Written by K. Elizabeth Hanson- BEAT Global Social Media Intern.
Q: How did your nonprofit come to be? Specifically a nonprofit that works with youth and the arts?
James: I never really intended on starting a nonprofit; I fell into this line of work largely due to the fact that I worked with a lot of young people already. I was producing a lot of Hip Hop events, and I was deeply involved with the Bboy community. So I would say that [BEAT Global] started as a passion project about 7-8 years ago, when I was coming off a UK tour. I had been on the road for about a month, when I met Ken Swift, legendary Bboy and dancer who was also from NYC. He and I got together and we decided to start a bboy program in New York City. We wanted to bring this program into the official school system with the intention of having bboying recognized as an alternate sport.
Q: When you established your organization, what kind of game plan did you write out for yourself?
James: I worked in Event Marketing before I started working the nonprofits. So I was producing events and concerts, that sort of thing. But, fundamental elements of both lines of work are quite simlar. In both you need talent, so in the case of [BEAT Global] instead of MCs or a band, you need teachers who are also artists and musicians. You also need an audience, which in our case happens to be schools and young people. And we needed money. Then after I gathered all of these materials, I had to start putting our ideas into action. Ken Swift gave us the posterety and leadership that we needed for talent. Then, I was able to approach a school in the South Bronx who was super receptive to my ideas about programming. And then finally came the money. Since I came from the marketing world, I was able to write a proposal and get funding from PUMA. Puma gave us funding and gear for our very first Beat Breakers program. And this was essentially our entire plan. In the beginning, we did a lot of short term, goal based thinking to get to where we are now.
Q: You mentioned gathering sponsorships at the birth of your organization, how has the process of gaining support and donations stayed the same or changed now that you have established yourself?
James: I think that now, we are able to diversify the types funding and financial support that we receive as opposed to when we first started. I am really fortunate because I did not come from the nonprofit world so I did not know anything about grants or how to apply for them or even what those were. By fortunate, I mean that I was looking for money in places that other nonprofits weren’t looking because I was taught to look in different places. For example, we were able to get corporate sponsorship to help us get off the ground. But funding for us continues to evolve. The first evolution was after our first year of programming. We recieved an overwhelming amount of positive feedback from the youth involved in our programs immediatly after they were over. Shortly afterward, we began to recieve funding from the schools and the sites that hosted the programs in order to allow them to continue on. This was a big hurdle in terms of sustainability. This got a step forward in terms of not having to look for money every six months, every semester wasn’t a new battle. Once we were able to secure this funding, it allowed us to think about how we can grow the organization as opposed to just the programs. I think now we are in a place we are doing a lot of grant writing and knocking on doors in formal channels. There has also been a lot of strategic growth in our financial partnerships. We now have partnerships with Columbia University and Dr. Olijade Williams, Hip Hop Public Health, New York University and their Music Experience Design Lab.
Q: As Executive Director, you function as the leader of the organization, how do you help your organization run like a well oiled machine?
James: I think our organization has outgrown my ability to actually oversee every compartment of daily activities. I think I am really fortunate to be working with such an incredible team of people who all come with such a specialized skill set. I think that what I am doing is thinking about big picture all the time. I don’t concern myself as much with the daily grind and what is happening operationally. I really think about big picture in terms of growth, partnership, strategy. I think this is all important to be intentional with the direction that we continue in. Why are we doing certain things? Why are we partnering with certain organizations? Why is our programming changing in certain ways? I think that this is always going to be the challenge, in being clear in the direction of growth and movement of the organization. This is how we ultimately determine our success– is the work that we are doing is purposeful? is it creating an impact?
Q: In this day and age, Social Media plays a big role in advertisement and awareness, how do you use social media and other platforms to promote for your organization?
James: I think we as an organization do a pretty good job of being informative with our social media and also being engaging. I want to make sure that we use our social media to reveal to “what?” and “why?” of our work. “Why are we doing this?” “What is the purpose of this work?” “Why does it matter to you?” “What kind of impact are we trying to make?” I want it to be intentional in terms of revealing our thinking and our philosophy. Social media is the easiest way of making a direct connection; it allows people to get an inside look to what we are doing. Personally, I use social media very peripherally. I didn’t really grow up in that generation.
Q: As a nonprofit organization, there are many moving parts. What are some ways that you keep your finances, projects, and programs organized at the same time?
James: It is definitely a lot, I wont deny that it is a challenge. I am not a part of every single decision when it comes to programs and the daily operation of the organization. It’s definitely tough not being a part of every decision, but I have an amazing staff who has been helping me with that. I trust them and they trust me. However, mainly, I think the was that I keep things organized is by continuing to evolve the idea of how we can make the most impact. I don’t think of organization an act of compartmentalization of time. I think about it like priority, urgency, importance, and impact. It’s not necessarily how well I categorize or label my files, but rather what needs to be done now.
Q: Do you have any words of advice for someone who is looking to start their own nonprofit or get involved?
James: 1. You have to make sure that you’re [starting a nonprofit] for the right intentions. 2. You have to make sure that you are not driven by wild financial gains. 3. And you absolutely have to be vulnerable. 4. You’re also going to have to continue to be open in terms of the fact that you cannot do everything yourself. It is going to take a village, and a very clear vision of why you are doing this. You need to be secure in the reason why you are doing this so that you can push your organization forward with the kind of conviction and passion that the people around you will be able to feel. If people don’t share your vision, if they aren’t excited, then you should reconsider. Or go back to the drawing board and create more clarity for yourself because I have to emphasize the importance that this is not something that you can do on your own.