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Eric Zarko is chairperson and the real catalyst behind the scenes for the DFW Nonprofit Resource Group. He has a career in sales and most recently, sales in the information technology space. The DFW Nonprofit Resource Group is a group of mission-friendly service organization professionals that collaborate, provide knowledge, insight, and guidance to its members to help businesses and those they serve.
Eric and I mentioned a book Stop Whining, Start Winning by TK Klund (https://amzn.to/3aI0whn).
So really, really excited this morning to get to sit down and talk with Eric Zarko. Eric has been in the DFW area for quite some time, but he’s currently the Account Executive at Iconic IT, but he’s also a Chairperson of the DFW Nonprofit Resource Group. So really excited to talk with him about all that group is doing. So, Eric, I’m just so thankful. Thank you so much for being with me this morning.
Good morning, Aaron.
Awesome. Yeah. So I always love to start with the question where are you originally from? Are you DFW native? Did you get here from some other path?
Well, I was what was called a Verizonite back in the day. And I worked for what’s now Verizon for about 12 years. My wife and I were both from the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area and they moved us all across the country. We were nomads. Our firstborn was born in El Paso and we moved to the metroplex here about a month after the tornado hit Fort Worth and that was about 20 years ago, 21 years ago. And it’s been home since.
Wow. Well, that’s awesome. And that’s quite a stay and that’s quite a move from El Paso to DFW.
Well, we went Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Austin, Albuquerque, El Paso, Fort Worth.
Holy cow, man. That is quite the journey.
Yeah. That’s super cool. Well, we live in a very, very beautiful country, very amazing country and there’s so many different things to see. And like I tell people, I mean, every area of the United States just has its own beauty has its own charm and it really is all about whatever it is that you’re into. So it’s pretty cool.
Yeah. And then I’m going to date myself that I was with Verizon now for about 12 years and I was a part of the first commercial sales group that sold cellular phones to businesses. And the younger people that I tell this story, their job just hits the floor, that I tell them that my competition then was a stack of quarters. That I would go in, I’ll talk to these presidents of these companies and, “Hey, you need cell phones.” “No, I don’t.” And they’ll pull that stack of quarters.
Technology has come so far and that’s been about 30 years ago. So in a 30-year window, those discussions no longer happen.
Yeah. I mean, it’s crazy to think about because – I mean, again, I’m trying not to date myself here, but what I mean, you’d see phone booths. What’s up?
Where it was?
Yeah, yeah. But no, I mean, you’d see phone booths, I mean, every – probably wasn’t every block, but it was every so often, right? There’s always – sometimes it’d be a little cluster of them and then you’d to the mall, right? There’s a big old row of payphones there. And so it’s fun. Shoot. There’s even a movie. It was a hostage movie or something. It was called Phone Booth, right? People watch that today be, like, “What the crap is that, man? Why would you be in this little clear box?”
A few years ago, I went into a school for a Career Day and I brought in a phone book. And there’s a bunch of fifth and sixth graders and I asked them, “So what is this? What was this to me?” And they knew what the phone book was but whenever I started to say, “When I was your age, this was Uber. This was Google. This was everything.”
Yeah. Well, and then as a kid, understanding history between the yellow pages and the white pages, right? And looking people up, looking businesses. That’s insane. And it’s an interesting thing to talk about because the nature of what you’ve done over your career, just from what I’ve gathered, just in my initial research of you, has been – I mean, you’ve done a lot of business development, sales, whatever you’d like to label it. So that has no doubt impacted the way that you do business development, right? And so how has technology affected in a way that you’re able to leverage and harness new technology and things as to make you more effective?
Well, we’re all in one right now. It’s the platforms that are out there. But I’d like to say that as technology continues to advance, we as humans need to still have the relationship and experience that’s running parallel. I would love to be doing this in person in your studio, but, hey, we’re still making new friends. We’re still using this platform and there’s not one sliver of technology.
Yeah. I mean, and then I’m thinking back to your cell phone story. I mean, and I remember when those suckers were huge, man. I mean, they were not these little thin iPhones and Samsung phones that we have today. I mean, they were substantial. Then you had pagers and you had other tools that people would use, right?
