“What do we need to be doing to put ourselves out of business? Because if we’re not working towards that, we are literally stealing from this community.”
Darius Baxter is the CEO and Co-founder of GOODProjects, an organization that walks alongside families on the path out of poverty. Darius is grateful for the opportunity to make a living dreaming up ways to help others, but he knows the ultimate goal is to put themselves out of business.
In this episode, Darius shares his journey from raising $3,000 and feeling like it was a million, to now raising over a million just a few weeks into a new year. Like many Accidental Fundraisers, his path hasn’t been straightforward, Darius talks about the pitfalls he stumbled on while finding early success and the importance of doing things for the right reasons. As you listen, you’ll learn what it means to stick to your mission and the importance of authenticity when seeking major gifts.
But striking a balance between sensitivity and authenticity can be hard, so Network for Good has come up with some tips to help guide your approach to finding storytellers for sensitive subjects. And when it comes to fostering DEIB (diversity, equity, engagement, and belonging) at your organization, we have some strategies to help you build the best workplace you can.
- Lean in to what you know
- Stay firm in your convictions
- Find people that are better than you
- Use language that builds on the positive rather than talking only about the negative
Episode 10 Transcript
Darius: Let’s use language that doesn’t talk about the negative things that happened in this community, but the positive things and why you need to invest because we want to build on the positives that are happening. And you see how, when you start to shift that mindset, both in how you tell your story as an executive, it affects every aspect of your organization and affects how people view your organization.
We’re going to celebrate. There’s negative things happen in all the time. And there’s people that make tons of money talking about those things. But as an organization, our focus is going to be on. And when there’s bad things that happen and we’re going to come, we’re going to wrap our arms around whatever negative thing, but then we’re going to celebrate, because we could do this work another day
Kimberly: As fundraisers, how often do we use negative events to communicate with donors? We talk about the harsh realities that might occur if our donors don’t give or we can’t meet the critical demand. What if instead, we found a way to focus on and really celebrate the positives. I’m Kimberly O’Donnell. And this is Accidental Fundraiser show from Network for Good that shares radically authentic stories from the trenches.
GOODProjects empowers youth and their families to live fulfilling lives free from poverty while helping them develop the growth mindset to thrive in their own communities. They work with families in the Washington D.C. area to eliminate the roadblocks to basic needs so that those families can define success for themselves and become self-reliant.
As Darius Baxter puts it, the mission of good projects is to put themselves out of business. Darius is the Chief Engagement Officer and Co-Founder, but his involvement is far more personal than many nonprofit founders. When he was nine years old Darius father was murdered leaving his mother to raise him and his brother alone with poverty and homelessness as a constant threat, Darius persevered and earned a football scholarship to Georgetown University. After graduating Darius committed his life to creating pathways for families like his own to make it out of poverty. And he still lives in one of the DC communities that good project serves. Despite the trauma he’s experienced, it’s hard to ignore Darius positive attitude and uplifting spirit.
He was recently named to Forbes 30 Under 30 list. And in January, 2021 receive the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian award. Yet when he started it wasn’t to win awards or raise millions of dollars. He and his co-founders simply wanted to get kids off the streets during those summer months when gun violence spiked.
So they leaned into what they knew. Football. With that context, let’s join the conversation. Starting with the impact football has had on Darius journey.
Darius: Football has always been something that’s been super important to me. Football is a game that still provides a lot of opportunity to young men of color across this country.
I was a product of that. Um, I received a full ride scholarship to a school that I otherwise, you know, not to get them take away too much credit for myself, but otherwise would not have had the opportunity to attend in Georgetown university. And that was because of the game of football. It was the last thing that my father, literally, the night that my father died, the last thing that him and I did together was him coaching me on the football.
Rodan the hell out of me that night. And I’m glad that that’s the last memory that I have of him because anytime I’m a little, I don’t want to do something or I’m tired. I want to sleep. And I hear his voice in the back of my head, but football has been one of the greatest gifts that God could ever given to me.
Um, and I hope to be able to provide that gift to young people all across this world, over the course of my journey.
Kimberly: So football is where good projects started share with us what it’s becoming.
Darius: Well, I’ll put one caveat there. It’s not where it started me. Like a lot of young men across this world. Um, sports is something that gets us motivated and I understood at a very young age and starting the project that we needed to hook academics is where a good project started and is where we are right now.
It’s always been the through line and everything. But me and my co-founders at the time understood that if we just said that we were going to do an academic camp, that wasn’t going to get people in the door. So little, did they know we had a, a shout out young backs for having that level of thoughtfulness.
We marketed a football camp with the complete understanding that football was only going to be about 45 minutes out of our day. Uh, the first day by the grace of God and marketing and this football camp Anacostia we had over 70 kids. And this is a group of 21 year old kids, myself and my co-founders never having a history of running an organization.
Damn short should not have been responsible for that many kids. We could barely manage ourself at that time, but it worked and it was the hook that got people in the door. And once we got them in the door, we shoved a robotics down their throat. We shove job training down, or we shove social, emotional learning down.
