Five Questions With: Matthew Kaplan

CEO and co-founder of PeaceLove Studios and interim director of the PeaceLove Foundation talks about the “hybrid” model for the foundation and the for-profit company, which share a mission. More

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Five Questions With: Matthew Kaplan

"We want to offer people the tools and outlets to help them create peace of mind. "
Posted 5/16/14

Matthew Kaplan is the CEO and co-founder of PeaceLove Studios and interim executive director of the PeaceLove Foundation, organizations that work hand in hand to support those affected by mental health disorders. The hybrid for-profit/nonprofit organization uses expressive arts programs, storytelling, community spaces, and a symbol of hope, PeaceLove to offer new approaches and opportunities to invest in mental health. Since 2009, the Foundation has provided more than 14,000 individuals with free, life-changing expressive arts experiences designed to help create peace of mind. Through sales of paid programs, branded merchandise, and licensed products, PeaceLove Studios is able to sustain and grow the impact of the Foundation, which provides free expressive arts programs to communities in need.

Kaplan also is an adviser to Shri Service Corp. and is a founding board member of Cure Alliance for Mental Illness. Here he discusses the hybrid model and its mission.

PBN: When and why was the nonprofit foundation set up as an extension of the for-profit PeaceLove Studios and what is the nonprofit’s primary mission?

KAPLAN: First, let me paint a picture of how we started.

For 28 years, my cousin Jeff Sparr has had obsessive-compulsive disorder. Even after treatment, like so many other individuals with mental illness, the symptoms remained. Desperate to find a means to regain the sense of control that his OCD had taken from him, Jeff decided to try his hand at painting. Simply put, he discovered that painting made him feel good and figured that it may help others who were struggling.

In 2009, Jeff and I co-founded PeaceLove Studios, an organization with a simple approach: “Wear. Share. Experience.” At that time, a positive symbol had not existed for mental illness, so we worked to empower individuals to spread awareness by wearing PeaceLove merchandise. Second, we fostered the sharing of stories in order to bring hope, understanding, and acceptance. Lastly, our expressive arts programs are inspiring, educational, and healing experiences for participants.

Our decision to establish a nonprofit grew out of our desire to extend the impact of our work to the community at no-cost. Since receiving its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in 2011, the PeaceLove Foundation has done just that – offering free expressive arts programs to thousands of individuals in need. The mission of the PeaceLove Foundation is the same as that of PeaceLove Studios: to help people create peace of mind.

PBN: Your business model is a “hybrid” – where the foundation and for-profit company share in the mission. How does this work from a management perspective?

KAPLAN: PeaceLove operates under the belief that a self-sustaining, social venture with traditional “non-profit” goals can be best supported using a hybrid business structure that employs both for-profit and non-profit arms. Through sales of branded merchandise, licensed products, and paid programs, PeaceLove Studios has been able to sustain and grow the impact of the PeaceLove Foundation. These strategies equip us with the resources necessary to promote a large-scale mental health movement and build a brand that will positively impact the lives of many.

I oversee the operations of both organizations, serving as the CEO of PeaceLove Studios and interim executive director of the PeaceLove Foundation. I work alongside Jeff and Amy Kinney, our program director, to assure that we are making the greatest impact possible in the community week after week. This is an exciting time for us, as we are getting very close to bringing on an executive director for the Foundation.

PBN: What are some of the chief philanthropic goals of the foundation and how are you and co-founder Jeff Sparr achieving them?

KAPLAN: We want to offer people the tools and outlets to help them create peace of mind. We receive dozens of requests per week from individuals and organizations that don’t have the financial resources to participate in wellness or art programs. I’m proud to say that we have never turned down a scholarship request. Since 2009, PeaceLove has provided more than 14,000 individuals with free expressive arts experiences that are often life-changing.

We have a dual-sided approach to achieving the aforementioned: first, through establishing and maintaining strong relationships with our corporate partners and, secondly, through a team that consists of passionate and hardworking individuals who truly believe in our mission. Amy and her team are in the community every single week sharing our story and programs with hospitals, schools, and corporations throughout Rhode Island.

PBN: Why would people choose to invest in mental health? How much money has the Foundation raised to date and what programs are you funding with that revenue?

KAPLAN: The statistics are evidence for action: one out of every four Americans lives with a diagnosable mental illness. However, two thirds will not receive the help they need or deserve largely due to the stigma that surrounds mental illness.

Mental health is essential to a good quality of life: personal well-being, family and interpersonal relationships, and the ability to contribute to society.

To date, the PeaceLove Foundation has raised more than a couple hundred thousand dollars. We have invested in hundreds of community programs and partners, and have established ongoing programs with community leaders such as Bradley Hospital, Providence VA Medical Center, and the Boys & Girls Clubs, to name a few.

PBN: Which strategies are you using to grow the Foundation? How broad is the scope in terms of people and regions you hope to affect in helping cope with mental illness?

KAPLAN: The brightest metric of success thus far is our ability to attract passionate and talented individuals and organizations to join our movement and help us scale our reach and impact.

This year is going to be a breakout year for our organization. On April 30, we launched the “Peace of Mind” bangle nationally with Alex and Ani's Charity by Design, generating large-scale awareness for mental health and accelerating our ability to give back to the community through our Foundation. This summer, we are scheduled to launch a very powerful PSA campaign with Second City Communications, a content marketing division of the world famous improv comedy theatre, The Second City. In October, we are opening up a flagship PeaceLove Studios location in Downtown Las Vegas, in partnership with Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh and his Downtown Project, a group that is working to revitalize Downtown Las Vegas.

And on May 22, in celebration of Mental Health Month, PeaceLove Studios is hosting its first-ever Mental Wellness Speaker Series from 9 a.m.to 3 p.m. at The Met and PeaceLove Studios, 999 Main St., Pawtucket. The event will bring together 10 thought leaders from diverse backgrounds helping to promote mental health and wellness. For more information, visit www.peacelovestudios.com.

Through these initiatives, and others that are in the works, our story and impact are organically spreading to more and more communities throughout the country.

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