This Women’s History Month, ActBlue celebrated a few of the women who use our platform to build change year-round!
We sat down with Erica Liepmann and Charlotte Canter, co-founders of Ready to Launch, to learn about their mission to help more women start careers as staffers in politics and public service. They shared how a strong grassroots digital fundraising program on ActBlue powers their organization’s wins. Watch the video to learn what these leaders had to say or read the transcript below!
Ready to Launch Q&A Transcript
[0:08] Ebony Bagley: Hello, my name is Ebony Bagley, and I am Senior Communications Strategist for ActBlue. In honor of Women’s History Month, ActBlue is working to shine a light and share resources on women-led organizations that are making an impact. Today we are excited to share with you one of those nonprofits that are really working to put women in a position where they can move the needle and make a difference. Ready to Launch is a nonprofit that is on a mission to get more women working alongside elected officials as staffers. I am so excited to have with me today – Erica Liepmann and Charlotte Canter, co-founders of Ready to Launch, to help learn more about what the organization does and the challenges that they face and want to address. Welcome to both of you!
[0:54] Erica Liepmann: Thank you.
[0:57] Ebony: Awesome. I’m so excited to have both of you here. Let’s jump right in. I can’t wait to learn more about your organization.
[1:06] Charlotte Canter: Awesome.
[1:08] Ebony: All right. I’ll start with you, Erica. Can you tell us about how Ready to Launch came to be and about the overall goals and mission of the organization?
[1:17] Erica: Thank you so much. We’re so excited to be with you today. Charlotte and I met while working on political campaigns years ago. And during the pandemic, we really had the opportunity – you know, while we were trapped at home – to really think about what impact we wanted to have with our careers and the barriers that we had faced getting involved with government and politics. And we knew that there was an opportunity to make a difference and a gap in the nonprofit ecosystem here in LA County that we could step up and fill. So we created Ready to Launch to help young women that are exploring these paths, to reach them where they are so they know that these careers exist, to provide mentorship and training and paid stipends, and all of those resources that they need to learn, grow and get their career off the ground. So this work is very personal to us because it wasn’t that long ago that we were in that position as well, where we were trying to figure out where the doors to entry were, and were doing unpaid work, or trying to connect with opportunities and really needed a hand. So it’s a privilege to be able to do that work to help other women get started.
[2:35] Ebony: I love that. I love that. And I guess before we move on to a lot of the other questions, I’ve got to know, what did you all do before Ready to Launch? What led you both to start your own nonprofit? What’s your background that prepares you for this? I’ll go with Charlotte, and then Erica.
[2:54] Charlotte: Sure. So I actually have a finance background. I started my career working in banking, but I quickly realized that was not for me and actually left to go work on political campaigns in LA County. I had been a political science major. That’s how I met Erica, and it really just blossomed from there. Since then, I’ve been really involved with Democratic politics across California. I served on the API caucus for the California Democratic Party. I’ve served as the treasurer for a number of PACs and different campaign initiatives in the county and have also worked at economic development nonprofits. So I think all of those things kind of combined to provide the perfect jumping off ground for starting our own organization. And I think Erica and I bring really complementary skill sets to the organization. I’m definitely more of the Finance and Operations brain, and Erica’s really Communications and Program Development, and I think that’s why we’re such a good team. I’ll turn it over to you, Erica.
[4:04] Erica: Thank you, Charlotte. I’ve done a lot of different things in my career. But a lot of my background has been in political campaigns and also working in local government here in LA County. And because of that background, I think I really developed not just a network of folks on the staff side. I also experienced some of the barriers in getting started. We’ve really worked collaboratively to build this whole volunteer army of women that are passionate about this work, who serve as mentors for our organization and have given us their input in developing the work that we do. So, yeah, I kind of come from the campaign and local government side.
[4:52] Ebony: Love it. Love it. And both of you sound more than prepared to lead this kind of organization. It just seems like it’s so in alignment with both of those backgrounds. So Charlotte, tell me this – why is it important to get more women working as staffers? And what benefits do you see this having overall on the political process and our democracy?
