This week we chatted with Erin Huizenga, the founder and executive director of EPIC, an organization based in Chicago that pairs talented creatives with ambitious non-profits. In the latest installment of our interview series, Erin discusses the causes that she’s most drawn to, a few of the Windy City’s note-worthy non-profits, and her inspiration.
Twenty Two: Let’s start with the basics. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Erin: I’m passionate about helping good people and organizations fulfill their purpose. I love design, education and doing nice things for people. I’ve lived and worked in Chicago for eleven years. I’m married to an amazing man, Chris, and we have a firecracker two-year-old, Knox, who makes me smile every day.
Twenty Two: Can you describe your experience of starting a non-profit from scratch?
Erin: It was simply about putting one foot in front of the other. Every day I learned something new and the next day, I built on what I learned. I knew what I wanted the mission to be, and the part about actually starting the NPO officially was all about understanding and proper paperwork.
Twenty Two: EPIC works with many social service non-profits dedicated to education, children, and families. Which causes are you most drawn to?
Erin: We chose this focus area because I personally feel that the non-profits that focus on these missions are generally the most underserved in terms of attention and marketing. Many of these organizations have such amazing missions but they don’t know how to tell their own stories to the world. That’s where EPIC comes in.
Twenty Two: What are some of the factors you consider when you’re matching a team of creatives with a non-profit?
Erin: The most important thing when we are vetting creatives is that the work is really, really strong and that they have a heart for service. The most important thing when we are vetting non-profit candidates is that their mission and organizational infrastructure is strong and that they are truly ready for the change that EPIC will bring to their organization. When we are matching teams together, we think about how well the team will bond over the non-profit we’ve selected.
Twenty Two: Can you name a few emerging non-profits in Chicago that are worth paying attention to?
Erin: Barrel of Monkeys, Garfield Park Little League (our current client), Blue Sky Bakery, and the list goes on and on! We’ve worked with 26 clients over the last three years and each one is amazing and inspiring in its own way.
Twenty Two: In addition to running EPIC, you also come from a design background and work at gravitytank, an innovation firm. How have you married your interests in design and non-profit work?
Erin: I believe that continuing to design and lead work serves to inspire what can happen for EPIC. I love taking what I’m learning from corporate clients and thinking about how those ideas might strengthen EPIC and its clients. Plus, there’s an educational component to both being a professional designer and a non-profit leader. I love sharing knowledge and stories that will help make things and people better.
Twenty Two: Where do you find inspiration?
Erin: One-on-one conversations about ambition with friends and colleagues, dreaming up new ideas with my husband Chris, coffee shops, vintage stores, playing with my son, overcoming a challenge that seems impossible.
Twenty Two: How has living in Chicago influenced your work?
Erin: I think it’s fair to say it’s influenced my work style more than my work. Everyone here can dream and do. No one questions your sanity if you come up with a completely crazy idea. I love that.
Twenty Two: When you’re not working, how do you spend your time?
Erin: With our two-year-old son, traveling, playing at the beach, with extended family.
Twenty Two: What can we expect to see from you in the future?
Erin: More programming for EPIC that will engage more creatives in doing good and solving real problems (to be revealed shortly!).
Twenty Two: Do you have any advice for aspiring female entrepreneurs?
Erin: Think of every challenge as an opportunity to learn and get better for next time. Be the hardest working person you know.
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