Here’s What Happened: RISEHI + DEFINE 07/18

On July 11, 2018, RISEHI welcomed four kama’aina nonprofit founders and executive directors to the RISE + DEFINE breakfast talk story event endeavoring to discuss their experiences of running a successful nonprofit organization (NPO) in Hawai’i.

L to R: Kahi Pacarro, Hi’ilei Kawelo, Duane DeSoto, Donavan Kawelo

Prior to the event, the directors participated in case studies for RISEHI’s BECOME Series: Become a Nonprofit Founder. Through written content by writers Alison Bemis, Erin Delgado, and Chelsey Flanagan, and visual storytelling by Aria Studios, the directors and their organizations were first introduced via www.risehi.com and social media followed by articles in which the directors expounded on nonprofit topics/strategies.

The directors, their organizations, and their specific NPO topics were:

The breakfast, hosted by The Pig & the Lady in Chinatown, brought the four directors together in a panel discussion format led by RISEHI Executive Director Gabe Amey.

While sipping coffee and enjoying açaí bowls, summer rolls, and breakfast banh mi…

(among other tasty delights), guests heard directly about:

  • the inspiration behind each organization,
  • tips and resources available for becoming a 501c3,
  • generating revenue,
  • finding and retaining volunteers,
  • choosing board members,
  • and measuring/calculating success.

There were many bases to cover in the scheduled hour with the knowledgeable Hawai’i NPO directors. RISEHI could have surely continued the conversation if the day had no other obligations for the panelists and guests.

Below, you’ll find some key highlights from each director’s response to RISEHI’s questions.

*A full transcript of the panel discussion follows the highlights.

If you’re interested in starting an NPO, and have a question you don’t find answered here or in the articles linked above, please don’t hesitate to reach out to RISEHI at https://risehi.com/contact/.

Mahalo to the panelists, The Pig & the Lady, and to you, the RISEHI audience. Be sure to follow @risehawaii on Instagram to view upcoming content in the BECOME Series: Become a Business Owner.

Director Response Highlights

On the inspiration behind their NPO….

Kahi Pacarro (Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii): “Coming back to Hawai’i [after a two year surf trip] to how bad [the degradation of consumerism] was here and realized we’re more or less like a third world country, and it was time to do something about changing people’s perceptions on what it takes to care for our coastlines.”

Hi’ilei Kawelo (Paepae O He’eia): “When it comes to the ocean, growing up as a fisher person, it’s really hard to be able to contribute and know that you’re benefiting our nearshore fishery and our ocean. I want to be able to plant a seed and have it grow in the ocean.”

Donavan Kealoha (Purple Mai’a): “We developed a financial app, a text-based app, back in 2010 and we gave it to financial counselors – folks that worked with Section 8 families to help them manage their finances. We could see how this affected folks and out of that came our desire to do this on the next scale. In Silicon Valley, we have this saying of doing things “10X” – how can we do this bigger and better? The idea came for Purple Mai’a.”

Duane DeSoto (Na Kama Kai): I realized how privileged I was after being able to be a surfer. That’s not a real job in most senses. I got to enjoy surfing and be selfish, and do what I wanted to do all the time. Coming home and realizing that the access I had growing up and being from Makaha – the uncles, the aunties, my own family – it was a huge privilege that didn’t exist even at home.”

On the process of becoming a 501c3….

KP: “There are resources out there and it’s not as difficult if you use that resource along with the more improved web – you can find everything on there now. The main thing, make everything super basic and simple. Your mission statement needs to be very precise. Your mission statement, your bylaws, your articles of incorporation, etc. you can amend them once you get your 501c3 status. It’s about getting the 501c3, because your not going to get donations or grants until you get that first.

DK: “….we were fortunate to be connected with this nonprofit attorney who gave us a discount and basically handed it off to him and let him to do it while we focused on thinking about the story, putting together this narrative that then got us our initial lump sum of walking around cash to start the program.”

Gabe Amey: “Another thing with the 501c3 status, there’s the form that you have to fill out, and the form 1023 – it’s kind of a monster. It’s like 28 pages long and it’s definitely daunting, but there’s also and EZ form which is only three pages long and if you anticipate that you’re not going to have revenues of over $50,000 initially in your first year, you can use that form and it saves you a lot of time.”

On their NPO’s first years….

HK: “We started working for Paepae without having any funding available. We thought that Kamehameha Schools was going to give us money, but it took a year for us to get the money, and that was in 2003. We finally got a check; we split it eight ways, because there are eight founders, and nobody told us to save money to pay self-employment tax. This was prior to us being employees of the organization, we were all contractual. Then, it was time for taxes, and no one saved any money to pay the self-employment tax, so we all ate it.

GA: So, lesson learned, if you’re a W-2 employee, taxes are already taken out, but if you’re getting paid as a 1099, save money for self-employment tax.

KP: “It was roughly about three years from the time we started the nonprofit that I finally pulled my first paycheck. It was really difficult at first, but I still had some savings left up from the real estate times, and then I was doing some consulting work. We finally got our first grant thanks to Kokua Foundation. Actually, it was Jack Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation. At that point, once we proved to other organizations that we got grants, then the money started coming in…”

DD: “We were running into walls finding insurance, because we’re an ocean activity. We’re spending month after month writing down what the insurers wanted us to answer, to answer more questions, send it back, twiddle our fingers and no response….Then we found somebody who was doing activities similar on Maui and in three days we had a quote. We were doing round robin and we had to come across the right people and even in that, $2,000 we needed. We don’t have money. We didn’t have money for the first four years really. We borrowed surfboards, we used human capital. All of my friends and family were sourced to the bone basically to help us do what we wanted to do.”