But we always got to end the day with a football game and he kept people around and we use those same strategies now in the work that we do, whether it’s food is an incentive, whether it’s, you know, the ability to go on a trip, whether it’s, you know, just to be able to fellowship and convene with one another, we always try to make sure that we have goals in mind, the same way that our community has goals in mind.
And we try to meet our community where it is and find the middle.
Kimberly: So today you’re providing a lot of different assistance programs for both children and families right. In the DC area, but particularly in the Anacostia area, how many people are working with you and how many children and families do you see?
Darius: my gosh, probably more than I realized at this point, to be completely honest with you, the impact that I’ve been able to have with my life and impact that we’re able to have over projects spans in ways that we don’t even see on a day to day basis at a high level. Our focus as an organization is supporting 500 families that live within the Southwest public housing community here in DC.
So what we call self-sufficiency self-sufficiency meaning that a hundred percent of the families that we work with at this point are living in public housing and most, if not, all of their life is subsidized through government programming. And our goal is to ensure that by the time that the 500 families, um, that will have an opportunity to work with over the next decade they get through our program.
Our goal is that they don’t need us at the end of the day. One of the reasons, you know, you become an accidental fundraiser as, because you set out with this mission and vision to help people. And we understand that it takes resources to be able to do that, but it’s very easy for a lot of us to get lost in it.
When you get started and forget why you started meaning, okay. I had this mission to support this community. And then you get into it, you set a salary for yourself. You start to build a team, you start to win awards. And it’s like, okay, this is kind of cool, you know? Okay. I’m going to take my foot a little bit off the gas.
Okay. I did this today, but okay. That’s okay. That’s enough. I can, I can take a little bit of break or I can go on a vacation where good projects. And you can ask any member of our team every day. I’m coming into that office. How do we put ourselves out of. How do we put ourselves out of business? What do we need to be doing to put ourselves out of business?
Because if we’re not working towards that, we are literally stealing from this community at the end of the day. So our goal is to support these families to a place where they don’t need our support anymore, because they can support themselves
Kimberly: through things that you were nervous about as you started your, your nonprofit, you are the founder, the president and the CEO.
Share with us, what you were thinking as you and your friends started. Good price.
Darius: To be honest, by the grace of God, I wasn’t thinking about anything. I was just thinking about how to serve. I went in with the mindset that if I fail, my mom got a house that I can go back to and that was about it. And if I didn’t have that mentality, to be honest, I wouldn’t be sitting here today.
Over the years as the organization continues to grow other fears of starting to set in. As I look at our payroll, every single time I pressed that button, I’m like, okay, I can’t be an accidental fundraiser anymore. I gotta be a fundraiser. I gotta gotta make sure that we, uh, we make sure that we’re hitting that and continuing to provide the resources that are our families depend on.
But fear, isn’t something that operate with. If you can’t sell, I wear my heart on my sleeve and that’s because I serve a God that I know always provides. And I know that God wouldn’t have put a vision in my heart to be able to produce this model and the good zones to be able to lift entire communities out of poverty.
If he wasn’t going to be able to provide the resources for me to get. And I wake up every single morning and when my feet hit the ground, the devil is cowering and Finn or shake a little bit because I know that to be fact, and I move with that level of confidence and by the grace of God, it’s more times than not it’s worked out.
And when it doesn’t work out as often, because it wasn’t meant for me. And it usually works out in a way that I didn’t see that ends up being better than what.
Kimberly: In your early days, how did you go about fundraising? Because once you start, you get better at it, right. So share with our other accidental fundraisers, you know, how it all started from.
Darius: Well, Kimberly it’s like starting any other company. Where do you start? When you’re starting a for-profit company, family and friends, you do your family and friends around. And then from there you build, you build, you built for me. And my co-founders, it was the same thing. It was starting with, uh, people in our immediate network.
And. It worked out, you know, our first, very first summer camp, when I mentioned, uh, being at Anacostia High School, we raised $3,000 to that first camp, man, you couldn’t have told me that was a meal that wasn’t a million dollars and you could not have told me, Kimberly, that was not a million dollars when we raised that 3000 offs.
And that all came from just nicklin and diamond aunties, uncles. Did a party on campus, uh, and just asking people to sign up and help us out, anybody that was in our media network, we started there and you realize very quickly when starting a business of any kind, you should try to look out and you, you think you don’t have the resources that you need to get started, but more times than not, you have more than one.
And starting there. It was okay, let’s start with this one person. Then they introduce us to the next, then that person introduced us to the next. It wasn’t like we were headed out into the world saying, okay, we want to start the new, you know, Space X and people gotta get really motivated behind that. It was, hey, we want to help people.
And more often than not, people are going to get behind that and get behind that in ways you can’t even imagine. And I’m a pure product of that. You know, we took an organization where I thought that $3,000 was, you know, all the money in the world. Yeah, I’ve raised just in 2022 alone, we’ve already raised, you know, 1.1 million and it’s 20 days into the year.
So it’s amazing. And I know God is going to continue to open the flood gates.
Kimberly: It is amazing. So fast forward to today, where are you getting the majority of your phone?
