2020 was our fifth year of Still Kickin, a year where our plan was always to invest in growth (a fancy way of saying lose money). In early March, we finalized the paperwork to split the business into two parts: a non-profit organization that accepts donations and distributes our unrestricted financial grants, and a Specific Benefit Corporation that assumes all the risk of running a retail/education/event business and whose purpose is to make money to donate to the non-profit.
The non-profit would get a new executive director (shout out to Jesse Ross), and the business would be able to invest in infrastructure (new hires, inventory) without jeopardizing any donor funds. The exact month we made this shift… came COVID-19, shutdowns, stay-at-home orders and uncertainty as far as the eye could see. Then, it was George Floyd’s murder in our hometown of Minneapolis, a civil rights uprising and a whole lot of work on our own accountability.
Still Kickin’s purpose is to help people through the hard things, and 2020 was an opportunity to live into that purpose. And while we could have scaled back and slowed down and conserved our energy and money for a “safer” time, we pushed forward on the plans we had for the year that helped us live into our core values.
We could have changed all of our merch to drop shipping and print-on-demand, cut positions and kept costs low. Instead, we did the exact opposite. This year, we added two new people to our payroll. We started a new podcast. We gave benefits to our employees and made sure everyone had a living wage. We reimagined what connection and community could look like in 2020 and beyond, and made a conscious decision on who to work with to help us make informed and effective decisions.
There is a cost to doing things right, and I believe that if we can’t bear that cost, we shouldn’t be a business.
So what did that look like? It looked like asking a lot of hard questions and being honest about the answers.
How can we be a good place to work and ensure our core values are not just lived in the work we do, but within our work organization?
The truth: Most people who work at Still Kickin have been either giving away their time (cringe) or were grossly underpaid. That’s common in the world of non-profit organizations, and it still doesn’t make it right. When you’re underpaying people, you’re also making the work only possible for a select group of potential employees, and the first employees at Still Kickin were (shocker!) middle-class white women who could afford to work here! That’s not good for the world, and it’s not good for an organization. It’s just not good, and we can do better. So now we do!
- Jesse Ross (who has actual non-profit experience, unlike me) is our executive director. Jesse is also a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) implementor, a community organizer, a connector and a Black man who grew up in a very different version of the same city I grew up in. He is leading our SBC team through DEI work and also leading our non-profit to be less prescriptive and more responsive, listening to what the community needs instead of rushing in with a solution.
- Making sure our people are PAID for their work, always, and that working at Still Kickin is accessible to more people:
- Every employee at Still Kickin earns a minimum of $15/hour
- Every employee has access to a 401K with matching
- Any employee that is at least part-time has access to life insurance and medical
How do we live up to our equity value?
The truth: There’s a lot we do well... and a lot to do better. We owe a debt of gratitude to Jesse for his guidance and the big changes he was able to make within our non-profit to help us live this value more fully, including:
- Establishing a North Side Fund within our non-profit organization to meet the immediate needs of our neighbors who have been systematically denied economic growth within Minneapolis.
- Having our best fundraising year to-date!
- Giving out $150K in cash grants and winter gear.
- Our products are priced really well — enough for us to make a profit while also paying a real person to screen print the items, a real person to package and ship them, and a real person to design them — and low enough to make them affordable to a lot of people.
- Our e-courses are priced well below market value, and we’re keeping it that way. We employ mental health professionals to help us create courses that are grounded in best practices, and we offer payment plans. Our most expensive course is $200 (with comparable grief communities priced anywhere from $800-$1200).
- Our Still Kickin Sessions (a monthly community education series) were reintroduced with a focus on Black voices, and ensuring that every educator who participates is fairly compensated for their experience and their time.
How can we truly support our community, and are we the people to do it?
The answers are... let’s ask them, and... not always! We introduced two big new projects this year, and hiring the right people for the work is worth it.
- Brittany Jean-Louis and Adrienne VanZomeren are two mental health professionals that joined our team as content and community advisors, joining Dr. Anna Roth, who has helped develop our e-courses.
- Ms. Danielle is the host of our new podcast, "Help a Human Out," a free offering for our community.
- Launched the Still Kickin Club, with help from our new community and content advisors, to create intentional community focused on living our core values in relationship to one another.
In short, we survived 2020! By the skin of our teeth, maybe, but still with a lot to feel good about. Even in a year where there was *no* profit, we donated almost $30K in cash to the non-profit organization, as well as supporting the non-profit with hundreds of donated hours by our SBC staff.
We aren’t done, of course. And this year’s goal is, again, to make it. The budget we just combed through puts us — as a best result — right here (yes, this is an actual screenshot from the budget).
Still Kickin has grown and evolved a lot since Lindsay and I sat in the basement of a co-working space in Minneapolis and pushed “publish” on a website with four t-shirt designs. We could not have done it without the community of people who have shown up for us and for one another, and we are so proud to still be here. Here’s to five more years and growing in the right ways.
Nora and the Still Kickin Team
Additional Resources for Your Own Small Business:
Kim Crayton’s Anti-Racist Workshops
Jesse Ross's DEI work
Toi Marie's Courses and Books
Andrea Jones of Great Pursuits MN