Nonstop Nonprofit

Inspiration for Leaders Who Need It (From a CEO who found the courage to be bold)

Episode Summary

Jeremy Courtney · Founder and CEO, Preemptive Love | Jeremy Courtney tuned in from Iraq with a bundle of inspirational words just for you. His conversation with Justin Wheeler, CEO and Co-founder of Funraise, is full of stirring stories and honest accounts of Preemptive Love's journey as they took their hard-won, born-in-the-streets blueprints and replicated their successes around the world.

Episode Notes

Preemptive Love, a global community of peacemakers, owes their achievements to not holding back but finding something big enough to risk it all for: ending war. Their leadership realized that to get supporters on board, they had to have audacious, pie-in-the-sky plans backed by the credibility that only comes from loving the people you're serving, even when that means you're being bombed or shot at. 

To paraphrase Jeremy, "We're in the people-saving business, not the fundraising business."

Episode Transcription

Nonprofit leaders. This episode is for you. 2020 has been a year of surprises and has left many of us feeling hopeless or unsure about the future. For some, it may have even forced you away from being able to help others for your own survival. I sat down with Jeremy Courtney, Founder and CEO of Preemptive Love, to talk about his own experiences with war, bombings and kidnapping and how the midst of it all, he's remained hopeful and more determined to achieve their mission. Just a quick note on the sound quality. Jeremy is calling in from Iraq with unstable Internet. Thanks for all your patience as we did experience some outages during the interview. Let's dive in!


Justin Wheeler Jeremy, thank you so much for joining the podcast today. We truly appreciate it. Would love to kind of get started with where you at today in the world? Seems like you're always traveling to wherever the danger is at. And we'd love to learn a little bit more about where you're at and what you're up to today. 

Jeremy Courtney Yeah, so I'm at my home in Iraq today, but as you said, you may have seen me somewhere along the way in Syria, Mexico, you know, we've got work in different parts of the world, but I'm calling in from home after whatever month we're in of relative quarantine here. It's going down here like it is everywhere else. 

Justin Wheeler Yeah, so what is the sort of impact of the pandemic in Iraq? 

Jeremy Courtney It's been pretty significant. The net effects are definitely still playing out as they are in many countries. I think the economic costs are going to be huge like they are elsewhere. The political and social strife is likely to last a decade probably, I think. Like we're starting to see some of the effects of that in other places as well. The pandemic itself and claims about it and what we should do about it has been politicized here as it has been in the US, as it has been in other places. And it's not like this is the only thing that Iraq has had going on in the last decade. So this comes as an additional burden on top of an entire generation of war, cycles of war, massive declines in oil revenues and oil price, rise of ISIS, these kinds of things. It's not like Iraq had escaped those dynamics when Covid-19 got laid on top of it. So here, it's complicated. Syria, it's complicated. Venezuela, where we work, it's complicated. This is just unlike anything that, you know, we could have planned for. Anyone could have planned for. Globally, it seems like. 

Justin Wheeler Yeah. I want to get more into that in a few minutes. I'd love to learn what got you to Iraq in the first place. As you might know, I spent about five years working on North Korea, and friends and family members thought we were absolutely crazy. And at the time, Iraq was lumped in with North Korea as the axis of evil. You know, a place where Americans should not go. So why Iraq? And what compelled you to take your family and start Preemptive Love from Iraq? 

Jeremy Courtney Yeah, I mean, we basically took the axis of evil and made that our Bull's-Eye and said we want to be at all those places, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, North Korea. The only one we haven't gotten into, though, we've got a little bit of ancillary work on it, is North Korea, so far. So yeah, I mean, I was coming of age right at the time of the September 11th terrorist attacks, 2001. I had just graduated from college, just gotten married, and, you know, the whole world was ahead of us. Our whole lives were ahead of us in many ways. My birthday was September 10th and terrorist attacks on September 11th. And it was just an adult defining and world generation-defining moment I think for a lot of us. It felt like at the time that there were very few options. You know, you could, like, stick your head in the sand and try to pretend that this didn't just change our entire world and our entire futures. You could grab a gun and go show them what for? And bomb Afghanistan back to the Stone Age and, you know, whatever. And we had a lot of friends who went that route. Or you could go the missionary route and try to convert everyone to be a Christian. That was a little more where we came from. That was a little more our roots. That was a little bit of how our world view was formed and that missionary impulse, that like, let's make people see the world our way was part of what ended up pushing us out of the nest, so to speak. That was part of the original impulse that launched us overseas. It didn't last. It couldn't for me stand up to the scrutiny of actually having Muslim friends. 

