4 min read ✭ In this post, we interview our founder and CEO, Cameron Ripley, about the highs, the lows, and the learnings of 2019.
Looking back at 2019, how would you describe it?
Cameron Ripley: 2019 at Community Boost has honestly been my most fun year. I think it’s been our highest impact year. I’m not just saying that, that’s why we all join this mission to empower social venture changes in the world. It’s absolutely had its ups and downs, but I would say way more ups than downs. We went from serving 140 nonprofits in 2019 to serving close to 200 in 2019. I think we worked with about 180. Then we did all these things like pilot programs with Google, pro bono accelerators, and more. And that doesn’t even include a lot of the big stages and speaking engagements. So I do think it was incredibly high impact this year and that’s why we’re in this.
It’s been really exciting to also move upmarket a little bit. We work with organizations of all sizes, but to have earned a seat at the table with some of the biggest nonprofit brands in the world is very exciting. It’s inspiring. We learn from the best and we get to help the best by becoming, in my opinion, some of the best at Google Ad Grants, Google ads, Facebook and Instagram ads for nonprofits. And that’s huge. Some of the case studies we’re going to be rolling out from this year end are going to be really exciting.
Naturally, you hit certain growing pains. We went from 17 team members in December last year to 26, so how do we get to be great teachers? How do we bring in people from other organizations who learned things a little differently to really get into our system to hit their own flow state? I think overall we’ve done a great job there as well, but there are probably ways I would do things differently.
We’re now managing over a million dollars a month in our current Ad Grant client MCC. That’s amazing. That’s hundreds of thousands of visitors every single month being sent to great causes that need awareness. We went from last year just trying to say, do nonprofits want to do Facebook and Instagram ads this year? To now It’s become a core channel and we’ve gotten really good at it.
At the beginning of 2019, you had an understanding that things were moving towards mobile. That’s where people’s attention was at. How has that surprised you or how has that done exactly what you thought this year?
CR: I think the digital world is an omnichannel experience. We are encouraging our nonprofit partners not just to do certain channels, but to move faster and grow the muscle needed to try things and to fail a little bit more because the only constant in the digital world is change and we have to test faster. I’ve been doing this for nonprofits for over eight years now and I’ve seen some of the biggest nonprofit brands go from startups to absolutely massive followings. And that is something that they became great at. I think that’s ultimately what we’re trying to do and that’s why we were really bullish on Facebook and Instagram ads this year. It might be something else in 2020. It might be text to give. It might be new ways of giving online. You always have to be playing in those new arenas because that’s where you can gain momentum quickly.
You mentioned failures growing as a company. Talk about some of the things that you took risks on that you succeeded in or failed in.
CR: I think it’s super important to talk very candidly when we don’t do great work. For the vast majority of our accounts, we keep track of what we call our Net Promoter Score—how likely our nonprofit partners are to promote us to their friends or colleagues. So if a not ideal score comes in, we talk about that. We have a full team post-mortem to talk about what’s going on here. What happened? What are we not going to do here again? Did we oversell this? Did we just not do something or did we really predict that something would happen here? There are always great learnings there and we are huge on a candid culture. That’s honestly a huge part of our secret sauce. I can have the youngest team member in this company and say Cameron, I really think this build was done poorly. And I can turn around and say, Hey, you know, you did these things well in this meeting, but you really could have improved here or you really need to strengthen your understanding here. And we do that fast. We do that in real-time. And that’s huge. Honestly, it’s what our team wants. And if you don’t want that, then you’re typically not going to thrive at Community Boost.
On the client front, we’re definitely growing, but I think we’ve always tried to stay in our lane and do things that we are great at. With Google ads, Ad Grants, Facebook and Instagram ads, we’re always experimenting, but not with the majority of our client roster. We’re always trying new channels. We’ve been spending a ton of time and work on LinkedIn ads and YouTube ads, but if we start to sell those to a client, we’re really transparent. This is new, we’re going to do this cheaper for you. We have to always be innovating, so we tried some other new things too that didn’t work. There are plenty of things that didn’t work and we want to make those bets.
We tried to take impact measurement to the nonprofit space this year. We had a team member who was super passionate about it and had a background in it. Ultimately I think every nonprofit should be doing it— true social impact measurement, but I think we were a bit early to market and we built out a tremendous framework, yet we didn’t gain a lot of traction. We’re starting to understand why and we’re actually going to put out a whole recap about that. We might open source everything we worked on for the full year because I do think it can impact causes.
Pointing out a couple of big milestones, company culture has been a big thing that you focused on and it’s grown a lot with almost doubling our team, going to New York and San Francisco. How are these things helping you get to your goal of an East Coast office, 50 employees, a video agency, etc.? What have you taken away to help you grow into those things that you want?
CR: You hit on some big mission moments there, but I want to be clear that the goal of this company is not to just scale people and scale revenue. It’s to make a big impact. It’s to take amazing, purpose-driven talent from lower yield to higher yield to build the future leaders of the social sector, which I do believe we are. We want to grow our impact naturally. We started doing all this content because it’s cool to work with upwards of 200 nonprofits, but wouldn’t it be cool if we could help thousands that we could take the learnings from Facebook and Instagram ads that we’re experimenting with and tell everyone to do it for those that actually want to roll up their sleeves and be a practitioner?
This was honestly one of the most humbling and exciting years I’ve had. The fact that years ago, we could barely get people to be excited about this $10,000 per month Google Ad Grant and we wanted to do it for free for them to now sharing the stage with Michelle Hurtado of Google, the Head of Ad Grants Global, some of our biggest partners from the Trevor Project, and Calvin and Nadia from the Statue of Liberty Ellis Island Foundation in Boston, in front of hundreds of nonprofits. Then taking those takeaways and running an event in New York City with the Ad Grants team and Charity: Water and then doing another event in San Francisco with the Ad Grants team as well. That’s why we did it. We call ourselves consultants, but really we’re just teachers and we want to help nonprofits because we’re great at digital and want to teach them everything we’re learning, but we learn more from our clients than they realize about how to make a big impact.
What about you personally? Just your overall year as a healthy person that’s running a healthy company. How do you feel?
CR: I feel great. I just turned 35 yesterday. Myself and some of the Community Boost team wanted to hold each other accountable on the health front so we could have more energy and be more focused. I want to live a long life, so that’s been really great and been a big highlight for me this year. It’s been a great year personally. To be real, it’s been a slugfest at times. In eight years there have been times where I’ve wanted to give up, but to now be in a position where we’re fully bootstrapped, we have never taken outside funding, we’ve built a healthy business. There’s always room for it to be healthier financially, but also we’re working with nonprofits and we want to build a model where we can do great work and also serve many nonprofits.
It’s the three Ps in that order. It’s the people here at Community Boost. That’s a huge priority for me and for us. It’s why we do what we do. Then the clients that are connected to that. And the next P would be product. That’s our service, which we treat very systematized, but it’s being great at what our nonprofits need us to be great at it. And then we think about profit. It has at times taken longer than I had hoped, but it’s been a really exciting year and I’m really looking forward to 2020. Our team gets stronger every year. We have really low employee turnover and that only makes us better, but that all comes down to culture. And that’s a team effort. Everyone contributes to that.
After reflecting on 2019, what are some of your 2020 goals? Let us know by leaving a comment below!