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Banking on KC – Brandon Calloway of G.I.F.T.

 

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Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking on KC. I'm your host, Kelly Scanlon. Thank you for joining us. With us on this episode is Brandon Calloway, the CEO and co-founder of Generating Income for Tomorrow, also known as Kansas City GIFT. Welcome, Brandon.

Brandon Calloway:

Hey. Kelly. Thanks for having me.

Kelly Scanlon:

Give us a brief overview of what GIFT does. I've noticed that you've called it a movement. Tell us about that.

Brandon Calloway:

What we do is pretty simple. We raise money and give grants to black businesses on the east side of Troost. We focus on the historically redlined area of Kansas City where black poverty is most concentrated, and we find those businesses over there that want to grow and create jobs for the community that they exist in. So our goal is really creating jobs for the community, and our vehicle for doing that is black business expansion. So we give out $10,000, $25,000, and $50,000 grants to black businesses on the east side as well as every time we give a grant to somebody, we give them a year's worth of business coaching, a year's worth of accounting services. We're partner with Husch Blackwell. So they take them on pro bono for their business legal services.

            And then we give them a small business marketing package that we pay for. So whether that be website or logo redesign or whatever it is they need. And so it's defined as a movement because while we are an organization, we're 501(c)(3), but the challenge is well-known. Kansas City is 1 of 21 hypersegregated cities in the country, which is not hyperbole. It is a designation from the census. We are creating a tangible avenue for people to get involved, get engaged, and doing their part to try to actually make a dent in that and reverse that impact. So it's a movement because it's not just us doing the work. And if it was, the work couldn't happen.

Kelly Scanlon:

Tell us about how it got started. What were the origins of this?

Brandon Calloway:

Yeah. So I am a co-founder. I have two other co-founders, so Cornell Gorman, Christopher Stewart. We started from a Facebook group called BOBKC, Black-owned Businesses, Kansas City. They're 15,000 people in that Facebook group that are black business owners or just wanting to support black businesses. And Chris, our co-founder, he lives in Houston from Kansas City and he was frustrated and made a post in that group talking about how not seeing the number of black businesses in black communities that he felt like he should see. But there was 15,000 of us right there in that group that we could all put in $10 a month and take that money and make a change ourselves without having to wait on anything. And so at the time, I did not know Chris. I was just a random guy in the group, just like he was.

            And so I was laying in bed, scrolling through Facebook, and I saw the post and all the attention that it was getting. And I sat there for an hour and thought of all of the ways that it would not work. And I came up with a solution to every one of them. And so at the end of that hour, when I ran out of ways that it wouldn't work, I reached out to Chris and said, "Hey. I know you don't know me, but came from nonprofit fundraising from United Way prior to this." So I told him I have a skillset that I actually think can make this happen. And he ignored me the first time, but I pushed again and said, "Hey. We can actually do this." And so Chris, Cornell, and I got together, and we created GIFT. So yeah, that's really how it came to be. That was May of 2020. Still relatively young organization. In our first two full fiscal years, we've been able to give out $687,000 to around 35 different businesses, and we've seen 58 new jobs created.

Kelly Scanlon:

And that comes from the people given $10 a month or are there other sources as well since now that you are up and on your feet-

Brandon Calloway:

You would think, right? So year one, we raise $443,000. 229 of that came from individuals, 198 from foundations, 16,000 from corporations. Year two, we ended up raising 1.1 million with 443 coming from individuals, 560 from foundations and 131,000 from corporations. And so individuals are the thing that allow us to do the work that we do. Even the foundation support came after we were able to raise a substantial amount, over $100,000 from individuals, to show that we would not ever be fully reliant on foundations. So that pulled in a little bit more foundation support. Corporate support is the slowest. Every time we put out some new numbers and show some more impact, we bring more corporate support along, but individuals are really what drives the work that we do.

Kelly Scanlon:

Well, and that speaks to one of the slogans that I know that you use, led by you and me. It's individuals that are helping other individuals. Yes, it goes to businesses, but those businesses are founded by individuals. And so it's a perfect... Led by you and me, very grassroots, and it's still your main source of income. You talked earlier about something very important, and that is yes, you give the grants, but you don't just give the money and say, "Good luck." You offer support in all of the various areas that it takes to make a business successful. So talk with us about that and how you pulled that together and any of the other things that you're doing to make sure that the black businesses that you work with are successful.