Justin Wheeler What didn't last was I mean, you've obviously been interacting for 15 plus years. What you're saying didn't last was originally the reason that that launched you to Iraq in the first place was this sort of like missional endeavor. You decided that yeah, like work needs to be done here, but from a different way in or in a different way. 

Jeremy Courtney Yeah. So we ended up moving... I'm taking kind of a roundabout way to tell the story. But we ended up launching out into the world of after September 11. We did not go to Iraq first. Well, I went to a different... We went to Turkey, which is a 99% Muslim country, and it was there in Turkey that we tried to work out our way of changing the world, our way of responding to September 11th. And it just didn't work. It didn't work for me. My world view was transformed. My sense of faith or spirituality was transformed. And in many ways, like my whole world view fell apart and went back to like ground zero or square one and had to rebuild my life, had to rebuild my world view had to start over, in many ways, and that led us to move into Iraq and turn over a new leaf. When we moved into Iraq, we did it differently. We weren't looking to convert anybody. We were looking to serve. We were looking to be humanitarians. We were trying to be in the world, but not dominate the world in many ways, like had been our previous modality. So we ended up moving into Iraq at the height of the Iraq war when things were just totally going off the rails. Civil war, was at it's height? Death tolls were at their height. That's when we moved in and pretty early on met this little girl who needed a lifesaving surgery. Threw in with that family to see what we could do to help. And I found a little niche for ourselves where we could do things differently than some of the big aid organizations that were already around. And we got started as a group that was trying to help kids get lifesaving surgeries. And our work has continued to grow and evolve from there. 

Justin Wheeler And that obviously known as Preemptive Love today. I would love to hear a little bit more about, I remember when I was with Invisible Children and we were getting started on the ground in Uganda. You know, there was massive nonprofit organizations already on the ground doing work similar to, I think what you had explained, we found this real niche where we felt like other organizations just weren't operating in, or couldn't because of their size. What was your motivator for maybe not joining forces with some of these larger organizations on the ground in Iraq and just starting your own nonprofit, Preemptive Love? 

Jeremy Courtney So, we initially moved into Iraq not to start something, but as part of something else. 

Justin Wheeler Okay. 

Jeremy Courtney And I, I just have an entrepreneurial mind. I like to push boundaries. I like to go where no one else will go. I'd like to try things that no one else is doing. When I tried to do that in the house on someone else's team, they weren't built for that level of agitation, which I now present at the time. But I wanted to bring that energy. I wanted to push boundaries. I wanted to suggest that we do it this way or that way, or raise money like this or try something over here. And they just couldn't stomach that level of energy that I was bringing to the table. So rather than put a lid on myself and my creativity what I knew was my capacity, we decided to branch off and see what we were capable of on our own. 

Justin Wheeler So it sounds like, in the early days, Preemptive Love started out as, for lack of better words, emergency relief and it sounded like it was with providing and help surgeries for individuals. Can you tell us a little bit more about where Preemptive Love is at today and how it has grown over the years in terms of the programs that you're providing, the work you're doing on the ground, maybe not just in Iraq, but really around the world. What is the mission and vision of Preemptive Love? 