DK: “We were fortunate. As we were working on that first for-profit company, and thinking about how to structure this nonprofit, [we] started sharing the story at lunch meetings and just talking story, and then more and more talking story….I kept telling them the same story and after awhile, I was like well, I better do something. Finally, I was like well, give us some money, let’s go do something. We told them, I don’t know if this is going to work, we’ll give it a year. We’ll see if the kids respond. We’ll see if we can figure things out, and they were willing to take that first step.”

On generating revenue for their nonprofit….

HK: “Our current operating budget is about one million. Sixty percent of our revenue is generated on our own, meaning Paepae hustles for grant revenue, we cultivate donors, we sell merchandise, we have fundraisers every year, and then program service fees which is quite substantial. Initially, people just came and they volunteered. At some point, we had to transition, because there were so many school groups coming out that we had to ask them to pay. That was so hard for us to do, because Hawaiian-style right? I don’t want to ask for money. It took us two years to get really well-versed in ‘you have to pay for this experience – [this] three hour educational experience.’”

KP: “As a nonprofit, we couldn’t just rely on grants and corporate contributions and individual donations. Coming from a business background, there’s gotta be ways to make money in this. It’s not that as a nonprofit, you can’t make money. The money that you make is reinvested into the nonprofit. For us, it was ok who needs these services?

On finding and retaining volunteers….

DD: “In the sense of volunteers, I was spending five to six hours a day for four to five days calling people. Calling and calling and calling. Leaving voicemails. I remember handing it off to my buddy Cliff Kapono one time like brah, you gotta run this clinic, I gotta go travel. You gotta call this list. You gotta try and find some guys. When I got home, he’s like brah, after 30 or 40, how do you keep staying positive on the messages? It’s just a matter of let’s get it done. I was like a telemarketer for years, but the one thing that made me okay with that was that I knew what I was doing was right, so I was willing to sell myself like that and sell Na Kama Kai like that. I wouldn’t go that far for my own needs, but for Na Kama Kai, I was like I can justify this.”

HK: “We’ve never recruited with the exception of one event for volunteers. We’re just super blessed and I think it’s because we’re on Oahu. The need is so great. Everybody’s so disconnected. We all know that. Everybody’s on their phones, including ourselves, all the time. The need to reconnect with our aina, to malama aina, to jump in the ocean is there. Originally, 40 volunteers. Now we’re up to 125 per work day – we do two of those a month.”

KP: “For us, it’s about making it fun. By making people want to come versus making them feel like they’re obligated to come. That’s really been the key to our success. It’s keeping things exciting, incentivizing, making it fun, maybe a few beers, and just creating a family. Once you’re in, it’s hard to leave.”

On choosing board members for their organization….

DK: “Our first two board members were friends from law school that we spent a lot of time with – Native Hawaiians – they got this mission of bringing technology education to Native Hawaiian communities, so they were down for the cause. Fast forward a couple of years, things start evolving, the needs of the organization demand folks with different areas of expertise…You just have to be aware of the needs of the organization and always be open to bringing on folks and can get the mission and accelerate.”

KP: “When I started my board, I wanted to make sure that I had a lawyer, an accountant, a scientist, and a community activist. At first, you want to make sure it’s easy to get your work done. As you evolve and bring more board members on, you want to get people outside of your bubble. That’s what we’ve started to do.”

On how they measure their success….

KP: “As a nonprofit, you need to know these things. It’s how you quantify for grants how effective you are. For us, it’s creating a metric. It’s how many pounds of trash do we remove off the beach. It’s how many kids we educate. How many people show up to our cleanups.”

DK: “The hard metrics that we are responsible for whenever we write for grants to organizations is how many kids we serviced. We put down computer projects – whether it be websites, video games that the kids develop. It’s a challenge whether or not this is having meaningful impact. By teaching them technology, coding, computer programming – do we feel like we’re having an impact? It’s the high level metrics we have to report on, but it’s the fundamental question of man, I don’t know if this working or what not, but I’m still trying to push on it. The qualitative success is in the stories that we’re collecting from our teachers with respect to the kids maybe change perception of school or outlook is good for now.”

HK: “I love Excel spreadsheets. There’s monetary metrics, there’s people metrics, number of learners educated. The metric for the mission and the vision of the organization in my mind to simplify it is measured by fish. How do we know that we’re doing what we said we’re going to do? Well, in however many years, we’re hopefully going to have a fishpond that’s full of fish, and then we start feeding people.”

DD: “Ours is about how many keiki we work with, how many keiki participate in our different programs. We need to have numbers, but at the end of the day, what does this 12 year old have in his mind now and in his life when he’s 25 years old? I don’t have that. I don’t have the answer to that. I just know that what we’re doing is the right thing.”

One piece of advice for those who want to become nonprofit founders….

DK: “I’d maybe let go of control sooner. I kind of like to micromanage a lot of different things. Trust your staff.”

HK: “If anything in the whole wide world, I would just ask for help. When I was younger, I would never ask for help. I did everything myself, but now, because I’m 40, I ask for a lot of help.”

DD: “Just do it. You gotta go out there and put thoughts on paper. Do it, make mistakes, change it, because what you’re going to be in two years versus ten years/fifteen years is evolving.”

