“An Amazon for nonprofits.” That’s how Rhodes senior Gillian Wenhold says she envisions The Social Exchange, her start-up public relations firm.
Wenhold conceived the idea for the firm in high school while attending The Hill School in Pottstown, PA. She produced a short film about social consciousness and wanted to further create a way to share the stories of people and groups active in their communities. “How can an ordinary story have the power to be extraordinary?” she thought.
Wenhold knew that her project would require some help and thus partnered with friends Jeffrey Peterson, who attends George Washington University, and Jon Cooper, who attends Hofstra University. The Social Exchange was born January 1, 2018, with the purpose of boosting the awareness of nonprofits and socially responsible businesses using video, social media, storytelling, and fundraising.
So far, clients have included: The Bridge street newspaper, which employs people with experiences of homelessness; Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, dedicated to raising funds for pediatric cancer research; The Button Brigade, a gender-neutral apparel company that gives back 10 percent of its profits to LGBTQ projects; and George Washington University’s Dance Marathon, which raises funds for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
The Social Exchange operates off of donations, and its slogan is “Let Do a Cool Thing Together.” According to Wenhold, The Social Exchange is more than just a PR firm and is demonstrative of the potential that millennials possess in attacking long-standing issues such as social justice and poverty. “We work at the intersections of nonprofit, for-profit, and education spaces, providing a platform for us all to leverage our collective social capital to influence the world for the better,” she says.
Wenhold and her co-founders have assembled a nationwide team of “curators” currently active in Memphis, New York, and Washington, D.C. Members are referred to as curators because they are chosen not just because of their technical skills in their respective fields, but because of how they curate, or manage, their lifestyle around these skills. Curators also are encouraged to volunteer 20 percent of their time to causes that matter to them personally. Recently, some Memphis curators participated in March for Our Lives-Memphis.
An ideas curator, Wenhold is pursuing a Greek and Roman studies major with a minor in urban studies at Rhodes. She also is a student government senator and volunteers with The Bridge. Wenhold says The Social Exchange’s tech curators have been working on an app that will aid in connecting volunteers for certain opportunities or organizations. They pitched the app recently at an investors conference in Wenhold’s hometown, and their next move is to present as a featured start-up in New Orleans at the Collision tech conference.
Other plans for The Social Exchange include expanding its network nationwide and finding more causes to point audiences to using multimedia. “We want to develop a personalized, high-tech PR and fundraising infrastructure to help spread the word about stories that are worth telling,” says Wenhold.
By Meg Jerit ’20