Darius: Looking at the resources that you already have for anybody that’s out there. And you’re like, how do I get started starting your community governments, particularly through the pandemic have done an awesome job of providing resources at the most grassroots level, because they know that they can’t touch that both at the federal and the local level.
So for groups out there that are thinking about getting started or groups that are already in existence, one around like, where can those next dollars come from? Take a look at just your local government grants website more times than not. There’s an email serve that goes out that will notify you every single week of all the different types of funding that’s out there and where you’re going, you’re trying to go to a large foundation to often need like a track record. And, you know, we need four years worth of statements to know that you’re a viable organization to invest in, or that high net worth individual that you’ve been chasing for five, six years that, you know, doesn’t always return your calls or your emails.
Often times government wants to invest in innovation. So in our case, And our first six months, when you look at our story, starting at a football camp, our first six months, the government got wind of the work that we were doing. And by the end of our first fiscal year, we secure a half a million dollar grant from the DC government.
You know, that doesn’t happen a lot in entrepreneurship, but governments want to invest in innovation. So that’s been a true foundation for our organization.
Kimberly: I think the other piece of it is having that proven track record, which is hard when you’re starting out. How did you build your track record where you, where you guys good at tracking data, or just being able to share visuals?
Were you active on social media? How were you able to show that good projects was credible and making a big impact?
Darius: Six years then Kimberly, we’re still proven that to this day, you know, there’s always going to be the naysayers. There’s always going to be people. I don’t think whatever statistic you’re putting forth is good enough, or, you know, your track record isn’t long enough, you gotta have six years.
They want 60. Um, you have five funders. They want to see 15. Now there’s always going to be those people take the example of three young men coming out of college. They, by the end of their first year were able to secure half a million out a grant from DC government. Oftentimes we take for granted the successes that we have so much to the point that we don’t even know.
For us, it was just, oh, we have 70 kids at a football camp and one of the most poverty dense communities in a place where gun violence has spiked. Oh, that’s just normal. Oh, it’s normal that no shootings happen during the five weeks that we did this. And we just take that for granted and then other people are coming in like, yeah.
Do you know what you just did? Like, no, I was just having fun with some kids that I know this is a big deal. So it’s less about proving your track record because if you’re a person that’s operating in this space with integrity, you’re creating outcomes every single day. It’s just taking some time, call it on a daily, weekly, monthly basis than just sitting and reflecting on what those outcomes.
My advice to anybody that’s getting started in the nonprofit space will be day one, develop a note tracking system and things that you’re not even thinking about. Just every engagement that you have with a client, every engagement that you have with a partner, just type up a quick note. And then just get in the habit of reviewing those.
And you’ll see that there’s trends that you’re creating, that you can pull outcomes from whether that’s attendance data, whether that’s coalition building data, which a lot of funders are wanting to see right now, whether that’s how many people you’re feeding. You know, if you’re doing a program and you’re providing breakfast and lunch, that’s an outcome that you’re creating.
There’s so many things that are being created in any given day that people would just good hearts in this space. We just take
Kimberly: from. And it’s important to be able to note those milestones. You can look back on them. It’s great for funders and potential donors. And to also just share those moments at times, with your supporters on social media and, you know, throughout the many communications that you might put forward
Darius: and the most important person with yourself, I, there are a lot of people that fall out of this space because of burnout.
So just getting in the daily practice and take the. Professional side out of, out of it, just on a personal level, just getting into the daily practice of just reflecting on your successes and your wins and not worrying about anybody else celebrating you, but celebrating yourself like damn, I had a good day.
You know, you talk about the confidence. It’s less about the confidence that I have and more about the gratitude that I had to have the ability to wake up every single morning and do this work with an amazing group of people that are equally as passionate as me. It’s just a blessing and we’re creating like every Friday.
And for those, you may not know I was a little late to the podcast taping, um, because we had our all leaders meeting and we end our all leaders meeting every Friday with celebrating the wins of our different departments. And today’s wins was like 15 minutes long because there was just so many wins that we had over the course of the.
Kimberly: You’re absolutely right about burnout and you are absolutely right about how we in this sector will just get in the groove of what we’re doing. And by the way, a lot of people think like, ah, I’m just not doing enough. We have to do more. We have to make a bigger impact. And so your eyes are always focused on the next, the next, the next, and being able to stop as a group and celebrate and recognize those wins.
Can be very motivational for your team so that they don’t get burnout. What other advice do you give around burnout of teams and just, you know,
Darius: The biggest piece of advice that I would give Kimberly is just developing a daily practice. First and foremost, that alone will eliminate 86% of your problems developing a daily practice and getting it into, getting into a routine that feels healthy for you as an individual, understanding that everybody’s routine is different.
You can read 50,000,001 self-help books. You can listen to all the Gary V podcasts that you want. We’ll tell you how you should be living here. But everybody is different. Nobody has the same fingerprint within that daily practice. Finding time to move every single day, literally move, get off your ass.
Whether that’s getting on a bike for 30 minutes, going on out, walk for an hour and walking your dog twice a day is not moving like physically moving your body. And science shows the health outcomes that come when you are just. And then the other workout is the mental one by the grace of God. And good projects is an organization that’s been able to provide an amazing benefits package.
