Richard Reyes · Founder and Executive Director, PLUS ME Project | Only 9% of nonprofits in the Los Angeles area grow to manage a budget of $1 million. Ten years ago, when Richard Reyes founded the PLUS ME Project, his budget was $4000, and his vision was to provide mentorship and role models for youth through storytelling. Be sure to stay tuned for our mid-way break featuring an interview with Emily Taylor of teenyBIG recorded on the road at the 2022 NIO Summit in Kansas City.
The road to $1 million isn’t an easy or fast one to travel.
Only 9% of nonprofits in the Los Angeles area grow to manage a budget of $1 million. Ten years ago, when Richard Reyes founded the PLUS ME Project, his budget was $4000 and his vision was to provide mentorship and role models for youth through storytelling.
Today, an exciting part of this achievement is that PLUS ME’s own growth story is still unfolding, expanding, and providing guidance and inspiration to other nonprofits just as their mentors provide role models for the youth they lead.
As a nonprofiteer and consultant in the nonprofit space, Funraise's Director of Growth Marketing, David Schwab, has seen the results when nonprofits rely on storytelling to build supporter relationships—and what happens when those same supporters have their stories silenced. (Spoiler alert: it’s called donor churn.)
Join David and Richard as they discuss the ways that new fundraising tactics like peer-to-peer are a natural fit for PLUS ME's mission, what their COVID pivot-and-response taught the PLUS ME team, and how PLUS ME's usage of and reliance on technology has evolved on their road to $1 million.
For more info on the PLUS ME Project - https://www.theplusmeproject.org/
For more info on teenyBIG - https://www.teenybig.com/
Connect with the show contributors:
David Schwab - https://www.linkedin.com/in/davidlschwab/
Richard Reyes - https://www.linkedin.com/in/richard-reyes-25064173/
Emily Taylor - https://www.linkedin.com/in/emily-taylor-teenybig/
Hello and welcome to this episode of Nonstop Nonprofit!
Only 9% of nonprofits in the Los Angeles area grow to manage a budget of $1 million. Ten years ago, when Richard Reyes founded the PLUS ME Project, his budget was $4000 and his vision was to provide mentorship and role models for youth through storytelling. Now, the PLUS ME Project is preparing to cross that milestone!
An exciting part of this achievement is that PLUS ME’s own growth story is still unfolding, expanding, and providing guidance and inspiration to other nonprofits just as their mentors provide role models for the youth they lead.
As a nonprofiteer and nonprofit consultant, I’ve seen the results when nonprofits rely on storytelling to build supporter relationships—and what happens when those same supporters have their stories silenced. (Spoiler alert: it’s called donor churn.)
Join me in listening as Richard details the ways that new fundraising tactics like peer-to-peer are a natural fit for their mission, what their COVID pivot-and-response taught the PLUS ME team, and how their usage of and reliance on technology has evolved on their road to $1 million.
David Schwab Thank you for joining us again today. My name is David Schwab. I am the head of marketing at Funraise. And today we have my friend Richard Reyes joining us from the Plus Me Project. Richard, thanks for joining us on the podcast.
Richard Reyes Yeah, thanks for having me.
David Schwab Well, we're really excited to have you here today. Can't wait to dig in to the story of the Plus Me project, how you've seen it grow and change and mature over the last ten years. Talk about some of the big initiatives that you guys are having going on in 2023. So really excited to dig into that story. But before we do that, I would love to ask a very beginning level question. It's one that has kind of sparked a conversation I've seen online and on social media. So I want to pose it here. What was it that first brought you into the nonprofit sector? Obviously, you started your own organization, so you have a passion for what you're doing. But was that your first entry point to the nonprofit sector or what was it that brought you here?
Richard Reyes Yeah, Nonprofit for Dummies. The book brought me here just as a college student realizing that I had a story and I started sharing it with students. There was a connection that was felt, and I knew I wanted to continue to share my story and help youth, but didn't know how I could either make a living or make it something that would sustain. And when I researched how to ultimately make this something that could last, I realized the nonprofit path was going to have to likely be the way. So I bought Nonprofit for Dummies, read the book ten years ago and took the small steps to get us to where we are now. But ultimately, the passion was always there. Growing up, I didn't have access to role models and just wanted to bring more role models into classrooms, to share our stories, to help inspire youth.
David Schwab That's awesome. On that subject, would you mind telling us a little bit more about the Plus Me project? We got a little bit of a sneak peek there, how you started it, some of the origin story. Let's talk about, you know, what it is, what you guys do here. A little bit more about your heart for the organization, why you started it and what you guys are doing today.
