Bethenny Frankel shares her biggest revelations from BStrong disaster relief: 'A lot of people jump on for glory' (Exclusive)
Bethenny Frankel's disaster relief efforts through her organization, BStrong, will surely prove to be one of the ultimate multihyphenate's most lasting impacts for years to come.
After years of serving up iconic moments on Bravo's "Real Housewives of New York City" and building her multi-million dollar Skinnygirl empire, Frankel turned her attention to helping those in desperate need back in the fall of 2017 following Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The reality star raised over a million dollars and donated 55 planes with aid to the Caribbean, among countless other contributions, and thus BStrong was born.
In the years since, Frankel has helped those affected by volcano eruptions in Guatemala and Hawaii, earthquake victims in Mexico and, most recently, supplied nearly 200,000 pounds of supplies for those affected by Hurricane Dorian in September.
Through all of her efforts, the "Shark Tank" star says that she's "always learning" more about what works and what doesn't, telling AOL's Gibson Johns during an interview last week in support of her partnership with the ASPCA and Scruff-a-Luvs that her fundraising for Dorian taught her that every little bit truly does count.
"I’ve always heard that every bit counts, but I didn’t really understand it, because I didn’t believe it," Frankel explained. "For the Bahamas, all [of the donations] were are around $5 or $10 from teachers and people on financial assistance. [...] Somehow, in four days, we got to $1.5 million. It was miraculous."
The first big revelation she came to, during her time helping Irma and Maria victims in Puerto Rico, centered around fellow celebrities and realizing that many people who offered up their assistance were in it for the wrong reasons.
"A lot of people jump on for glory, and I didn’t realize how corrupt charity can be and how many celebrities would reach out to me to take them to Puerto Rico so they could say they went or how many said they wanted to come on television shows with me," she revealed. "First, I thought, 'Oh, great! Celebrities wanting to help! This is great!' But then I realized that people don’t necessarily want to do the work -- they want the glory."
For our full conversation with Bethenny Frankel about her BStrong efforts, scroll down for more.
During your BStrong efforts around Hurricane Dorian in September, you encouraged your followers to make small donations, proliferating the message that every little bit truly does help. Can you talk to me more about that? Was that always your strategy in disaster relief fundraising?
I’ve always heard that every bit counts, but I didn’t really understand it, because I didn’t believe it. I was like, "Let’s get more of those planes that I got during [Hurricane Maria in] Puerto Rico through those $50,000 or $10,000 donations from celebrities." But the irony is that strength is in numbers. For Puerto Rico, I chartered planes on my own and got people to do so and was raising big amounts of money, asking people I knew to donate and there were major donations. We raised probably $1-2 million, I can’t remember the exact number, as well as millions and millions in relief.
For the Bahamas, though, all [of the donations] were are around $5 or $10 from teachers and people on financial assistance saying to me, "It’s not much, I don’t have much, but I donated five dollars." Somehow, in four days, we got to $1.5 million. It was miraculous. It empowered people, and we gave people the knowledge of what we were doing. I’ve found that the complaint that most people have [about donating money] is that most of the money doesn’t go directly to the cause. This [money] 100 percent goes to the cause. They also have the empowerment of knowing that their money is going to a boat or that we’re buying chainsaws and generators and tarps. B Strong is a very empowering initiative to let people know exactly where their $5 is going. Spreading the word is also helping, and it’s the greatest way to use social media in the world, is to tell people what’s going on in a place where they’d never be able to visit. That is helping.
You started going full force with BStrong disaster relief about two years ago now, with Hurricane Maria. You've already made such an impact, but I'm sure that this has had a pretty steep learning curve. Is that "every little bit counts" idea one of the greatest lessons you’ve learned since embarking on this B Strong journey? I'm sure you're learning something new every day...
I’m always learning, because every disaster is different. Every disaster you need different things: the Guatemala volcanoes erupting is a totally different thing than an earthquake in Mexico. Different places have different struggles. What it’s taught me as a businessperson is that you have to be a running-gun type of person who’s organized and able to execute and that you can’t wait for anyone else to do something. It doesn’t matter if I had no relief expertise, it’s just like business in that you get in and you figure it out. Everyone told me not to go to these places.
What it teaches me from a human condition and person perspective that, yes, every little bit counts, but the nurses and the teachers and the people who don’t have any money are the people who are working the hardest. They’re working for free and volunteering and wanting to help. They work harder than the people who I work with in business that are getting paid. They will work for months at a time longer and harder than me. I’m the switchboard operator, I’m organized and give everyone direction and put the pieces together and stay up all night, but these people are in warehouses day-in and day-out. They’re selfless, and you learn a lot about people and meet such interesting people from billionaires to people that are poverty-stricken.
I would presume that one of the biggest pitfalls of disaster relief is that there's a lot of immediate help up-front, but people move on to the next disaster or mission or cause fairly quickly. Are you working to combat that at all? Is that something you've witnessed first-hand?
There’s a fine line, because so many things are going on. You have to be in first, and a lot of people jump on for glory, and I didn’t realize how corrupt charity can be and how many celebrities would reach out to me to take them to Puerto Rico so they could say they went or how many said they wanted to come on television shows with me. First, I thought, "Oh, great! Celebrities wanting to help! This is great!" But then I realized that people don’t necessarily want to do the work -- they want the glory. That’s fine, who cares. Then what I realized is that you have to get the message out, your people need to trust you, no one’s giving you real money until they understand what you’ve seen and what you can report back and what the real problems are. You become a journalist; you’re like, "This is what the issue is, this is what they need," so you create that education.
Then you have to stay there to get people on their feet, but what you find in a place like the Bahamas or Puerto Rico is, they don’t you to constantly give. They want you to give them the tools so that they can rebuild, and you have to do that long after the headlines die. Then I come back with cash cards, and then what they really want is for people not to be scared to travel there. They want to be able to rebuild, and they want you to be able to tell people that they need tourism. It’s like a business plan that I’ve come up with, and it works.
This is the second part of a two-part interview with Bethenny Frankel. Read part one here.