Jeremy Courtney We haven't always said it this way, we didn't start out saying it this way, but we exist to end war. That's what it is we're trying to tackle. It took us a few years to get the courage to say it. You know, we were born in war. We were born on the streets of conflict. We were for years pressing into the frontline, some of the scariest places in the world. And it took some time to get the boldness to say, you know, this is what we're trying to do. We are trying to end war. To help those who had been affected by violence who were born with birth defects as a result of war. And we were doing that well. We had great connections. We were deeply embedded in government contracts and had a wide network across Iraq from the heights of power to the poorest of the poor, religious, secular, all of it. And ISIS sprung on the scene and really changed the game, displaced millions and millions of people and really caused evryone's priorities to have to be upended. So we see millions of people coming our way who had been driven out of their homes in need of food, water, medicine, shelter. It didn't make sense any longer to pretend that we could just be a small surgery organization. We had to use that very tortured word pivot. We had to pivot our services. We had to pivot our brand. We had a pivot organization in many ways and do what was needful at that moment. And so it was in 2014 that we started learning really for the first time. How do you provide food to people in an emergency? How do you provide shelter? How do you start jobs? How do you help people stand on their own two feet again? Even in the midst of a conflict and start rebuilding trust and start rebuilding economies? But we developed a blueprint. We made mistakes. We had some great successes. We replicated them. We iterated on it. And we grew it and started doing more and more. We took the blueprint and eventually exported it to Syria, started implementing it in Mexico, started implementing it in Venezuela. And now we feel like we've got a pretty good playbook. You know, we know what to do when economies are falling apart. We know what to do when bombs are falling and how to help people get from point A of crisis to lasting impact. And rebuilding their own lives and communities. 

Justin Wheeler So the vision is huge. To end wars. Very audacious. And it reminds me of conversation we had a month or so ago with a New Story. And, you know, their goal is to end homelessness. And they talk about this idea of casting big vision to a point where sometimes it'll scare donors away because it's so big, it's so audacious. Has that been your experience as you've continued to kind of iterate your messaging, your vision, and gotten to the point to be as brave and bold, to say, hey, we exist to end war, how has that landed within your donor community and how they responded? 

Jeremy Courtney Yeah, I think it's generally landing well, but Brett's right. You're right that they're definitely going to be people who don't see what you see, who don't see a pathway to it, who thinks it's just hippie woo-woo, pie in the sky thinking. But that's what leadership is sometimes. And that's what the leadership is for. Is to inspire us to reach for things that we wouldn't ordinarily or otherwise reach for on our own. No one really wants to follow the leader into too much risk whose grand vision is we're going to help feed a few people. Or we're going to go out and provide some jobs for some people. That's not a vision. That's like a to-do list for the day. [00:11:17]And so when hard times come, when the money is about to run out or bombs are falling like you want something really big to be reaching for. You don't want something that's fairly pedantic and mundane because frankly, the risks of doing this work are too large to settle for, [20.6s] we're just trying to feed a few people. You know, that's not enough... I don't know what to say, that's not enough to put my life on the line. But I guess on some level, that's not enough to put my life on the line. I want to be sure that what we're doing has the potential to have generational impacts. And when it comes to scaring donors away, I mean, it all comes down to believability, I think. If I was a 20-year-old who'd grown up in the suburbs and never experienced a day of violence in my life and lived the highly privileged life and said, I want to end war, well, that comes with a certain level of credibility. 

Justin Wheeler Sure. 

Jeremy Courtney But, I was taught about courage earlier. I didn't get the courage to say we exist to end war until me and others on our team had been shot at numerous times. Bombs falling from the sky, dodging bombs and bullets, risking kidnap. It wasn't until we'd been through those things. It was a day that we finally got the gumption to say, you know what it is that we're trying to do here. It's time to just say it. We are working to end war. We're not just out here trying to feed people or provide jobs or rebuild buildings. We are working to end war. Nothing short of that. And there's a believability that our team now has when we say such a thing that if you want to push back on that, you better come ready to have a really robust discussion because we know what we're talking about at this point in time. 

