WASHINGTON – At last night’s annual American Society of Association Executive’s (ASAE) Power of A Summit Awards dinner, the Greeting Card Association (GCA) was honored with the highest recognition, the Summit Award for Diversity & Inclusion for its Black Makers Pitch Program. The Summit Awards dinner is the premier event in the association industry which honors six award-winning programs that have made a significant impact in their community. Andrea Williams of Paisley Paper Co. accepted the award on behalf of GCA at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC.
In the midst of the overwhelming challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic came another painful reckoning for US society. Issues of racism and inequality were laid bare and no longer something that could be ignored or dismissed – the time had come when merely acknowledging the problem was recognized as insufficient. Some associations and industries spoke out, some stayed silent, and others found ways to push for solutions and changes. “The GCA Board of Directors recognized the need to take action, to genuinely welcome underrepresented members into the community, to showcase cards for diverse audiences, and to make an effort to uplift and empower black makers,” says GCA Executive Director, Nora Weiser.
In 2019, GCA had launched its Pitch Program, a chance for greeting card makers to “speed date” with buyers by pitching their lines, getting one-on-one feedback, and hopefully landing some new accounts. To address inequities in access, as well as in products reflective of diverse audiences, in the summer of 2020 GCA developed a Black Makers Pitch Program. Built off the success of the in-person Pitch Programs at its *Noted tradeshow and its first-ever virtual Pitch Program in May of 2020, the process started with GCA leadership acknowledging that their industry lacked diversity, and that they wanted to take action to address it. The goal was simple: to invite nine black card makers to pitch their lines to five retailers and sales agency principals for five minutes each—while hundreds of other retailers watched online.
Volunteers led the charge, and enlisted industry leaders Hallmark and American Greetings, among others, to provide financial backing. Nine participants were selected at random from among the applicants to pitch their lines to four retailers—Greer Chicago, Awesome Brooklyn, Calliope Paperie, and Paper Source—plus sales representative agency, AIR Company. The pitching card publishers were:
- Aims Moon Paperie
- Paper Rehab
- Paisley Paper Co.
- Pretty Peacock Paperie
- Neighborly Paper
- Posterity Paper
- Pineapple Sundays
- By Ms. James
Prior to the event, GCA matched each maker with a previous Pitch Program maker participant to serve as a mentor and scheduled a live practice session to help makers prepare. The latter had the added benefit of enabling the nine makers to meet and get to know one another creating a network of mutual support to aid their success.
On the day of the event, July 16, 2020, each maker had five minutes to pitch their line, receive feedback, and answer questions. At the same time, more than 100 other retailers watched the streaming event live, and many more have since watched the recorded session. The program was well-received by makers and retailers alike and generated some immediate sales—but the biggest success story was months away.
“I was so inspired by the program and these makers,” says Greta Heida, owner of AIR CO, “that I began to think about how something really special could be created with these very talented artists. From the beginning, we wanted them to have their own unique voices in this project, express their own views and talent, and also share with them the advantage of our years of industry connections and experience.” Heida reached out to each of them and ended up working closely with six of them to develop an all-new collection of cards, Black Joy Paper. She partnered with another GCA member, Biely + Shoaf, to publish and distribute the line, completing the project in early December of 2020 with a final collection of 78 cards.
The impact continued from there. Barnes & Noble recently initiated a new greeting card wall program in all 600+ of its stores and has made Black Joy Paper cards an integral part of its inventory. Black Joy Paper is also carried in over 300 independent retail outlets. Work is currently underway to ensure the trademark for the collective, and its ownership, ultimately rests with the artists themselves.
The power of associations is the power of community, and a reminder that no idea is too small to have an impact. If businesses and organizations are willing to do the work, make the effort, and be the difference, there is always a way to foster diversity. The only failed initiative is one that isn’t launched.