[5:14] Charlotte: I think the reason why it’s important to have more women in staff roles is that the staffers who make up our government offices, our political campaign teams, make just as many decisions as the elected officials that they support. When a program gets passed by a legislative body, it’s the staffers who go and implement it. It’s the staffers who are the ones figuring out how to get in contact with communities, and how to ensure that they know that they have access to the resources that the government is providing. And I think having authentic liaisons with your government, people who look like you, people who can speak your language, people who understand your lived experience, when you’re trying to interact with government and government programs, is just so vital to have a functioning democracy. And I think the other thing we see is that women lead differently. When we are in these spaces, when we’re making decisions, when we’re at the table, we lead in a different way. And we really are changing fundamentally the way that government supports communities. And I think that’s the real key here, being able to have a government that understands the lived experiences of the constituents that they serve, and having those authentic representatives in our government offices means that we have a democracy that truly reflects our society. That’s what we’re hoping to see.
[6:40] Ebony: And it’s crucial. Thank you so much for that answer. Now, Erica, can you walk us through the process of what it looks like when a woman comes to you all and is ready to join your program from application to launch? What does that look like?
[6:55] Erica: Yeah, absolutely happy to dive into that. For us, the first step really is making sure we have inclusive recruitment, reaching women where they are, and letting them know about these opportunities. That’s step one for us. Once folks have applied to our program, they go through a process of applying and interviewing. Once we’ve selected our cohort, each fellow is matched with a one-on-one mentor, so we give them someone that’s going to work with them for a nine-month commitment. The fellowship itself is three months, but we know that having that mentor with you on a long-term basis helps our alumni transition to their next step. So they’ve got a mentor, then we help them connect with an internship. So we help them find an internship in an elected official’s office that will give them that hands-on work that complements our educational programming. Then they go through over 40 hours of training and educational programming with our team and with amazing guest speakers that come in to help us train and mentor our cohort. And then they’re paid for their work. So we believe that economic access to these careers is really crucial. And because a lot of internships out there are still unpaid, Ready to Launch steps up with that paid stipend to help each of our participants be able to access this opportunity. So they work really closely with us: we have small, intimate cohorts that are very diverse and give all of our participants an opportunity to build strong relationships with our team, with their peers, with their mentor, and with their internship placement, so that they can really leverage this opportunity for their next steps.
[8:64] Ebony: I love that. So just to be clear, this is open to pretty much any woman that’s interested in finding a job, you know, adjacent to a staffer or working in an office like that? And also, there’s no age standard or anything like that?
[9:07] Erica: Right now, we require our participants to be at least 18 years old, so they need to be over 18 to apply. And right now, we’re LA County based, so all of our programs are taking place in-person in LA County, but we hope to expand to other counties and bring this program to even more people, and we also provide virtual events that are free to participate in online. That’s not the full fellowship, but we have great events and workshops online that anyone can participate in across the country.
[9:41] Ebony: I love that, and I think this is something that’s so contagious that I can definitely see the expansion. So Charlotte, what are some of the most important skills that women need to have in order to be successful, at least that you see, in government and politics, and how does Ready to Launch help women develop these skills?
[10:00] Charlotte: I think what we see is that the women in our program have the skills to succeed in these spaces. I think a lot of them are really dealing with feeling impostor syndrome or a lack of confidence. And I think we really try to reframe that around, “These systems were not built for us. Blame the system, not the victim. You are activating in spaces that were not built for us to be powerful.” And so we really try to build folks’ confidence by preparing them: giving them examples for different types of writing they might encounter in government, being able to help them build their networks so that they can meet folks who are in different parts of the industry who are doing different types of roles so that they can understand how these different roles interact. I think being really proactive is also something that really helps women to succeed in these spaces, whether that’s being proactive in the roles that they’re in, offering to take on other opportunities, or whether that’s also being proactive about talking about the things they’re trying to accomplish so that they can build that community to get all of those folks organized around that idea or that goal. And so I think we’ve really been able to see that a lot of women come into the program with that raw passion and those raw skills and talents to succeed in the space. But we really just try to help them kind of hone in on what drives them, and how they can build their confidence to be able to succeed and feel like they belong in these spaces.
[11:46] Ebony: Awesome. I love that. And so Erica, when it comes to women who might be hesitant or unsure about taking that next step – what advice do you all give to them when they come to you like, “I’m not sure, but I’m really, really, really interested. And I know that I want to get involved somehow?”