Full RISEHI Breakfast Event Transcription | 07.11.18 | 8:00-9:30am | The Pig & the Lady | Honolulu, Hawai’i

Gabe Amey (RISEHI Director): “Starting a nonprofit all starts with an idea and how to solve a problem. Each of you have a unique story that inspired you. Kahi, you were a real estate developer pre-2008. One big moment happened in 2008-2009 which was the credit crisis. How did that forever change your life?”

Kahi Pacarro (Sustainable Coastlines): “I was out of a job. That was the main part, but I was also 29 years old and was looking at what I had accomplished so far, and was like let’s take an early retirement and go traveling – went on the surf trip of a lifetime for two years and went to all the best waves around the world and saw the degradation of consumerism, westernization, capitalism, etc., and realized that although these places were dirty a lot of times because of the locals, it was actually because of the consumer behaviors that they were following – emulating western culture. Coming back to Hawai’i to how bad it was here and realized we’re more or less like a third world country and it was time to do something about changing people’s perceptions on what it takes to care for our coastlines. It’s not just about cleaning up, it’s about what we’re eating, what we’re using to eat, what we’re wearing, etc. Every purchase you make either benefits or doesn’t benefit the ocean. That was the aha moment being out of a job.”

GA: “Hi’ilei, you’re from the Windward side, went to UH. While you were at UH, you gravitated towards He’eia Fishpond in doing volunteer work, and that was back in 1998, so what drew you there that ended up making it your life’s work for the past 20 plus years?”

Hi’ilei Kawelo (Paepae o He’eia): “Come to find out, both sides of my family – my Chinese side took care of a fishpond in Kaneohe and on my Hawaiian side, my great, great grandpa helped to restore a small fishpond in Kahalu’u. A big part of my story was learning that it’s within my genetics. When it comes to the ocean, growing up as a fisher person, it’s really hard to be able to contribute and know that you’re benefiting our nearshore fishery and our ocean. I want to be able to plant a seed and have it grow in the ocean. I think uncovering and realizing the ingenuity of our ancestors and knowing that He’eia is 800 years old, and there are other forms of aquaculture in Hawai’i that predated that – 1200 or 1500 years old – that our kapuna had the foresight to build these systems and be able to cultivate seafood and be successful at that. It seems it would only make sense today that if we’re importing the large majority of what it is that we’re consuming locally, that’s kind of ass-backwards.”

GA: “Donavan Kealoha has a unique story. Donavan is from Lanai, graduate from Lanai High School, went to UH, studied law, got his law degree, somehow wound up in tech with a couple companies and today, he is a Venture Capitalist at Startup Capital Ventures. I think he’s the only native Hawaiian Venture Capitalist that I know. In 2003, you had an idea with Purple Mai’a. Why did you feel compelled that we needed to teach local kids how to program and code?”

Donavan Kealoha (Purple Mai’a): “The origin story is a little bit more humble than that. To delve into my background a little bit – kind of an entrepreneur. I started a couple of companies, one of which was in law school. We raised a bunch of venture capital and it was focused on doing some cool things with technology. And it was in having to travel to Silicon Valley and meet with different kinds of people, I was like wow, where are all the local guys or gals over here? It was just like the same sort of folks you see all over the place. In my head it was like we need to be here. So continuing to work on that company and having conversations with folks here who are in the tech business. In particular, my business partner, Olin Lagon, and things just evolved.

We developed a financial app, a text-based app, back in 2010 and we gave it to financial counselors – folks that worked with Section 8 families to help them manage their finances. We could see how this affected folks and out of that came our desire to do this on the next scale. In Silicon Valley, we have this saying of doing things “10X” – how can we do this bigger and better? The idea came for Purple Mai’a. But it was actually let’s go do another company first and let’s go take advantage of these government contracting things that are out there, take the profits from that and then go fund Purple Mai’a. It was recognizing a bunch of things, seeing opportunities, being an entrepreneur at heart…charging.”

GA: “And the lack of people from Hawai’i in Silicon Valley doing the next big thing.”

DK: “We talk about if we have to see the next dating app, that’s the joke in Purple Mai’a, there’s a lot bigger problems to solve. Technology is a cool thing to use – it’s a cool tool – but if you’re only solving problems that you see…. In Silicon Valley, it’s different right – the folks that are there than the folks that aren’t there.”

GA: “Duane, Na Kama Kai, you guys teach ocean safety, awareness, and stewardship every month to kids for free all across Oahu. Last year alone, you were able to educate just under 4,000 kids and since its inception, over 20,000 kids. Why were you compelled in 2008 to even start Na Kama Kai?”

Duane DeSoto (Na Kama Kai): “I realized how privileged I was after being able to be a surfer. That’s not a real job in most senses. I got to enjoy surfing and be selfish, and do what I wanted to do all the time. Coming home and realizing that the access I had growing up and being from Makaha – the uncles, the aunties, my own family – it was a huge privilege that didn’t exist even at home. At first, I noticed it around the world and there would be little factions of people who could go in the ocean around the world, and they more or less had money. Then coming home and recognizing that our own children weren’t able to get in the water or they were learning from the wrong ways, the wrong things. It was the need to see our babies grow, empower them, and be their mentors, and using the ocean as that tool for them.