Justin Wheeler I think that's something that really differentiates Preemptive Love and it's vision. Ifhink about, and, you know, not to knock on any other sort of nonprofit, but you think about most CEOs are in the comfort of their offices in relatively safe places and visit the work on the ground, you know, several times a year, maybe take some large donors to see the actual work and impact. But the way you're describing it is, you know, that the vision was really birthed from this experience of all of these, you know, insane things that you and your team have gone through. And so when you put it that way, really seeing the vision and understanding the vision from that perspective, it's so compelling because you're on the ground, right? You're a practitioner. You're running the business. But you're also going through the experience of the problems that you and your team are trying to solve. And so that's super compelling and very inspiring. So I remember we saw a few months back and it was the end of last year, a documentary that you guys put out the documented some of the work and I ran and moving over to the U.S. as well. And I've just always been struck by your ability to tell really powerful stories and compel people. So how was that been the case being in Iraq, being on the ground, dodging missiles and bullets and kidnaps? How are you still able to focus so much on the brand of Preemptive Love? It looks just as great as the charity: waters, the New Storys. So how has that become a priority and focus despite all of the experiences you've encountered over the last decade or so? 

Jeremy Courtney I mean, build a great team, I think is really what it comes down to. And so you can continue to care and obsess like an owner or a founder cares and obsesses over the details of things. The localized dynamic, that you articulated, that I'm not far removed from the work that we do. That I'm in it or proximate to it, even though it is, at its core, an international organization, I think is important. Obviously, there's going to be limits to that. We've expanded into other countries. I'm not living in Syria and living in Mexico and living in Venezuela all at the same time, obviously. So you do what you can to a certain level, but at some point you have to let the child grow up and go off to school on its own, so to speak, you know, so hiring great people and always it's the combination of keeping an eye out for top, top talent. On the one hand, knowing how to cultivate and build internal talent and promote internal talent, on the other hand. And how to set vision and goals and standards so that people can realize their highest ideals and expressions of what it is that we're trying to do here is. 

Justin Wheeler Yeah. 

Jeremy Courtney That's that's a challenge of leadership. That's a challenge of growing up as an organization, not feeling like it has to be my thing to do or my thing to win or my thing to advance down the field. Sometimes we've gotten it right. Sometimes we've gotten it woefully wrong. But I appreciate the vote of confidence, you know. But ultimately, it comes down to the team. 

Justin Wheeler Totally. That makes sense and definitely appreciate that. I've talked to a lot of nonprofit leaders who are on the brink of giving up. They've been working in the industry for a long time. They haven't seen the resolution that they're looking for in the problems that they're solving. They're not growing. They're not getting the funding that they need, and so it just becomes this constant grind of never hitting the target. I imagine, you know, someone with the experiences that you've had, there had to be a couple times where you've wanted to call it quits because of the danger. Is there any experiences where you're like, what am I doing out here? What are we doing? Should we just. Should we go back to more safer? We'd love to kind of dig into that. And what is it that has kept you going in spite of maybe some of those low moments? 

Jeremy Courtney Someone else's question on a podcast or a panel recently, maybe a week or two ago, and I said what I'm about to say. And after I said it, I came back to Jessica and I asked her the question, have I ever wanted to quit? And she said, no. And I said that's what I thought. Because that's how I answered on the panel. And I'm kind of afraid that that's an alienating answer. I certainly want to be alienating or mean to be alienating. But I think the honest truth is, no, the violence, the scope, scale, intensity, I guess I'm not built for that turning me off. I'm built for that more. making me press in. That's not a better than or worse than. It just seems to be how I am built. When I'm proximate to the problem and I feel like I've got some measure of agency left to exert over that problem, I'm pretty optimistic and I am inclined to believe that tomorrow will be a brighter day and we will make meaningful advancements toward reinventing how relief is delivered, toward revolutionizing the way refugees work and toward building the largest, most diverse community of peacemakers on the planet. That's what we're trying to do to end war. And tomorrow's a new day. We can go another round on funding and systemic problems and things that I think really need to be addressed. But I want to be the one to address them. I want to lean in and be around for the next cycle to be pushing on those things while we do the work to end war, at the same time. 

