It really is hard to believe that it’s been nearly eight years since the day in Geneva when I met Dennis Whittle. I went 4,073 miles to meet the guy who would turn the page to my career’s second chapter, when his office was just 3 miles from my house. Three weeks later I met the other half of the founding duo – Mari Kuraishi. Needless to say they were smart, direct, and impressive. So not long after that I found myself toiling along with them and two handfuls of others in that sometimes smelly, often music-filled and always fun office above the thrift store down the street.
One of the first things they suggested I do was to read their business plan. So I did. It had, like legions of business plans before it, the classic hockey stick growth curve. In our case, the unit being donation volume. According to this plan, we would be at $40 million in annual donation volume, and “pay our own freight” by about 2005. Um, we didn’t quite make that. Many slightly less sloped hockey sticks followed. When things didn’t take off like a rocket ship we tried new things, always led by our two fearless (and in this case that word really applies) leaders. We tried plan b, plan c, and plan d, always with our eyes on the prize of working to make it possible for great organizations around the world to access funds and for donors of all shapes and sizes to support the causes that inspired them.
So here we are in 2011, celebrating two things. First, our donor community just crossed $50 million in aggregate contributions. Second, for the first six months of the year we more than “paid our own way,” covering 103% of our expenses on our own steam. The business model is different from what was in the original plan. The mix of donation activity is different from what was in the plan. The mix of revenue comes from sources not in the original plan. And we don’t yet feel like that 103% is a lock consistently, but we see the end of the tunnel.
Roles have evolved; Dennis has transitioned off the staff and onto the Board. Mari runs the day to day with her quiet, determined leadership style.
Why did they persevere? Ten days ago Dennis wrote a very poignant blog post, made moreso by his mom’s passing just a day later. The post gives some insight into what motivates him. Mari has different, but equally inspiring, motivations as described in this Wharton Blog from earlier this year.
From the perspective of their team, we are glad they did press on. Because they did, more than 50 million dollars have been contributed to social entrepreneurs and nonprofits around the world who are working to educate children, feed the hungry, build houses, train women (and men) with job skills, and catalyze hundreds of other important initiatives. This past week, a generous donor in Singapore gave the 50 millionth dollar through GlobalGiving to help with relief for the East African famine. This was possible largely because Dennis and Mari have persevered to build a team and a platform that continue to live up to our mission of “unleashing the potential of people around the world to make positive change happen.”