Basically, taking advantage of having family and access to surfboards and everything, I knew that without much money, I could go ahead and start offering opportunities. It’s amazing to see that within Makaha, in Waianae, in Waimanalo, they live right by the beach, but they’re not going, and later realizing, they’re being taught fear. Families that didn’t know the ocean were teaching their children that they’re going to drown, and if that didn’t work, that the shark was going to eat them – listening to people say that to their kids is just crazy. I heard it right on Makaha beach. The dad’s like oh the shark’s gonna eat you because he didn’t want to take him swimming. How do we develop something that uses both? Uses the tool of the ocean to make our babies strong, our leaders, because they’re going to have the passion for that ocean. Now that they’re in the ocean, they’re more likely to love the ocean, and with that be able to create our future. To me, that’s what I think we’re doing the most, creating our leaders in the community that are then going to look back at the ocean and make sure that we malama aina.”

GA: “There’s the idea, but you have to execute on it. There’s the daunting paperwork, but before we talk about the paperwork, you were like let’s just try and see if I have something that would work. Explain that first part.”

DD: “It had been about six years when I was talking it over with my wife, Malia. You want to do something, but you don’t know how. What does it look like? There’s no previous models to follow and it’s inventing something out of nothing. Finally, my babies were in Pūnana Leo Kawaiaha’o and they had their 10th annual Malama i ke kai and it was ironic that they were having it in Kapiolani Park and no kai connection. The lightbulbs are going on like brah you better put some of your thoughts to action. You’ve got a platform right here – use the platform. It’s like an experiment. You’ve got everything laid out and so that Malama i Ke Kai, we were able to have an event at Kaimana in May of 2008, which ran incredible.

I also had the first experience of dealing with the permit process which was complete chaos with the DLNR and the City and County. The day before running the event, DLNR calls up and says, “Oh, I see you got surfboards and canoes all listed on your permit. Yeah, you can’t have none of that at Kaimana.” [The event] is tomorrow, what the hell are you calling me now? The permit’s been in for 30 days. So I’m thinking about it over night, stressing out, oh we’re just going to swim then I guess, eliminate the whole point of everything we’re trying to do. I didn’t tell nobody. We showed up in the morning, we had our canoes, we had our boards, we had everything. I was holding my breath all day that the DLNR wouldn’t come up and smack me in the back of the head. I was like ok, that was weird, I can’t do boards at Kaimana. Ding dong! But it was a great success and today, we’re running pretty much 90-95% of the same exact model. The evolution is the people. Things have changed a bit to be more efficient, but same system.”

GA: “I’m going to get to the volunteers later, but just for full disclosure, RISEHI doesn’t condone circumventing the rules with events, but the lesson learned there is sometimes you’re just going to have to wing it and test it out before getting bogged down with the paperwork. Test it out and see if people come and then you can worry about making it official a little bit later. Kahi, you had a good story about navigating the process of the paperwork.”

KP: “The 501c3 process – everyone thinks it’s this crazy maze that’s really hard to navigate. We believed it was, too, but it had gotten easier with the internet, YouTube, etc. Our biggest trick was finding the free law resource center down on Nimitz. You can go there and there’s a city-appointed lawyer that pretty much helped us navigate the whole thing for free. He’d give you an hour and you’d need to come prepared. We had our application submitted within three months and we had out 501c3 status six months later. There are resources out there and it’s not as difficult if you use that resource along with the more improved web – you can find everything on there now. The main thing, make everything super basic and simple. Your mission statement needs to be very precise. Your mission statement, your bylaws, your articles of incorporation, etc. you can amend them once you get your 501c3 status. It’s about getting the 501c3, because your not going to get donations or grants until you get that first.”

GA: “Anybody else have any advice, tips, stories of paperwork?”

DK: “I think the ironic thing is I’m an attorney by training, but I was like ah, I don’t want to do that. Thinking about where you can apply your energies to get maximum impact wouldn’t be in writing these documents. It would be in paying somebody or asking for somebody’s help. So, we were fortunate to be connected with this nonprofit attorney who gave us a discount and basically handed it off to him and let him to do it while we focused on thinking about the story, putting together this narrative that then got us our initial lump sum of walking around cash to start the program.”

GA: “When I first started my first nonprofit before RISEHI, I used a service called Legal Zoom that has templates for articles of incorporation, bylaws, all that stuff. I know another company out there is called Rocket Lawyer and it’s relatively cheap. It’s not going to be super customized for what you want, but as Kahi stated, just get the paperwork done, get the template done. You can always customize it later. Another thing with the 501c3 status, there’s the form that you have to fill out, and the form 1023 – it’s kind of a monster. It’s like 28 pages long and it’s definitely daunting, but there’s also and EZ form which is only three pages long and if you anticipate that you’re not going to have revenues of over $50,000 initially in your first year, you can use that form and it saves you a lot of time. That’s a little bit of advice. I didn’t realize that you have to file with the state as a charitable organization. I threw my first event seven years ago and similar to Duane’s situation, I got a call from my buddy who worked for the Attorney General’s office and he says, ‘Hey, you know you’ve got a cease and desist on your nonprofit, right?’ And I’m like ‘Wait, what? I’ve got an event tomorrow. What are you talking about?’ Apparently, they were sending me information to my PO Box which I’m the worst at checking. I didn’t file as a charitable organization with the state of Hawai’i and it’s a super easy process which is just filling out paperwork and submitting it, but because I didn’t do that, they were sending me a cease and desist. Luckily, we worked it out before the event, but that’s a big learning lesson that I can share with you guys.

Now, funding. Funding is the lifeblood of every business, especially if you want to grow your nonprofit. I used to think about it as everyone on the nonprofit is just volunteering. I was really naive to think that. People have to get paid in nonprofits because there is real work being done and a lot of time being spent. The cool thing is these four nonprofit entrepreneurs have built their nonprofits enough so that they can get payroll from their nonprofit. In fact, three out of four, that’s their main source of income which is critical for growing their nonprofit. Hi’ilei – you worked at Paepae O He’eia for five years before you even received your first paycheck. How did you do it and what were some of the lessons learned?”

