mom chipped in the other $15 each month, because she liked what I was doing so much. I’m sure a lot of parents are happy to help out too – you just have to ask!
AK: You’ve said before that when choosing a charity to donate to, find an organization that speaks to you and what you care about. Do you have one particular charity that truly speaks to you?
FZ: Yes – my favorite charity at the moment is the Natural Resources Defense Council. They’re an amazing charity that fights in the courts to defend wildlife and the environment. They’re the ones standing up to oil companies when they try to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the ones who make sure that Polar Bears are protected by the Endangered Species Act. They work to keep our water and our air clean. I simply love what they do. And if you guys are interested in learning more about them, check out NRDC.org or SaveBiogems.org.
AK: As a 14 year old committing to community service, what were some of the things you did around your community? Did you have to partake in a job or fundraising campaign to raise money?
FZ: Other than picking up trash around my neighborhood, I worked a lot weekends at a pet adoption booth at the Farmer’s Market. I would be paired up with a dog for the day, and try to get him or her adopted. If I couldn’t find a home for the pet, I’d call all my friends and family and try to get them to adopt the dog. I’m a sucker for a homeless pet. I currently have a dog and a cat – both rescued from shelters. Cuddling in bed with them is the best part of my day.
AK: You’ve now graduated from UC Berkeley, and started a mail house for non-profits; how has your previous research with charity helped you on this new business venture?
FZ: Well, I probably wouldn’t be doing this kind of work had I not written my book. I studied Art History in college and had hoped to become a museum curator, but after graduation, I was immediately offered a job by my uncle, who works in Direct Mail for Non-Profits.
He was looking for someone to help produce mailings for the charities he worked with, and I told him that I could do it (even though I had no clue what I was doing). I knew it would be a great opportunity to work in a field close to my heart, so I did whatever I had to make it work. Six months after working for my uncle I started my own business, FSTOP Promotions, and each year my company has grown. I’ve even started branching my work into graphic and web design, by taking classes every weekend, to help boost business and do more creative work.
A little note about what I do: Direct mail are those pesky letters you get from organizations asking for your money or business. But fortunately, I only work for charities, so instead of asking for people to buy a product, we’re asking for their help and support. I specialize in highly personalized mailings for the very best donors. And I do everything from start to finish, from the art and design of the mailing, to printing, to stuffing envelopes, and dropping it off at the post office. I’m a little charity workshop! A lot of times the work can be very difficult, but I love every minute of it. I’m given a lot of opportunities to make decisions that will help raise a lot of money for these organizations. If I come up with a clever idea for a mailing, I can raise thousands of dollars for a cause. I love that kind of incentive!
AK: Lastly, Bill Clinton recommended your book! What was your first reaction when you found out? How did you manage to get such high visibility for your publication?
FZ: Oddly enough, I have absolutely no idea how Bill Clinton found my book! I didn’t even know I was in his book until one day a signed copy of Giving arrived in the mail – along with a note from the President himself thanking me for writing A Kid’s Guide to Giving. My initial thought was that he used my book for research for his own. I didn’t know I was actually in it until I started reading. When I saw my name on the page, I nearly fell out of my chair. I was grateful enough to have been acknowledged by the President, but to actually have been written about in his book – I couldn’t have been more honored!