It was something like 300 bucks a month for a phone and you got like 12 minutes talk time.
That’s insane. That’s insane. Wow. Wow. Well, take us through a little bit – before we cover the nonprofit stuff, I really would like to spend a little bit of time talking with you just about some of your sales journey and some of the things that you’ve learned along the way, and kind of what are some things that you feel like sales professionals need to understand when it comes to just being as effective as possible? And I think you raised a pretty good point there when you’re talking about you’ve got to leverage technology and whatever that happens to be for that given year or time, but then there’s also a lot of work that has to be done on the personal side. And so, how have you managed that as things have changed?
So I’m just gonna throw it out there. I’m 49. So I’m going to date myself. So I was part of the Verizon team that whenever we went into a new market through buying somebody, or it was just a new market, put up the billboards, and it was my job to hire about 20, 30 sales reps and just saturate the markets. Looking back at that, I worked at Verizon plant and I worked it well. My strategy, my thought started to pivot once I was in New Mexico. So I’m in New Mexico for about two years. I have some friends. And we’re playing a pickup game of volleyball and I sense that they’re accepting me into their clique at arm’s length. So we started to talk about it and they’re like, “Eric, man, we’re just a chapter in your book.” I’m like, “What are you talking about?” They’re like, “You’re going to be gone in six months.”
And that started to change the way that I thought about relationships and this was before Facebook and before – I don’t even think MySpace was out. Soo that really resonated. So for the past 15, 20 years, I’ve really been focused on transparent, true relationships, centers of influence, how can I help somebody four times quicker as they can help me? So that’s kind of where it’s at right now. I’m on a mission to help more people than I ever helped before because I have my mind some grind.
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that’s a great contrast, I think, in a way that a lot of sales teams or even just individual salespeople handle things, right? There’s the churn, there’s the transactional based relationships where there’s no relationship whatsoever. It’s simply ‘I’ve got this. You’ve got what I want. Let’s make it happen.’ Or ‘you’re the lowest bidder’ and done, right? There’s really nothing there.
And then there’s other industries and other products and services that are 100% based on relationships. And you may not be the cheapest guy or the most expensive guy in town, but because of the relationship, they’re willing to do business with you. And I think to be fair, I do think it kind of depends on what it is you’re doing, but by and large though, I do think that relationship based – I mean, life is a based on relationships, right? It’s about leveraging those, but not leveraging them for the sake of the relationship, but the point that you made a second ago, I like to dig into that, which is it opportunities to help people, right? So you’re identifying – I’m paraphrasing what I think is where we’re heading and you can correct me. You have basically identified who your target audience is, your target market, and then you’re simply just going to see who it is that I can help, who it is I could build relationships with. Is that generally right?
Yes and the net gets wider. You’re now in that circle. So I’m going to help as much as I can, try to help you get your next guest, introduce you to different people. And it’s not just the client or the potential client. The group that I chair, we have about 90 people here in DFW in on this group and another dozen in Kansas. And once we talk about that, that would make more sense. But you had a friend of mine on a few weeks ago, or maybe it was last week, TK Klund. And for those that haven’t read his book.
There it is. Stop Whining, Start Winning.
There’s a couple of chapters in there that talk about laws of attraction. And I read that book about three years ago and that really cemented some thoughts and the way that I engage with people, the way that we are all here for a reason, and we have to find that unique reason. And I think I have, and I feel confident that I have mine.
Oh, that’s cool. That’s cool. Well, then let’s go ahead and shift gears and I’m more than happy to jump into the Nonprofit Resource Group to help us understand what the organization does and give us a quick overview.