Richard Reyes Yeah, absolutely. So I'm Richard. I started the Plus Me Project ten years ago. Really growing up in Los Angeles, I didn't have access to a lot of individuals that inspired me. I didn't know a lot of people that went to college or were pursuing careers that they were passionate about, and ultimately they never really talked about their struggles. So often as a kid, I felt like I was the only one going through a lot of the challenges that I was going through when in reality that that wasn't the case. In college, I started sharing my story to youth, talking about how I was the first in my family to get into college and really noticed how much a story can inspire students. That's really what we get to do on a day-to-day basis. The Plus Me Project believes everyone has a story that matters, and we get to bring relatable role models into classrooms throughout Los Angeles and beyond to share our journeys with youth, helping them realize there are others that have gone through similar challenges and found different types of successes and that they're not alone. Since we believe everyone has a story that matters, we know that those students have stories as well. When I was in high school, I had no clue that I had a story. I had multiple challenges getting into college. One of those was writing a college personal statement because I couldn't articulate to a college who I was and why I mattered. And that's the heart of our work. Not only do we bring role models to share our stories, but we help students and we guide them through that self-reflection process to understand what is their story and helping them ultimately share that story and write it for their college personal statements.
David Schwab Very cool. It's great to see the passion you had from a lived experience turned into a benefit and a resource to the next generation of students who otherwise would have gone without. So it's really cool to hear about that, to see the impact you're having. You know, ten years later, you guys are on this really awesome journey called The Road to Million Campaign. Can you tell us more about what that is, what it means to you internally, what it means to your donors or your supporters, what it means to those people that you serve?
Richard Reyes Yeah, absolutely. So being in our 10th year, you know, we realized that a lot of organizations don't even make it to this milestone. And as we were reflecting on coming up on our 10th year, we also realized that we were about to hit the million-dollar budget marker, which in L.A. County, only 9% of all nonprofits ever hit that milestone. So we thought we would really merge both together and celebrate throughout an entire year-long campaign on the road to the million. I remember starting this organization, year one, we had $4,000 as an operating budget and just thinking of growing something from not knowing anything on how to fundraise or how to really build an organization to getting to where we are now. We wanted to tell our story and inspire others in the community. So throughout this year, on our 10th year, we're on the road to a million. The goal is to raise $1,000,000, but ultimately those funds are going to reach six other goals that we set throughout this year, reaching 100,000 students, providing 10,000 journals, inspiring 1000 supporters, serving 100 schools, awarding ten scholarships, and then ultimately ten. Telling our story throughout the year of how we got here and what we then are going to do over the next ten years.
David Schwab It must feel a little surreal to ten years ago have started with a $4,000 operating budget to now be at a place where you're only at less than what 10% of organizations in your area can even experience. Yeah, that is truly insane growth. What are some of the unexpected, exciting parts of growing that fast? But what have also been some of the unexpected hurdles or difficult learning points that you've gone through over the last ten years?
Richard Reyes So, you know, even though it's been ten years, really, I committed full-time about six years ago. So in the past six years is really when all of this extreme growth took place, which which is exciting. And in those six years, you know, I got to see a lot. I think the one thing that I wasn't necessarily expecting, so when I started Plus Me ten years ago and bought Nonprofit for Dummies, it wasn't planned to be my career path. I wasn't thinking I'd be a full-time executive director. So ultimately making that decision was a big shift and then realizing, Well, you're going to have a team, right? I didn't necessarily think that I would be able to manage a group of individuals that has grown to the size that we're at, and that's special because, you know, I know I came from a job previously where I hated going to work. I was not happy. I wasn't fulfilled. And I know there are people like that in the world right now and thinking that we have a space here at our organization that has support for these team members that just love coming to work, really love the work that we're doing. Sometimes they spend more time at work than they do at home, and building that culture is so special. So I think for me, being able to not only have this organization that is impacting tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of students and volunteers, but the staff that that means so much to me to really create a space where they feel safe taking care of and love what they get to do and share that passion is one of the I think, highlights that I've experienced that I was not expecting going into this journey. Yeah, some of the hurdles, right? There's a lot of different challenges that have come our way over the past ten years trying to understand how we can grow and sustain a budget so that we can pay those people. Right now we have eight full-time employees. All of them have benefits. And just being able to grow the budget, to be able to make sure that that is something that we can sustain year over year and then grow it year over year has been a challenge, but we've kind of have focused on slow growth and figuring it out along the way. And it's been a lot of fun to innovate and create and just together as a team, envision what the next chapter of the Plus Me Project is going to be.
David Schwab Awesome. Let's focus in there on that point of innovation. It's one of our topics on the podcast this season is innovation in the nonprofit sector. There's so much to unpack in what you just said, but I'd like to focus there. Maybe we can dig into a little bit of the secret sauce of your growth. What do you feel has been one of the most important factors to the growth of the Plus ME project in the last few years, or maybe since you were able to go full-time? What has been that secret sauce that has sustained this growth?
