Blog: Jeff Newsom

Jeff Newsom is president and founder of A-ShirtBag, a non-profit
organization based in Detroit that serves the community by spreading
awareness about the effects of plastic and paper bag production and the
pollution it causes on the environment.

A-ShirtBag's educational program, "7 Things You Can Do in 7 Days to Save Our
Environment" was implemented earlier this year. The program teaches Detroit
Public School students the importance of recycling and demonstrates how
to implement simple solutions to eliminate the annual waste of plastic and
paper bags. At the same time, the program provides students with a free Tree
in a Box kit, encouraging the experience of growing trees in the classroom.
Those trees will later be planted within the city of Detroit.

As a former creative advertising executive who serviced clients globally,
Newsom chose to utilize his talents for the greater eco-community by
offering simple solutions for eco-friendly living and information on
sustainable living in his blog.

He is currently working on multiple initiatives with A-ShirtBag as well as
consulting for corporations in need of broadening sustainable branding
efforts and those focused on eco-outreach within their local communities.
Jeff Newsom - Most Recent Posts:

Jeff Newsom - Post 5: Getting Funding; How Hard Work Pays Off

Throughout my experience with starting a non-profit organization there have been many roadblocks and endless highways. In all my life, I would never have expected to be in community service, but have found my true calling. Helping the environment and teaching children has turned out to be the best revenge to corporate life and fulfilling beyond anything in the advertising worlds.        


I was stupid to think that I would just fill out some paperwork and receive thousands of dollars from strange corporations and foundations that like what we do as an organization, but have found out once again that having my ducks in a row and finding the right people to help out in the fundraising efforts is key to future success in this harsh economy. Without educational assessments, pilot programs, charts and graphs, followed by focus groups and the brilliance of Ted Jurkiewickz of Tandem Evaluation Designs, nothing could get done. Thankfully I have had the financial support of family, friends, and the community to get through this hard time.

Fundraising events are a tricky situation for a non-profit organization that doesn't have the money to throw giant fundraisers with elaborate dinners. That is one thing we at AShirtBag have not participated in because, what if you don't sell the tickets? I'd rather just go slow and put those needed funds right back into the Educational program.

At AShirtBag, 98% of what we raise in funds goes right to our educational program while the other 2% goes toward paying the phone bills, Internet stuff, and stamps. I feel this makes us different from all the rest. With no crazy overhead for staff members and luxury leases or giant fundraisers we can focus on the charity. All of our teaching staff, PR, design, and marketing are donated by highly motivated volunteers of the highest caliber renown in their fields of expertise.

THIS IS WHAT CHARITY IS ALL ABOUT, PEOPLE. Giving back…doing well for others and making a difference. In the end, stay true to your mission and things will fall into your lap like they did in mine.

Hard work pays off in the end. Everyone has the power to change the world. Now get busy and volunteer.

Jeff Newsom - Post 4: Getting your Organization Out in the Public Eye

Can meeting the right people help your organization? HELL YEAH!  It sounds crazy, but networking and cold calling really work. If you have a great cause with a plan of action, people will listen. That's how A-ShirtBag met the team from Publicity Works PR firm and found its office space in the city of Detroit.

Matt Naimi is the founder of Recy-clean, Detroit's most important recycling facility and partner in Michigan Green safe products. This eco-warrior, who has been spreading the word about recycling and sustainable living for over 10 years, received a cold call from me asking for a meeting. Surprised that he accepted, I met with Matt and his staff and explained what I wanted to do and asked for advice. Matt is brilliant and I'm so glad he met with me that day. He offered space in his building and advice about recycling that was so important to A-ShirtBag's Educational Program and services.

Next was a cold call to a beautiful woman I read about in a local magazine while waiting in the doctor's office. Lisa Maas and her Publicity Works PR firm were featured in a magazine I was casually flipping thorough while waiting for a dreaded flu shot. Right after receiving medical attention, I called her office and asked for a meeting, and again was blown away by her wonderful outlook and PR savvy over the phone. Who does that these days? Publicity Works PR does. She agreed to meet with me and then offered her services pro-bono to A-ShirtBag because she believed in our cause. Without brilliant people like Matt and Lisa that care about causes and their community, A-ShirtBag could have never survived in this economy.

Don't forget, people will help out if you ask. You will get rejected by tons of people not interested in what you have to say, but many more will be ready to listen and help. JUST ASK.

Jeff Newsom - Post 3: Products and Services at AShirtBag

How does one make a small difference in such a large world? That was the question I asked myself when developing the products and services at AShirtBag. The first idea, as you know, was the A-Shirt Bags made from recycled tank tops into reusable shopping totes. Great idea…but how to pull it off?

I purchased a used serger on Ebay, gathered some old tank tops from friends and family, and starting making the bags in my kitchen. I have never sewed a thing in my life. As a designer of clothing products for other companies, I had always used the tailors or seamstresses in the sewing rooms to get samples made. But I was determined to make those bags, so after hours of torture and broken thread via the serger I was skilled enough to tackle 30 of the new A-Shirtbags.