One that I’d take advantage of and being able to just go to therapy and getting into a routine of doing it. Even when you’re feeling good, not saying you got to do it every week when you’re filling your, when you’re in your uptimes, you know, don’t hog it, you know, we got a shortage of therapists out here, but when you’re feeling down, not being afraid to seek professional help, and there’s a lot of times that you will feel down in this space, you know, just over the last 12 months alone.
Our team has experienced a number of our members actually getting killed. Um, this summer we had two of our members, um, that were shot and that was something that, you know, it was very troubling, but in this work it happens and you got to still get up and keep going, but we’re not going to sit up and act like that.
Doesn’t affect you. And we find time to be very intentional about taking time to pause and reflect, but then also get the professional help as leaders to be able to support ourselves that we can better support our community, create a daily routine, move your body and work out your mind is.
Kimberly: Let’s talk a little bit about some of the failures that occur because we all know that failure happens. And at times, you know, the goal can be to fail fast. But the other piece is to just be aware. Um, how that failure can impact you and then get up and keep on going. can you share with our audience, some of those things that maybe we’re not proud of, but it just helps people to know that they’re not alone as they’re going through the path of learning and growing and running a non-prime.
Darius: I think the biggest failure out of the gate for me was trying to move too fast.
And with that, just getting way too caught up and all of the glamor that comes with being, oh, the next innovative non-prime. God is good, man. Can I just say this stop for a second and just say that God is good. And oftentimes you’ll realize when you’re doing stuff, even with the best of intentions, um, that the devil will try to maneuver it and use it for his glory.
And for me and my co-founders when we were getting started three young dare I say, handsome black men, changing their communities in ways that people had never seen. There was a lot of people that want our attention and our time. And very early on, we fed into that and quickly. I’ve found. And this is one of the reasons why we see so much money being spent the philanthropic space.
I found myself spending more time doing podcasts like this, or standing on stages or being at cocktail receptions than time that I was spending, thinking about how I was going to further the community that I committed to this. And I didn’t realize at the time when I was in the midst of it, just how much it was affecting my spirit and my physical as well.
And I would wake up super depressed and super sad. And I couldn’t quite put my finger on, ah, I’m like how everybody else has a cord. I’m doing things right. I’m raising money. Our outcomes are there. But I’m always just down. Like now I’m at these events, you know, celebrities around me for unique in this space, right?
As a nonprofit leader, to have this level of access on private jets with billionaires, I’m just like, what is going on here? How am I not happy? This was every, this is people, people dream of a life like this, and I’m able to achieve it before the age of 25. And it was really getting deep, deep, deep, deep into my conversations with God that I realized that although the world was celebrating.
I wasn’t happy. Who I was becoming in this space. I wasn’t happy with not being able to be there with my kids on a daily basis. And it took me taking a complete 180 and saying, and it was unpopular at the time. I’m not doing any more speaking engagements. What do you mean? You’re not doing anyone speaking as we raised money.
I’m not talking to anybody. I’m not doing an interview. I’m not getting on a plane. I am going to spend every day in this community and people didn’t like that at first. And we lost some funders because of that, because they were like, who does he think he is? And at calling people out and saying, I don’t think that you’re funding us for the right reasons.
I think that you’re more interested in who I am as an individual than the projects that we’re focused on. And for a good period of time, I’ll say probably about a year. It took some internal shifting. It took us finding funders that were genuinely interested in the mission and vision that we had. And at one point we got down to about $3,000 in the bank and I’m calling the bank.
Like we might have to pull on that line of. And my board is in my ear. Everybody’s just like, are you sure this was the right decision? And I stayed firm in my convictions and in my faith. And so the earlier point that I knew that if I operated with integrity and always did things for the right reasons and things that made me feel good, mentally, spiritually, physically, emotionally.
And, uh, it would all work out and I can’t, I can’t make it up. Kimberly, I’m looking at that payroll button. We didn’t have enough money in the bank to cover it. And by the grace of God, Monday hit and a half million dollars got put into our account from one of our funders.
And then from there, the ball just kept rolling and I knew I had made the right decision. And I think oftentimes in this space, and again, my people get lost. It’s like, God, doesn’t put us in these positions and he ain’t going to have our back, but that doesn’t mean that our faith won’t be tested at times.
And mine is definitely been tested along the way, but I’ve always come to the stage regardless of where we are. I’ve come forth, knowing that I have an entire community of people behind me, and I’ve proven to myself and my community at times that I do this work, whether a million people are watching or one kid I’m sitting at a table with helping them with their math homework.
So for that reason, Yeah. I say that’s a long way of answering my failure, but by the grace of God, uh, I pulled through and it’s been in large parts of the amazing support system that I have around
Kimberly: as you’ve done that. Now the organization has grown and you have good projects in other places. Can you talk about how you expanded and at what point that had happened?
Darius: we’re going through a strategic planning phase as an organization right now to really determine what does intentional expansion look like as an organization? Our primary focus continues to be the Southwest public housing community, but we always knew that our focus was to be able to create a model that was replicable anywhere for what it looks like to take poverty, dense communities, to a place where they could sustain themselves over time.
