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This month’s Celebrity Spotlight features San Francisco’s Layne Gray. Owner of Vivanista, a business that helps nonprofit organizations improve their fundraising through a spectrum of downloadable tools and fundraisers-in-a-box.

Q: What inspired you to start your own business?
A: I wanted to find a way to truly help nonprofit organizations improve their fundraising. There’s no centralized repository of best practices in fundraising and I wanted to help make a positive change.

Q: How is your business a reflection of your own personality and passions?
A: I really love helping others – those who want to make a difference in our society. Whereas I enjoy speaking on relevant philanthropic topics, I derive enjoyment much more from being behind-the-scenes than in-front. I think that may surprise some people!

Q: What is your “bigger why” of being in business? (think why is it so important to you to do what you do)?
A: Helping others really is my life. Western civilization, in general, and the United States, in particular, sees the art and science of giving back as a fundamental aspect of who we are. If these nonprofit organizations can be more successful it provides greater return to those people, projects, and animals they serve.

Q: Three words that describe the essence of you and your business (don’t be shy!)?

  • Collaborative. I hate cliché’s but the phrase “there’s no ‘I’ in team” is so true. Especially with the importance of social media we must all work together to achieve things that are bigger than ourselves.
  • Strategic. Especially as it pertains to nonprofit endeavors, the over-arching goals should drive the tactical implementation. That, indeed, is a philosophy I follow in life, as well. Although sometimes it is a kick to just mix it up!
  • Fun. At this point in my live the time I allocate to projects must derive some level of enjoyment and satisfaction for both me and those around me. From a business perspective, I strongly believe that employees are much more efficient and effective if they are recognized for their contributions and enjoy what they do.

Q: What is your Geatest Lesson learned: Something you have learned about yourself in the process of becoming a female entrepreneur?
A: When things don’t go as planned you need to adapt.

Q: What is your secret luxury or indulgence?

A: No doubt about it: Foot reflexology! I go at least once/week to Wonderfoot Spa on 27th at Geary (don’t tell anyone or it’ll get too booked :-) To use the term ‘Spa’ is way too elaborate. The interiors are awful (basement?) but

  1. the ‘therapists’ (if you can call them that) are good, especially David and Anna (not their real names – who knows what those are in Chinese);
  2. They don’t speak a lick of English so you don’t have to talk except for cryptic pleasantries; and
  3. The price is right – $30 for 70 minutes. Pure heaven.

Q: What are your favorite restaurant(s)?
A: Geographically:

  • Ringside in Portland OR (www.ringsidesteakhouse.com). Hometown restaurant. Incredible steak, onion rings and a slice of iceberg lettuce with French/bleu cheese dressing. Every time I go home to Portland I MUST indulge!!
  • Frascati (www.frascatisf.com). Neighborhood restaurant on Russian Hill. Their Bread Salad is great and the staff is friendly.
  • Jardiniere (www.jardiniere.com). Civic center. Now their Bread Salad beats out Frascati. I’m so partial to this restaurant for SO many reasons, including A. food; B. staff, C. wine selection by the glass, and D. their sommelier is a dear friend and the teacher of my wine club!
  • Murray Circle (www.cavallopoint.com). Romantic restaurant. At Cavallo Point at Ft. Baker in Sausalito. Although so close, and with great views of the city, you feel a million miles away from the hustle and bustle.
  • Casanova (www.casanovarestaurant.com). Carmel. Since my daughter goes to school down there I have experienced many of the great spots in what can definitely be designated as a foodie town. Casanova never disappoints.
  • Don Giovanni (www.bistrodongiovanni.com). Napa. There’s something so homey about this restaurant that is on the east side of Hwy 29 north of Napa. It’s a gift to the valley.

Q: What are your favorite shoe(s)?
A: Again, I must segment:

  • Flats. Anyi Lu. Their ‘Cate’ flat is literally the most comfortable shoe I’ve ever worn. I don’t particularly like the rest of their line – a bit too old-school. And it’s not particular cheap. But the Cate flat, to me, is well worth the $375 at Nordstrom. Better than slippers!
  • Stylish flats. Roger Vivier. Again, not for the faint of heart when it comes to price point. But every time I wear a pair of RV’s, even their flats, I feel special. Their store in NYC is divine although you can still get them at Neiman’s in SF, I believe.
  • Heels. Cole Haan. Owned by Nike they have those wonderful ‘Air Nike’ cushioned soles on many of their heeled shoes. Feels like you’re walking on air!
  • Stilettos. Christian Louboutin. Duh! (although these days I just look admiringly, and a bit painfully, at my daughter wearing them)

Q: What Book(s) do you consider worth reading?

  • Fiction. Fifty Shades of Grey. Oh my gosh, my total guilty pleasure! My motto: Come for the sex, stay for the story. Eat your heart out, Danielle Steele!
  • Non-fiction. Made To Stick. It’s about how to create your brand, whether personally or professionally.
    Now let’s talk about MY books…

  • Fiction. Finedale. The story is about a woman who thinks she sees her husband having an affair and is coerced by friends to sort out her life at a women-only ‘spa’. There, she gets her self-esteem back, a new career, even flirting techniques. She leaves after 4 weeks and divorces her husband and wins big. Then she proceeds to lose it all. Finedale was not what it seemed. Release date: Fall 2012.
  • Non-fiction. Bootstrap Fundraising. This quick read give volunteer leaders and event chairs the tools to create and tune new fundraising events that generate profits and engage communities. Release date: Summer 2012.

Q: What do you consider a dream vacation?

  • Anything with first-class travel on a wide-body jet (love the ‘cubicle’s’).
  • Aman resorts…anywhere.
  • I’ve done it before but I want to do it more often – hiking in the Bernese Oberland in Switzerland. Then back to the Victoria Jungfrau in Interlaken for spa treatments. Dinners spent in little Alps villages within a fifty mile radius.

Q: What women have inspired you?

  • Jane Inch. What an incredible business she is spearheading to help other women.
  • Nancy Lublin. CEO of www.dosomething.org. Nancy is the founder of Dress For Success and went on to run dosomething, the nonprofit that engages teens as volunteers and activists. Nancy sat on a panel I moderated at the UN in NYC September 2010. She was very impressive and engaging.
  • Candace Bushnell. Okay, I know, it’s Sex in the City. But Candace has done an incredible job: A. creating her own brand (see Made To Stick book recommendation above); B. making the urban lifestyle not totally superficial; and, C. letting us all have a bit of fun as women. Period.

To learn more about Layne Gray you can visit her website and follow her online at:
Website: www.laynegray.com | www.vivanista.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/laynegray1
Twitter: www.twitter.com/laynegray

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