An Interview with Pamela Mastrota, Executive Director of The Toy Foundation

In 2021, Pamela Mastrota was named Executive Director of The Toy Foundation (TTF), where she’s dedicated to fulfilling its mission to be the uniting force for the collective philanthropy of the toy industry for the benefit of children in need. Ms. Mastrota is responsible for implementing the TTF’s Strategic Plan to serve as a thought leader and effective partner in delivering comfort, joy, and the extraordinary benefits of play to every child.

From 2014 – 2021, Ms. Mastrota was Chief Operating Officer for Make-A-Wish Metro NY & Western NY, leading all operations, including Finance, HR, Marketing, IT/Data Management, Program, and Project Management. This encompassed medical outreach, community engagement, volunteer resources, and wish-granting with eight direct reports in NYC, Long Island, Buffalo, and Rochester offices. She successfully increased volunteers in under served areas by 180% to best serve Make-A-Wish kids by recruiting experienced, culturally diverse department teams and developing organizational plans that improved productivity and efficiency. Mr. Mastrota reduced the wait time from two years to seven months and reduced volunteer/staff turnover by 40% over her six-year tenure.

From 2003 to 2014, Ms. Mastrota served as President and Chief Executive Officer for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Long Island Chapter. She directed operations spanning Development, Finance, HR, IT, Marketing, Program/Research, and Board management. She developed community quality programs and services to increase chapter-wide income by 10% annually over five years. Ms. Mastrota also increased campaign income by 35% and individual contributions by 150% while reducing chapter expenses by 15% and managing fundraising and general costs at less than 25%.

Ms. Mastrota was educated at West Chester University and holds a Master of Health Administration and a Bachelor of Arts in Public Relations and Communications from Hofstra University. She has continued participating in the Harvard Business School Executive Education Program for multiple years.

Richard: You have an impressive resume with high-level positions at for-profit and not-for-profit enterprises. Can you tell us about your professional journey and how you became the Executive Director of the Toy Foundation?

Pam: For as long as I can remember I have been drawn to making a difference in the lives of others, especially children in need. Starting in my adolescence, I volunteered for many years to be a ‘team captain’ of a youth group walk fundraising team for a children’s charity.  I don’t think I realized at the time that taking on that role taught me how to engage others on the team, how to be a mentor, and how to lead others and help them improve.  Throughout the years, I truly enjoyed the continuous learning element – you can only really get better, and at the same time you need to adapt to new team members, and new strategies, and learn to work in a team.  These are all skills, in my opinion, everyone should aim to develop and nurture in our professional lives.  If you can learn to lead a team, I think people will excel in whatever professional endeavor they choose.

Professionally, I’ve had opportunities to lead and transform teams with successful outcomes in for-profit and non-profit organizations, and then scale performance to further increase impact. As a chief fundraiser and thought leader at nonprofits, including Make-A-Wish Metro NY & Western NY and National Multiple Sclerosis Society Long Island Chapter, I implemented plans that improved productivity and efficiency, recruited experienced and culturally diverse leaders who gained the trust of the children and families we served, and considerably increased the number of volunteers in underserved areas.

My C-level and nonprofit leadership roles are what led me to The Toy Foundation where I continue to draw upon my diversified experience to refocus the Foundation to better serve the philanthropic and business interests of the toy industry. In my 18 months as Executive Director I have had the pleasure of working with an incredible Board of Trustees who created new Vision and Mission statements and a three-year Strategic Action Plan centered around what we believe is most important to everyone in the toy industry – delivering comfort, joy, and the extraordinary benefits of play to every child.

Richard: The Toy Foundation’s mission is “to provide philanthropic support and the vital commodity of play to children and families under stress and in dire situations across the country and globe.” Please give me some examples of how that has looked in practice.

Pam: We recently revised The Toy Foundation’s Mission statement:

To be the uniting force for the collective philanthropy of our industry for the benefit of all children in need.

We accomplish this through strategic partnerships, high-impact grant-making, effective programming, and toy donations. Together we have a greater impact to serve and support children, allowing them to experience the comfort, joy, and promise of a life fulfilled through play.

The toy industry is incredibly philanthropic and what I find sets it apart from other industries is the sense of community. We joined this business for our love of play and The Toy Foundation is here to be your community leader, bring big and small companies together, and generate the greatest impact for children in need.

To be an effective community leader we surveyed the industry to see what is most important and how we can add value. Toy donations, children’s hospitals, emergency relief, and DEI topped everyone’s philanthropic and CSR reports. So, our goal is to unite small, medium, and large-sized companies, deliver quality collaboration in each of these areas, and create a greater impact for children than any company could achieve on its own.

A step beyond being the “uniting force” for toy companies, we bring this sentiment into our partnerships with national and global organizations, and in developing synergies between each of our program areas.

The Toy Foundation has a growing network of some 500 qualified nonprofits, NGOs, and children’s hospitals, that we work with on a regular basis and support one another in our respective missions. These partnerships allow us to effectively distribute product and cash grants to children in our own backyard or around the world, while also sharing the incredible and important work of these organizations with the industry.

