This an an Open Letter from the Possibility Labs team on reaching our three-year anniversary as newcomers. It’s been a rollercoaster to say the least, and we're not done yet. Read more on how we're navigating the next chapter with boundless hope and determination. 

The start-up life...  

…is a whirlwind of excitement, challenges, and growth. As we celebrated our three-year anniversary this past month, we found ourselves at a pivotal moment, and we wanted to share our story with all of you.

In our first two years, we witnessed incredible growth and celebrated significant milestones. We were the newcomers, carving a path with our passion to rebuild the exclusionary business constructs that charitable organizations were tethered to. In short order, we transformed an idea into a collaborative practice, working proudly with over 40 fiscally sponsored projects and donor-advised funds.

But let’s talk real for a moment—rapid growth isn’t always a smooth ride. It’s more like a rollercoaster, filled with twists, turns, and unexpected loops. 

On one hand, we uncovered a profound insight—our partners embraced our “we’ll figure it out with you” approach to problem-solving with and for them. Whether it was revising HR policies for wellness stipends or enabling e-commerce capabilities, our solutions-oriented mindset opened doors to the seemingly impossible. And that was a breath of fresh air for our team and our partners. 

On the other hand, on the back of this rapid growth and deep relationship building, we faced the very real possibility of stretching ourselves too thin. We needed to slow down and take stock of our strengths and weaknesses so that we could shift into being an institution representing a permanent asset for our communities. To prepare for the next stage of growth, our Board launched a comprehensive governance and operational review, examining every aspect of our organization: our finances, policies, procedures, client services, and structure. It became clear that managing growth demanded adaptability, resilience, and the courage to reevaluate our internal processes and realign strategies.

One of the unexpected challenges was losing our co-founders and co-CEOs, Keiko Murase and Lem White, who decided to explore new opportunities. During this time, we also realized that we could not build and pilot the solutions to the problems that we’ve identified as fast as we wanted to, and rather had to focus our strategies in order to have the most impact.

But here’s the silver lining—we’ve discovered the importance of strategic pause and transparent reflection to achieve financial viability—especially in the context of the unique challenges BIPOC organizations and businesses face. 

Consider these sobering statistics, which highlight the disparate economic circumstances of communities of color which PL and its partner organizations work to redress compared to white-led organizations. 

  • Significant Revenue Disparity: according to a report by Echoing Green and the Bridgespan Group, early-stage Black-led nonprofit organizations face a 24% smaller revenue pool compared to white-led nonprofits. Furthermore, Politico also notes that this revenue disparity exists for private minority-owned businesses too—Black-owned small businesses earned 59% less and Latinx-owned small businesses earned 21% less in first-year revenues than their white-owned counterparts. Both reveal a substantial gap in financial resources available to organizations based on the racial background of their leadership. 
  • Stark Gap in Unrestricted Assets: The same Echoing Green and Bridgespan report indicates that the unrestricted assets for Black-led organizations are 76% smaller than those of white-led organizations. Unrestricted assets are crucial for organizational agility and long-term sustainability.
  • Rigorous Funding Scrutiny for BIPOC Leaders: the Stanford Social Innovation Review highlights that nonprofit leaders of color experience higher levels of scrutiny and skepticism from funders compared to their white counterparts, suggesting an implicit bias in the funding process.

Steering the Ship  

Embarking on the journey to “steer the ship” while maintaining our commitment to our partners raised some pivotal questions: how do we navigate temporarily without a captain? Who will provide the guidance needed as we course correct? And how can we make sure we’re getting to where we and our partners need to be?

As an interim solution, we’ve opted for a more distributed advisory model called the “Office of the President.” This dedicated team, composed of experienced industry leaders, Board members, and staff, will oversee daily operations, shape our future strategy, and lead the nationwide search for our next CEO.