Brandon Calloway:

What we want to do is find a business that we can help grow and scale to the point that they actually are providing 100 jobs to the community because again, that is our primary focus, is actually creating economic impact and intentional economic development in the urban core. And so if that were to happen, a business with 100 employees, the CEO is not going to be their own bookkeeper. They're not going to be their own lawyer. And if we know that that's where we want people to get to, then we need to start them off that way.

            The approach we take is somewhat different than a lot of other people that are doing technical assistance. We don't have people go through a cohort for X amount of weeks before they get the funding. We don't fund them and then put them in a group cohort full of people that can teach them how to do all of these things. We give them this $10,000, $25,000 Or $50,000, and we give them this high-level, one-on-one attention and technical assistance.

            The other thing is that the business owner is still in charge. We're not coming in and saying, "Here's all the things that you need to do better." We are giving them a team of people that they can lean on, that they can manage to help their business grow. At the end of every year, I do a personal phone call to all of our business owners. I ask them a bunch of questions, but one of them that I ask is what was more helpful, the money or the technical assistance?

            And all of them say that they were both equally helpful. Without the money, they couldn't even have started to do their plan and implement that plan. But without the technical assistance, when that plan was successful, when it started to deviate from what was possible, they had a team of people right there in place to help them with those challenges. Now you got payroll. We don't want the guy that's growing herbs and spices to stop growing herbs and spices to figure out how to create and implement a payroll system. And he didn't have to. He turned to his bookkeeper and to Husch Blackwell, and they helped him do that.

Kelly Scanlon:

One of the challenges that black entrepreneurs also face in addition to capital is access to connections, to that network of professionals that can mentor, that can act as sounding boards, share resources. So two questions here. What is GIFT doing to strengthen these networks? Let's talk about the entrepreneurial community itself. What can other entrepreneurs in Kansas City do to help black-owned businesses with that access to those connections and that network-building?

Brandon Calloway:

First question, there's about three different ways that we help to grow network. So one is that fourth Saturday of every month, we do a black business popup shop. And so what that looks like is that we turn our office into a popup. We have tables provided, we don't charge a vendor fee, and we bring about 60 black-owned businesses that have products and have them sell at our popup shop. And so we do a lot of marketing for it to drive traffic to it so that one, it's another way for us to support black businesses if we haven't been able to give them a grant. We give out two grants a month. We give out a lot of money, but we get over 100 applicants a month. And so there's at least 98 people every month that we're not able to give a grant to.

            And so by doing the popup shop, we are helping them increase their sales, but we're also creating a network of vendors. They are able to network with each other because we are really, really trying to drive heavy traffic to it. Then we are getting businesses outside of the black business ecosystem to come and vend or to come and patronize these businesses so that they can build their network that way as well.

            The other thing is that we try and make sure not only do our businesses get grants from us as well as the technical assistance, but they also get us. I had the pleasure of talking to somebody from a Hy-Vee corporate office. We talked about, "Hey. There's this guy. He's growing herbs and spices. You should meet him. You should talk to him, set up a meeting with them to actually come out to his greenhouse." And long story short, he's now selling his herbs and spices in all 20 Hy-Vees. So things like that when we are having those conversations with those bigger organizations that are looking to partner with business owners, then we do what we can to directly make those connections to as many of our businesses as possible as well as now that we have a physical location in our business center, trying to get into more holding general networking events to be that connector and as well as just grow basic network.

Kelly Scanlon:

So tell us about the larger entrepreneurial ecosystem. What can other entrepreneurs do to help black-owned businesses with the connections to a larger network?

Brandon Calloway:

I think one easy thing that other entrepreneurs can do is really engage with the black business ecosystem. GIFT was started from the Facebook group of BOBKC. Actually, now there's 26,000 people in that group. So there are a lot of businesses, a lot of people who are trying to support black businesses. If you're trying to find a black business or are just wanting to connect with black businesses in general, literally that Facebook group is a great place to start. And then engaging with black-led ESOs. When it comes to connections to the black businesses that are local here, if you reach out to GIFT, if you reach out to Porterhouse, if you reach out to the Heartland Black Chamber, the Greater Kansas City Black Chamber, those entrepreneurial support organizations are going to have a deeper connection and do have a deeper connection to the black business community. And so going directly to those ESOs that are in the community, serving those organizations and building relationships there is another way to be another conduit to build relationships with black business owners.