The first batch of bags was a big success. I stood outside a local grocery store in the parking lot and sold all of them within minutes for $1.00 each. Wow, was I surprised… people understood what this strange man standing outside a store was speaking of and loved the idea and product with out any marketing, advertising, or real knowledge of what the hell I was doing. Was this enough to make money to donate to a great cause? The answer is NO, but the idea launched the most important part of what A-ShirtBag does, our educational program for children.

"7 things you can do in 7 days to save the environment" is the name of our educational program offered to children in the Detroit public schools. This program is a project-based learning program focusing on recycling and the environment while also providing recycling bins for each classroom and school and a tree in a box kit for each child. The kids learn about recycling and earth friendly activities, and grow trees in the classroom to be later placed in the city.

Not a bad idea, developed from a bag that doesn't make much money. After the educational program came into my crazy head, other products followed using the idea of Simple Solutions for eco-friendly living, such as organic tote bags, light bulbs, tree in a box kits, water bottles, recycling bags for your home office or school, and organic teddy bears made from scraps remaining from our organic tote bags that will soon debut via an e-commerce site also benefiting environmental causes.

Remember, one great idea can lead to an even better one. Keep your mind open to everything it can handle and stock pile them 'cause you never know what comes next. I sure didn't.

Jeff Newsom - Post 2: Getting the Ideas Together

I know how to make pretty things and make people want them, but the legal end of a non-profit organization was a whole new world to me. What was I going to do without any funds to hire a lawyer and a complicated 501c3 filing for an eco-friendly non-profit? Go to another seminar?

YES… That's what I did, and things fell into my lap. Blindly, I visited a recommended seminar though the Michigan Non-profit Association and found the legal advice I needed with an introduction to Community Legal Resources  and the Communities In Schools organizations. These two relationships are very important to AShirtBag because one provides pro-bono legal services and the other was the introduction to the Detroit public school system that lets ASB teach its educational program to its children.

Without this visit to the seminar, AShirtbag would be dead in the water. One word of advice to people wanting to start a non-profit is to seek out workshops, seminars, and companies that share your vision and never be afraid to ask for help, because like me, you never know what can happen.

Our legal filings took over a year to complete and about two months for the IRS to accept the application, which is usually a 6-month process. Have your ducks in a row with your legal documents and it will make the process of 501c3 determination move faster.

Throughout developing ASB as a sustainable organization, every process of designing the packaging with post-consumer paper to finding factories to provide us with environmentally friendly products took a long time, but was well worth the wait. This is a very important part of our mission and the services we provide. Stick to your guns and never settle for less because your vision is key to a successful organization.

Organizing our board of directors and collecting the talent needed to make this organization work was also important. I contacted many different people from different areas of expertise to bring a variety of talent to make things work and further the vision of ASB. The board's talents range from high-level bankers to local retail talent with some design gurus thrown in for good measure. As the founder, I knew my talents would only go so far, but with a group of seasoned professionals helping make the decisions that a successful non–profit organization needed, finding the right board proved to be one of the most important things accomplished at AShirtBag.

Just remember, good things come if you're willing to wait. In the next post I will talk about the service and products we offer and how we came to develop them.

Jeff Newsom - Post 1: Getting a Non-profit Started

The road to starting a non-profit organization has been a long and winding one for me. After many years in the advertising world, I was used to throwing money at something and getting it done quickly with no remorse. I have learned that the non-profit sector does not work that way at all.  After discovering an ingenious bag made from a used tank top, or as they call it in the garment business, an A-shirt on the streets of NYC, I thought to my self "What a cool idea." Now the question was "what do I do with it?"

While listening to a powerful lecture by Cameron Sinclair at Cranbrook Institute about sustainable building structures in under-developed countries, the idea came to me: start a non-profit organization, collect used tank tops, make them into bags, and donate the money to environmental causes. With no start up funds and this simple idea I began my journey into the non-profit sector and environmental madness.

The first issue was to figure out how to organize and file for 501c3 non-profit status. So I went to Lansing and took an informative start-up non-profit class that really put things into perspective. It was the basics and explained the who, what and where to getting started over a lengthy seven-hour period. I highly recommend this course if you're just starting a non-profit organization and wish to get things done right the first time around. Info about this and many other important issues for non-profits is available here.

The second was to create a strong brand with an even better mission. The branding part came pretty easily to me because of my past experience in the advertising world and the many contacts that I have amassed over the years with the top agencies and best talents here in Metro Detroit. I figured asking for free services from these companies and people would be a breeze and that non-profit work to me is CHARITY, which means no monetary compensation, other than feeling good about what you gave without a fat wallet to follow. I was surprised at the generous and innovative contributions from these companies and could not be happier with the results.

I approached a company that I admired for years that has done some of the most innovative work nationwide and is based here in Detroit. O2 creative solutions prepared an unbelievable logo/product design/website and overall branding concept that was out of this world. We discussed as a group why my idea was important and how to design a sustainable non-profit and also what would it take to make it work.

Wow… was I in for a challenge, but really excited to see how all this would pan out. But enough for now. In the next posts, I will try to inform you readers about what it took and how it happened from the legal planning and educational program development aspects, sustainable actions for the products and our office, to the public relations process, followed by the most important aspect: trying to fund your non profit organization in a weak economy.