So professionally, I worked for an outsourced IT company and here in town, DFW, we have about 150 managed clients. And our typical client size is about 40 full-time employees. So whenever a client hires us, we are their technical department, leadership strategy department. About 20%, 25% of our clients are the local nonprofits. So the one thing that all of our clients have in common – we have such a dynamic relationship – is they like to point the finger at us. If there’s not enough parking, if the commodes don’t work, if the coffee machine doesn’t work, somehow they’re always connected to technology is broken. It’s crazy. Wherever we tilt the lens on our nonprofit partners, they’re the first ones to ask, “Hey, do you know somebody that could pay the parking lot? Hey, do you know commercial plumber? Hey, do you know?” And they’re the first ones to ask for things.
It was about three, four years ago that I had this question, that I went to the founder of our company and said, “Hey, Jeff, is our book of business mission-friendly?” Our roller decks, if you will. And he goes, “No, these are just people that I’ve met through the years and some of them have become paid clients. So if somebody calls us looking for a plumber, we look through the book of business.” And I asked him, I was like, “Hey, don’t you think it’ll make sense if we create a mission-friendly one? That next time the nonprofit down the street cause us with a problem, we can go, ‘Hey, we got a mission-friendly partner of ours.’” He told o me that we shouldn’t be talking about this. I should go out on a roadshow and go visit all of our nonprofit clients and start to paint this vision.
At the time, I didn’t know what it was going to look like. And four years later, I still don’t know what’s going to look like, and that’s the beautiful unintentional success, I guess we want to call it that. That I started on this roadshow and they were giving me their banker. They were giving me their accounting firms. They’re like, “Yeah, I’ve been in the mission. These guys are really good partner of the mission.” So fast forward, we now have about 90 folks that fit that mold, that we’re all mission-minded professionals and we have a proven resume in the nonprofit space. Normally around town, we’ve been referred to as the Angie’s List for nonprofits. It’s pretty incredible.
And I marveled that I get people look at me like what parking, what commodes. And yesterday, one of our clients reached out to me, “Hey, Eric, do you have somebody on your group that does business commercial window tinting?” So that resonates to these nonprofits aren’t afraid to ask their trusted circle. So, here we are in the beginning. I get a handful of names. We’re meeting at Starbucks. We start to grow. We get about a dozen people. And we shifted that whoever had brick and mortar would host or monthly meeting. And I staged it perfectly when it was my turn to host. We just moved into this office.
And a day before the meeting, it hits me like a frying pan that the artwork’s not up in the office, the furniture’s not put together and I’m starting to freak out, but to reach out to somebody in the group to pick up my slot. And one of those nonprofits call me with an ask, but she senses I’m not my normal self. And she gets it out of me and she goes, “Oh my God, Eric, I’m three miles away. Don’t sweat it. Change the address. About how many people?” At this time, we have 25. So I’m like, “About 25 people.” She goes, “Okay. I’ll put you up in this conference room.” “Thank you.” A couple of days go by, we’re on site at this nonprofit in the conference room, starting off the meeting. And I see the CEO, my friend walked past the conference room and I’m like, “Hey, get in here.” I pulled her in and I asked her, “While you’re here, share with the group what you guys do for the community.” And her eyeballs got like Wile E. Coyote and she took the podium.
Beautiful to see that. But I still didn’t understand why her eyes got so big. She leaves, we wrap up the meeting and she tracks me down on the parking lot. And she grabs my arm and she looks at my soul and says, “Eric, never have your meeting within your group. Every nonprofit in town would die to have the platform that you just gave me. That I got to explain in thorough our nonprofits, the various programs that we offer the community, and I was speaking to all the ears that need to hear it. I go to different chamber meetings and I go around town and I get up on the podium and there might be 1% to 2% of the people that I talk to that really need to hear it. You just gave me the platform of 25.” Okay. Makes sense. All in.
So as a group, we would reach out to our different clients and you want to host? You want to host? So we were doing along pretty well. The pandemic hit. And at the time, we had a junior in college and a junior in high school and they asked me, “Hey, Dad, do you want us to help you to create this website for your group?” And I’m like, “What?” Never dawned on me to have a website. I reached out to the group and the group was like, “Yeah, that would be great.” Because it’s so hard for us to explain what the group does. All right. But they all asked to have some type of Host tab because a lot of people want to host, and I’m like, “Really?” Okay. I didn’t think of that. The website went live June, July of 2020. And by the end of August, our schedule was full through the end of 2022.
