Working the System

GivingCity Austin, December 2008

Tiffany Rasco comes across as surprisingly humble for someone wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the Superman "S" shield.

After all, as co-owner (along with husband Ron Fredericks) of Austin's INNU salon, Rasco has made community outreach part of the salon's mission, and has a track record she'd be justified in boasting about. But instead, she's simply matter-of-fact about her commitment to giving: "It's just the way it is, and you just gotta take care of people."

And take care of people she does. For more than seven years, INNU has consistently organized canned food, fan and coat drives, donated products and services to local nonprofits, underwritten public broadcasting and organized charitable events. Rasco notes that this kind of generosity was instilled in her by her mother, who grew up poor. "My mom was the type that during the holidays, we'd donate time or energy to less fortunate families," she says.

While the ideals may be warm and fuzzy, what makes Rasco stand apart is how animated she becomes when talking about execution. Finally, the T-shirt makes sense. The "S" stands for systems.

Systems? "Once you get a system in place," Rasco says, "it makes [philanthropy] very easy to maintain." The primary system she's referring to is a staple of nearly every salon: the reminder call. "Salons call their clients every day to remind them about their appointments. When we do that, we just throw in, ‘Hey, we're doing a canned food drive.'"

There's a kind of genius Rasco exhibits for finding and utilizing existing systems. The daily reminder call. The fact that people need something to talk about while they're in the hairdresser's chair. ("So much better than talking about celebrity gossip!" she says, laughing.)

She speaks about the way it works like it's the most obvious thing in the world. "The only thing this really adds to our day is that the girls at the front desk have to say a little bit more when they confirm people," she says. "Then the stylists have to talk about it. And then our manager Erin and I have to make phone calls and make sure we get all this stuff set up and distributed."

The biggest advantage in her mind? The ease with which this approach accomplishes her (and the salon's) goals for charity. As she puts it, "It really doesn't impose a lot of anybody. It just seems like the biggest return for the least amount of inconvenience."

Another system Rasco depends on for the success of the salon—both as a business and an arm of outreach—is the team. Her salon—unlike many—is a salaried salon with paid vacation, sick days, and some health care coverage. She feels this, along with the outreach, gives the staff "a sense of community, a sense of purpose." And she is quick to point out how essential it is to have that community working toward a purpose.

"It's not like I do this by myself. This isn't me. This is the salon." She goes on: "The idea that you don't have to have this ownership, you've got to let other people bring their excitement and their experiences [to it]—it just makes it so much better. And that inspires me. If it was just all me, it would get really boring, really overwhelming quickly. But other people's insight and energy? It bumps you up to another level."

And as a self-described systems person, Rasco understands the components that make a system functional, and encourages others to find and play their role, even if it's small. "We found our niche. We found what's easy for our business, easy for our clients...But if your role is just to participate, then that's yours. And that's enough."

Contact

Questions about my freelance services and rates? E-mail me at tiffany(at)tiffanyhamburger.com or call at (512) 524-6786

About

Hi. I'm Tiffany Hamburger. I'm a full-time freelance writer and editor based in Austin, Texas. I've written and edited professionally for a decade on a wide variety of subjects.

I have an English degree and Biological Anthropology minor from Duke University, and a master's in creative writing from The University of Arizona.

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In my spare time, I like to (surprise!) read and write, teach fiction, travel as much as I can, make messes in the kitchen and run with my dog, who is also my receptionist.

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