I mean, not for the short period, not cause you injected a bunch of money and people are good for, you know, a couple of years, but that they could get to a point that they could stand on their own two feet to the point that they could run and then be flying. So as we look towards the future, the thing that I’m challenged most with is what is God calling me to do?
And I’m in a period of prayer and fasting at this exact moment right now, because I don’t want those answers just to come from my own wants or, you know, what’s the sexy thing to do, but really for God to lead the path on how we move forward as an organization, Um, so we’re challenged, you know, I’ve already on a personal level with the help of my family begun to make investments and to Kenya.
And now we’re starting to make investments in El Salvador and a few other smaller locations, but as an organization, when we take a step forward, um, we want to make sure that it’s the right.
Kimberly: As you look to expand your model. What other organizations are you looking at going? Ah, you know, I like how they, how they grew.
I like how they develop their programs. Are you looking at those? Are you feeling like your organization is unique and you want with your co-founders to take it on its own?
Darius: No, that’s silly. It’s actually Warren buffet. He was one of the guys that said it’s good to make mistakes, but it’s another thing to look at other people’s mistakes and learn from them.
So you don’t have to make them. I was. Super shocked. I was very young and my philanthropic journey when I was asked to sit on the board of DC central kitchen, I think I’m going into year four now. And I don’t know if they thought we were a lot farther ahead and we were, or maybe they saw something to me on the see and myself at the time, but I was invited to join the board and out can single-handedly say, and it’s ironic because I was actually in a master’s program for organization leadership at Johns Hopkins university.
When I was invited to sit on the board for DC central. And I cannot make this up Kimberly three weeks before my finals. And my first semester I dropped out of Johns Hopkins because I said, I’m going to learn more sitting on the board of DC, central kitchen than I will at this university. And, uh, I was right.
My advice to any person. I don’t care what age you are. That’s fine, the organization and your city that is killing it and asked to be on an advisory committee. If they, if you can be on the board, sit on the board, but get in their ecosystem. Even if your organization is thriving, I don’t care because you’ll learn all of the nuances of what it takes to create a thriving organizationAnd you get to see what it means like for an organization that’s been around for decades, how they start to get into the nuances of what it means to have impact where, you know, for us, we have five or six initiatives that we’re running at any given year. Them, they have their tentacles, 20, 30 different places as highlighted by what you’re talking about with their connection with world central kitchen.
So you can look at my life and see how I’ve been able to learn from DC central kitchen and how that’s impacted the work that we’ve done in good projects. To the point that now the projects is big enough where we can actually partner with DC central kitchen on initiatives that added so much fuel to my growth as a leader, which inevitably added fuel to the growth of my organization.
And I hope that’s an example for people across this country that are listening to the podcast to say, damn like there is that organization that I like, yeah, go get involved with them because it’s more than just, okay. You got to give a little bit of an annual donation. That’s still cheaper than grad school.
More times than. that is so true that if you don’t know how to do something, go see what other organization does and then volunteer for them or see how you can learn or even just call up executive directors, fundraisers, and ask for those informational interviews, those networking. Because we don’t have to have all the answers.
Kimberly: We don’t have to have all the answers we have to get over our fear of asking and our fear of getting out there and trying.
That’s so true and not just externally and that’s for any leader at whether you’re in the nonprofit space, the for-profit space, anything in between to be able to look in the mirror and have the same level of confidence, knowing that you know, nothing and that you have so much to learn is one of the most beautiful feelings.
Darius: I talked about our team leader. We call it our, our leader circle that we have every Friday. One of the practices that we’ve, uh, started is you would think as the CEO that I’m like, okay, I want all my leads to report to this meeting. And then I’m leading this meeting every week. I have my agenda, but a simple practice of electing, who we switched the leader every single week.
So there’s some weeks where I’m leading as the CEO and there’s other weeks where I’m sitting in the audience, just like everybody else. And the person who leaves communications is telling all of the leads, how the, how the meeting is going to go, you know, and just even that simple practice of modeling as a CEO, this is what it looks like.
The humble yourself I’ve seen has done tremendous things across our organization, and inevitably affects how we engage in our communal. Where it’s, we’re not coming to the youth and families that we serve as overlord. So I’m here to help you, but I’m a partner with you in this process. I’m no better, no worse than you, because I have this job and I’m supposed to be helping you.
It’s like, no, this is a passion that I have to serve. And it’s a privilege that I have the honor to do it with you. Um, and that starts from the top down at every level of organizations
Kimberly: with me, just some of the things that you’ve learned as you have grown as a man. Try
Darius: to shut up. I tried to tell myself that it doesn’t always work, but now, um, I think it goes back to that humility piece, you know, when you’re just getting started in anything it’s very easy, especially when you have success early to think like, damn, I really am that good at this job, but the next step of leadership is understanding if I’m good at this job, I got to find people that are better than me and that’ll take us even farther.
And that’s something that I learned. I want to say. Early enough in the organization that we’ve seen the benefits of it. So anytime that I’m in hiring right now, if you’re not, if your talents aren’t equally or better than mine, I’m not really interested in you. Like I’m looking for people that put me back, like, Ooh, damn.