Richard Reyes Yeah, for sure. I think one of the things that has helped sustain our growth is the consistency in putting experiences together that people can connect with. So as a storytelling organization, we tell stories and we are able to curate events. They were in person before COVID, then they went fully virtual during the pandemic and now they're happening in person again. But I think that's something that we never lost sight of. It was beautiful during the pandemic when we were able to create spaces online that brought people together, that brought people to connect and understand the struggles that we were going through. We published a book of stories from the pandemic of what our students experienced and having those spaces where we were able to bring people together to understand and experience what we were doing and the lives that we were changing through our work allowed people to give more, allowed people to share more, become ambassadors for our cause. So I think some of the secret sauce that we have is just really honing in on what we do, which is storytelling and always remembering to create the experience, whether it's virtually in-person wherever we are, to have people understand the power of story and connect it back to their own.
David Schwab It's awesome. Let's talk a little bit more about storytelling because I think that's such a unique aspect of what the Plus Me Project brings to the table with so many nonprofit executives and leaders and organizations that I talk to. Storytelling is a distant afterthought, and they're only looking for stories for the sake of fundraising purposes or putting together the next appeal, which there's value and there's need for that. But with storytelling at the core of the Plus Me project, how have you seen that impact the culture of your organization, impact those that you serve, but also impact your revenue growth? Because that's a critical part to hitting your goals and continuing to grow and impact people with storytelling at the core of your organization. How have you seen that translate to fundraising?
Richard Reyes Well, you know, storytelling is universal, right? Just like in our tagline, everyone has a story that matters. I think it's one of those things where we're in a space where if you give us five or 10 minutes to sit down with you, we are going to be able to get you to understand why our mission resonates with you and why you should connect with it. Some people, we're not able to understand their story throughout most of their lives, maybe even today as adults. So we're able to help them understand the value that our content will help them. Others made that realization or epiphany as they grew up in life, and they understand what it would have been like had they had some of these tools and resources when they were younger. So I think just reminding everyone that you have a story, no matter where you came from, no matter what your background is, there's things that you've gone through in your life. And the thing that we focus on is personal storytelling. We're not telling stories of fantasy or things that haven't happened. We're talking about what we have been through, our lived experiences and getting individuals to showcase vulnerability. And that's hard. It's not something that we do often. It's not something that happens on the day-to-day. So we're really going into spaces as strangers oftentimes, right? Some of these classrooms, some of these workspaces that we enter, they don't necessarily know a lot about us. And we dig right into the heart of story talking about people, places, struggles, accomplishments and lessons. So I think because we center in on something that's so universal, it translates so well with donors because they're able to connect to it. We're asking them questions that get them to self-reflect in a lot of our campaigns or in a lot of the events that they attend. And it almost allows them to have that moment where they're going back into their journey and thinking of a positive moment or a challenging moment that they overcame and understanding that if they're sharing that story, they're also helping someone else. Because when we share our stories, we help others feel less alone. And it's a powerful tool that we as individuals have. And that's something that we get to do on a daily basis at the Plus Me project.
David Schwab It's awesome building relationships through storytelling and inviting your community and your supporters and your donors into that relationship. I see that as a powerful tool that you've been able to rely on as your organization's growing. Bringing it back to some of that growth that's brought you to where you are today. A big part of reaching this milestone as a nonprofit organization is a concerted effort into fundraising. Yeah, a lot of organizations I talk to that go from the quote-unquote startup phase into the large point where very few organizations reach have to change the way they look at fundraising. It goes from being funded by those who are in your personal network and you have direct relationship with to those who you have a peripheral relationship with, to now I would expect that you're being funded by people you've never met in person or had a direct conversation with. How have your fundraising strategies and programs and goals changed over the years?
Richard Reyes I mean, so our fundraising priorities have changed a lot over the years. You know, in the beginning, it was a lot of that just personal connections, getting the people that we know and, you know, myself, the team, the board to ask immediate networks. And there were some campaigns, but it was just kind of like, let's make assets certain times of the year. And then we really had to focus in on building long-term development strategies and plans that have things calendar well out in advance and being consistent. And when we are asking within our community. So, you know, me being able to get people in my network to give. Getting those individuals involved at events through initiatives where they're really connecting to the mission, they've become ambassadors. And now there's so many people that I don't even know that donate to the Plus Me Project because of some of these different things. I think we also took a big step in peer-to-peer fundraising, which was something we didn't do for a long time, and that has just been tremendous. Getting our volunteers connected into the work and empowering them to spread the word and fundraise on our behalf has resulted in just us growing the fundraising from individual donors. Significantly. We also created a monthly giving program. So being able to have consistent dollars come in from core individuals has been huge as well, is now starting to really embrace more corporations and being able to get company matches and volunteer our donations from these companies that we just weren't tapping into at all. So there's still so much opportunity out there that we know connecting our board members, then connecting us to more individuals to just have time to sit down with people, share our mission and explain the ways that they can get involved and invest in our work.