Justin Wheeler That's amazing. I feel like being that close to the impact that you guys are achieving plays a big role in sort of that mentality of like pressing in, digging in. You taste, you know, a sliver of impact and you're like, I want to scale this. I want to go beyond what I'm experiencing. I think this is what keeps donors engaged with an organization, is when they also can have a taste of that impact. Maybe not like by being in the field, but by truly understanding where the dollars are going and the sort of outcomes that are being accomplished as a result. And so being based in Iraq, being based where some of your operations are playing out, I'm sure helps with that sort of motivation. An obviously, just the entrepreneurial and founder side of you committed to, you know, the actual visions. That's, that's really cool. So a similar challenge that I face. I mean, and Liberty In North Korea faces, till to this day is when what's happening in North Korea or what's happening in Iraq and in some of these places, it's devastating. But at least the American donor, the way that they look at some of these places is more like enemy states vs. where philanthropic dollars should be going. And so I'm wondering, like as you got started in Iraq, if you had to unpeel that a bet and helped donors understand that, hey, what's happening in Iraq? You know, what's happening in some of these countries in Syria? We've kind of branded them now more modernly as ISIS states. Why would we want to help ISIS states? So how have you overcome that challenge of helping people see through their humanity and natural challenges on the ground in some of these countries that you guys are operating in? 

Jeremy Courtney A great question. In the early days, I think there's been cycles, as it relates to Iraq or Syria, at least those two countries. So in the early days, Iraq was the country where our sons and daughters are laying down their lives for freedom. That was the, I would say, general American narrative. We didn't want to repeat Vietnam. We knew we didn't want to be a nation arrayed against our soldiers. And so Democrat and Republican were generally working very hard to be supportive of soldiers, even if Democrats were opposed to the war, you know. And so there was a lot of energy to support the soldiers, which meant that supporting Iraqis could go one way or the other. Like, aren't they the people killing us? So that was kind of a low point in the cycle of what you're saying. Then somewhere along the way, you know, you lose enough life, you spend enough money and it can, like, pull your heart in. I think it pulled the American's heart in a lot of ways. And we kind of got into a sunk cost reality where it's like, well, we've given so much, we've paid so much. The price was so high. It's a shame to see what's happening over there. Sure, we'll get philanthropically because we want ultimately all the life and treasure and time that we've spent over there to mean something, we want my son's life that died over there to mean something. So here's some money. So that's kind of a higher part of that overall life cycle. I would say, and it can kind of ebb and flow. You know, ISIS breaks out, commits genocide against ethnic and religious minorities, people's hearts swell up. And they want to give and they hate that. But then that wears on for four years and they get tired and they don't want to give anymore. Even though fundamentals have scarcely been addressed. What have we done? We have worked to put the people front and center, not our stomachs. We've worked to make sure that we are all connected at a human level to make sure that we are playing an educational role in... I mean, a lot of us can sound cliche, but to convey that we belong to each other, to convey that we're all made up of the same stuff, to convey that Iraqis didn't just end up randomly in a near failed state, that that was part of a very complex history that included some American actions, that included some Iranian actions, that included Iraq's decisions and Saddam Hussein's decisions. Like no one just arrives at failed state status. One just arrives at genocide. No one just arrived at poverty. And so we've worked to take kind of a systemic approach to how we communicate things, which is a, it's a long slog, sometimes. It's easier to just say people are poor, give money. Or war sucks, give money. We turn people off by wading into what they might call political waters. We've turned a lot of people off by interrogating U.S. complicity, along with Iraqi complicity, along with Iranian complicity. So we play the long game. You know, if you wanna be in the people transformation business and not just in the fundraising business, then you've got to set your sights on far mountains and keep aiming for those far mountains, not just KPIs. 

Justin Wheeler So do you feel like you've had to take, as a leader, you've had to take somewhat of a political stance on the issues that you're working on? And as a result, have you alienated a certain party or is it more so just calling out sort of, for lack of better words, the sins of America as more part of the complicity in some of the problems that you guys are trying to solve? Like how far has it... How far you've had to go on the political side and how alienating has it been, from your experience? 

Jeremy Courtney I like to draw a distinction. I think it's important to draw a distinction between political and partizan. 

Justin Wheeler Okay. 

