Editor's note: This column is part of a series by Lakeshore residents about their experiences living through the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Friday, March 13, I told our team that we would be figuring out what we’d do about the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had just issued Executive Order 2020-5, closing schools and prohibiting gatherings of more than 250 people. My business partner and my wife, Shelly, and I were reeling, trying to figure out on the fly what this could possibly mean for our business.
When the team arrived on Monday for our weekly staff meeting, I instructed them to grab the equipment they needed to work from home for an indefinite amount of time. I figured that would be two, three weeks, maybe. But in my heart, I knew it would be much longer.
By March 17, 2 Fish Company staff was writing press releases about office closures and event cancellations for our clients, some of which were nonprofits. We were busier than we had planned on being for early March, and though the work was for terrible reasons, I felt blessed to have any work at all.
On March 23, I closed the office to the public per the EO, taping official-looking messages on the door that indicated we were open for business but not to the public. I thought about our nonprofits again.
In February, we had contacted all of our existing nonprofit clients to let them know that we’d be continuing with our 10% Initiative, giving back to the community by reinvesting 10% of our profits, in the form of work hours.
The 2 Fish staff gather for a meeting.
We pick several nonprofit organizations we believe in and give them marketing support. These projects become part of our “10% Initiative.” It’s a sustainable way to support our community, a way to engage our team in meaningful work, and a way to give back. As one of our team puts it, “The recipients use the marketing strategies we develop with them and materials we create for them to amplify their story and encourage more people and organizations to give.” You can read more about our marketing plan here.
While we were busy trying to navigate the quickly shifting landscape of owning a business in a pandemic, our nonprofit partners were doing the same — developing real-time strategies for survival, attempting to keep our employees employed, negotiating ever-evolving rules for emergency loans, calming our children’s, our employees’ and our own fears.
One month prior, we had made a financial commitment to our nonprofits. They were counting on us. The community was counting on them. It seemed an impossible task.
A different choice
Shelly and I were both raised in the church. We’re Jesus people, make no bones about it (that’s a fish joke). So while it would make sense to let our nonprofits know that we couldn’t honor our commitment, we chose differently. On April 2, we sent this letter:
When we formally started the 10% Initiative more than a year ago, it was done in faith and in gratitude. Shelly and I know how much we’ve been blessed by 2 Fish Co as owners and as a family, and we knew that we would be in a position to offer those
blessings back to organizations we believe make a better world.
We had no idea in January, when we were setting this year’s gift amount, that COVID-19 would so dramatically change our lives and the world around us. And now your organizations matter more than ever. And they’re likely more cash-strapped than ever.
So here is our commitment to you, made in faith: We will continue to gift your organization monthly. You need it. We need you. Invoices sent yesterday reflect that gift.
Friends, don’t lose faith. Don’t let hope be stolen from you. We want your organizations to thrive in this time. To be beacons on a hill, to bring hope where there is little. We know that our services cost precious dollars, and we hope that by our continuing to support the 10% Initiative, we make those dollars stretch further.
We’re 2 Fish Co for a reason. We work with you to bring all of our resources together, and then we make miracles.
If you need anything, please call Shelly or I.”
The response was immediate and filled with grace and thanks. “We release you from your
commitment,” said one nonprofit client. “We’re so glad to be partners with people that truly understand us,” said another.
Nearly two months later, our faith-move has been validated. All of our nonprofits continue to serve as best they can. Their services — housing, food, clothing, environmental advocacy — are needed more than ever.
And 2 Fish Company?
After briefly using the WorkShare program from the state of Michigan’s Unemployment Agency, we obtained a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loan that is potentially forgivable. We were approved and funded in less than a week with our local credit union. (The Small Business Association of Michigan has been invaluable in helping us figure things out.) Our staff has been employed throughout and will continue to be. We’ve survived, and will emerge from this pandemic as part of a community that is connected and healthy.
Scott Millen is a proud Calvin College graduate, happy father of four, and small business owner who loves his lakeshore community.
This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs, and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.