David Schwab You talked about something that I'm a really big fan of, and that's peer-to-peer fundraising. I think it's one of the most underutilized resources in the nonprofit sector because you're allowing people to do what is at the core of your mission, tell their own story and tell their own why. I remember working with an organization a few years ago and we sat down and I said, Look, you're bringing on a ton of new donors, but you're losing more than 75% of those donors in their first year. Let's look at what's happening. And we looked. They welcomed the donors and told the donors why their gift made a direct impact to the organization and to the people the organization served, but they never gave their donors a chance to share why they made that gift or why they chose to support that cause. So I'd be interested in hearing, as you've leaned more into peer-to-peer fundraising, how have you seen donors and supporters using their own network and their own community and their own microphone, if you will, to tell their story and tell your story to their audience and their people in their network?
Richard Reyes You know, when it comes to our peer-to-peer fundraising over the years, we have now built a process. So we have we've had to learn a lot over the past few years. And the way we do peer-to-peer fundraising now is through the individuals sharing their stories. So they go through an entire onboarding process with our team where they're able to experience some of our curriculum themselves. They're tapping into what their story is. They're then sharing their story in the classroom with youth. So by allowing these individuals to completely be involved in the process, it brings out their story. And then we walk them through an entire fundraising training where we're giving them the tools and the platform and all the resources to just amplify that message. And of course, you know, when you get 100 volunteers involved in the campaign, not all of them either are ready or are excited to promote your organization. However, when it's done in a group environment and there are other people there that can encourage them and kind of showcase where they are along the way, that positive peer pressure or that positive encouragement can really get them to find ways to use social media, their networks to promote the peer to peer links. And we've seen a lot of money raised from individuals, right? You can get some individuals who might hit a $100 goal, but then you have other individuals that raise thousands of dollars. And the more individuals that you're getting to do that, those numbers can can grow significantly and allow you as an organization to do more with what's there.
David Schwab That's awesome.
Don’t go away! When our episode returns, Richard goes on to explain how the tools and resources they rely on really make a difference in their day-to-day success at the Plus Me Project… Stay tuned!
And now, enjoy this segment sponsored by Funraise, the world's most innovative and friendly nonprofit fundraising platform. Last fall, Nonstop Nonprofit took the podcast on the road to NextAfter’s 2022 NIO Summit in Kansas City, MO. At the conference, Justin had the chance to catch up with Emily Taylor, Principal at teenyBIG. Listen in as Emily shares about how listening and prototyping with donors can make a lasting impact on your overall donor experience.
Justin Wheeler Emily, thank you so much for joining the podcast. How are you?
Emily Taylor I'm well. I'm nice and relaxed after presenting yesterday.
Justin Wheeler It's nice to have it out of the way, right? Exactly. Before we jump into some questions about what you discuss from stage. Tell me a little bit about yourself and why nonprofits?
Emily Taylor Sure. So my name's Emily Taylor and based out of Chicago, and I help nonprofits with strategic listening, which is a lot of different qualitative research and really helping them understand their audience. And nonprofits, to me, I've just always been involved in nonprofits. I spent a lot of my life in the for profit world, but I would always volunteer. I'd always be on boards. And so I just felt like it was time to merge my worlds.
Justin Wheeler Yeah. Awesome. So you help nonprofits listen. Can you, like, dig into that a little bit more? What does that mean? You know, like day to day level for sure.
Emily Taylor Well, and especially because this conference is so much about data and, you know, collecting that behavioral data. Listening, I find, is a balance to that. So we can find a lot about people's behaviors from data. But if we don't also listen to people, we don't understand why they're behaving that way and how we can repeat those behaviors through different channels or different mediums. So listening is really just about really talking to people, giving them a chance to give you feedback and maybe new ideas or new ways of thinking about things so that you can connect with them.
Justin Wheeler Got it. And how have you in working with nonprofits on this, like have they been receptive to this practice? What are some of the challenges, obstacles you have to overcome?
Emily Taylor I'm actually surprised how hard it is sometimes, you know that even, you know, as I'm watching some of the presentations, like listening, is sometimes referred to as just, you know, looking at your Google Analytics and data, and that's part of it. Yeah. But to actually get out and talk to people, there's some hesitation with like, how do I take what people say, one person says or five people say and interpret that into my audience of a thousand or 10,000. And, you know, there's just there's some processes for doing that. And it's really it's more about getting ideas and information than making decisions. Yeah, through listening. And so that's usually what I'm doing is really helping people understand that value of hearing the why from people and how do you incorporate that and combine it with your data.
Justin Wheeler Got it. Fascinating. Yesterday, you talked about prototyping. Can you talk a little bit about, unpack that a little bit, what that means, and what the sort of main theme of the talk was?
