Daughters, this week we’re thrilled to introduce you to fellow daughter and caregiving expert, Denise Brown. Denise is the founder and creator of CareGiving.com and has been helping family caregivers since the early 90’s. Her story is fascinating and truly inspiring. Find out how Denise went from being a writer to a pioneer in the rapidly growing family caregiving support industry in this two-part interview.
What inspired you to create CareGiving.com?
I graduated from college in 1990 and started working for trade magazines as a writer. I wrote for magazines that served bakeries and would go into bakeries in the middle of the night, take pictures, talk to the bakers and get their ‘formulas’, which is the technical word for recipes. I also worked for a trade magazine that serviced convenience stores. I needed to find a part-time job to augment my free-lance work and I fell into a job managing a congregant meal site in a small town in New Jersey along the Delaware River. Local seniors would come in for a hot-meal at lunch and we delivered meals on wheels. The agency that provided this service also managed the statewide respite care program for family caregivers, a program that was funded by the casino revenue fund. I was promoted to “manager” of the respite program and this is when I started talking to family caregivers day in and day out.
Following this position, I worked as an admissions director at a nursing home and then moved back to Illinois and was an admissions director for another facility. Then, I decided to start a business. Initially, I offered a marketing service to professionals in the nursing home industry, but I really didn’t like this so I decided to start a newsletter to help those who care. My newsletter was called, “Caregiving”. The first issue came out in January 1995. It was a print publication that I continued to publish for ten years.
Around this time I was introduced to the Internet and decided to build a rudimentary website through Prodigy, which was an Internet Service Provider that was bundled in your computer software. I used the content from the newsletter on the Internet and people like it. This led to me finding the Caregiving.com domain name and I launched the site in September 1996.
At the time, there were only three of ‘us’ in the caregiving industry. There was my site, CareGiving.com, the National Family Caregivers Association, which is now called, Caregiver Action Network (CAN) and caregiver.com, a site created by Gary Barg who also publishes a magazine called, “Today’s Caregiver”.
Wow. You’ve been doing this for quite some time. What’s it been like watch the industry grow?
Honestly, it’s hard to be in this space. I can’t begin to tell you how many companies I’ve watched ‘go under’ and in the process – burn through millions of dollars. I was in business during the dot.com boom of the late 90’s. There’s one site in particular that I remember receiving $1million to launch and sustain their website and they lasted maybe a year.What do you think happened?
It’s simple, really. They lost their focus on serving family caregivers. If you lose focus on serving you start to operate out of selfishness and a family caregiver sees that. A family caregiver knows when you’re in it for yourself and when you’re in it to make a difference.
How has CareGiving.com been able to make it?
At the time, it seemed like everyone was getting funding, but me. I was watching all of these websites get money and I wasn’t getting any. The irony is I didn’t get any money, which is how I stayed in business.
The business model around websites has evolved. In the late 90’s it was an advertising-based model. At that time, a ton of traffic to your site could have been a successful model. Even today and even with a ton of traffic, it’s hard to be successful with advertisers. It takes a ton of time to chase advertisers and it’s not a lot of money. Instead, I chose to build my business model around training and doing speaking engagements.
I developed a concept in 1997 called, The Caregiving Years: Six Stages to a Meaningful Journey. I wrote the curriculum while working a variety of other jobs to keep the business going. When I first created the concept there were four stages and I’ve continuously refined it over the last 20 years with feedback from my website and live audiences and launched it in January 2016 as a certification course that includes two levels of training. The Certified Caregiving Consultant training program helps you take a personal caregiving experience and turn it into a career. You learn three critical skills that you use when you work with family caregivers, you practice them, you prove that you understand them and then you dig into the six stages. We take one stage a week and then week seven and eight we talk about the challenges that come up when you work with a family caregiver. Once you’re certified as a consultant – you can then take the ‘educator’ training and that’s when you take the Caregiving Years as a presentation and deliver it in your community.
This is a huge accomplishment. How did you feel launching it after 20 years?
After writing the first draft, I asked my dad, who was the editor of the Sears catalog to edit it and, I told him, “Dad, this is going to be one of the best things I ever do in my life. I knew how good it was. I just knew from my gut it was ‘right’.” All of this happened – the newsletter, CareGiving.com and the certification program – because I listened to family caregivers. All because I listened.
Stay tuned for Part Two of this interview and find out Denise’s thoughts on how CareGiving.com has helped her manage her own parent’s aging, what she sees as the most important changes that need to occur in healthcare to promote and broaden partnerships between the treating providers and family caregivers and information on the 2nd Annual National Caregiving Conference in Chicago this fall.