HK: “When we first started Paepae in 2001, and at was a process in and of itself, I was working for Oceanic Institute. For a good three years while we were setting up the nonprofit, I was working full-time at the Oceanic Institute in Waimanalo. Then, all of us decided to quit our jobs. We started working for Paepae without having any funding available. We thought that Kamehameha Schools was going to give us money, but it took a year for us to get the money, and that was in 2003. We finally got a check. We split it eight ways, because there are eight founders, and nobody told us to save money to pay self-employment tax. This was prior to us being employees of the organization, we were all contractual. Then, it was time for taxes, and no one saved any money to pay the self-employment tax, so we all ate it. The in 2005, we became employees of the organization. Currently, we have 10 employees on payroll. Seven of us are full-time and three of us are part-time. The large majority of our employees have families- spouses and keiki – for me, I take it super serious. My job being in front of the computer at the office making sure we have funding, making sure we have a diverse stream of revenue, so that our employees can take care of their ohana is super important to me – to the point where I sacrifice what I love to do which is being outside, working hard, cutting trees and building wall, so that I can make sure that they’re taken care of.”

GA: “So, lesson learned, if you’re a W-2 employee, taxes are already taken out, but if you’re getting paid as a 1099, save money for self-employment tax. Kahi – 2010 you came [back] to Hawai’i. You had an idea of how to take care of our coastlines and how to stop the influx of plastics that’s invading our coastlines. Initially, you were doing consultant work in order to do Sustainable Coastlines, but also get paid on the side. Ultimately, that dried up. What happened during that time and what kind of time-frame did you have to make money?”

KP: “It was roughly about three years from the time we started the nonprofit that I finally pulled my first paycheck. It was really difficult at first, but I still had some savings left up from the real estate times, and then I was doing some consulting work. We finally got our first grant thanks to Kokua Foundation. Actually, it was Jack Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation. At that point, once we proved to other organizations that we got grants, then the money started coming in, and I was able to convince the board to take a small, tiny salary. If our bank account ever got below a certain amount, I’d stop taking that salary. They approved it, and then three months later, I had to stop taking the salary. Then we just straight-up lucked out. Matson came through and dropped 300 grand in our back account.”

GA: “What was the backstory of why Matson drop $300,000?”

KP: “Matson f’d up pretty bad. The cool thing is they took ownership. They got fined, I think it was 14 million dollars…”

GA: “For what?”

KP: “For the molasses spill. They dumped thousands of gallons into Honolulu Harbor and it screwed up the ecosystem there, but they went beyond their penalties and gave 300 grand to us and 300 grand to the aquarium. That was more or less the snowball at that point. We were able to build capacity and get to the point where are now using that as our way to show funders that we have matching funds. That’s a huge part of grants is being able to show that the money you’re getting from the foundation isn’t the only source of funding – that you have more money to finish up your programs and services.”

GA: “How to you deal with convincing friends and family that [starting your nonprofit] is what you want to do?”

KP: “There was no convincing you could really do. You had to actually prove it. My parents pretty much gave up. My dad didn’t care. My mom, she’s a downtown lady making lots of money, and my sister is making lots of money, and I’m over here being a beach bum in their minds. I felt like I had already proven myself in the corporate world and I was like what do I have to show for it? A bunch of concrete buildings in California and Waikiki. I didn’t want that to be my legacy. I did want it to be my legacy, but after seeing what it was doing to the world, I was like I don’t want that to be my legacy. I want clean beaches. You get to a point in your life where you’re like what’s important? I got a house. I got a car. I got a wife. I don’t need a Lambo. I don’t need another house. I’m happy with what I’ve got and I want to make sure future generations get to benefit from the lifestyles that we’ve been able to have – having clean beaches.”

GA: “Bootstrapping, initially, is a big part of any business. Duane, when you started running events, it was completely bootstrap – borrowing boards from friends. You were piggybacking off someone’s insurance policy, but of course, eventually you had to get your own insurance policy. Talk through the process of getting your first funding.”

DD: “We were able to invite some friends to our first event. They owned Bella Pietra. It was great, because they got to see what we were doing and I knew I needed to get some people there to understand. To tell the story of what you’re trying to do, the picture is very vague for the person listening, you know. You have this idea and they’re trying to put together what you’re saying, and it took me awhile to realize that I couldn’t explain Na Kama Kai appropriately. To be there and witness it, then you would actually get the essence and witness it, but talking about it, it just went over everybody’s head in the beginning. It almost felt like maybe I’m not saying it right. Maybe I’m not doing it right. We piggybacked on the insurance for Malama i ke kai to get the event going. I didn’t even know I needed insurance. It didn’t dawn on me. All that stuff came as we were developing. When we did run the first event and realized we had to get serious. How do we get serious? Ok, we’ve got to get the 501c3 now, so we had the event first. Then we’re going through that process which was a nightmare for us. Then going we want to start in January, so we have a seven month window to go January 2009. We were running into walls finding insurance, because we’re an ocean activity. We’re spending month after month writing down what the insurers wanted us to answer, to answer more questions, send it back, twiddle our fingers and no response. Ok, why didn’t we get a response? Oh, here’s some more questions. Ok, you need more answers. Fill out some more answers, send it back, and nothing. Then thinking, wait this has got to be wrong, everybody does ocean stuff. Then we found somebody who was doing activities similar on Maui and in three days we had a quote. We were doing round robin and we had to come across the right people and even in that, $2,000 we needed. We don’t have money. We didn’t have money for the first four years really. We borrowed surfboards, we used human capital. All of my friends and family were sourced to the bone basically to help us do what we wanted to do. So, instead of starting in January, we had to start in March. All the ducks finally came in the line, but I had to go to Bella and say, hey guys would you mind fronting my insurance, because I don’t have two grand to drop on this. You’ve seen the evidence, you’ve seen the work, would you put your faith in me? They happily gave us two grand and they paid for our insurance at least the first two years. Money was never an objective, it was the product. Since March 2009 we’ve been going consistently every month working with keiki. That first year we worked with over 2,200 children.”