So that resonates and goes right back to that parking lot conversation that I had with the nonprofits saying, “Eric, you have something of incredible value for the local nonprofits.” And I hear some incredible things, Aaron, that I try to have a post host meeting. And I’m starting to share the social media alone with the prior months hosts saying, “Oh, I put something on LinkedIn, you got 900 views.” That’s amazing. But I also hear that they found a new board member within the group. They have found new creative fundraising concepts through the group. They have found a new company to come down and help with a particular drive. And volunteers are really hard to come by now. The pandemic sent most of their volunteers home because they were the at-risk age. So never would’ve thought this Angie’s List for nonprofits would evolve to that.
And at the beginning of our journey, of the group’s journey, if a friend reaches out to me and says, “Hey, I got a friend that owns a warehouse and he has a hard time getting rid of some of this food.” This is two and a half, three years ago. I’m like, “Okay. Maybe God’s winking at me. I gotta do something.” So I call his friend, I go up to the warehouse and it was 17 pallets of food, about 12 feet high. And he goes, “So what do I do with this?” I’m like, “Hey, you can call that the area food bank. They’ll come up here with the semi and take it off your hands like that. Or try to find a way to get it into a local pantries that shop at the food bank. It’s pennies on the dollar, but you could still help that local nonprofit save a few hundred bucks in groceries.” And he pretty much slapped me on the shoulder and says, “Thanks for doing that.” He walks away. Okay. What the heck am I going to do with this? I mean, I’m not a food, I’m not warehouse logistics. So I take a couple pictures, drop it into the group. And within a couple of days, it’s all gone.
Give it about six, seven weeks, he calls me up again. He says, “I got more.” Another eight weeks, “I got more.” That family has called me about two dozen times. “I got more.” And it has evolved from food, clothing, books, toys, furniture. And it come to as my relationship with him develop, his family has always struggled with getting connected with the right resource to help with their charity on. That for years, they’ve been taken advantage of. That somebody would go up and say, “Oh, yeah, I’ll get that to the nonprofit.” And then they will find out that they’re selling it on line and the dollars aren’t going back. And I also would never thought that I’m providing a service to a family that owns a warehouse that we now know what we’re doing with the surplus, so we can get it out within a day. And once that’s removed, this business can now charge real estate for that area. And that’s very unique in my mind. I’m like, wow. Okay, cool.
So here it is four years, we’re doing all this stuff that we’re connected with the At Home furnishing store, Tempur-Pedic mattresses, a little bit with Kroger and the family that owns a distribution center. So whenever I asked Jeff four years ago, “Hey, would it make sense if we have a book of business? We’ve been mission-friendly partners.” Never would have thought that we would be there.
And another friend of mine, Mark Casper, that I’m gonna introduce you to for your veteran podcast. He runs Tech For Troops. He’s now in Virginia, originally from San Antonio. He wants to make DFW his second home. And I got him connected with TK’s Celebrity Softball Game and presently, the group, DFW Nonprofit Resource Group, is helping Tech For Troops collect 100 used laptops. We’ve got about 60 right now. So those that are listening, if you have any used laptops laying around in the closet at home, please reach out to me and we will do the total cleansing and provide you a tax relation point.
That’s amazing. Yeah. It’s so cool to hear the story of just how it all got started and it’s such the classic growth story, right? It’s like, hey, we’re not really sure what what’s going to happen here and so it just kind of slowly starts to kind of go here. I mean, you have an idea, you have a vision for where you’d like things to go, but it kind of morphs and evolves and grows and you get more people bought into and really connected to the purpose of it all. I mean, because you’re doing something that is really meaningful and it’s obvious, right? If you’re in the nonprofit space, it’s hard to connect sometimes with these different resources. And so having somebody who’s already kind of vetted them but can help just make a nice referral. And then next thing you know, I mean, you guys are just growing. I mean, it’s a really remarkable story.