Emily Taylor Sure. So one of the challenges with listening is that you know, people say a lot of stuff that doesn't necessarily reflect their behavior. And so prototyping is a way we can get ideas out in front of people and give them something to react to versus just imagine and think about. And so it helps us get closer to the truth, but it also allows people to bring new ideas to the table. So you might prototype different stories. You could tell, you could prototype different Facebook ads, you could prototype different, you know, registration pages and share those with people before you actually implement them. Yeah. So that you can improve.
Justin Wheeler Interesting. Yeah. We have this process, actually a fundraise or a software company, a fundraising platform. When we when we get feedback from customers, we used to like, you know, go on customer calls and say, Hey, what do you need? What do you want? Like, what could be better? And what we found was we would take their feedback, we would build the thing. But in the beginning, that's not what I that's what I wanted. But that's what you said. And so I knew the process we have like since kind of used it sounds a little bit more like what you're talking about in prototyping is we build like a few different thing prototype, a few different sort of like features, and we will survey customers and ask them like, which one is what's one meets their needs or which one, you know, solves the problem that like you've stated, like in the most efficient and effective, effective way. And so it's interesting. It's it's like the psychology of like asking someone to respond or to give feedback could be actually different than their behavior. So that's a super interesting concept.
Emily Taylor Yeah, I know. Like people bring up the, you know, the Ford, if you'd ask people what they'd want, they want a faster horse and a car. But what I take away from that is still that they had that desire for something faster. Yeah. So that's what you can learn, but they can't tell you how to implement that, right? I can't tell you what it should look like. And so that's where prototyping can really help get ideas out in front of that that meet their why they're there sort of motivation, that desire for something faster and you can try to start bringing it to life with the resources that you have in different ways and figuring out the best one.
Justin Wheeler Yeah, interesting. My like assumption, I don't have like data to back this out, but I'd be interested to hear your thoughts is my assumption is a lot of nonprofits aren't probably doing this well, right? They don't understand who the audience is, what the audience needs. Why do you think that is, if that is actually true?
Emily Taylor My hypothesis is that, you know, there isn't the funding for it. You may have the funding for running a campaign. You might have, you know, the budget for education. But. But not necessarily the research. Yeah. And so and it's a lot easier to sell, you know, quantitative data research to leadership because you get very clear results. Right. And qualitative is a little fuzzier. But I really think and just seeing all the presenters at this conference, there's such a need for feeling and emotion and y behind things. And so really just questioning how important it is to balance that with your quantitative data.
Justin Wheeler Absolutely. What are you looking forward to in 2023? Like what projects or ideas that you're hoping to bring to life in in the New Year?
Emily Taylor Oh, I'm still working on the rest of the year and with the next two years going to look like. But I really I really want to, you know, lean into helping nonprofits. Listen, I've done a little bit of different work in the past, and so I really want to lean into that and help them, you know, better, understand their audiences and their stakeholders and help them translate that into strategic decisions for, like, buzzwords.
Justin Wheeler Yeah. Thank you. All right. So now we've got some some rapid fire questions.
Emily Taylor All right, All right.
Justin Wheeler All right. So digital reading or an actual book?
Emily Taylor Actual book.
Justin Wheeler Actual book. I like I like hardcovers, too. That's like, if I'm going to read, it's got to be it's got to be hardcover.
Emily Taylor Yeah, I need something to do off a screen.
Justin Wheeler Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Pizza or salad? One thing you can eat the rest of your life.
Emily Taylor Oh, Pizza.
Justin Wheeler Pizza.
Emily Taylor Hard to turn that down. I'm from Chicago.
Justin Wheeler Oh, there ya go. Beach or the mountains?
Emily Taylor I would say beach.
Justin Wheeler Beach, yeah.
Emily Taylor Just chillin.
Justin Wheeler Yep. Football or fútbol?
Emily Taylor Oh definitely football.
Justin Wheeler Football, ok. Dogs or cats?
Emily Taylor Very much cats.
Justin Wheeler Cats. Okay. Do you have cats?
Emily Taylor I do. I have two cats.
Justin Wheeler Two cats. Awesome. Funnel cake or cheesecake?
Emily Taylor Oh, I'd go funnel cake.
Justin Wheeler Funnel cake. Yeah, a funnel cake. A little little sugar on top. Powdered sugar. All right, last one. This one is is is a hard one, The Goonies or The Sandlot?
Emily Taylor Oh, Goonies. I don't think I've seen Sandlot.
Justin Wheeler You haven't seen Sandlot? Oh, you gotta watch Sandlot. It's a, it maybe doesn't hold up as well, but it's a classic.
Emily Taylor That's good. I've, I've been watching a lot of the movies I watched as a kid with my daughter now so I gotta try it.
Justin Wheeler I actually just watched The Sandlot with my four kids and they loved it and were like cracking up. So, it's a good one.
