Stewardship — It goes without saying that an organization is only as healthy as its bottom line. Without any financial savvy or prosper discernment to spend judiciously (not being a cheap skate but also not being wasteful of resources), you’ll quickly exhaust your runway, which only decreases the odds of your org’s sustainability and longevity.

For someone who wants to set aside money to establish a Philanthropic Foundation or Fund, what does it take to make sure your resources are being impactful and truly effective? In this interview series, called “How To Create Philanthropy That Leaves a Lasting Legacy” we are visiting with founders and leaders of Philanthropic Foundations, Charitable Organizations, and Non-Profit Organizations, to talk about the steps they took to create sustainable success.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bri Franklin.

Briana “Bri” Franklin is a businesswoman, philanthropist, and student debt expert/thought leader on a crusade to help Black women overcome financial disparity.

Having taken on a burden that eventually ballooned to nearly $120K in student debt through her undergraduate studies at Dartmouth College, Bri developed an acute appreciation for the challenges many student debt holders experience, including diminished ability to establish financial independence, take advantage of personal freedoms — such as starting a family and/or home buying — or launch business ventures.

In recognizing the extent to which other Black women in particular experience adversity at the hands of the $2T student debt crisis as well as lack of financial literacy, she formed The Prosp(a)rity Project as a solution for eradicating these systemic barriers.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about a ‘top of mind’ topic. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?

There’ve been too many to count, but if I had to narrow down to the most definitive two, I’d say going through the agony of owing six figures ($116K at peak) in student loan debt due to my college studies and spending 5 years “ping ponging” between my parents’ and ex-partner’s homes due to inability to self-sustain financially.

10 years ago as a rising freshman poised to begin my collegiate studies at Dartmouth College, this without question was not the destiny I forecasted for myself, and had you told me then it’s where I’d have ended up, I very well would not have undertaken that path. But, I also believe that everything happens for a reason and unfolds in the way it’s meant to, and know that these experiences were equipping me for the calling placed over my life to turn the tide for others.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? We would love to hear a few stories or examples.

  • Being good at communicating/anticipating others’ perspectives — Having solid conversational capacity is what’s helped me be so successful in conveying the sense of urgency around my org’s mission (closing the generational wealth gap for Black women created by the $2T predatory lending crisis) to audiences who lie far outside this demographic and otherwise would not be inclined to get involved or lend their support.
  • Ability to call a spade a spade — A subtle yet powerful change that I feel has gone a long way to help advance our mission/boost our reputation is reframing the language of our cause. Several months ago, I made the bold decision to eschew mention of the “student debt crisis” and instead, refer to the problem as the “predatory lending crisis”, which as I see it, helps propel us closer to being part of the solution.
  • Listening to my gut — As I’ve learned in the 3 short years as the leader of my organization, though it’s (almost) all well-intended, not all advice is useful advice. Due to my youth (and looking a good 10 years younger than I am, at that), it’s quite common for people to inundate me with cautionary tales and their own two cents on how I should handle a situation, which has at times served me well. Other times though, I’ve had to tune in with my intuition to let it lead the way, which thankfully has yet to lead me astray.

What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made since you started leading your organization?

That student loan public enemy #1, Sallie Mae, started out over 50 years ago as the SLMA (Student Loan Marketing Association) and broke off to privatize and morph into the dreadful behemoth millions of unsuspecting students and their families have been affected by in the decades since.

Can you please tell our readers more about how you or your organization intends to make a significant social impact?

The Prosp(a)rity Project, quite plainly, is hellbent on being the disruptive snag in the fabric of the predatory lending infrastructure. Conventional wisdom says that it’s a system too big to fail which is why so many have grown complicit with enabling its continuation. Whether it’s celebrities donating outsized endowments to colleges and universities, guidance counselors putting students through the ringer to apply for scholarships starting sophomore year or parents going so far as to borrow against their homes/401(k)s to foot tuition bills, there’s been entirely too much tolerance toward skyrocketing higher education costs, which, to be clear, are being driven by exploitative greed.

That’s where we come in. Not only is our organization helping the most affected group, Black women, recover from these devastating effects, but we have plans to expand into advocacy work that corrects and redesigns the system from the ground up to restore justice by putting people over profits.

What makes you feel passionate about this cause more than any other?

As someone who was gravely affected by the aforementioned, I have a personal beef with the players responsible for creating this $2T nightmare that traces back the past decade. In spring 2013, I vividly remember going through the FAFSA application process with my parents and not having the faintest idea of what we were actually doing.

And though at age 18 there are some things it’s perfectly okay to be in the dark about and wing as you go along, your financial future and freedom–or lack thereof–are not under any circumstances.

In hindsight, I later learned that my egregious lack of financial understanding and appreciation of debt are what lenders were literally banking on and that this ignorance set me right up to fall prey to subprime lending, which years later reaped havoc on my ability to establish basic independence in my early-mid twenties.

Now that I’ve upped my money smarts, I’m coming back with a vengeance to ensure this reality is no longer experienced by future generations.