GA: “Initial funding a lot of times is going to be tough. In Purple Mai’a’s case, Donavan, getting initial funding was a little easier on your route, partly because the story you told in the connections and good timing you had, right?”

DK: “We were fortunate. As we were working on that first for profit company and thinking about how to structure this nonprofit, started sharing the story at lunch meetings and just talking story, and then more and more talking story, and then all of a sudden all of these people – we included the CEOs and folks that ran foundations – I kept telling them the same story and after awhile, I was like well, I better do something. Finally, I was like well, give us some money, let’s go do something. We were fortunate that a couple of the foundations in town, Consuelo Foundation, kind of got what we were doing after many conversations. Island Insurance which is across the street, previous relationship in working with them in sharing the story, they were willing to take a bet. We told them, I don’t know if this is going to work, we’ll give it a year. We’ll see if the kids respond. We’ll see if we can figure things out, and they were willing to take that first step. We were fortunate to secure a good amount of funding that allowed us to pay for the business setup costs, the costs to acquire our first set of computers, to pay for the teacher to go and do it, and just trusting in the intent. The vision for it worked out and created some momentum. Now, five years in, we’ve got a half dozen folks who are on staff, another 6-12 interns that we pay to help us out with the program.”

GA: “There are many different ways to generate revenue for your nonprofit. Probably the common one, and I’d like to think that for most of you, at least 50% of your revenue comes from grants and corporate contributions. Is that true for most of you? Then there’s event and galas. Of course, there’s in kind donations. There’s another one I want to talk about is programs and services to help generate revenue. Hi’ilei and Kahi, can you talk about that?”

HK: “Our current operating budget is about one million. Sixty percent of our revenue is generated on our own meaning Paepae hustles for grant revenue, we cultivate donors, we sell merchandise, we have fundraisers every year. And then program service fees which is quite substantial. Initially, people just came and they volunteered. At some point, we had to transition, because there were so many school groups coming out that we had to ask them to pay. That was so hard for us to do, because Hawaiian style right? I don’t want to ask for money. It took us two years to get really well-versed in “you have to pay for this experience – [this] three hour educational experience.” We also do the volunteer opportunities too. If you cannot pay, then we’re going to put you in that bubble. We have three hour educational experiences, one-time school visits, which is kind of lucrative. What we really strive for is those more recurring educational opportunities where school groups come out multiple times in a given year, because then we get to do fun things with them. Ultimately, yeah, you’re going to malama aina, and you’re going to cut mangrove, and you’re going to help us build wall, and you’re going to help us carry heavy buckets, but by the end of your time at the fishpond, hopefully we’re going to get you fishing. Basically, you’re going to learn how to catch fish, clean fish, cook the fish, and ultimately consume it. To me, that’s where the education really comes into play. Where kids actually “get it.” Otherwise, it’s just malama aina and it’s hard to make that jump. It’s hard to kind of seal the deal for our kids when they come out. A lot of kids wonder why are we just cutting mangrove? Why are we carrying these heavy buckets? You try and hit home the message in that three hour window, but it doesn’t always work out that way.”

GA: “It’s kind of like Mr. Miyagi and The Karate Kid – you’ve got to paint the fence first before you learn. It’s definitely important to come up with programs and services to help make sure you balance yourself out. Let’s jump over to volunteers. If an organization doesn’t have volunteers, workers, and the founder is spread thin doing everything themselves, you’re really limiting your growth of the organization. It’s critical to source volunteers, getting commitments from them, and making sure you don’t burn them out. Duane, for each event, it takes 20 or 30 plus volunteers right? We had this conversation. The first four years of your organization, you had to call 200 people a week to try and get 20-30 volunteers. Talk about that.”

DD: “I think it’s important to say that the vision of what we want to do when you build it and grow it, you end up not doing what you want to do – the passion side as Hi’ilei was saying earlier – because if you want it to function, you have to put on ten different hats: volunteer coordinator, fund development, marketing. You have to be the person that drives all of it. If you’re lucky as in most of our cases, you have good people by your sides to pick those positions up and help the momentum go. Even in that as you grow, it causes controversy, because some people can’t stick around for all of it. Two years is a lot for some people when you’re talking like we’re going to go forever yeah? In the sense of volunteers, I was spending five to six hours a day for four to five days calling people. Calling and calling and calling. Leaving voicemails. I remember handing it off to my buddy Cliff Kapono one time like brah, you gotta run this clinic, I gotta go travel. You gotta call this list. You gotta try and find some guys. When I got home, he’s like brah, after 30 or 40, how do you keep staying positive on the messages?

