Pay It Forward: Interview with Courtney Roberts, Director of Marketing + Creative at The Giving Keys

Courtney Roberts of The Giving Keys

Meet Courtney Roberts, Director of Marketing + Creative at The Giving Keys

The Giving Keys is a unique, Pay It Forward social enterprise that employs those transitioning out of homelessness in Los Angeles. Their model encourages those who wear their inspirational key necklaces to wear a key that inspires them, then pay it forward to someone who needs the message more. 

On International Pay It Forward Day, April 28th, they're taking "Pay It Forward" a step further by setting in motion 26,000 letters of inspiration to raise awareness of the 26,000+ people affected by homelessness in Los Angeles. It's all part of their empowering message to Be The Key to inspiring & encouraging our neighbors. In fact, during the whole month of April 2017, they're making it easier to pay it forward with their wear one, give one offer that allows you to purchase two keys for the price of one.

We had the opportunity to interview Courtney Roberts, the Creative + Marketing Director at The Giving Keys about the origins & impact of this social enterprise, their plans for International Pay It Forward Day, and what words have been inspiring her lately.


The Giving Keys | Hope

The Giving Keys is known as a 'pay it forward’ company. What inspired this mantra?

Back in 2008 our founder, Caitlin Crosby, started making necklaces out of repurposed keys and stamping words on them because she wanted to send empowering words out into the world. She hoped to impact as many people as possible, so she came up with the concept of embracing your word and then giving the necklace away when you meet someone who needs it more.

This mindset of keeping her eyes open to the needs around her led Caitlin to connect with Rob and Cera, two strangers living on the streets in 2009. She paid it forward by taking them to dinner and getting to know them, which led to her offering them jobs as the first employees of The Giving Keys.

The amazing thing about the ripple effect of Paying It Forward is that it quickly grows beyond you.

The amazing thing about the ripple effect of Paying It Forward is that it quickly grows beyond you. What started with Caitlin’s simple act continues to grow and we’ve created jobs for more than 70 people transitioning out of homelessness. Plus, over 300,000 inspirational words have been sent into the world from our HQ and in turn, thousands of people have written us their Pay It Forward stories on our website.

The Giving Keys | Pay It Forward

Can you tell us a little more about April 28th, International Pay It Forward Day, and how The Giving Keys is encouraging people in Los Angeles (and beyond!) to “Be the Key” in their communities?

Our #BeTheKey campaign is all about celebrating our Pay It Forward movement and creating a ripple effect of kindness in our country leading up to International Pay It Forward Day (4/28), and uniting us at a time when we need it most.

We’re anticipating more than 18,000 keys with hand stamped inspirational words to be purchased and paid forward around the country in the month of April. To make this possible, we launched a limited edition Pay It Forward Necklace Set, where you will receive two key necklaces for the price of one during the month of April . Wear one, and share the other with someone in your community who needs that inspiring word in their life this month. This could be your barista, Lyft driver, elderly neighbor, etc.

Share your experience by using #BeTheKey, and all month long we’re featuring stories on our socials and campaign page at www.thegivingkeys.com. Your story will be included alongside incredible stories from friends of The Giving Keys including influencers, celebrities and musicians.

Then, on April 28th, we’re taking a guerrilla-style approach to engaging people in the Pay It Forward experience, inspiring people to write quick, meaningful messages on postcards, and passing that message along to someone who needs it. We aim to share 26,000 letters with messages of inspiration by the evening on April 28th, representing the 26,000+ people affected by homelessness in the city of Los Angeles.

The Giving Keys | Invitation

As the Creative + Marketing Director at The Giving Keys, what stories most inspire you about the company’s impact on an individual or community level?

Inspiration is an abundant resource here at The Giving Keys. We share Pay It Forward stories from our community at every team meeting and at times there’s not a dry eye in the room. Just last week, a teammate shared a story about going out to dinner and meeting a girl in the bathroom who was crying because she had just discovered that her mother was experiencing major health complications. After talking with her, our teammate learned it was the same health issue their dad had been managing just the week before. She was wearing a HOPE key and paid it forward to the girl as a token of encouragement.

On the community level...

While I’ve worked with social enterprise brands for almost 5 years, my time here at The Giving Keys has been unique because our impact is taking place within our four walls through the lives of fellow teammates. I get to have daily conversations with the same people I hope to empower. It’s meaningful to me to share life stories and celebrate milestones like when someone moves into their first apartment, goes back to school or secures custody of their children. Beyond myself, it’s so important for those who have experienced homelessness to be able to support one another. There’s something really powerful when employees come in for their first week with us and experience a sense of hope when they see the people around them who have now been working with us for 4+ years.

The Giving Keys | Share Your Story

The Giving Keys is distinctly a social enterprise instead of a nonprofit. How has this model allowed your team to make a greater impact towards your mission?

It’s our long-term mission to inspire other businesses to create sustainable models for hiring those who are transitioning out of homelessness.

It oftentimes surprises people to learn that the #1 cause of homelessness is the loss of a job and 40% of people who are homeless are also working. So by creating full-time, permanent jobs at our HQ, we can have a greater, more direct impact on employees lives than by donating money to another organization. Along with living wage jobs, we are able to provide benefits, create community, and introduce employees to our values-centered, feedback culture. As a result, they have the peace of mind and stability to start dealing with other barriers to housing.

It’s our long-term mission to inspire other businesses to create sustainable models for hiring those who are transitioning out of homelessness.

How has being a part of The Giving Keys impacted you personally, and what words have been inspiring you lately?

The culture and team here at The Giving Keys has forever changed the way I relate to my work relationships. We believe you can’t have a healthy culture without healthy people, so there is a real emphasis on bringing your holistic, best self to work each and every day. We prioritize the power of positive words (no surprise there!) and affirm the things we want to grow in each other through team meetings and frequent one-on-one feedback.

That, and our team is made up of movers-and-shakers who are pursuing major life milestones like securing housing or furthering their education. Seeing their determination and progress inspires me to never give up on my own dreams.

What words inspire me lately? I’ve been wearing my CREATE key nonstop the past month as a reminder to myself that it’s never too late to explore a new outlet for my creativity. Being surrounded by world-class talent in LA can make it hard to take a chance on something new, but that process of being curious and experimenting brings new energy to my creativity. One example is that I’ve started oil painting every week.

We believe you can’t have a healthy culture without healthy people, so there is a real emphasis on bringing your holistic, best self to work each and every day.
The Giving Keys | Create

Do you have any words to inspire our readers to “Be the Key” beyond Pay It Forward Day, in their local communities - or even globally?

Absolutely! My main encouragement is that Paying It Forward isn’t as hard or time-consuming as you might think. I’ve tried everything from giving a LOVE key to my neighbor to paying for a stranger’s cup of coffee. Sometimes it takes less than a minute and other times it turns into an amazing heart-to-heart conversation. I’ve never regretted the decision to reach out and connect, even when the response is different than what I expected.

So try paying it forward in your own unique way on International Pay It Forward Day (4/28), and start the ripple effect in your community. And if you have a Giving Key and have never tried paying it forward, this is your moment!