Jeremy Courtney Almost everything in our shared public life together is political. In fact, the word comes from polis, meaning city, the things that affect our city, the things that affect society and our shared space and place and operations together, those are the things of the polis, the politics, the political. So I think it's important to not accept the premise that men will try to throw up that politics is kind of the third rail. For some it is. And they're not probably gonna be happy with us and the work that we're trying to do and how we're trying to go about doing it. But I think it's also been important to not give in to the partizan because we should be equally willing to interrogate and call out, refine, denounce and partner with either party, any party that can be a good-faith partner in advancing the work. So, yes, we have lost people on both sides because we don't try to uphold the orthodoxy of any one side. We try to keep focused on our values and what it is we're trying to accomplish in the world. And frankly, we've seen both sides wage war. We've seen both sides do things that are inhumane. And I'm just using the American rubric here, but that would be true of Iraqi politics or Syrian politics and Mexican politics as well. 

Justin Wheeler Sure. I think that's, you know, I've talked about this before, but I think this concept of in your storytelling and in the narrative that you create is identifying a villain. Right. Like, what's the root cause? And by villain, I mean the root cause of the problem that we're trying to solve. And for some organizations, that root cause does get too political in the sense that it scares away maybe some of their largest donors, maybe some of the most important stakeholders, and so they skirt around the root of the problem to preserve the cash flow or the revenue, whatever it might be. But it's been the opposite for Preemptive Love. I mean, you guys have taken a firm stance on this is what we believe the root problems are, these are the contributors to the problem, we're going after it head-on. We don't care who it offends, you know, for lack of better words. Your messaging is obviously much more articulate. But over this time, it seems like you guys have been growing and growing rather quickly. So if you could talk a little bit about your growth story. Was it intentional, did you plan for the growth? Was it something that just started to click and start to catch on with individuals and more people started to give? What was the catalyst for Preemptive Love's growth? 

Jeremy Courtney Yeah. I mean, the growth story is a little bit of taking great risks, putting our life on the line to do the right thing and catching lightning in a bottle as a result of that. That was an important part of the story, I think, for a while. So we were in Iraq. We'd already chosen to be in Iraq because we moved here in the middle of war. And let's just say that on growth, we're talking about finances. So we bump along down at just, you know, very, very small revenue numbers for years and years and years. But the result of that means that we are in Iraq, faithful, learned, connected, well-traveled network all over the country, when ISIS springs on the scene. Well, a lot of the big organizations had bailed out when the U.N. bailed out, had bailed out when the U.S. bailed out. They didn't have an operation here. They hadn't stuck around. They were... And they might have had great reasons. I don't mean to castigate them, but the money left. The influence left. The media left. And so a lot of the organizations left. Who was left here, you know, relatively few of us and smaller organizations perhaps. So we were already well-positioned when ISIS became the global headline news for, you know, what was it was like months on end and then kind of years in the background it was pretty prominent. A lot of people didn't know who to trust. They didn't know who their expert was, who they're giving outlet was, who they're a kind of guy on the ground that they can talk to was. So we were well-positioned from day one on that to be an adviser, to be on CNN or Al-Jazeera or whatever else. And as we kept pressing in to the battle, which came at great cost to our team, we kept winning more fans, more friends, more funding and more news coverage. So there was a virtuous cycle that started to snowball there for a while. I don't want to call it sheer luck because we orchestrated some of that. We made life and death decisions, to be able for that to be true of us. But I don't want to deny that there was some luck, serendipity, whatever you want to call it, because there are a lot of people out there laboring in unknown conflicts that no one's paying attention to who are also putting their lives on the line, and that global awareness never arrives. The media never arrives. The sense that me and my family are under attack by ISIS in the United States never really clicks. And so we don't project any of our fears onto another people and then give them money as a way of assuaging our own inability to sleep at night. Iraq and ISIS and a kind of anti-Muslim bias checked a lot of those boxes. And we were strategically positioned to be a response to that. That leveled us up, pretty significantly over a couple of year's time. When we moved into Syria, that was a big strategic move. And we, again, kind of position ourselves to be in the right place at a hard time when Aleppo fell out of rebel hands and back into the Assad government's hands. And we just got a massive signal boost with the fall of Aleppo. It was right around Christmas time. We were, you know, kind of making internal wagers on whether or not we would end the year at $4,000,000 or maybe plus or minus. And then the final two weeks of the year, we just in the two weeks, we added $6,000,000 to our revenue just in two weeks time and ended not at $4M, but we ended at $10M. That was a big boost for us. 