Without naming names, could you share a story about an individual who benefitted from your initiatives?

While each one of our Prosparettes has such a noteworthy story, I think often about one in particular from our inaugural cohort who reached out at the top of this year to share that our 35*2 Free Initiative not only helped her drastically move the needle on reducing her student debt burden, but also led to the alteration of her mindset surrounding money and has led to her making changes that have impacted her credit habits, savings goals and outlook on her future earning prospects–all of which are our target outcomes.

We all want to help and to live a life of purpose. What are three actions anyone could take to help address the root cause of the problem you’re trying to solve?

  • Get clear on your why — To know what problem to solve is one thing, but if you’re not connected to it personally is some regard, it’ll greatly diminish your resolve to stay the course, which is imperative for solving challenges, especially if you’re the first one to give it a go.
  • Be unapologetically skeptical — Chances are, if you’re in the social impact space, you’re up against a gnarly giant–whether it be poverty alleviation, human rights, environmental conservation, trafficking, or something else altogether. And unfortunately, the reason these issues exist in the first place is because the powers that be (legislative, economic, etc.) have created conditions that allow such problems to persist or go unchecked. The key to making a dent is to develop razor sharp discernment that keeps you from being swayed by adversarial influences and remaining true to what you’re pursuing.
  • Be adequately informed on what you’re up against — This social impact life is not–I repeat: IS NOT–for the faint of heart! To truly make a difference, it’s crucial to be clear on the numbers and statistics fuelling the problem you intend to solve, and it’s easy to kid ourselves into thinking the road ahead is easier than it will prove to be. As my pastor says about building, “It’ll take you twice as long and cost twice as much” as you estimate, and though he intended it in the context of erecting a house/physical establishment, this is equally applicable to launching an organization. It’s a ton of effort, but so worth the reward in the end.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful & Effective Nonprofit That Leaves A Lasting Legacy?”

  1. Timelessness — Though we do very much hope that there will come a day that the work of our 35*2 Free Initiative will become obsolete (in the sense that student debt and lack of financial education are no longer posing a threat to Black women’s collective ability to generate wealth), the community we seek to cultivate that empowers and uplifts Black women to stand in their strength as they press on toward their aspirations will always remain at the center of our cause.
  2. Stewardship — It goes without saying that an organization is only as healthy as its bottom line. Without any financial savvy or prosper discernment to spend judiciously (not being a cheap skate but also not being wasteful of resources), you’ll quickly exhaust your runway, which only decreases the odds of your org’s sustainability and longevity.
  3. Decisiveness — What’s going to be our signature font? Which bank should we establish our account through? How much will we raise in our next fiscal year? Outlook or Gmail? Startup life comes with having to make a million and one decisions, and though some are more mundane than others, being the leader means they almost always fall squarely on your shoulders. Automate, delegate and coordinate, and watch your focus accelerate.
  4. Innovativeness — The world’s biggest problems are impossible to solve single handedly–even the wealthiest individuals and organizations need partners of some sort to make meaningful change come to pass. So while you shouldn’t expect to be the only one taking a stab at accomplishing your respective mission, you should be differentiating your approach, which you can gauge using the UVR spectrum (credit to Cal Newport’s So Good they Can’t Ignore You for first exposing me to this concept.) It stands for how Unique, Valuable and Rare something is, so the higher you score, the better your likelihood of gaining and maintaining traction.
  5. Relentlessness — The saying “early bird catches the worm” has stood the test of time for a reason, and in the nonprofit sector especially, this couldn’t be more accurate! It’s one thing to be a go-getter when you feel good about your odds of success, but the frustrating reality in the startup phase is that even with the most ironclad branding, mission statement and operations plan, you’re going to get told “no” many more times than “yes”, so staying the course and not getting discouraged is absolutely paramount to success.

How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?

Interestingly, Covid-19 provided the perfect breeding ground for success through this venture to be even remotely possible. The combination of diminished social activity along with a heightened global appreciation (even if momentarily experienced) for the Black Lives Matter movement created the exact circumstances a cause like mine needed to exist, thrive and succeed.

How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?

Being the literature lover and English major that I am, I keep myself buried in a gripping memoir, usually penned by an entrepreneur or public figure who’s overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to succeed in their craft to remind me that it’s very possible for me to do as well. This summer alone, I’ve read Cicely Tyson’s Just as I Am, Viola Davis’ Finding Me, Simu Liu’s We were Dreamers and Huma Abedin’s Both/And, each of which offer more than their fair share of testimonials for weathering the many storms this highly unpredictable life has subjected me to.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non-profit? He, she, or they might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’ve shared this individual before, but the law of averages tells me I should put it out there again: Robyn Rihanna Fenty! She’s the living embodiment of falling down 9 times and getting up 10, and the innate business acumen she possess that’s taken her from music artist to one of the world’s most visionary entrepreneurial talents has inspired me tremendously to bet on myself and dream like my life depends on it.

You’re doing important work. How can our readers follow your progress online?

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.