Like I learned something from him in his interview and I hire, and I built teams with that mentality. And inevitably in doing that every time a new member joins our team, I see we jumped forward another. And I continue to operate that way, but a lot of people don’t have the email that needs to be able to do.
Kimberly: we have a lot of individuals who have started nonprofits based on a passion and they have incredible life stories like yours, where they have overcome adversity. They’ve had major trauma in their life. They’ve just, their stories are compelling. They’ve they’ve just come so far. Now I know part of your story is about your father having been murdered when you were, nine years old.
How has that story evolved for you? And I want to kind of set this up where at the beginning of a non-profits journey, that founder will have to share that story over and over and over again, as they, they build their case, right? Like I’m a, I’m credible. This is why I’m passionate about this. This is why you should fund me.
This is why our organization should grow. At some point, the organization grows. And how is that?
Darius: And it goes back to soda, that period, where I made a decision on who I was going to be as first and foremost, a man. Then again, I’ll reiterate first and foremost as a man. Second as a CEO. Well, actually let me change it first and foremost, as a child of God.
Second as a man, third as a CEO, when we got started as an organization, I amazing man. One in particular was amazing with words and communication that literally trained me to utilize my pain and my trauma for fundraising. And it was fairly effective to be honest with you. And I know there’s a lot of founders out here that have been through similar journeys, but again, to that really dark period in my life, what I didn’t recognize at the time is that as I’m sharing my trauma in meetings with people that I have no idea who don’t know me and I don’t know them or on stages.
It was trauma that I hadn’t worked through completely. So here I I’m opening up this wound on almost a daily basis. Not realizing that that wound was actually adding to the depression that I had in my life at that time. And it took recognizing that getting the help that I needed to be able to work through that that actually allowed me to grow as a CEO where I was able to firmly step forward and then say, okay, I have things that happened in my life.
And although important, do not determine the direction that this organization will go. I am a product of an environment that made me who I am today, but I have an opportunity through this organization to write a different story and that became. The narrative of good projects and it wasn’t that good projects is going to be about a nine year old kid who had to witness and experience the horrific killing of his father.
And that’s going to get people interested, but we’re going to shift everything that we do from a communications level, from a programming level. To how we walk through the door in the morning. So it growth mindset to say, let’s focus on the positives in our community and you see how many different aspects that it ties into.
It’s not just okay. In this meeting, we’re talking about the killing of my father. That then ties into how we talk about our community, where we’re always talking about the gun violence. We’re talking about all the negative things that happen in our community, where I said, let’s focus on the positives.
Now let’s focus out. Derrius is sitting on the board of DC, central kitchen and all the families that we fed. And then when you started shifted at the executive level, then you see, okay, let’s look at our website and let’s see how many different areas on our website are. We focused on trauma in deficit mindset, as opposed to let’s focus on the successes of our family.
And as opposed to showing imagery of children sad and standing in the rain and looking all frail let’s show pictures of complete family units with bothers in it. When people are smiling, unless use language that doesn’t talk about the negative things that happened in this community, but the positive things and why you need to invest because we want to build on the positives that are happening.
And you see how, when you start to shift that mindset, both in how you tell your story as an executive, it affects every aspect of your organization and affects how people view your organization. We’re going to celebrate there’s negative things happen in all the time. And there’s people that make tons of money talking about those things.
But as an organization, our focus is going to be on the positives and when there’s bad things that happen and we’re going to come, we’re going to wrap our arms around whatever negative thing, but then we’re going to celebrate because we get to do this work on other day. And we’re seeing huge shifts because of that.
Kimberly: Everybody who works for you, everybody who is supporting you. And all of the people who are coming to participate in your programs are really investing in impact and looking towards the future. It’s about investing in a positive future move, moving from.
Darius: You have to, and again, why the philanthropic spaces is where it is, where you see so much money going in and not as many outcomes coming out is because if we continue to focus on the past and all the things that are wrong, and we’re never going to be able to move forward where there’s so many opportunity for improvement that we can be taken advantage of.
And that we’ll miss. If we just continue to focus on the negative things, if we were just focused on. Then we will be spending resources every single year to alleviate problems. It’s like the old analogy, right? It’s this community of people that pride themselves on standing at the bottom of the river and their whole thing is babies are floating down the river and they’re running in every single day, dragging these babies out of the river and the community gets awards and they get praised.
And you know, there there’s so many, oh my gosh, she got an orphanage for all of these babies that we found in the river. And there’s nobody that ever takes the time that thinks to themselves. You know, what’s happening up that river, that these babies are here in the first place as an individual and as an organization, we want to be those people to say, we’re going to go up the river.
Kimberly: So let’s turn to fundraising for a minute. Do you feel like you have competitors when it comes to fundraising?
Darius: No because at the end of the day, my blessings don’t come from any man. Like who am I competing with myself? That’s probably it when I wake up in the morning,
Kimberly: but not other organizations,
Darius: No, Jeff Bezos is worth a trillion dollars and just went to the moment. There’s plenty of money out here. Like who are we competing against? Like, let’s be real with ourselves. And that’s a mentality that plagues a lot of people you’ll miss your blessing operating with that mentality. To be honest,
Kimberly: as you ask for a major gift or a gift from an individual, do you have an approach to that authenticity?
