Just when you think you’re at your rope’s end, when you think all the heroes have gone to drink Mai Tais in Maui and all of the innovative business ideas have dried up while the world around you is cratering from a pandemic that won’t quit, a story comes along — a magical story — that renews your faith in humanity and makes you believe in the power of ingenuity and community.
2020 will not by any means go down as the most inspirational year, but if you look hard and long enough, you will stumble upon more than a few “come-from-behind, back-to-the-wall” feel-good stories about small businesses that continue to endure, while keeping people on their payroll, with the support of their customers and philanthropic souls like entrepreneur David Portnoy.
Portnoy is the founder of the sports and pop culture blog, Barstool Sports. He also has become famous for his one-bite pizza reviews. But Portnoy has topped himself with his latest venture, The Barstool Fund, which raises money and ongoing aid for small businesses that are struggling to survive the COVID-19 lockdowns. As of this writing, The Barstool Fund, powered by the nonprofit 30 Day Fund and seeded with $500,000 of Portnoy’s money, has raised more than $9 million for 40 small businesses across 17 states with the support of nearly 80,000 individuals.
The beauty of Portnoy’s crowdsourcing initiative is the way it has touched Main Street America. From long-established restaurants and bars to yoga studios, dry cleaners, bowling centers and clothing stores, the fund is having such a positive impact on so many people’s lives and we all get to stream it. Instead of watching all the ways the coronavirus is tearing us apart, we can watch the transformative effect of Santa Claus-like philanthropy unfolding on social media.
Everybody loves a warm and fuzzy ending, and while it may not seem sustainable to keep small businesses afloat with heartfelt donations, the funds prolong their lifespan and provide a spark of hope to employers on the ropes.
Moreover, as workplace leaders and influencers, we should examine this type of viral sensation as a model to emulate. How do we effect change in ourselves and others? How do we walk the talk when it comes to our own mission and core values?
Sure, a faction of you may want to dismiss Portnoy’s generosity simply as a rich man’s way of giving back to society, while leveraging his celebrity and platform. But there is much more to this story than one wealthy idealist with a dream to help small biz with a GoFundMe account.
It takes a creative and inquisitive mind to put the fingers on the pulse of what really moves people. Like many of us, government bureaucracy and ineptitude frustrated Portnoy so he figured out the most efficient way to get money into the hands of enterprising people when they most needed it. He cut out the middleman and is ensuring the job gets done. That may not sound like a team player, but sometimes you need a maverick to change the game, if not the rules.
You may not be able to change the greater world, but you can change the little things in your life and at your company. Sometimes all it takes is a pebble to create a ripple and that one small action could be a game changer for a lot of deserving people.
The 30-Day Fund
Tech entrepreneur and CEO of Disruptor Capital, Pete Snyder, and his wife, Burson, first launched 30 Day Fund in April to provide Virginia-based small businesses with immediate financial assistance to meet payroll, preserve health care coverage for employees and save jobs while they awaited recently approved federal funding. The nonprofit Virginia 30 Day Fund is designed to be quick, easy and free of red tape, as small business owners work to keep employees on board in the near term. It also is open-sourced, allowing others to replicate 30-day funds to help communities and small businesses across the nation.
Seeded by the Snyders with an initial $100,000 of capital, the fund provides up to $3,000 to each approved small business. Business and philanthropic leaders across Virginia continue to make additional pledges, which has greatly expanded the fund's reach and impact at this critical time.
Since the first launch in Virginia, the 30-Day Fund has launched in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas and New Jersey. The funds disbursed do not need to be repaid, but if businesses that receive the fund’s assistance do wish to “pay it forward” later, they may do so by directing those dollars back to the fund, which will disburse them to another business in need. To date, the 30-Day Fund has raised more than $8 million and is on the way to funding more than 2,200 small businesses.
Pennsylvania businesses that qualify for assistance from the fund are:
- Small businesses that employ three to 30 people
- Based in Pennsylvania and have been operating for at least one year
- Owned and operated by a Pennsylvania resident.
Jeff Bartos co-founded the Pennsylvania 30 Day Fund with a group of local business leaders and worked with Barstool Sports to help save Reading Terminal Market.
While the extraordinary efforts of essential workers and frontline responders always warrant praise and appreciation, let's hear it for compassionate capitalists like Portnoy, Bartos and the Snyders who are providing hope to the little guy in a grim year that couldn't end soon enough.
About the Author
Dan Cafaro is the director of publications at WorldatWork.