Justin Wheeler Yeah. 

Jeremy CourtneyAnd so really, since then, we've been more of a kind of iterative growth model, adding just a little bit a year. Steady growth, steady investment, a little bit more predictable in that regard. 

Justin Wheeler To go back to what you originally said about your growth story literally started with risking your lives, you and the team. And at that moment, it wasn't about growth. It was about doing the right thing, sticking around when no one else was here because you felt like there was an opportunity for you to help and make significant impact. And so growth was kind of this consequence of this, you know, heroic act that you and the team displayed. When you're in the midst of that. Was their strategy also being developed? I'm curious beacuse this is something that the LINK (Liberty In North Korea) team talks about all the time is how do we leverage sort of the headlines or how do we leverage when North Korea is, you know, in the news and the world is paying attention. That's an opportunity for an organization like LINK to Leverage. Was there any sort of leveraging happening with your team, you know, back in the U.S., if there was a team then in the U.S. to help give that boost, or was it just the commitment to the mission that met luck, that, you know, you said grabbed it, caught lightning in a bottle? Or was there also some things behind the scenes happening from your marketing and fundraising teams that also led to this growth? 

Jeremy Courtney Yeah, probably a little bit of all of it. 

Justin Wheeler Yeah. 

Jeremy Courtney Going back to a previous chapter of this conversation, the fact that I'm here, Jessica's here, in Iraq is an indispensable part of the story. 

Justin Wheeler Yeah. Absolutely.

Jeremy Courtney And there's a way of saying this more and less cynically, but when I text, let's just use a gross word, influencer, when, I text an influencer from Iraq in the middle of an ISIS uprising, the number of times that those friends screenshot the text and sent it out over their networks was not insignificant. What were the motives for that? Well, like any of us, it was probably a mixed motive thing that sometimes you can't even understand. And a year later, why did I screenshot that or why did I scrape that content and boost it out to the world? Is it cause I wanted to help people? Yes. Is it cause I wanted to look like I was in the know? Yes. Is it because I wanted to get likes, then increase my own influence and credibility? Yes. So I think some of that being in the know, I've got a guy on the ground, the virtue signaling the performative aspect of it. I mean, all that played a massive role in helping us grow and serve and help more people. I don't begrudge anyone for any other. It was a huge net positive for us. But I also recognize that the dark side of that equation means, if you're working on an issue, no matter how hard, how diligently. And it's not going to help certain influencers check some of those boxes, then it means you're fundamentally at a disadvantage when it comes to trying to get that signal boost. And that's not nothing. You can chalkboard the strategy, but you still are also having to contend with the motivations of humans and why we do what we do in public. 

Justin Wheeler Yeah, that is fascinating. And this is, I think, why to some degree, physical galas do well. Right. People see each other donating and raising their battles and having this like sort of social pressure. And so seeing that kind of play out in some of your guys', work with your supporters is fascinating. It seems like Preemptive Love has been really as long as I have been following it which has been several years, really on the forefront of leveraging technology, at least on the fundraising and marketing side. So is that just an innate part of your DNA as a founder and leader and it's flowed kind of throughout the team? That's like the first part. And then the second is how is technology helping scale and make the business more efficient today? 