[12:05] Erica: Yeah, absolutely. I think exactly what you’re pointing out is really one of the biggest barriers. It’s just not knowing what career paths are down this road or what this could look like, not having maybe people that you already know that are in these spaces. So my biggest piece of advice is, don’t go it alone. Find a community that you can plug into. Ready to Launch really serves as that community and serves as a community hub for the women we serve and any women that come to us. So we’re one of the things that are out there if you’re on campus. Maybe you’re a student: find a student group or a club or a student government organization that you can be a part of, I think there’s always so much support that you can unlock when you find a community of people that share your values and interests and your spirit of service. So, the first thing is to find a community. We also want to make sure that there are no closed doors. So we have a big resources list on our website that lists dozens and dozens of other programs and opportunities that are out there because we don’t ever want anything to close the door in anyone’s face. So there are so many other organizations. Ours is very unique in this landscape, but there are a lot of other amazing organizations that we work in coalition with to help serve women, young people, and people of color across the country. So we want to make sure there’s no closed door for anyone. So check out the resources list on our website, find your people, find your community, and don’t go it alone.
[13:44] Ebony: And I love that you said “Find your community” because that’s key. And we’re in a divine time with social media and technology where you really can find where you want to go and find like-minded people in a much easier way, which leads me to my next question. You know, you all are on ActBlue’s platform, and obviously, we’re a tech platform. How has ActBlue supported you in your work, and what can small-dollar donors do to support your mission? I’ll go to Charlotte.
[14:18] Charlotte: ActBlue has been such a wonderful partner for us. I think coming from a political background, obviously, we were very familiar with ActBlue. Many of our supporters use ActBlue already, so it really was a seamless way for us to get our online donations started. It was really easy to set up for us, and we love the fact that it’s really customizable. So we were able to showcase things like our video on our page and get everything set up really quickly and efficiently. In terms of what small-dollar donors can do: our entire organization the first year was funded by small-dollar donors and grassroots donors. So we really believe that small-dollar donors can have a huge impact on an organization and helping an organization flourish. And I think even setting up a recurring donation for $5 a month is such a great way for us to have, both that steady cash flow, but also for folks to be able to give and support the organizations that are close to their heart even if it’s not for a huge dollar amount because every dollar counts. And all of that money goes towards supporting women getting their ability to get their foot in the door in these fields. And so I think there’s a lot of ways for small-dollar donors to support small grassroots organizations like us. And we feel like ActBlue has been really, really helpful in helping us achieve that.
[15:49] Ebony: Oh, love that. Love that. And happy to hear that too. Because, of course, that is our goal. And also, you all are here because it is Women’s History Month, so I would love to just hear about any success stories of women who you can think of or that come to mind that have gone through the Ready to Launch program and maybe the difference they’re making in their communities. And either of you can take this question.
[16:12] Erica: Sure, I’m happy to jump in on that, and then I can kick it over to Charlotte. For us, it’s incredibly energizing when we see our alumni succeed. And I think part of the importance of having this supportive community that we’ve built is, it doesn’t end when the fellowship ends. We continue to keep in touch with and support our alumni, we have quite a few alumni who have already transitioned to full-time roles in government. So they’re working in elected officials’ offices throughout the county, in varying capacities, whether that’s as a field representative or a scheduler or supporting a legislative team. So there’s a number of ways that they’re already getting involved. Many of our participants, when they come to us, they’ve never had the opportunity for a government internship before because those internships were unpaid or because they didn’t know how to get their foot in the door, or because they didn’t have that mentorship. So for us to be able to help women that have never had that experience before getting their first opportunity, get the education and mentorship they need, and then now be working full-time in that sphere is really enormously energizing and exciting for us. And we have some alumni that are still in undergrad, so they haven’t graduated yet. So they’ll go on to full-time too. And we’ll always be here for them to help support them in their next steps.
[17:59] Ebony: I love that, and I think the mentorship aspect of your program is just so important because so many women, when we talk to them and hear them, they’re like, “I really didn’t have that.” So the fact that you already have that in place, I think, is just key and an amazing part of your organization. I now would like to hear about how Ready to Launch supports women of color and women in the LGBTQ community who may be facing barriers or discrimination getting into the political arena. Charlotte, you can go ahead.
[18:33] Charlotte: Yeah, definitely. I think one of the things we do really well is trying to have a lot of those open and honest conversations in our fellowship class about how to navigate these systems that were not built for us. Like I said, you know, we have women speakers who work in government, come in and talk to our fellows and share their stories, share their career journeys, share advice with our fellows. But I think a lot of it is about creating a safe space for us to really talk about what it’s actually like to work in these places and help each other navigate how to deal with the things that the barriers that come up and the barriers that we face. Economic barriers are a huge issue for folks: the fact that most internships in government are unpaid keeps out a ton of folks from low-income communities, from communities of color. So that’s why that’s such an important piece of our program to make sure our fellows are getting paid for the work they do. I think the other thing is demystifying these really elitist, networked parts of politics. I think a lot of politics has often been, if you don’t know somebody, you can’t get in, or you can’t get a job, or you don’t even know where to begin. So really trying to demystify, what are the different roles within this industry? How can you get access to different types of roles or different types of opportunities? And then really talk honestly about the struggles and the challenges that we face, the fact that it’s not going to be as easy, the fact that we’re going to have to work 120% while some of our other colleagues may only have to work 100%. I think being honest about the fact that there are barriers that exist, and then having a community to work through those together, really helps us to be able to have a space where women feel comfortable, I think both entering the arena, but also succeeding.