Emily Taylor Yeah, I love to see what still holds up. I've got Spaceballs on the list...
Emily Taylor Oh, that's a, that's a good one!
Justin Wheeler Because she started watching Star Wars.
Justin Wheeler Awesome. Well Emily, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.
Emily Taylor Yeah, likewise.
Hey, welcome back to Nonstop Nonprofit! Before our Funraise-sponsored break, Richard was sharing about the powerful ways that peer-to-peer fundraising has impacted the Plus Me Project. Now, let's get back to the conversation.
David Schwab One of the things that has kept me in the nonprofit sector and one of the things that I always tend to gravitate to is the tools and the resources and the platforms. Kind of what you were talking about there, where you're equipping your donors to go out and sell their story. But I want to talk for a minute about the tools and platforms and resources you have. Because we could have someone listening who's, you know, where you were ten years ago or six years ago going, okay, well, I just went full time, what's next? I have got to get out of Excel, what's next? Or I need a website and I can't I can't keep doing this PayPal thing, what's next? Can you talk to us a little bit about your process for navigating your digital transformation? Might be too busy of a word for us, but you led an organization through COVID where it was digital or don't be an organization. So maybe as you were, as you were navigating those waters, going from largely in-person events to digital events, breaking this milestone of $1,000,000 operating budget or $1,000,000 raised this year, what has been some of your criteria or your process in evaluating platforms and tools and resources for your organization, for your people, for yourself, for your donors?
Richard Reyes Yeah, you know, I think over the last two years, technology has become such an important, integral part of our work. And truthfully, it wasn't before. I mean, we've gone through, I think, three or four different donor platforms to now be with Funraise. So I think understanding the time that you're going to invest to get the system set up, it's going to be well worth that investment long term. Some of the different platforms that we've had before just had limited features and didn't allow us to take on a lot of the different opportunities that were there. And you don't know until you see different platforms, right? So in. So you research and go out there and understand what a platform can do. You might not even know what's what the possibilities are. So right now we're able to not only do peer-to-peer fundraising, but there are so many additional features that Funraise offers that we're already seeing adding value to this campaign that's happening in March. People are already fundraising in January for a campaign that's not till the end of March because of, I think, the platform that we're utilizing, the way it's integrating to Facebook, and the way the dollars are able to come in so seamlessly, the way we're able to customize it to each person. There's just a lot of beautiful factors that allow the peer-to-peer space to be successful as well as the donor process. So as a donor going to a website, you really want to make sure that it's as easy as possible to get through that. It says streamlined but inspiring, right? You want to inspire the donor by how they're giving and being able to put video and content and imagery in a donor-giving page can make a big difference. But between maybe a blank people give this amount to let me tell you the story and why you should give it can give you $50 to maybe $500 depending on who you're attracting. So technology investment is so big, not just on fundraising, but really in all elements of the nonprofit organization.
David Schwab Yeah, One of our co-founders and CEO, Justin, always says technology is not just an investment in your organization's success, it's an investment in your people success. I have to imagine that having platforms that either you had outgrown or didn't do all the things you needed to do and you had to figure out ways to work around it or go get new things or build things on top of it could get frustrating. Let me ask this How has in recent investments in platforms like fundraise or other platforms that you're you're using to grow, how have you seen that or heard that been received by your team and the people on your staff?
Richard Reyes Yeah, the staff is happy. The staff is able to see the results, right? They're able to give updates at the team meetings. Oh, these dollars are coming in way sooner than they were historically, or it was so quick to get that page created, whereas before it took so much longer to create. Or yeah, you could just see it's exciting because less time that's put in, there's more time that you're able to invest on really engaging and connecting with people and inspiring them, which then is ultimately going to hopefully result in more dollars that you're seeing come in. So the two people on my team that are in the development section have a lot of happy updates and exciting updates to share at our team meetings because of the platforms that we're using.
David Schwab Awesome. Well, we've I feel like we've covered a lot of ground, right? We've talked about your past, some of the things that have helped you grow. What you're doing now, tools and platforms. Let's fast forward five months from now, July. What's that party going to look like when you guys are crossing the end of the road to million? What does that party look like? Where's that celebration taking place? Let's all be there together for a few minutes.
Richard Reyes So the journey started at my college, Occidental College. That's where I discovered my story. It's where I first started sharing it with students and being able to go full circle is what we're going to do. So back at Occidental College, in a beautiful space where we're able to bring our donors, our volunteers, some students, past board members, the village that has supported the Plus B project over the past ten years to celebrate and to be able to really understand the impact we've made, reaching over 100,000 students, being able to really just do important work here in Los Angeles, being able to celebrate together, all of us there celebrating that countdown of year ten and then being able to unveil what the next ten years will lead to. It's work that we're going to dig into in the next couple of months to have a real clear vision of where we're going to go. But I think, again, being able to just be present in that moment, I want to be present at that ten-year celebration as possible and look forward to where we're going to continue to go. But it's a special milestone that doesn't, it still doesn't feel real. I don't know if it'll feel real when I'm there, but it's been a great journey.
