“The first lesson on fundraising is, never make assumptions about somebody walking in the door,” he says.
Paladino, now 45, was in a Florida office of the Red Cross years ago when a guy in shorts and a ratty T-shirt strode through the door.
While others blew off the man, “I sat for an hour chatting and told him about what we did. The next day he showed up with a $10,000 check and he said, ‘You were the only guy willing to sit and chat with me.’ ”
Lesson 2: People will give to causes, but in the end they really give to other people.
Paladino talked about the guy in Newark who gave him $3 million worth of real estate. It started with a phone call in which Paladino asked if he could visit the man to thank him for a $1,000 gift.
The man poured out a long story about how the Red Cross once helped his family in a flood. Two weeks later, a $25,000 check arrived in the mail. A month later came a new SUV. The big enchilada came six months later, when the man built a $3 million facility to house the Red Cross’s new offices.
The soft-spoken Paladino is a natural networker, knowing the importance of meeting people face to face, spending time with them, talking.
They are the same skills that have allowed the chatty executive to blaze a path to financial independence; he runs and owns a chunk of the coffee roasting business and has a fat bank account.
Not a bad life for the son of a mailman who lived paycheck to paycheck. He got his work ethic from his mother, who managed a Hickory Farms store and other small New York City retail shops.
After the storms
Paladino worked his way up as a fundraiser/troubleshooter in the Red Cross starting in Florida in 1993 and eventually moved to the national headquarters in Washington. He resigned from the philanthropy in 2005 after 12 years, more than 200 fires and a suitcase full of hurricanes and floods.
“I was [in Florida] six or seven days, helping with [Hurricane] Charley,” he says. “I get off the plane at Reagan National. I get a cellphone message saying there is another storm, you have to turn around and go back. I spent 25 straight days in Florida, sleeping in a rental car and on the floor of a gym. I was 37 and thinking I was too old for this.”
He resigned and joined his wife, Pam, at the Marjack Co., a candy and snack distribution business in Landover, where he worked on strategic planning.
He and Pam purchased a small stake from the owner, Warren Coopersmith. When Marjack was sold in 2008, they had a windfall.
Pam stayed on while Chris mined his Rolodex and called Chesapeake Bay, which was a company he looked at acquiring for Marjack. It had two businesses: One was roasting and selling coffee to local coffee bars, restaurants and stores; the other was selling and servicing coffee and espresso machines.