Thanks, Aaron. I look at the group and I look what I do for Iconic and it takes me back about 15 years when I’m in the corporate climbing the ladder at Verizon. And there was a lot of people that would be frustrated with me because I didn’t think in the box. And I finally found that mentor. We all need a mentor or mentors. You need to surround ourselves. With Verizon, I finally get that mentor, that they explained to me, they’re like, “Eric, there are some people that get paid to think in the box then there are people that get paid to think out of the box. Sometimes they have a hard time. Where you come in is you don’t even have a dang box.” So with this group, that’s it. There is no box.
And here soon, we’re going to have another chapter in Colorado. And it’s where people are hearing about the group. Whenever I took a trip up to Kansas, that community, they already had it. It was a small knit community, but they didn’t have any systems and processes pulling these folks together. So I think our nation wants more of it to think bigger. Because last year, there’s a lot of one words that could describe 2020. But the words that I’m hearing is compassion, love. We need more. And our frontline workers, we all know who they are, the public service people. Last year, the nonprofits kind of rose and wore the cape in the public eye, that the nonprofits that used to serve 150 people a month were serving 600 people a month. They never had the chance to go home. They were out there every day. It was amazing to see. A lot of news media, they covered it, help exposure, but there’s now a sense of the communities wanting to help them more, help the nonprofits more. And I guess I was just three years into it and I got this little DFW Nonprofit Resource Group that does it in our unique way.
Yeah. Well, I mean, it’s really neat. And, it’s kind of, to your point, a lot of this probably does happen already, right? Like you’ve got people that are a network, their friends, a lot of the leadership teams of various nonprofits know each other across town. And so a lot of times people can be like, “Hey, man, do you know a handyman who comes by your place and helps change out lights and fix plumbing issues?” And they may or may not have somebody, right? But you’re able to kind of come in and collectively kind of pull this together and really just provide some leadership and some organization to it. And so as that goes out, now it’s like, okay, so you mentioned expanding out to Kansas and then you’re going out to Colorado now. And so how are you helping them get organized? Is it just a matter of just getting some basic systems in place?
It is finding the right people to be on the bus that the driver of the bus doesn’t even know where the bus is going. So what I have found is if you’re in the space meeting, if you’re are a professional that has several years of providing your services to the nonprofits, you are in the space. So whenever you see this bus pull up, hey, we’re jumping on the bus. So there is no systematical process or anything. It’s conversations. And the conversations happen with – we’ll take Kansas for an example. I talked to my counterpart up there for Iconic and said, “Hey why don’t you set up some meetings with your nonprofit clients?” Okay. Went in, repeated the story. Walked away with the banker, walked away with the lawyer, walked away with an accountant. And that seems to be like the first three that you always start with, too. All right. That if you think about the relationship that a nonprofit has with a banker, that’s pretty dang strong. And that banker more than likely works for a bank, not just the person, but the bank is mission-friendly. And whenever the employee, whenever there are the individuals within the different chapters of the group that work for a company that’s mission-friendly, it’s poetry.
Well, I’m going to ask you a really obvious question and I know we’ve probably covered it, but when you’re using the term mission-friendly, you’re talking about – because I just wanna make sure anyone who’s listening to this or watch this doesn’t have any confusion whatsoever about this. So when you’re talking about mission-friendly, you’re talking about organizations, people that can support nonprofits and whatever some of the basic functions are, needs that they have, but they’re also mission-friendly. Meaning they believe in the organization or you or somebody has vetted them as being somebody that you would refer them to, right? Is that it?
Yeah. I would say that each person in the group, they would have their various ten-point inspection. Hey, this, this, this. You summed it up well. What I find in the space is there are a lot of wolves in sheep’s clothing and that a nonprofit can be taken advantage of by a new business partner, giving them a few thousand bucks for the golf tournament. That business partner makes them sign some type of contractual agreement for two, three years. And after that check leaves for the golf tournament, that contract, the life of that contract, there’s no glimpses of them being mission-friendly. And mission-friendly does have the components of do you believe in the mission? Does your company have a charity on? Do your employees volunteer at your clients? Do you help that nonprofit gain additional revenue streams by being creative? Can you help promote that nonprofit?