It’s just a matter of let’s get it done. I was like a telemarketer for years, but the one thing that made me okay with that was that I knew what I was doing was right. So I was willing to sell myself like that and sell Na Kama Kai like that. I wouldn’t go that far for my own needs, but for Na Kama Kai, I was like I can justify this. I feel this is right. Basically, a lot of my friends didn’t answer my calls even if I wanted to have a beer, because they thought I was calling about Na Kama Kai. Oh, that guy? Block. So it was a sacrifice.”

GA: “Your friends who also didn’t want to say no during the week, so they commit coming Sunday morning, only to have a big party Saturday night, right?”

DD: “People would commit and not show because of a big party Saturday night. I was like what the hell? Why aren’t the coming? Why aren’t they into this like me? Don’t they see the mission? My wife’s like brah, you’re the guy with the passion. You’re the guy with the vision. Nobody’s going to think the same as you. Nobody’s going to have the same drive as you. That doesn’t mean that they don’t love what you do. It was testing to see that they like it, but they’ve got lives and their own missions. To kind of balance everything out where it’s a percentage thing at the end, you know? When somebody does give you something and does help, you realize you just gotta be super grateful and mahalo.”

GA: “Great advice by wifey, Malia, right? Nobody’s going to have the same passion as you for the organization, but that’s fine. It’s your job as the director to balance that out and find the right people and the right roles, right? Hi’ilei, previously it took 40 people per day on a typical work day at He’eia. Now it takes about 100. How do you source these volunteers?”

HK: “Word of mouth. We’ve never recruited with the exception of one event for volunteers. We’re just super blessed and I think it’s because we’re on Oahu. The need is so great. Everybody’s so disconnected. We all know that. Everybody’s on their phones, including ourselves, all the time. The need to reconnect with our aina, to malama aina, to jump in the ocean is there. Originally, 40 volunteers. Now we’re up to 125 per work day – we do two of those a month. We had a big event in 2015 and basically 2,000 volunteers came out. I want to say that’s the reason we get 100 volunteers per work day now because it’s sort of this snowball – it’s rolling and it’s awesome. There will continue to be a need here for our nonprofits, and also there’s plenty of room for many, many more nonprofits out there.”

GA: “Some of the volunteers are board members volunteering their time, expertise, strategies, all that stuff. I’ll start with Donavan. What do you look for in board members? I know you mentioned that this changes depending on the maturity of your nonprofit. Initially, what were you looking for in a board member and how has that changed since?”

DK: When we first started, I was just looking for board members that wouldn’t get in the way to be honest – just sign this doc, trust me, I get ‘em. That was the first thing, the second thing was whether or not there was a connection and they got it and I liked them, and they liked me, because we would have to have conversations about stuff. Our first two board members were friends from law school that we spent a lot of time with – Native Hawaiians – they got this mission of bringing technology education to Native Hawaiian communities, so they were down for the cause. Fast forward a couple of years, things start evolving, the needs of the organization demand folks with different areas of expertise. We started thinking about bringing in folks that could help the organization grow in different facets. So today, we’re fortunate to have a guy that I went to college with – he’s working for one of the big tech companies in the Bay area. His big vision is to get more Hawaiian kids up into San Francisco and working for these tech companies, and bringing values with them. We have Forest who brings his expertise in government and large corporations. You just have to be aware of the needs of the organization and always be open to bringing on folks and can get the mission and accelerate.”

GA: “Do you require board members to donate or solicit funds for your organization?”

KP: “For the second part of that question, yes. If they just donate five dollars, it’s good for grants to show that our board members are financially invested as well. When I started my board, I wanted to make sure that I had a lawyer, an accountant, a scientist, and a community activist. At first, you want to make sure it’s easy to get your work done. As you evolve and bring more board members on, you want to get people outside of your bubble. That’s what we’ve started to do. I started to get my first ‘no’s.’ That was very difficult. I had this very wealthy individual that wanted to donate a 78 foot yacht to our organization. I thought this was the greatest idea ever. We would go sailing and pull manta trolls through the water and sample microplastics, and then we’d sell the boat and make a bunch of money, and that was my first ‘no.’ That was pretty heartbreaking because I had all these dreams and what not. In the end, I realized boat stands for bust out another thousand. It was probably the right decision to make. At the time, I was like you guys are totally missing it like this is a great opportunity. Your board’s first ‘no’ is a huge experience. It’s a tough one as an Executive Director.”

I quickly wanted to touch on the programs and services part, too. As a nonprofit, you can’t just rely – we couldn’t just rely on grants and corporate contributions and individual donations. Coming from a business background, there’s gotta be ways to make money in this. It’s not that as a nonprofit, you can’t make money. The money that you make is reinvested into the nonprofit. For us, it was ok who needs these services? Corporate cleanups are a huge thing that we do, especially in Hawai’i. We’ve got all these different companies that come here for trips and we provide corporate opportunities for team building, etc. We also do waste aversion. A lot of you probably have seen us at different events separating compost and recyclables from the waste stream – teaching people that we’re throwing away resources. Next year – we’ve been working on this from the beginning – we’ve been trying to commoditize plastic that comes off our beaches. You may have seen this with Adidas, Corona, Parley, and Method – that’s all our ocean plastic from Kahuku and actually from the entire state. We just got a grant to do all of that recycling here on island, so we’re going to be truly commoditizing ocean plastic next year to raise more funds for what we do.”

GA: “I know we’re running out of time. I want to open it up for Q&A. So we covered from the inspiration, to the paperwork, to the raising funds, sourcing volunteers, board members. I want to open up to questions from the audience. Before we do, I want to give a shout out to Alex Lei and Andrew Lei of The Pig & The Lady for supporting us and supporting this event. We have time for a few questions. Daniel Ito, go for it.