Darius: Never create something that isn’t real, um, never chase funding, just be your most authentic self, the good end, the bad. You’ll often find that when you express those things, honestly, and clearly to funders that they want to build on the good and help you fix the bad. And that’s been a model that we’ve taken in has been fairly effective.
Kimberly: Across the country. There is data that organizations where a person of color is the executive director typically raises less money than other organizations in looking at your own experience. Did you feel like that was the case for you?
And what advice would you give to other executives who are with.
Darius: I worry less than I’m black and more than I wear sunglasses to meetings, but you know, uh, that’s neither here nor there, but it’s, it’s hard to say, you know, people were smiling in your face, who knows what they say behind the scenes. Um, and I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it for funders that may not have funded us because you know, we are led by.
Women of color across many departments in our organization, or we have a, a CEO that’s young and black know, we, we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about that as an organization. And for those that are out there, um, looking to start their own nonprofits are in the midst of their nonprofits and. Facing those issues.
The best advice that I would give to them is fuck them. You know, like people that don’t want to support you because of whatever reason, whether it’s because you’re black or you’re gay or, uh, your air is purple. Who, who knows, who cares. That means they weren’t the funder for you. And to the example that I used about Jeff Bezos, going to the moon, like there’s so much money out here.
And there’s people for all the people that are hating on you, or don’t want to find you because of something you do with some person you. There is a thousand people out here that will love that. And that’ll be the reason why they do want to invest in you because you’re different. Like the nonprofit space needs different right now.
It needs innovation. It needs new leaders. It needs people that are willing to think outside of the box. And that’s not going to look cookie cutter. It’s going to look like a guy that comes to a meeting and sunglasses and a baseball cap. It’s going to look like transgender leaders. It’s going to look like I’m sure we’ll have an 11 year old CEO at some point.
There’s just killing the game, you know? It’s going to look different.
Kimberly: How can people get in touch with you who want to learn more about good projects?
Darius: People can just reach out to me directly. Good at good projects that are, you know, blow up my mind. Um, come find us. This is [email protected] and our phone numbers on the website to come and find us.
We’re always looking to partner. We always want to find ways to, to have more. And I don’t think I’m that inaccessible these days, you know, and obviously you guys can follow us on social media. It’s good projects, DC on all platforms, or just come right to our website, goodproducts.org, sign up for our newsletter.
You can find us all over the place and we’re responsive in all those different avenues to
Kimberly: how do you plan your communications and engagement strategies?
Darius: The process has been super organic 2022 is the first year that we’re really going into a really strategic process about thinking about our communications, but starting out like most organizations, it’s just going to be just shooting from the hip again, being offered.
You have cool things that are happening every single day, don’t hide it and don’t take it for granted. People want to see the work that you’re doing. People want to hear from you. People want to know the good, the bad and the ugly, and we’ve done a good job of sharing those stories over the years. And it’s allowed us to build a national following that people enjoy.
You know, our hope is that we just can continue to build on it. Keep people engaged, you know, put cool stuff out there that people want to share. Light comments, wheat, and most importantly, donate. Speaking
Kimberly: of donate to what about your, you know, how you’re tracking your donors? At what point did you get to where you were like, oh yeah, we need to have a donor database.
Oh yeah. We need to take a more proactive stance at how we communicate with our support.
Darius: They want. I don’t know what forethought thought that we had, but it’s paying the dividends. Now, I would say day one, the best investment that a startup non-profit can make is into a strong accounting system.
QuickBooks is the simplest and easiest, and most of the time cheapest one and a strong CRM system network for good is a little bit more nuanced than a. A little more expensive, maybe for some of those startup non-profits, but if you don’t have the money to do that, just something as simple as an Excel sheet.
And if you’re using, I would highly recommend Gmail for any startup nonprofits because people don’t realize it automatically keeps track of all of the different correspondents and starts to categorize it in a context for you. And something as simple as just getting an early on, we would just get into the habit of just export in that list on a quarterly basis, um, and cleaning up that.
And over the course of just six years, um, we were able to build a contact database of over 15,000 people where we have their names, email addresses, and that’s been one of the primary engines for our fundraising is again, like back to when you asked the question around, you know, how do you get started as a fundraiser?
It’s oftentimes just recognizing the tools and resources that you have right there at your disposal.
Kimberly: As we wrap up one question around. What sticks with you. So as you’ve served thousands of individuals through good projects, tell us a quick story about someone or some experience that really touched you in that journey and helps to motivate you as you move forward.
Darius: I don’t know, probably too many account at this point. Wait so many accounts. I can’t really put my finger on one Camberley because it’s like at this point, Like imagine creating a wall for yourself, where you have this dream and his vision as a 21 year old to just start a football camp. And you get to a point today where you wake up and you’re getting videos from your headmaster and Kenya of kids, singing and dancing, you know, just happy your property manager is sending you a message.
Telling you how the program that your tenant is in just confirmed that they can stay in the building that you built from scratch for another 12 months to help them get on their feet. After they transitioned out of a homeless shelter from here, I’ll leave and be able to go spend two hours with these kids that otherwise would just be out on the street.