David Schwab Awesome. So a little bit ago you were talking about building culture within your organization and how it's different now, having eight full-time people and then part-time people on the side and volunteers and managing an organization of that size compared to managing an organization of one part-time person for four years, and then one full-time person for a few years, and then having like making your first hire, making your fifth hire. Now, I'm sure as you look at your growth goals this year and like, Hey, what happens when we hit this milestone? Who's the next critical piece we bring in? Talk to me about how you've intentionally built that culture, specifically thinking about how nonprofit professional burnout is such a critical crisis in the industry where we ask people to do more than they know. How to do more often than we should be asking to them. What has been your way to navigate some of that? And like you talked about, keep your people so happy and coming to work every day inspired by the mission, but also satisfied in their jobs because it is their full-time work.
Richard Reyes Yeah, you know, I think culture is key. I think being able to put people first at the heart of it, right? A lot of our missions put people first and we don't necessarily remember that our staff, our people and we have to if our staff are not happy and able to execute, oftentimes your mission is just not going to be able to get fulfilled due to just things that come up. So putting people first has always been something that I've believed growing up into my adult years as the leader of the Plus Me Project, I make sure that we have clear work hours like I do not ever contact my team outside of what our work hours are. There's alignment on what those are, so there's not this overwork element of feeling like you're constantly burned out. There's conversations I have with team members where I tell them, Stop working like you should not be doing this during these hours no matter how passionate you are, because there needs to be a line and there needs to be balance. I think also being able to get people to communicate, to really align consistently, having, you know, those, whether it's shorter meetings or just touch points where you're able to all be in a line on the same page and, you know, as is the storytelling organization, we bring our stories in. So we're constantly updating each other on what's going on through our stories and we're able to connect, which I think is so important. You know, you have to get to know your team members. There also needs to be a balance of, you know, maybe what can be shared at some levels in some organizations. But I think being able to be vulnerable with your staff and being able to open up through stories will allow people to connect and will allow them to work smarter as well together.
David Schwab Awesome random, kind of random question here. Are you mostly in office, are you virtual, are you hybrid? Where's your staff work? What's that environment like?
Richard Reyes Yeah, so our team, we're fully remote. We all work from home, we do all of our work in classrooms. So we're at the site. We do get in-person, maybe twice a month to collaborate, but a fully remote team.
David Schwab What's it been like building that intentional culture with a fully remote team?
Richard Reyes It's been intentional, really finding ways to bring us together and really focusing in on what does each person need, right? Everyone needs something a little bit different. So being able to understand, you know, what do you need? For me, some people really want to be together, so we make sure that team members are meeting in person whenever they can. Some people maybe prefer to be fully remote from their home, so being able to just find that balance and giving people what they need, constantly checking in with them and just showing up the best way that I possibly can in these meetings to inspire and uplift and be a listening ear for them when they have something to share that what they're going through. I think it's important.
David Schwab Yeah, I like the. But you keep coming back to your focus as you're being president. I think that's so critical when you're leading virtual teams and it's awesome that you guys have the ability to be together in person regularly because you're all in the L.A. area. At Fundraise we transitioned to a fully virtual organization a few years ago in the midst of the pandemic, like many companies did. And since then, we've expanded across the country and now internationally. So like you said, leading fully virtual teams that aren't in the same time zone, aren't in the same states or countries or even continents, it's about intentionality and being present. One of the things that I learned when I made the switch from in-person office environments, to a virtual office environment is what I call unintentional communications that you have intentionally. where you're walking back from A meeting or grabbing a cup of coffee. And there are those conversations about the project or the debrief that happens from the conference room to your cubicle. I found that you have to intentionally replace those when you're a virtual team because there's so much that gets missed in what's unsaid. Even more so, maybe the communication that's left unsaid in a virtual environment and the communication that's in a virtual and or in a virtual or an in-person environment. So just inspired and motivated by you to be more present with my team hearing that story. So I have a couple of questions left for you. One, we would be remiss not to pick your brain as a founder, having led an organization to a point where most organizations don't get to see. What would you have told yourself if you were sitting across yourself from the table filling out those 51c3 papers for the first time? Like if you've been sitting on the other side of that table, what would you want to know? What would you wish you had known or what would you wish someone could have told you.