Our three program areas – DEI, Play Grants, and The Toy Bank – are distinct in their own functions but also unite to yield a greater impact. Toy Bank delivers joy to children in need every day, but also supports our Children’s Hospital Program and our DEI Pipeline Program. In addition to financial support, we provide toys play therapy programs across the country. We also weave the power and purpose of what we do into the curriculum of our DEI Program. Knowing that our industry cares, and is deeply committed to making a difference, increases the student’s interest in working in the toy industry. The synergies are abundant – and intentional.

Three recent examples of how The Toy Foundation united the industry include,

  • We delivered nearly $5 million for a relief campaign quickly, and meaningfully, into the hands of Ukrainian children and families devastated by war.
  • We launched our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Pipeline Program to help build the next generation of leadership for the toy industry.  
  • After a 2+ year hiatus, we transformed our Toy Bank into a turn-key CSR and inventory management solution for the industry – and increased donations by 400%
  • We expanded the scope and reach of our children’s hospital by funding more play grants and connecting to Toy Bank. 

Richard. You have significant experience and success in leading institutions through transitional moments. Is the Toy Foundation at such a moment? If so, what kind of changes can we anticipate?

Pam: Absolutely!

That’s one of the things that attracted me to the role.

Historically, The Toy Foundation operated as a spend foundation that amplified the importance of play. In 2022, our Board of Trustees decided on a new course of action that is in line with The Toy Association’s strategic goals and adds value to the Association’s membership at large.

Globally, the toy industry is responsible for more than $100 billion in revenue annually. (The North America # is $43B) The Toy Foundation is at a critical moment to partner with the industry’s philanthropic leaders to support our key program areas – DEI, Play Grants, and The Toy Bank – to achieve a greater collective impact, as well as support the company’s own business goals. Achieving both is critical to our success.

One example of this change already in place in asking the industry “How can we help,” which The Toy Foundation never asked in the past. In March hosted a first-of-its-kind meeting of philanthropic and CSR leaders from nearly 20 companies to share the Foundation’s new Vision, Mission, Core Values, and Strategic Plan; outlined the renewed focus of each of our program areas; how each ladder up to our mission; and providing opportunities for the industry to get involved. We also asked companies to share their own philanthropic work to open the conversation about how we can work together, engage companies of every size, and grow our collective impact for the benefit of children in need. We will continue to host these meetings throughout the year to discover new opportunities for collaboration and growth.

In the year ahead you can anticipate the growth of our Toy Bank program to deliver toys to children in all 50 states. For 20 years this program has served as a resource for the toy industry, and we are here all year long to be the industry’s turnkey solution to manage CSR programs and excess inventory issues. Whether it’s one donation or quarterly pick-ups, we’re the industry’s answer.

You can also anticipate the growth of our two-fold Play Grants program to all 50 states. This is our grantmaking work supporting emergency relief and aiding play therapy programs at under-resourced children’s hospitals.

For our DEI program, we are creating new opportunities for the industry to engage with young, diverse talent and build awareness around the various career paths within our world of toy. This includes participation in the collegiate case study program during the school year and, at Toy Fair, this fall, leading or participating in workshops, mentoring students onsite, and recruiting for internship and entry-level positions.

Do you think the toy industry’s rank and file are sufficiently aware of the Toy Foundation’s work?

Pam: It’s a process…

Thanks to the support of The Toy Foundation’s Board of Trustees, The Toy Association’s Board of Directors, and its respective teams, we have made significant inroads in communicating the Foundation’s new Vision, Mission, Core Values, and Strategic Plan to industry leaders. Still, there is much work left to be done in engaging the industry in our program areas, communicating its impact, and joining forces to build upon the important work being done.

Our new Strategic Plan is focused on uniting the industry to significantly impact more children in need – more than companies can achieve on their own – which will help companies deepen their CSR initiatives, reach specific business goals, and advance the toy industry overall. This impact and metric-based approach is the foundation of our Strategic Plan, which I know is similar to the plans of other companies in this industry.

We invite the entire toy community to join us in our vision of creating a world where every child has the opportunity to experience comfort, joy, and the extraordinary benefits of play. We ask small, medium, and large-sized companies to step up where they can, be it through the financial support of our program areas, in-kind donations, or simply by participating in the Toy of the Year Awards, a critical fundraiser for The Toy Foundation. Every level and type of support makes a difference.

 The Toy Foundation is responsible for the TOTY Awards. Will there be any changes under your leadership?

Pam: Mission! Mission! Mission!

Our board has made it abundantly clear – we’re going to continue to celebrate the creativity and achievement of the industry and collective philanthropy of the industry. They’re also committed to making sure that it’s a fresh, fun event that the entire industry looks forward to attending. I cannot share too many details right now but keep an eye on TNT and the TTF website for announcements very soon. I promise you it will be a must-have ticket and a night to remember.

(The Toy Foundation’s Toy of the Year Awards is a critical fundraiser to deliver the extraordinary benefits of play to children in need. We will celebrate the best of the best in toy, while also reflecting on the impact of the Foundation’s program areas – DEI, Play Grants, and The Toy Bank – and with the funds raised throughout the evening, the important work we will be able to continue to do for the benefit of children in need.)  

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