Beauty and the iPad: Entrepreneur Takes on Charity Events

The Charity Angels wear pink polo shirts and white skirts when they patrol the greens and fairways of Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, California.

The occasion is the Heart Foundation’s annual golf tournament, and these models-for-hire aren’t par for the course.

The Charity Angels greet guests, encourage players and talk up prizes in the “opportunity drawing.” They also speak about the foundation’s goal to reduce the number of deaths in the U.S. from heart disease.

“They are beautiful faces walking around, but that’s not all,” said Tom Eisenstadt, a co-founder of the Heart Foundation. “You get an earful of our story from them.”

The Angels’ presence at the tournament for the past two years has helped the organization more than double revenue from the drawings.

“A big part of their appeal is they’re able to pull on these guys’ heart strings,” said Eisenstadt, senior vice president, investments, at Stifel Nicolaus & Co. in Calabasas, California. “They’re personable and charming and they create buzz around our event that people come back for.”

The Charity Angels are the creation of Mellisa Nielsen, 34. Nine years ago she was running a modeling agency when a friend called with a request.

“She said, ’Can you please send all your hot models to help me with this golf tournament?’” Nielsen explained in a phone interview.

Wary Clients

The next year, she closed her agency and formally founded the Charity Angels in Los Angeles. The company staffed 143 benefits last year, and bookings for 2013 are up 40 percent. Still, some clients are wary of hiring beautiful women to mingle with guests.

“It’s hard to explain what we do, and easy to judge before meeting us,” Nielsen said. “I had a pitch for a prestigious private school in Los Angeles, and they were a little cautious. Meeting me in person put them at ease.”

Word of mouth also may help convey the staff’s other assets. Nielsen said they are well-informed about the events they work and often sympathetic to the cause. She asks the angels to choose events that personally resonate.

“I have a former Miss Georgia who’s had a lot of family members die of cancer, so she goes to every cancer event,” Nielsen said. She also holds one-hour training sessions on the charities.

‘Cause Ambassadors’

“I want my angels to know more about the cause than the chairs if possible,” she said. “We’re cause ambassadors.”

“The hardest part is finding the right moment to start a conversation,” said Lindsey Palumbo, 32, a Charity Angel and former actress who appeared in “Days of Our Lives.”

Nielsen’s grandfather wrote and held cue cards in Hollywood, helping actors remember their lines. Her business helps guests at fundraisers remember to give more.

The Charity Angels carry iPads loaded with pictures of the charity’s work. “The iPads are our electronic cue cards,” Nielsen said.

Assignments are mostly in southern California, and her ambition is to take the company national. She currently has 36 Charity Angels working as independent contractors, 80 percent of whom she says are models and actresses. Two are based in New York.

The work provides supplemental income. Nielsen pays each Angel $300 to work a 10-hour day at a golf tournament, and $150 to work a 5-hour evening gala. The pink polo and white skirt is the uniform for tournments; at galas they wear black dresses.

Soul Food

“My husband has allowed me to be a stay-at-home mom, but I wanted to do something that was fulfilling, that would feed my soul,” said Palumbo, who has a daughter named Lillie.

Nielsen said she has invested about $90,000 in the business and is projecting her first profit in 2013. “Every time it’s my birthday, I ask for iPads and monitors,” she said. She’s studying at UCLA for a certificate in fundraising and grant writing.

“I fell into this for my love of giving back and also from attending events and just seeing the holes,” Nielsen said. “You have all these donors sitting in the room, you have their attention for a finite period. How do you capitalize on that?”

“This is L.A., this is Sherwood, beautiful women are a dime a dozen, but these women definitely stand out,” Eisenstandt said. “And they look as good at the end of the party as they do at the start.”

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