[20:37] Erica: Yeah, and I can add to that, too. I think it’s so important that we show up as our authentic selves and talk about our own identities because the personal is always political. For me, that’s talking to LGBTQ members of our cohort about my identity as a queer woman and how that shapes my political journey. I know Charlotte has her own story that she can tell. And we each show up as ourselves. And I think that’s so critical. And then the other big piece of it is recruitment. Making sure that we’re being as inclusive and as intentional as possible, about working with communities of color, about working with other historically marginalized communities in the county, and reaching young women where they are.
[21:33] Ebony: Thank you so much for both of those answers. And I just love the fact that you guys aim to be so inclusive too. I think it’s important. And it’s what we’re also about here at ActBlue. So I want to hear, before we get out of here, what are the future plans and goals for Ready to Launch? And how do you see the organization evolving and expanding in the years to come? And both of you can go ahead and answer that. But I’ll start with Charlotte, and then we’ll go to you, Erica.
[21:58] Charlotte: My grand plan for the organization is for us to expand across the state and across the country. I think organizations like this are really needed everywhere. But it’s really important to us that it’s taken with a local approach. I think finding other Ericas and Charlottes in different counties, in different cities, in different states who know their communities, who have that really local background, and are able to tailor the program to the needs of those communities – I think that is my ultimate dream. To be able to expand to other places, because I think we need more women staffers across the country, in all of our different offices. I think we see that in the news all the time. The lack of women’s voices when it comes to legislation and the implementation of programs is harmful to our communities and harmful to our families. And I think ultimately, this kind of work could be useful everywhere. And so while we’re a small, scrappy nonprofit now, we’ve only been around for a couple of years. My hope is that over the next 10 to 20 years, we can expand to other places where this work is really needed.
[23:18] Ebony: Awesome. And Erica?
[23:21] Erica: I couldn’t agree more with everything Charlotte said. We’re really excited to keep growing and keep building what we’re doing and keep our alumni engaged. I like to think of our organization as a home base that our alumni can come back to as they grow. And we’ve already seen tremendous enthusiasm from our alumni to be a part of our organization and help us spread the word and develop new partnerships and recruit more women. And so that really excites me about the multiplier effect that I think we can have in growing the work.
[24:02] Ebony: Awesome, awesome. Well, I have enjoyed talking to both of you so much today and just learning about Ready to Launch. I think it’s an amazing organization. I wish you both the most success in the future. I definitely see expansion in your future. You both are so passionate and so mission-driven, and focused. So we just appreciate the work that you all are doing. But before we go: what are the best ways for people to get more information about Ready to Launch? Is it social media? Is it just going to the website? Charlotte?
[24:39] Charlotte: You can find us online at letslaunch.org. We have a sign-up there to get on our email list. You can also follow us on social media at @readytolaunchorg on Instagram and Facebook. We also do a lot of in-person events in LA County as well, as Erica mentioned, virtual programs that are open to all. Obviously, ActBlue, you can get in contact with us there to donate and learn more about our organization. And then we’re very reachable – folks can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to partner or work with us in the future.
[25:19] Ebony: Awesome. Thank you so much to both of you. Anything that you all would like to say before we head out today?
[25:27] Erica: We’re so grateful for the opportunity to have this conversation. We’re grateful for ActBlue’s awesome platform, which helps us raise from our grassroots donors and our big-dollar donors. And we just really appreciate this conversation. Thank you so much.
[25:44] Charlotte: Thank you for powering our work.
[25:47] Ebony: And thank you all for taking the time. And thank you to everyone who is hopefully joining us. To stay up to date on the work that ActBlue is doing and to find out more about groups like Ready to Launch and other nonprofits that are really moving the needle on our platform, make sure that you’re following us on the links below. Thank you so much. And thank you to both Erica and Charlotte for joining us today. Take care!