Daniel Ito (audience): “How do you calculate your measurement of success?”

KP: “As a nonprofit, you need to know these things. It’s how you quantify for grants how effective you are. For us, it’s creating a metric. It’s how many pounds of trash do we remove off the beach. It’s how many kids we educate. How many people show up to our cleanups. Things like that for us.”

DK: “The hard metrics that we are responsible for whenever we write for grants to organizations is how many kids we serviced. We put down computer projects – whether it be websites, video games that the kids develop. It’s a challenge whether or not this is having meaningful impact. By teaching them technology, coding, computer programming – do we feel like we’re having an impact? It’s the high level metrics we have to report on, but it’s the fundamental question of man, I don’t know if this working or what not, but I’m still trying to push on it. The qualitative success is in the stories that we’re collecting from our teachers with respect to the kids maybe change perception of school or outlook is good for now.”

GA: “Sometimes you have to trust your gut, right? Hi’ilei.”

HK: “We have a lot of metrics. We just had our strategic planning and evaluation meeting yesterday which we did in two hours which is super impressive, because we have a lot of metrics. I love Excel spreadsheets. There’s monetary metrics, there’s people metrics, number of learners educated. The metric for the mission and the vision of the organization in my mind to simplify it is measured by fish. How do we know that we’re doing what we said we’re going to do? Well, in however many years, we’re hopefully going to have a fishpond that’s full of fish, and then we start feeding people.”

GA: “Duane.”

DD: “Ours is about how many keiki we work with, how many keiki participate in our different programs. One of ours is where we do our work as part of our metrics and getting out there. Honestly, the part the means the most to me is intangible. We’ve had to create what we’re going to make tangible with the numbers we write in the grants. Making sure we do things like a regular nonprofit. We need to have numbers, but at the end of the day, what does this 12 year old have in his mind now and in his life when he’s 25 years old? I don’t have that. I don’t have the answer to that. I just know that what we’re doing is the right thing. It’s got to be both though – it’s got to be that blend.”

GA: “Next question.”

Audience member: “You can’t clone yourself, so how do you recruit people to support your cause?”

KP: “For us, it’s about making it fun. By making people want to come versus making them feel like they’re obligated to come. That’s really been the key to our success. That’s live music, it’s our neighbor island cleanup. We’re a state organization and our next one is on Molokai. Our core team we’re always trying to build gets to camp ocean front for a week and educate kids and host a huge clean up. We team up with Hawaiian Airlines. They provide free flights for eight of our volunteers, so we get a raffle. It’s keeping things exciting, incentivizing, making it fun, maybe a few beers, and just creating a family. Once you’re in, it’s hard to leave.”

GA: “Make it fun, make it engaging, obviously try to avoid the burnout with the volunteers. Each one of you, knowing what you know now going through your journey of building your nonprofit, if you were to do it again, what’s one piece of advice you’d give to our guests here.”

DK: “I’d maybe let go of control sooner. I kind of like to micromanage a lot of different things. Trust your staff. We have great folks, really high energy, super smart, but I like to make sure things happen a certain way.”

KP: “I’ve got no regrets. I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve got an awesome crew, some of them are here today. The whole crew would be here today if we made it a little cheaper, but I have no regrets. I love my crew.”

HK: “Me, too. No regrets. I lie. I feel like everything we’ve gone through as an organization from going from eight original founders down to two still working with the nonprofit. All of that is part of the process. That process is super important to basically identifying us as a nonprofit today. That image we portray and what we try to cultivate. If anything in the whole wide world, I would just ask for help. When I was younger, I would never ask for help. I did everything myself, but now, because I’m 40, I ask for a lot of help.”

DD: “The beginning of what you’re going to start, you can think yourself out of starting. Just do it. You gotta go out there and put thoughts on paper, do it, make mistakes, change it, because what you’re going to be in two years versus ten years/fifteen years is evolving. You’re going to learn what it means to evolve, because you’re going to know it didn’t work the way you thought, and find out the answers as you go. You gotta go do it. Don’t spend the time five years writing down stuff and then ten years you never do nothing. That doesn’t make sense. You might as well not do none of that. If you’re going to spend the time, dive in. Do some action.”

GA: “Just do it. We’ve got Duane DeSoto, Hi’ilei Kawelo, Kahi Paccaro, Donavan Kealoha. Can everyone give them a round of applause? Thank you for sharing your mana’o. Real quick to wrap it up, what Kahi was saying, wish it was cheaper. Hey, we’re going through the same process too, right? RISEHI, we’re about two years old nonprofit. We’re 100% self-funded, so it’s pretty in kind donations from people and companies. We’ve got Hawaii VA Loans, Detail, Jason, Kirra, Malia, Ikaika Kimora, Aria Studios and Kolby… We’ve got a whole bunch of people passionate about this cause and we’re learning from these guys too. We’re trying to put out what we can with a bootstrap budget and hopefully, getting funding in the future. We can provide more events and more content. Really, more content online so that our keiki in the future, generations from now can learn from it. I appreciate all your support. If you guys have any ideas for funding, grants coming up, feel free to pull me aside after this. I’d love to hear more. Follow us on Instagram @risehawaii and go to our website and join our email list at risehi.com so you’re in tune for future events. Mahalo.”

end transcript

Written and transcribed by Erin Delgado

Photos by Heather Marshman of 37sight

By |2018-11-01T15:17:52-10:00July 31st, 2018|Event-Past, Issue 01|0 Comments

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