Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hey! My name is Camden Francis. I am the founder and Executive Director of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization called Beyond the Crisis.
I founded Beyond the Crisis in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic with my younger brother Colton. He was 13 at the time, and I was 16. Being so young, people did not take us seriously. It was very challenging getting the organization off the ground not to mention scaling it. In addition, to legitimize the organization, we needed a lot of certifications and needed to hire a civil lawyer.
Beyond the Crisis distributes food and resources to housing communities and homeless shelters. Our mission is to help mitigate food insecurity. Since the date of our founding, we have distributed over 100,000 dollars worth of food items.
Don’t let hate and negativity sabotage the good that you are doing.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Throughout my younger years, my family and I did lots of charity work: donating food, working at soup kitchens, and volunteering with various organizations. I am thankful to be raised in a family that was fortunate but grounded and understood the importance of charity. I aspire to turn Beyond the Crisis into a family foundation and establish a long-lasting legacy of giving.
My brother and I were very community-oriented. The thing that directly inspired me to found this organization was watching news reports on television which showed long lines of vehicles with children and adults waiting to be given food and other staples. This was disheartening.
We began doing significant research and found that there is actually enough food to go around however, a lot of food is wasted or inaccessible to some families. Thus, we looked at other charities and nonprofits and realized there were a lot of food banks and food pantries but hardly any food-distribution charities that actually distribute food and resources directly to families in need.
The pandemic was a challenging time for everyone, but not having enough food on top of being isolated is unimaginably difficult. For some, this was a reality. I knew that I personally was not going to come up with a cure or vaccine but knew that I can take little steps to address some of the harsh effects of the pandemic and help families in need.
Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.
The process of building this organization took many early mornings and late nights. It was a slow process, and it was draining because it took excessive focus and patience.
During this process, we made a lot of mistakes. However, one of the most helpful things we did when founding Beyond the Crisis was getting a mentor. In the beginning, we communicated regularly with the CEO of MetroNorth YMCA, Kathleen Walsh. Operating a large organization like YMCA, Kathleen Walsh had years of experience with nonprofit management and knew the pitfalls in and outs.
She gave us advice on budget management, networking, and food distribution - her advice was extremely helpful, and it was critical to our success. Establishing this charity has been a great learning experience for my younger brother and me.
While getting this organization up and running, I was working at least 10+ hours a day. Somedays, I fell asleep face flat on my desk. I read for three hours a day to research other nonprofits, contacted mentors, built a website, worked with lawyers to obtain certifications, and searched out shelters and housing communities that could benefit from our resources.
We crowdfunded, submitted grant applications, recruited a small number of volunteers, set up a payment gateway, got a separate banking account for the nonprofit, set up email addresses, obtained business phone and fax numbers, and set up social media accounts.
Furthermore, we contacted grocery stores, farms, and food banks for donations and purchased food in bulk from grocery stores. We distributed food to shelters. We also grew our network by obtaining a small number of private benefactors and connected with people and agencies that acted as goodwill ambassadors. We raised awareness of our nonprofit by speaking at schools and organizations and by telling our story in newspapers, podcasts, radio stations, and TV.
Six months later, we were featured on CBS News, PBS, The Drew Barrymore Show, The Kayden Gordon Show, NPR Radio, Bloomberg, All Things Considered, Podcast, Entrepreneur.org, Metrowest Daily News, Inspiring Teens Magazine, Global Heroes, KidsRights, Channel of Kindness, IdeaMensch, etc. Becoming locally known helped us garner more funds which in turn allowed us to purchase more food and help more families in need.
Describe the process of launching the business.
The first step we took was acquiring certifications such as 501(c)(3) and registering with the IRS. Furthermore, we registered with Charity Navigator which evaluates and legitimized nonprofit organizations. We then got a bank account to hold our funds and donations.
Next, we got a domain and built a website. This website, at the time, allowed people to see our mission and featured a simple blog page, facts & figures, newsletters, and a contact us page with a few social media icons. It also featured a payment gateway that allowed people to donate to this cause. We got our website built with a webmaster overseas so we could cut costs. We then purchased SEO which allowed us to grow our online presence. We then began to network. We reached out to politicians due to their widespread influence and network.
One of the first people we contacted was Jim McGovern. Jim McGovern is a U.S. congressman and is the leading voice on ending food hunger and food insecurity in both the U.S. and globally. He was one of our first donors and is one of our most strategic donors to date.
We then reached out to different goodwill ambassadors. We did research about influencers and celebrities however we weren’t solely compelled by these individuals' accomplishments but by their charity and volunteer experience.
Lady Gaga stood out to us because she is not just a renowned singer boasting 13 Grammy Awards, but she is also the proud founder of an organization called Born This Way Foundation, which helps work to destigmatize mental health issues, works to create safe spaces for LGBTQ communities, and works to promote kindness through connecting, engaging, and inspiring young people online.
We then began to reach out to various small media reporters. These reporters did stories on our organization which allowed us to get locally recognized and raise more funding.
Later, we reached out to housing communities and homeless shelters. After, we then began to purchase food to donate. We then brought on a few volunteers. Our first volunteers were crucial to our organization because they helped us become established. I am so thankful for their help, as some of them even did the first deliveries.
At this point, we were off the ground and began to scale.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
One of the things that helped us to get noticed was having a website and having SEO or Search Engine Optimization, which helped us improve our website traffic.
We also used Google Ads for a little bit. Google Ads allows users to build more website traffic.
