In honor of National Nonprofit Day, I wanted to share the story of how, within four short months, a Facebook group started by three individuals with a few ideas for helping the local Buffalo, New York business community, grew to over 1000 members and became a nonprofit organization with big future plans to support the business community in Western NY and beyond. It’s just the beginning but is a unique story nonetheless and one I hope will inspire others to pursue their own nonprofit dreams.
The first quarter of 2020 started off business as usual for most business owners in Western NY and across the country. By mid-March, however, New York State had gone into pandemic lockdown, with only essential businesses remaining open. Small business owners and entrepreneurs were put into positions for which most would understandably not have thought they’d need to prepare.
When the quarantine first began, Michael Anderson, a Buffalo business insurance agent, Kanishka Wanninayaka, a digital marketing consultant, and I had each individually begun to strategize ways we could help the business community through this uncertain time.
Mike had been reaching out to business professionals to find those willing to provide their advice or services to other businesses at no charge. He pulled together a list of fifteen individuals willing to help, with more jumping on board shortly thereafter.
Kanishka, one of those generous individuals on Mike’s initial list, was using his expertise to help with the technical side of virtual events being planned around the pandemic-related needs of various business owners and entrepreneurs.
From my business coaching perspective, I was looking to establish a Facebook group to help business professionals online during this, what many of us thought would be, short period of business disruption.
The three of us came together through the power of networking as we had met one another through various networking organizations. We began communicating our ideas and desire to help. We moved forward quickly and ten days after the lockdown began, the G.R.O.W. (Giving, Resources, Opportunities, and Wisdom) Buffalo Business Facebook group launched on March 26, 2020 to support local business owners and sales professionals.
We hoped the group would be popular among the local business community, but I don’t think any of us expected the group to grow as quickly as it did. We started out with the idea of conducting two virtual events each week – a Monday morning Coffee Kickoff networking event and an educational office hour or workshop event later in the week.
Thanks to the amazing members of our group who jumped on board immediately to offer their ideas, support, participation and guidance, we have been able to consistently conduct three to four networking and educational events each week. Executive chats and a book club also have been added.
Members volunteer their time and knowledge to lead discussions on topics ranging from navigating complex funding opportunities to maintaining their own personal health. Since its end of March, 2020 inception, GROW has conducted over 80 events and recordings of most of those are contained in a library of resources for members to explore. To our surprise, few people have had an issue with our “no self-promoting” rule. Everyone genuinely wants to help each other.
We all have met so many inspiring people through GROW – many as business connections but also as new friends.
Mike, Kanishka and I could not let it stop there. With the next chapter of GROW coming right around the corner, we decided in July to form a nonprofit entity in order to support our business community at a level the Facebook group simply could not accommodate. Through sponsorships, grants and a membership community model, plans are taking shape for programs such as:
- Mentorship programs for business professionals
- Youth support program for young entrepreneurs
- Larger-scale workshops – both in-person and virtual
- In-person networking events
- An online library of resources
Just as when we started the GROW Facebook group, there are a lot of unknowns about what the future may bring, but we are eager and ready to face them with our GROW community.
If this sounds like a group you too could benefit from, please come join us. Membership is not limited to Western NY. For now, you can find us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/GROWBuffaloBusiness/ In a few short weeks, our website will be launching and fun GROW gear will be available.
Starting a nonprofit may seem daunting but, with the right people and support, it definitely is a dream worth pursuing. My now good friends Mike, Kanishka, and I can personally attest to that.