You get to help them learn the gift of reading and they get better at their. What I like have a leader circle and you’re looking around this room and you’re like, all of these people are way smarter than me and they care about what I say, follow what I do. Or like have somebody whose literal job is that has helped support you through your day.
You know? We have our parent meetings next Friday, and we’re going to be able to take people to go get hibachi for the first time. Something that cool and simple. Like my life is a blessing. I can’t put it any other way. Like, I don’t know. One thing, like, no, not a chance. Like, well, life is lit to be honest with you, it’s lit as hell.
Like, and God is so good. Like, God is good. God is good. Like, I cannot point to one thing, like I’m not even going to try. I’m not even going to try. This is cool. It’s pretty cool.
Kimberly: You are smiling from ear to ear
Darius: because it’s true. Like I’m not joking. Like I’m dead ass. Like this is so cool. Like I get to do this for a living. Like every day I get to wake up and just dream about ways to help people and. What, what, like that’s dope. That’s so cool. I just even getting to reflect upon it. It’s this really cool.
Kimberly: Now it’s time for the state of the sector brought to you by network for good. Darrius is a fantastic example of the evolution that a founder or an accidental fundraiser can go through as they promote the purpose behind their mission and the impact that their organization makes.
In some cases like with Darious, there may be an extremely personal reason behind their work and when it gets personal, it can be really hard to repeatedly advocate and share those intense stories without it triggering your own emotions. Over and over and over again. In other cases, the mission may be highly sensitive and traumatic, and those can be triggers too, like child or sexual abuse, mental or physical health, domestic violence, disaster response.
The list could go on and on. Have you ever heard of compassion, fatigue? It’s the term that describes the physical, emotional, and psychological impact of helping others who have experienced a stress or some sort of trauma and the feeling and emotion that it can have on. Lots of service providers, experienced compassion, fatigue, those first responders, therapists, social workers, teachers, disaster responders.
And guess what? So can nonprofit service providers, executive directors, and fund raisers. Those people who are working one on one with impacted individuals where they routinely have to share these traumatic stories like a fundraiser might do with donors or prospects. Compassion fatigue can sometimes be mistaken for burnout, but that’s a trait that falls under it as does vicarious trauma, which is when a person becomes effected by someone else’s traumatic stories.
And then they become witness to the pain, the fear and the terror that trauma survivors have in. Have you ever experienced compassion, fatigue? Sometimes fundraisers will be affected if they have to share hearing stories or take donors on visits, to distressing areas like refugee camps or an area that’s been affected by a natural disaster.
It can also be helpful to recognize where your organization is in its evolution. Maybe those traumatic stories are no longer needed as well. And maybe as Derrius suggests, you can use language that builds on the positive rather than the negative. Many organizations are great at balancing that positive and the negative.
And so perhaps it’s time for you to re evaluate how your organization is promoting its mission, the impact that it’s making and how some of those more challenging stories are shared. A few years ago, I was coaching an accidental fundraiser and founder whose husband had passed away just a couple of years before she had started the nonprofit to honor her husband and their love of horses.
She had some really great programs. There were fantastic successes that were happening, but if you visited the organization’s website, You wouldn’t have seen them. The website was full of pictures of she and her husband. And so here I was talking with her about her goal to acquire new supporters. So I asked her, how do you want your newcomers to see your organization?
Do you want them to see it as a Memorial to your wonderful husband or as a charity that was making an impact on the cause areas that you two loved? I suggested that she changed some of the images on the website to really celebrate the impact that was being made. She looked at me and she shook her head.
And agreed. And she actually thanked me for bringing it to her attention. She said, you know what? I’ve been so focused on creating a legacy for my husband. One that would make him proud that I hadn’t thought about where we are now. And how to recognize the good that we’re doing. Especially as we bring in new followers and donors
to wrap up the episode, what are the things you need to take away from this first lean into what you know, this will make getting started or scaling your organization, feel more natural as you grow. You can then take on new challenges, experiment. And learnings to stay firm in your convictions. It can be really, really hard to say no to a new project or a major.
But sometimes that’s what’s best for you and your organization. Three find people that are better and different from you. Now this can be through the EIB, right? Your diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, and it can also be through bringing in additional knowledge, skillsets, experience, both in your organization and on your board and through your volunteers and support.
Data shows that diversity breeds higher levels of innovation and revenue in for-profit companies. And the same would apply to nonprofits. Not only is it good business, but when you have a team that is highly skilled in a multitude of areas, it can actually lighten your heavy. I’ve spoken with executive directors and accidental fundraisers who tell me that they’re the only ones who truly know what’s going on in their organization.
And you know what that scares me a lot. Is that really how you want your organization to operate heaven? Forbid something happens to you. What would your organization do? Where is the knowledge management? We have to empower our staff and we need to plan for the. So, do you have a crisis management plan in place?
Do you have a succession plan in place? If not, I recommend that you get on it quickly and give your organization that peace of mind. You can do this and I’m Kimberly. See you next time on accidental fundraiser and be sure to follow along wherever you get your audio.