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Updated: Mar 8

A Call for a New Founder’s Syndrome Part Three

In honor of the Black Equity Collective's three-year anniversary, our Founder and Chief Architect, Kaci Patterson, has shared her reflections about our journey together over the past few years as well as lessons she's learned as a new founder along the way. Below is part three of this three-part reflection. To read part two, click here.


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Honor and value your contributions unapologetically

Rarely do we, as founders, tell our stories. Rarely do we write them down and remind people of the journey—not just what we built but why we did in that way. When we don’t take time to record our history, we run the risk of losing important institutional memory. That can eventually lead to mission creep, or worse, erasure. And we can’t just tell it once, we have to build in a practice of building institutional knowledge with each new team member. Understanding why we made the strategic choices we made in 2021 should inform the strategic choices that get made in 2051 and 2091.

As I’m writing this piece, I am in the Topanga mountains on a three-day personal writing retreat. I took this time to document our history, to write our story the way it should be told. I encourage all founders to carve out time on an annual basis to step away to write (or create other content if writing isn’t your thing). Few things are more painful than giving everything you have to build something only to watch it become something you don’t recognize, or worse, that doesn't recognize you. 

Next, you have to pay yourself for what you bring to the work. As founders, it’s tough, I know. We’re trying to build the organization. But let’s be honest: YOU are the organization, especially in the early days. No one knows more than you, cares more than you, works harder than you. You’re the strategist, the fundraiser, the program designer, maybe even the driver and the cleaning crew. You cannot set a precedent of undervaluing your worth. Once it starts, it is VERY difficult to reset pay expectations. Think about it like this: if you were hiring your exact clone to be your next executive director, what kind of salary would you be willing to pay?

The other place our value needs to be recognized is in our intellectual property. I cannot emphasize this enough. As Black people, our ideas are stolen and monetized more often than we can even keep up with. Sometimes we know it but most of the time, we only realize it once our ideas have been extracted and our contributions erased. About a year ago, I spoke to a founder and executive director who participated in one of the BEC’s organizational resiliency grant programs. She shared how she had to spend a year fighting to reclaim the name of her organization because someone who participated in one of her training courses liked it and then tried to take the name and use it. She hadn’t had the name trademarked and the participant—a doctor—tried to use their power and position, and her ignorance, to take advantage of her. She eventually won but she talked about how much it drained her and cost her not only significant money in attorney’s fees, but time and momentum lost because she had to pause most of her programs as she was consumed in the legal battle.

Another founder recently contacted me because she was searching for a new fiscal sponsor after the first one tried to commandeer her program and subsume it within the broader organization. She raised so much money for it and they wanted the program to now be theirs. She was able to eventually extract herself and her program from that sponsor, but she wanted to connect with an intellectual property attorney who could help her draft language for the new fiscal sponsor agreement that would protect her from another attempted hostile takeover. A third founder shared how she created a framework that was used in a selection process for a program she created for her organization. One of the volunteer reviewers said to her, “This [framework] is so good. Can I steal it?” She also reached out asking for a referral to an IP attorney. All three of these founders are Black women. 

We have had far too many examples of these kinds of cautionary tales. It’s time for founders and executive directors to be unapologetic about protecting their ideas. We have to reject the expectations to freely relinquish our intellectual property in the name of community benefit or risk hostile takeovers from people who want nothing more than power grabs and financial gain off our backs. If you create something from nothing, which founders often do, you should own the intellectual property you created and when you leave, the organization should pay you for its use. We should not expect founders, especially founders of color, to hand over their creative capital for free. It’s not being greedy. At the very least, it’s being fair and at our highest aspirations, it’s being equitable. 

Refuse to Play Small

The new founder’s syndrome is about refusing to think small or feed scarcity mindsets. It’s about disrupting a status quo formula that keeps transformational change at bay. It’s about pioneering the kind of intergenerational change that accelerates our quantum intelligence as a people and breaks generational curses. 

A trusted friend and colleague recently told me that she sees our work—the Black Equity Collective, the BEI-IE Fund, the CA Black Power Network, Black Freedom Fund, Empower Initiative and others—as the modern civil rights organizations.

As we build upon the legacies of our foremothers and fathers from 1950s and 60s, we are building organizations that operate within a broader ecosystem of like-minded, collaborative partners. She’s right. We are fulfilling the promise of the movement by working to build power in and across communities, regions, issue areas and organizations. I’m no longer interested in just fixing what’s broken, I am committed to having the BEC be an institutional example of building better practices for the future and that includes everything from pay equity to community co-design and responsive philanthropy. As the founder of the BEC, that’s a legacy I want to preserve until the work of equity and justice is achieved. If we want to transform systems, we must start by transforming our thinking, then our imagination, then our practices, then our habits, and then finally, we’ll have new norms.  

I invite you to join me in breaking and remaking the mold!

This article was written by Black Equity Collective's Founder and Chief Architect, Kaci Patterson. Stay tuned for future BEC updates and news by subscribing to our newsletter below.


In Case You Missed It! Check out our three-year anniversary recap video, a special reflection of our journey together.


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