Jeremy Courtney We've built a pretty sophisticated tech stack that helps keep us engaged and segmented and talking to donors in the way they prefer on the channels they prefer. And we realize even now that there's some things we are trying to improve upon to make sure that we're leveraging all those tools in the tech stack that we built even better. I've driven some of it. The team themselves have driven some of it. And largely that's just been about making sure they've got the mandate and the budget that they need to innovate and to make capex investments long before they're going to pay off. In some ways, you know, we are making certain investments for years before you really start to feel the momentum is gaining. You know that the amount of time that you can invest in building out API calls and integrations with like a Salesforce and trying out different email providers or tech services or whatever. All that kind of stuff. The amount of time that you can invest. Figuring it out. Trading pieces out as is significant. And you've got to just keep going if you want to see it pay off eventually. So it's a little bit everything. I mean, our team cares about getting this right. And so without really having, like, something like a CTO, it's just something that we own together and we try to keep an eye on trends, and I think a lot of it comes down to just listening obsessively. That's one of our core values. Listening obsessively to the front lines for our programs team, that means listening to the people that we served. For our development team and advancement team, that means listening to the people that we serve in there, giving capacity. How do they want to be treated? How do they want to be approached? How how can we best keep up with trends and create the minimum drag on them with the maximum impact for them? And, you know, different people start has different ideas and we push it forward and give it a try. 

Justin Wheeler Yeah. I don't think you guys' omnichannel approach is... It's not surprising that your growth has continued and you had some, you know, some big boosts in previous years. I think that you guys you've done a really good job reaching people on the channels that they prefer to be in. I mean, even not Alex, who's helping with this podcast, became a monthly donor through you guys' text/SMS strategy. It was super compelling and it hit him at the right moment. And he became a monthly giver. So great job to you and the team on continuing to innovate and continuing to meet donors where they're living and where they're at and where they're going to respond. So maybe the last question to wrap it up. I don't want to take up... I know it's getting late in Iraq. You are a leader that's been on the ground, that's been through a lot of challenges, hard times, crises. Any words of encouragement or advice to fellow leaders that are in the grind, that are in the midst of challenges where maybe they don't now, how they're going to overcome any words of wisdom or encouragement that you might have? Being a leader on the front lines, that that's had to overcome a lot in the last decade. 

Jeremy Courtney I know that there are so many of us here doing this kind of work, and I'm a little leery of trying to give good advice, knowing that each of us is in a different, different moment. I'll say this. Your work matters. And the world will likely be a darker place if you have to throw in the towel or give up or walk away. And so if there's any way that you can hold out another day, I'd just say try. Do it if you can! I know that advice doesn't land the same for everyone. And I know we're not all in the same exact boat as we hear it. But your work matters. And if you don't think your work matters, if you're questioning whether your work matters, maybe the first question is, are you close enough to the front lines? For me, I'll say I never feel more hopeless, I never feel more scared in a way, in a manner of speaking, than what I am far from the front lines. When I am in my room, in my office, in my home, on a plane, in the United States, in a safe place, reading about conflict in another place, that's what I'm typically at my worst. That's when the words on the page of a Reuters article or something that riles me up in a Facebook post or an Instagram post, that's when it hits the hardest in a negative way. When I am close to the people we love, I'm close to the people we serve, even if that means getting shot at or at the risk of something really horrible happening, I feel like I have agency. I feel like I matter. I feel like we matter. And I feel like what we're doing as a global community of peacemakers matters. Why? Because I'm doing it. I, I feel the import of it when I'm on the frontlines and when I allow myself to get too far away and it's all arriving, I like to use the literal meaning of the word media and immediate meaning when I receive this work through the media, there is a medium between me and the people. That's what I'm at my worst when I have an immediate, direct experience of what it is we're about and who it is we serve and what we're doing, I feel energized. I feel the risks are worth it, the costs are worth it. And it helps me push in and hold out another day. Maybe that helps someone today. I hope so. 

Justin Wheeler Thank you. I mean, the world would be a lot darker if Preemptive Love wasn't doing what it's doing today. So, Jeremy, thank you so much for coming on to the podcast. Sharing your heart and sharing your vision and just a lot of insight around what it is like to be a leader in the midst of challenging times and on working on challenging issues. Could not appreciate it more. So thank you so much for joining us today! 

Jeremy Courtney Thanks. Honored to be with you. Cheering You all on. Keep going. 

Justin Wheeler Thanks, man. 

Jeremy Courtney Peace! 

Justin Wheeler Bye. 


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