Our organization uses email marketing and has a mailing list. We used Campaign Monitor - they are very well known and provided services for millions of marketing professionals at large companies such as BuzzFeed. Email Marketing allows us to build brand awareness.
We also began to network with reporters. These reporters began interviewing us. Our first interview was with Metrowest Daily News. After our first interview, we got a cascade of interviews. These interviews allowed us to grow our audience and our brand, and receive more donations.
After that, we began to branch out and do podcasts and talk shows. In addition, I heavily utilized LinkedIn and kept in touch with very important individuals, some of which became donors, chairmen, trustees, and mentors.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Beyond the Crisis is doing very well. We are continuing to expand and make a difference in our community. We strive to continue to stay in the present and stay focused and goal-oriented in our mission because food hunger is a current issue.
We have recently expanded our efforts and have spread throughout all regions of Massachusetts. This year alongside our partners, we distributed over 100,000 dollars worth of food items - this was a huge benchmark considering that we founded this organization only two years ago.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
One thing that made founding this organization possible was my passion for what I do. Working on my nonprofit for long hours is possible because I never forget why I do it and the importance of what I do. I started a nonprofit to end food insecurity. Knowing that I am doing a little every day to solve this global crisis motivates me.
Knowing that each warm meal this organization delivers helps aid young children and adolescents in development relieves single mothers’ additional stress, and brings families closer together motivates me. Moreover, I want to live a life that is meaningful, and I find that the best way to do so is by helping others.
Another thing I do is track progress. I found that through tracking progress, I can challenge myself and set ambitious goals. This allowed me in the early days to quickly grow and scale this organization and establish a reputable and long-lasting brand.
Another habit of mine that makes me productive and consistent is making a daily schedule. I use an online calendar such as Google Calendar to plan my day. Oftentimes, when I encounter problems, whether that is missing a crucial meeting or missing a grant opportunity, it is from failing to plan. Having good time management makes a busy day seem less stressful. I also make sure to allocate breaks and free periods because we aren’t robots; everyone deserves rest periods for their well-being.
Some advice I would get to people who’ve already had some success is to seek criticism but ignore burdening negativity. After speaking on the Drew Barrymore Show, I left with my head held high and a standing ovation from the crowd. A few days after the show and its upload on YouTube, I was visibly depressed and anxious; I let a few hate comments change my mood and outlook on life. DON’T let hate and negativity sabotage the good that you are doing. Instead, seek constructive feedback from friends or those you trust and lack biases, as this may be useful and allow you to grow.
Don’t stop your daydream. When launching a nonprofit, I spent some days away from my computer brainstorming and ideating, which allowed me to add creativity and innovation to Beyond the Crisis. Get your community around your idea. Leading a nonprofit, I spend a significant amount of time networking. Having a wide variety of contacts allows you to have many opportunities for various insights, partnerships, donations, and interviews.
As an executive director leading a mission, I have learned that leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality. How you communicate, how you handle adversity, and your mood can change a work environment and hinder collaboration and overall success.
Lastly, I learned that the best rewards usually come with the most sacrifice, be persistent – keep on keeping on. Failure gives you experience. If I encounter adversity and hardships, I learned not to dwell on them. Your challenges bring you one step closer to newfound success.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Furthermore, Beyond the Crisis uses Campaign Monitor. We use this tool for email marketing which allows us to reach a wider audience and become recognized by community partners. This platform is quite a user friendly. Furthermore, it allows users to track analytics.
Furthermore, we used Fiverr which is a global online marketplace for affordable freelance services. We found a graphic designer on this app who helped design Beyond the Crisis’ creative logo (which has the initials BTC built into the logo). We only paid twenty dollars for a logo that could have cost hundreds elsewhere. Be smart and resourceful with your finances!
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie is a great book. It taught me how to grow influence by making a genuine, meaningful difference in other people’s lives, which in turn allowed me to lead a more interesting and fulfilling existence.
The Lean Startup is another book I love as it offers a sensible approach to founding and running a new company. The book examines common entrepreneurial mistakes and misconceptions and helps people avoid pitfalls.
Crushing It!: How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence and How You Can Too by Gary Vaynerchuk is a practical book which offers new lessons and inspiration drawn from the experiences of dozens of influencers and entrepreneurs who rejected the corporate path in pursuit of entrepreneurshi[p. This book offers timeless principles that entrepreneurs apply to grow their wealth. This book explores brand and marketing strategies centered around the utilization of social media.
“Harvard Business Reviews IdeaCast Podcast” is a 30-minute weekly podcast about leading thinkers in business and management. Some topics discussed are how CEOs can drive sales, network, and scale their organization.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
The best advice I can give to anyone starting a business is to work hard and obsess about your vision, not your competition. Do research and network to determine the marketability of your idea. Talk to others about their experiences in launching and growing a successful business. Get your community around your idea.
I spend a significant amount of time listening to colleagues' and peers’ ideas and insights. I also network with governors, philanthropists, influencers, innovators, and corporations. Getting different people involved helps me obtain donations, get new perspectives and knowledge, reach a wider audience, and become more involved in my community.
As a founder and executive director leading a mission, I have learned that leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality. How you carry yourself and how you communicate matters!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Beyond the Crisis is looking to expand our organizational management staff and offer paid positions; we have several part-time positions open to apply. We also offer internships for high school and college students and volunteer opportunities. To apply, visit our website.
Where can we go to learn more?
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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