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When she first started in the working world, Dr. Joynicole Martinez ran events for a gospel record label. Today, she sings a different tune.
Her consulting firm helps the world not through song but by assisting nonprofits to help them work not just better, but smarter.
She started The Alchemist Agency, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1999. She rebranded the firm in 2016. The jump from music to grant writer and board consultant (to name just a few of the hats she wears) might seem linear, but for Martinez, it's all about passion.
“I like to use the term the four chambers of my heart to describe the four major areas or industries I hope to most influence: health, housing, poverty and education," she says.
1. Please describe what your business does.
The Alchemist Agency builds capacity for our clients. Our purpose is to identify obstacles to the achievement of objectives, develop strategies for overcoming them and provide training and support during the execution phase. The agency defines actions that improve effectiveness and sustainability in terms of financial stability, organizational strength, programmatic quality and communications strategy.
We focus on grant writing, management and reporting, fundraising and donor management, board governance, human resources and change management.
2. What about your personal background made you uniquely qualified to start this business?
I was raised in a home with creative entrepreneurs and medical doctors committed to providing primary health care to traditionally underserved populations. That exposed me to the clinical, procedural and often finite side of medicine and science alongside the infinite, inventive and enterprising characteristics of business development and ownership. It also meant I was uniquely positioned to see how successful businesses offered solutions and answers to questions central to the community.
—Dr. Joynicole Martinez, founder and CEO, The Alchemist Agency
I have a degree in political science, which really began my journey into looking at the policy, community and equality. My MBA helped shaped my ownership acumen. However, the doctorate in health science really offered a way to dig deeper into the health arts and sciences, and the challenge of understanding and adapting scientific knowledge in order to achieve population health gains.
3. Why did you start your business?
I started the business for one simple reason—empowering the people that seek to change the world for the better is my heart's desire. Funding gaps, staffing challenges, policy conflicts and boards that were not properly trained and prepared to support the mission—I found these issues uncomfortably common. Rather than use donations alone to support the causes I am passionate about, I decided to lend my education and experience.
4. What hurdles have you overcome in running your business?
In the beginning, there was a lack of staff and capital. I was wearing all the hats, and there were times of loneliness and uncertainty. I made poor time management decisions, seeking out opportunities to socialize as I transitioned out of the traditional workplace. Networking was necessary, but it can't be an excuse for sitting down (even if alone) and completing the work. You must be sure that there is a tangible benefit or result for time spent.
During times of growth, there was momentum and energy for work. When your have new clients and projects there's a forward motion that feels positive and propelling.
However, the seasons that are for maintenance can feel monotonous. Partnership with an executive coach and mentor made each day one in which I was held accountable for my actions, or lack of them. Such a relationship offered an opportunity for voicing concerns, brainstorming and business interaction beyond the client. This is especially important for emerging entrepreneurs.
Solutions to the capital or money issue were also found in relationships, with my small business specialist at the bank, and my credit card issuer. We don't always think of our credit issuing agency as an ally. There is so much information and support available beyond the credit line.
5. What do you wish nonprofits knew about running the business side of their organizations?
If there is one thing I'd like to impress upon those running nonprofits is that they are corporations. We tend to refer to them as an organization, which is a hyponym of corporation. Often individuals will, because of their love or passion to see a wrong righted or a need fulfilled, seek to form a nonprofit organization without considering their preparedness to run a corporation.
The virtue of being organized is very different than the establishment of a corporation under authority of law, having a continuous existence independent of members, and powers and liabilities distinct from its members. When nonprofits are birthed from the heart of an individual, it's easy to jump in and rally others without considering what the corporation needs to function beyond your passion. Nonprofits often lag behind for-profit corporations with respect to profit-making, long-term financial planning and succession planning.