            And then attending events as well. So this is the fourth year now that there's been the Kansas City People's Choice Awards. And so it is a local award show that primarily focuses on black businesses. It would be great to have organizations and people who are trying to engage with black business community, just one, support that event, be a sponsor to the Kansas City People's Choice Awards, or attend the event, connect, and network. There's 816 Day that happens. There's Juneteenth KC that happens in both of those. So 816 Day is ran by Bizzy Benton. Juneteenth KC is a nonprofit organization themselves, and they put on the parade and everything. Those are both great events to sponsor as well as show up to... They both have a large black business event where they're vending and networking, actually coming into the community, engaging with the leaders of the community to be conduits to go in deeper and learning more about the individual businesses. That's a great idea.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yes. Exactly. And you said conduit. Very important word because it always amazes me when entrepreneurs get in a room together, the energy and the excitement and the connections that start getting made, and somebody says, "Well, I'm doing this." "Well, have you talked to so-and-so?" And then it just multiplies. Talk to us about the impact of investing in black-owned businesses.

Brandon Calloway:

Yeah. So I think the best way to describe the impact of investing in black-owned businesses is... So invested in black-owned businesses, invested in black communities as well. If you look at the history, disinvestment, right? So you look at the history of redlining of blockbusting by actively investing in the black and brown community, we are able to grow businesses that are actually in the community that can hire people from close by.

            Most small businesses hire people from the neighborhoods surrounding where they exist. By making it viable and actually realistic for businesses to grow and thrive, black businesses to grow and thrive in black communities, we began to create an economic engine that increases the overall median income levels. And so by being able to have an impact in the economic viability and income levels, then we also indirectly have an impact or directly have an impact on reducing poverty-related crime. And so investing in black business, specifically in black communities, is a way to increase generational wealth as well as create an economic engine that can begin to pull a whole community out of the slum and challenge that it was intentionally placed in through strategic disinvestment.

Kelly Scanlon:

Let's talk about Brandon Calloway. You started working as a team. You were holding down several part-time jobs, and then you joined the Army. You managed a gym. And as you mentioned earlier, you also worked at United Way, learned lots of fundraising skills. So talk to us about how did those experiences inform you? What did they teach you not just in terms of the business skills, but also how they prepared you for what you're doing today that gave you the insights that you need to do the work that you do today?

Brandon Calloway:

I am 32 years old and I have had over 40 jobs in my life, many working two or three at the same time. My first job was QuikTrip. QuikTrip actually does a magnificent job of teaching customer service, and teaching really through what I feel like is an entrepreneurial mindset. And so I have been able to learn various skills at different places that I still implement today, just all mashed together to help me do what I do. The Army taught me about taking action and not really... There's no way I can expect something to happen that I'm not willing to go out and actively make happen myself, which is the whole premise behind GIFT. If 15,000 people donated $10 a month, being able to say we are not going to wait for a magic wand to come and fix this longstanding systemic challenge. We got to get up and go out there and figure out a way to turn this around ourselves because if we don't do it, there's no way we can expect anybody else to do it for us.

Kelly Scanlon:

And then you start really getting that generational impact that you talked about earlier. For people who might be interested in working with GIFT or donating to GIFT, is the best place to go to your website?

Brandon Calloway:

Yeah. Absolutely. So you can find us KansasCityGIFT.org. So all spelled out, KansasCityGIFT.org. Email us through there. So our contact email is there. You can donate through there. You can sign up to become a monthly donor. You can make a one-time donation and you can learn more. I talked a lot about what we do, but we do a lot. And so our annual reports are on there. Our 990 is there. So transparency is really an important thing for us, being a young nonprofit that is trying to have really big impact on the community.

Kelly Scanlon:

So KansasCityGIFT.org. You can go out there and you can find anything you'd like to about donating, about being with the group, and with contacting Brandon or any of the other people who work so hard every day to make the communities in Kansas City, a better place. Brandon, thank you so much for all that you do. And thank you for being our guest today.

Brandon Calloway:

Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

Joe Close:

This is Joe Close, president of Country Club Bank. Thank you to Brandon Calloway for being our guest on this episode of Banking on KC. Kansas City GIFT strive to produce meaningful change for families and communities that have historically been adversely impacted by systemic racism. By investing in the businesses in these communities, GIFT and its supporters increase economic prosperity and wealth, help reduce poverty-related crime, and act as a conduit for people throughout Kansas City to get to know one another better. When any community is raised up, all of Kansas City is raised up, and better for it. Country Club Bank supports the work of GIFT through an annual sponsorship and the volunteer efforts of our leaders, such as PJ Thompson. We encourage all Kansas Cityans to engage in making Kansas City a place where all of its citizens have an opportunity to prosper. Thanks for tuning in this week. We're banking on you, Kansas City. Country Club Bank, member FDIC.

 

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