Richard Reyes I think ten years ago, starting this. I would have honed in more on really understanding what having diverse revenue streams means for an organization. I think sometimes as a nonprofit we maybe have these preconceived ideas that all money needs to come from grants or all money needs to come from donors. And if you don't have a lot of experience in either of those things, learning, fundraising, development and learning grant writing are two huge milestones that take time. And I think that that's what happened the first couple of years is we had very we had growth, very slow growth because of that. It wasn't until we were able to really reshift our thinking, to think about, well, how else can we bring in revenue to help grow our budget? We have a fee-for-service model now with our workshops. We have journals that we're able to sell in bulk. We're able to still fundraise, but now we could do it peer to peer, and we can use corporate matching and we have grants. And there's just so many different ways that we now are able to bring in revenue. I think had I thought that ten years ago, it may have escalated the growth that we had sooner, and I think it would have taken a lot of pressure off of my shoulders and eased a lot of those rejections that I consistently got for the first 4 to 5 years from foundations feeling like every foundation I applied to, I got to know. And it just it was tough and it just kept eating at you. And some people I know give up along the way because they get those no's. Luckily, I was able to push through those no's and now we're getting the yeses, but not putting all of your eggs in one basket, so to speak, would help understand the opportunities that could be out there for you as an organization.
David Schwab I think what you said there is so critical is in the fundraising world, we say you can never be a one-legged stool or a two-legged stool because at some point you'll find if all of your revenue comes from grants or foundations or individual donors or one or two major donors, that is a great way to prop yourself up. But you've quickly got to find other ways to steady your foundation. And so it's so interesting to hear you talk about the initiatives you're going in from a fundraising perspective, but also from an industry perspective, creating a model where you're able to sell your services, sell your resources to those who have the means to pay for those and likely pay the way for those who don't have the means to access them. Exactly. It's something that I'm seeing start to take place across the nonprofit sector is organizations starting to think of ways to monetize their services or their resources in new and unique ways. So it's really interesting to hear you talk about that. And I'm excited to watch that piece specifically of your revenue stream grow and see how that matures and changes over the next few years as I think we'll see a bigger shift in the industry for nonprofit organizations thinking more like for-profit organizations and how do we actually monetize our services because we're providing a valuable service. Just because we give our service away doesn't mean it's not valuable nor effective. So how do we monetize it for the people who can afford that to make it available for more people who can't? So really excited to watch you guys do that. All right, Richard, we're getting ready to wrap up, but I like to end each of these sessions with what I call love it, hate it or not so sure about it. I want to ask you a couple rapid-fire questions. I want your initial response. Do you love it? You hate it, You're not sure about it. And just give us a quick why. Obviously, the big one, number one to ask you about here, artificial intelligence in the nonprofit sector, chat GPT, image generators, video generators, audio generators. What's your take?
Richard Reyes Not sure about it. I got to dig deeper into all of this. I've been seeing it popping up and I really got to do my research, so come back to me on that.
David Schwab Okay. Giving Tuesday, this one is surprisingly a hot-button topic.
Richard Reyes Not so sure about it in that we did Giving Tuesday for many years and now we've stopped. And I think there's a unique way that we've gone about it. But there's a lot going on, There's a lot going on. And I think, yeah. There's a lot going on.
David Schwab Fair. Here's a fun one. Direct mail.
Richard Reyes I'm a fan. I love it. Give me more of it. Send me a handwritten letter, please.
David Schwab Awesome. All right. Here's one very on the head for fundraisers everywhere. Pineapple on pizza.
Richard Reyes Love it with bacon.
David Schwab Oh, good man. Here's one that may not make sense, so I'll explain it a little. I live in West Michigan. It's a very Dutch community. It's a Dutch tradition to have milk with dinner. So what's your take on having milk with dinner as an adult?
Richard Reyes I hate it. I don't want it.
David Schwab That's what I said, too. All right, Richard. Well, hey, thank you so much for your time today. We learned a lot. I'm excited for everyone to get to listen to this episode, hear your passion and learn a lot from you like I did. But before we go, I'd love to give you the chance to talk to our audience. Give them a way to follow along your road to million. All of your story. Here are some of the stories you're sharing. Each month, where's the best way for people to connect with you if they follow up questions or follow along your story?
Richard Reyes Yeah, we'd love for people just to get involved at the plusmeproject.org. The @plusmeproject on Instagram and Facebook. A lot of ways to have you share your story no matter where you're located and learn just about how to realize that everyone has a story that matters.
David Schwab Awesome. We will make sure to drop links to all three of those sites and social channels in the show notes and share those out when this episode goes live as well. Thank you again for your time, Richard. This is awesome.
Richard Reyes Thank you.
Thanks for listening to this episode of Nonstop Nonprofit! This podcast is brought to you by your friends at Funraise - Nonprofit fundraising software, built for nonprofit people by nonprofit people. If you’d like to continue the conversation, find me on LinkedIn or text me at 714-717-2474. And don’t forget to get your next episode the second it hits the internets. Find us on your favorite podcast streaming service, hit that follow button and leave us a review to help us reach more nonprofit people like you! See you next time!