It’s our birthday! Since 2014, we have been growing, serving our clients and communities, and staying true to our values. During this special time we want to look back to meaningfully reflect on how we got here, celebrate our successes, assess our challenges, and discuss our visions for the future.
To learn more about this, we interviewed our Leadership Team – Whitney Brimfield (CEO), Calvin Koon-Stack (Director of Foundation Strategy), and Bre Swims (Managing Director). Internally, they are known as our Sparkle Squad, as they shine through our company by providing the utmost support to our staff and clients!
One of the most important guiding principles here at Spark Point is serving the nonprofit sector and our community with passion and a steadfast commitment to our values. From finalizing deliverables to fostering a unique work culture, the team works daily to ensure that these elements are at the forefront of our work.
Because Spark Point started with just Whitney, the Spark Point team wanted to hear more about the origins of our company values, so we asked, How were the company values defined?
The company’s values are rooted in Whitney’s personal values, sharpened by years of experience working in the nonprofit sector. “It’s common for people to ignore certain values while being consumed by their work,” she said. Putting the values front and center in how Spark Point engages with clients, colleagues, and the world makes them an integral part of how we work, and harder to ignore.
With well defined values in place, Spark Point has been able to grow without compromise while making space for new ideas, new voices, and new ways of working. This allows us to encourage team members to use their voices, as voices have power, and to give them dynamic opportunities for professional growth.
Most importantly, our company values continue to evolve as our team grows. For example, in 2020 during our first-ever staff retreat, we held strategic conversations with our employees on their values, how they relate to Spark Point, and what they envisioned as essential to a healthy work culture. The Leadership Team then used that information to hone our company values and even incorporated them into the hiring protocol so that Spark Point could continue to grow in a way that strengthened our commitment to the nonprofit sector, ingenuity, integrity, equity, kindness, and anti-racism. As a result, these values are ingrained into the daily operations at Spark Point. Whether we are setting goals as a team, completing annual reviews, or collaborating with clients, our values are at the forefront of our work!
What have been your favorite “firsts” in Spark Point’s history?
Calvin vividly recounted the story of his first meeting with Whitney, at Ebeneezer’s Coffee near Union Station in Washington, DC, when he was a freelancer. ”The conversation went far beyond what I could have hoped for at the time, and it was just the beginning”
Bre’s favorite first was also when she first met Whitney! In 2015, after Bre had been working for Whitney remotely for about six months, she traveled to DC to see friends. While there, she met Whitney at Lupo Verde on T St. Bre said their rapport instantly felt natural and positive. “When I sat across from her that evening, I knew she was something special. I just felt lucky! As a fresh graduate of a Master’s Program, I was eager to work with her. Still, I never could have imagined that almost ten years later, we would still be working together. It’s truly such a privilege.”
These early connections, although unbeknownst to the Leadership Team at the time, have helped lead us to where we are today: a time of immense growth! From 2019 to 2022 our staff went from 2 full time to 12 full time employees and our client list grew to more than 25 organizations., In eras of growth and change, what have been the most exciting and frightening moments of Spark Point’s trajectory? To a person, they all said that growing the team has been both the most exciting and the most frightening thing that’s happened. Hiring a new employee is exciting because it reflects growth, but it’s also a huge responsibility, investment, and risk. Whitney said, “Every person we hire really counts and can make a big difference for our team”. Even if a team member is the perfect fit, expanding the team is daunting because when someone’s livelihood is in your hands, every decision matters! Conversely, hiring someone who doesn’t mirror our company values means that relationships could be strained with clients or colleagues, thus affecting our ability to do impactful work. Despite these challenges, Spark Point is committed to hiring the best and the brightest, and we work daily to develop practices to meet the needs of our staff, to ensure that we’re creating a good workplace, to be good colleagues, and to effectively serve our clients. As Whitney always says, our most valuable asset is our people!”
What projects and initiatives from the past 9 years are you most proud of? What are the biggest challenges?
As we continue to grow, one of those is the creation of a hiring process that centers inclusion and aims for diversity. A lot of time and resources have gone into the process so that we grow responsibly and hire skilled and values-aligned team members.
Despite our progress, one of the biggest challenges that we still have is hiring candidates from diverse lived experience.. As we grapple with a predominantly white philanthropic sector, we aim to improve our hiring process by eliciting feedback from candidates of color on their experience in our process and by keeping abreast of best practices in inclusive hiring. We know that part of the reason why we struggle to attract people of color to our team is that there are fewer people of color in our field with the skills we are seeking. We’re aiming to reverse this challenge by launching a BIPOC Grant Writing Apprenticeship that will provide paid training and support with job searches. We aim to launch this program in the next 12 months.
In addition to the progress we are making with hiring and diversity, our team is also extremely proud of our anti-racist and equity initiatives like Black Women Spark Change (in its third year and running!) and the Ignite Program (our first-ever pro bono service).
What advice would you have given yourself nine years ago, knowing what you know now?
Calvin responded,“Don’t let fear get in the way. It is good to acknowledge your fear and things that you need to work on because it allows you to lead with compassion.” He explained that he can identify scenarios early in his career where he was intimidated or afraid. Learning from these situations, Calvin has been able to push through discomfort, allowing him to be better equipped to support his team.
Whitney answered, “Process is important! When you’re doing everything yourself, the process is what you decide, whatever you want it to be on a given day, and it is not scalable.” She recounts that as she grew within this role, the way you do things is as important as the result and having clarity on that is critical. They all agreed that a thorough and clear process, all the while being fearless leaders, can best guide the team and best serve our clients.
The Present Moment
How does the Sparkle Squad keep clients and team members engaged and motivated?
“First, lead with kindness,” said Whitney. “Assuming the best of everyone rather than the worst, ensuring that the team has the right tools to do their job, and working to eliminate barriers and challenges” are of the utmost priority.
We take a similar approach with clients. By working to understand client challenges, treating them with kindness, and employing an intentional, consistent stewardship strategy, our clients stay engaged and invested. Every single day, we are focused on maintaining our connections with them and keeping the working relationships strong.
How do you stay current on our industry and our competitors?
“We’re in constant conversation with others in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors, and with other entrepreneurs,” said Whitney. Each of us maintains a network of trusted advisors and strategic partners that help us see the landscape and identify trends. Along with our team’s experiences serving clients, these ongoing conversations guide our decisions about service design and delivery. ”New products and services need to be organic or they don’t work. It’s informative to look at what our competitors are doing, but it’s not a guide for decision-making,” Whitney says. For example, the development of our most recent services like Spark Time, ACCELERATE!, and the Ignite Program were catalyzed by conversations with our clients and our team about necessary and sustainable solutions,
What are your specific visions for the future?
Spark Point hopes to continue to grow in a sustainable and meaningful way. That means continuing to serve organizations that are making important changes in the world. And as our team expands, so does our capacity! One day, we’d love to have the resources to take on every single client who both needs assistance and matches our company values. That’s the dream!
Looking ahead requires looking back. If you’d like to see what we accomplished in 2022, take a look at our annual report here!
Thank you for taking the time to celebrate our 9th anniversary with us! We are beyond thrilled about all we have achieved thus far, but just wait until we get to ten! We have so much more in store for you.