And along the way, okay, there’s a golf tournament from a few thousand bucks, but it all starts to make a snowball to say during the relationship and, you know, I’ll back up some of our relationships with our nonprofits paid clients go back 12 years. So if you magnify what it needs to be mission-friendly through a 12-year relationship, it’s incredible. It’s not that transactional like you mentioned, the transactional sale. Buy this and I’ll give you one home fee for your golf tournament. And there are people around town that do that really, really well. It’s just within the group that I put together, most of us are at that consultative level – the bankers, the lawyers, the strategic advisors. And we have some people that are transactional that are still mission-friendly.
There’s a lady that’s in the group that owns a corporate furniture company. Her stuff would never go to the nonprofits, but what she uses the group for is a conduit that whenever her corporate client wants to buy some new furniture, she drops that corporate client’s name into the group because she told that corporate client that, “Hey, I can find a way that you can donate your own furniture to a local charity.” So that helps the lady that owns the furniture company, I guess, process her transaction faster because her corporate client knows that the moment that she signs on for new furniture, there’s a mechanism in place to get rid of the old furniture and it has a charity write-off.
Yeah. I think I know who you’re talking about too. She’s friend of mine.
Yeah. Jeannie Norris.
You know her.
Yeah. Shoutout to Jeannie.
Aaron, it would mean the world to me that you send her a kind note, text, email, just a kind note saying, “Hey, you’re in my thoughts and prayers.”
Yeah. It’s awesome. Awesome.
Yeah. All right. So what are we going to wrap up with that, man? Why don’t we all reach out to somebody and just go, you know what, you need some love, man. You need something.
Yeah. No, no, that’s awesome. I mean, so I’ve got the website I’ve been peeking at the website from time to time to pull more information out of this. But the website is dfwnonprofitresourcegroup.com
Yeah. It’s a mouthful.
It’s all good. I’m going to throw it up on the screen here in just a second. But Eric, how can people get involved? If I’m listening or watching this today and I’m like, oh, man, this is a really, really amazing organization, how does somebody contribute?
They can go on the website, send me a note. Find me on LinkedIn, send me a note. There are some weeks, that’s what I feel that I do all week is talk to different people that want to be a part of the group. And my position with the group is making sure that the right people get on the bus.
Yeah. Well, that’s awesome. Well, I mean, I love the work that you’re doing. It’s a very unique thing that you’re doing and it’s obviously of immense value add to people. And so it’s really – I’m so excited for you, I guess, is what I’m trying to say. Being able to see how it’s growing and I’m appreciative for people like you and the organization that you’ve been able to put together because it really is making an impact. And nonprofits are, you know, a lot of them, not all of them, but a lot of them operate on shoestring budgets. Their budgets are highly scrutinized on their operating costs. And so a lot of it is like, hey, how do we help each other out? How do we make this dream happen and how do we keep moving forward? And so I think it’s remarkable – the work that you’re doing. So thank you. Thank you for all that you’re doing with that.
I appreciate that, Aaron. There’s a word that in 2019 you could say without getting looked out sideways, but I want to bring it back and that word is ‘contagious’. The group is contagious.
That’s a great word, man.
And why not surround yourself on a daily basis with positively contagious people? And I started with the laws of attraction and that’s the chapter and TK’s book.
Yeah. Awesome. Awesome.
The group is something special and we’re not done yet. And I don’t know what the end looks like. There is no end.
Sure, sure. Well, really, really dang, proud and excited to seeing people just doing such great and amazing work. And so for those watching, listening, get connected to Eric, get a better understanding and reach out and see how it is that you can help and go through that process. And I’ll have links up to the books, to all the different things we’ve talked about. I’ll make sure those are included here. But Eric, I just want to thank you so much. Thanks for spending some time with me early on this Tuesday morning. It’s been a sincere pleasure, sir. Thank you.
All right, Aaron, man, my friend. See you later.
All right, man. Thanks.