Loretta Kryshak is Executive Director at Rebel Reform. As a photographer, philanthropist, and entrepreneur, Kryshak is driven to find solutions for community needs in her area. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a Bachelor of Science degree in finance management information before getting her second degree in Management Information Systems. She then became a consultant for Interactive Business Solutions, upgrading their digital systems and providing business advice.
At Rebel Reform, she has thrived as a leader with a heart for service. The nonprofit brought food to the hungry, homes to those without shelter, clothing to those in need, and holiday gifts to those who would otherwise go without. At the beginning of that pandemic, Kryshak decided to help start MaskUpMKE a social media campaign that donated materials and recruited volunteers to create over 4 million facemasks.
Loretta Kryshak was recently awarded the Gwen T. Jackson Community Service Award from The United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County. She also received recognition at the Monochrome awards for excellence in photography and was highlighted in the MKE Lifestyle Magazine with a feature on her work.
How did you get started in this business?
I have always had a heart for service and telling the stories of people around me. I just want to make a difference. I want to look back and feel good about how I spent my time. I helped companies grow and improve for a while, but I ultimately found a passion for helping individuals.
There is a lot of need for people who really understand finances, technology, and business to join the nonprofit sector and mobilize resources where they are needed most. From handing out bicycles to backpacks, meals, and masks, we are really proud of what Rebel Reform has been able to do in the community.
How do you make money?
It’s a nonprofit, so we don’t earn or gain profits like a business. But, we do raise and manage a lot of money. We just helped raise over $50k through Just One More Ministry to feed Milwaukee children. It’s pretty hard to raise serious money as a nonprofit if you can’t show a genuine need, explain your plans, and approach your finances with integrity. It takes more than having good intentions—you have to have the right people on board to make the right choices.
One of the worst things in this world is when someone abuses the generosity of others and fails the very people they promised to serve. So, money management and strong fundraising are how we keep this nonprofit forging ahead.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
As a nonprofit, we aren’t profitable in the financial sense. But, the difference we’ve been able to make in the community was apparent after just one major event. You get to see people light up with hope. You also get to see donors swell with a little bit of pride when they can do something meaningful for their community.
It doesn’t matter if we are helping someone with a drug history, prison charges, retired Vet status, mental issues or just facing hard times—we serve to the best of our ability. We’ve been able to help Milwaukeeans find masks during the national shortage early on and we’ve spread awareness to help the community stay safer.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
I think there are always those moments for every organization and they often happen multiple times a year. You get to a point where you think, “Oh no. This is not coming together. This could all fall apart so easily.” With fundraising, local events, community relationships—it’s all gotten even harder with COVID-19. In some ways, we’ve really come together as a community in ways that have been neat to see. But, in many ways, people are more frustrated and divided into their perspectives than they were just a year or two ago.
We are handling it by our pledge to make a difference in every individual’s life we can. When you hand someone a bicycle for travel or a warm bed on a cold night, politics and perspectives are set aside. We can be kind above all things, and I think Rebel Reform has been very successful in that regard.
How did you get your first customer?
There are always people in need. No matter what, we don’t expect that to change. Our first Milwaukee residents were people in the community who just really needed a break. It’s not hard to find a place to help when you are looking for the opportunity. Sometimes the most challenging part is coordinating how help can be true support and not a burden. We really just responded to a crisis and the rest fell into place.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
I mean, word-of-mouth is everything in this business. Not only do Milwaukee residents learn to trust us, but we gain partners who’ve heard of our work and want to join in. Twenty-five years after I graduated with my B.S. in finance, I went back and got my A.A. in graphic design. I wanted to make sure I could express our vision and that has really played out.
A lot of times, directly reaching out to past donors makes a big difference. We do a lot of flyers and handouts too. Our email list is another way to help boost attendance and participation. Content creation, social media campaigns—there are so many ways to spread the word today.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
COVID has made a lot of things hard. We’ve had to cancel things we didn’t want to cancel and we’ve had to make some very tough calls on funding directions.
What wasn’t tough for us, was the decision to help with the #MaskUpMKE initiative. The very first day, our engineer Thaddeus took the threat seriously and explained how our melt-blown polypropylene fabric material could be used to create highly effective disposable face covers.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
Our love of the community is a large part of our success. Our commitment to a business-like nonprofit is the other part. We are combining passion with knowledge, and that has made the organization powerful.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Whenever someone has tears in their eyes, it’s moving. And, we see people overwhelmed with emotion and choked up with gratitude all the time. There are plenty of people who take things for granted—I think most of us do in our own ways—but it’s the people who get a little spark back that make this all worth it. Recently, we’ve seen this a lot with healthcare workers. They are at their wit’s end, overwhelmed and completely taxed—anything we can do to lift their burden makes this all very satisfying.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
We can’t wait until the pandemic dies down to a much more reasonable level. It’s been so hard on our people—especially the people we serve. But, we think the future is bright and we are really excited to dive into other community service projects.
What business books have inspired you?
It may sound cliché’ but Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude by Napolean Hill and W. Clement Stone. Not only because of all that can be achieved with a positive attitude, but also as it serves to remind us of how a negative attitude robs us of everything that makes life worth living.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Listen to people. Really listen. It’s so easy to think our perspective is the only valid perspective—it’s often all we know. But, when we try to hear and empathize with others, we start to realize there are so many different experiences out there.
It’s so easy to be caught in our own bubble, but the earlier we can learn empathy, the sooner we have a broader perspective that enables kindness, generosity and love for the people around us.
Are you willing to be a mentor? If so, how should someone contact you?
I gladly mentor my children and anyone who seeks out that kind of support. I think one of the best ways to make this world a better place is by working together.
For someone who wants to join in nonprofit, I would say: the world of charity and community support is incredibly rewarding, but it is hard. People are going to get upset and seem ungrateful, but you need to remain empathetic. People will take advantage of you—both the people you serve and the people you work under who keep demanding more—but you have to stay focused on the goal. You need to come in with both passion and determination rooted in knowledge, not assumption. You have to walk a fine line to be helpful and generous without getting walked over.