  • Mark Watson (he/him), Board Chair, is a visionary leader with over 30 years of experience in finance and innovative community- and impact-driven funds. He is the Co-founder and President of Potlikker Capital, a pioneering integrated capital fund dedicated to championing BIPOC farmers at the nexus of racial and climate justice.
  • Jill Smith (she/her), VP of Operations, is a dedicated social justice professional with over a decade of experience in business and program operations, driven by a commitment to fostering positive change within historically marginalized communities. With a robust background in nonprofit work, she has excelled across various domains, showcasing her expertise in program development, operational management, and people operations.
  • Jackie Khor (she/her), Senior Advisor, is an experienced leader at the intersection of impact investing and philanthropy, bringing over 30 years of expertise in leading teams and structuring multi-faceted investments across the philanthropic and impact investment spectrum.
  • Jeff Malloy (he/him), Senior Advisor, has been appointed Treasurer of Possibility Labs. Jeff is a widely recognized leader in Finance and Administration in the nonprofit and philanthropy sectors. He has over 30 years of experience driving non-profit and corporate management excellence across Finance/Accounting, Human Resources, Operations, Technology, Risk Management, Grants Administration, Legal, and Compliance. He currently serves as President of the Foundational Financial Officers’ Group, a non-profit membership organization of financial and investment officers of large private foundations in the United States and abroad, and was previously Chief Operating Officer and Treasurer at the Heising-Simons Foundation.
  • Kelley Buhles (she/her), Senior Advisor, is a collaborative leader, facilitator, and co-creator of new finance and governance models that center community wealth building and collective decision making. Kelley brings 15 years of experience with Donor Advised Funds, philanthropy, and integrated capital. Previously, Kelley worked at RSF Social Finance where she co-created the integrated capital approach to financing, participatory grantmaking programs, and oversaw the Donor Advised Fund program
  • Lucas Turner-Owens (he/him), Senior Advisor, is a passionate impact investor and advocate for sustainability and economic justice with a diverse background spanning venture capital, impact consulting, and community-driven initiatives. He is the Founder of The Sankofa Group (TSG), a mission-driven advisory firm for impact investors and emerging managers.
The possibilities ahead are still abundant...

Our mission remains unwavering: to empower underinvested communities, supporting their resilience and self-determination. But the ways we achieve this mission are abundant. Our commitment to sound nonprofit corporate governance and uplifting the BIPOC and marginalized communities we serve remains steadfast and we will continue to lean into our framework of possibility and trust for our partners. The staff remains dedicated to empowering our partners through thought-partnership and creative solutioning to bridge the wealth, resource, and infrastructure gaps felt by many BIPOC movement leaders. But we’ve never been alone on this journey.

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to our core funders: the Kataly Foundation, The JPB Foundation, The Nathan Cummings Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for their recent support and continued belief in our mission. 

Solidarity within our community has also been a beacon of hope. As Nwamaka Agbo, CEO of the Kataly Foundation, aptly puts it…

“At the Kataly Foundation, we are committed to resourcing initiatives that support the political, economic, and cultural power of Black and Indigenous people, and all communities of color. Possibility Labs’ mission aligns closely with our belief in community-driven economic development and systemic change. We are proud to support their work as they continue to build innovative infrastructure that is direly needed for our communities.”

And to you…for reading this far. Thank you. Your empathy, partnership, insights, and suggestions have been invaluable to us as we embark on this new phase for Possibility Labs. While we have some important mile markers to reach in front of us, including board expansion, business plan refinement, and the evolution of our leadership structure, we welcome your thoughts and feedback. Our inbox is open 24/7 at [email protected]

We’ll also be updating on our progress more regularly via posts like these and via email. 

Your continued support and commitment to our shared vision are deeply appreciated. Together, we are not just building possibilities; we are building a brighter and more innovative future.

With boundless hope and determination,

The Possibility Labs Team

Anika Akhter, Chanell Gore, Cindhy Soto, Daniel Zhou, Jaimee Estreller, Jill Smith, Khalid Kadir, Mark Watson, Randall Huerta, Raymond Pettit, and Rosemary Fei.