Hired to “Break” a Business Plan, Instead She Bought In

Abeja founder designs tool to relieve nonprofit fundraising pain

When nature called, Brianna Klink de Ruiz found her calling. 

Bri was a college student, waiting to pick up her boyfriend outside a computer science lab at the University of Washington. But she couldn’t wait any longer to visit the ladies room.

Outside the bathroom, an ad for a research assistant in a psychology lab caught Bri’s attention. 

She applied, got the job and worked alongside Dr. Earl "Buz" Hunt, a professor in psychology and computer science. Bri helped him conduct research and run virtual reality experiments.

According to Bri, the rest was an accident. 

A grad student in charge of programming e-learning modules for another project went to New Zealand ... and never came back to complete the job. 

Bri, a double major in psychology and drama, volunteered for the challenge. With help from Dr. Hunt, Bri learned to code and helped keep the e-learning research in motion. 

Calm Under Pressure:  Brianna's skills in improv comedy help her build business relationships and take creative risks. 

Calm Under Pressure: Brianna's skills in improv comedy help her build business relationships and take creative risks. 

Although she got her start in academic research, it was the instructional design part of the job that clicked with her most. Bri later used her new skills to design courses for Microsoft and to develop e-learning software that was bought by the New York Stock Exchange. And in her free time, Bri performed in the improv comedy troupe, Mail Order Bride.

She certainly didn’t imagine that life would lead her to becoming a business owner 10 years later. 

But first, her career had to go to the dogs. 

Team uncovers nonprofit fundraising need

In 2012, Bri took a job in Phoenix at a national animal welfare group, a dream job for an animal lover like Bri. That was where she met communicator Laura Ingalls, fundraiser Terri Shoemaker and marketer Virginia Treviño.

The women often worked together on fundraising campaigns for the animal welfare group. The challenges they experienced in creating and sending mailings match the frustrations so prevalent on nonprofit forums. 

“Nonprofits need to fundraise and right now it’s a huge pain to get a mailing out,” Bri says. 

Direct mail is complex to pull off, but it’s still 88 times more effective than online fundraising alone, according to the Data and Marketing Association. And the results are even better when you combine tactics. 

Ingalls, Shoemaker and Treviño were inspired to create a self-publishing tool that made it easier for fundraisers to create and send direct mail. They got a business plan together, then turned to Bri to do what she does best.   

Her job? “Break” the business plan. She needed to prove their idea wasn’t viable.

“I’m a naturally cynical person. I’ve killed many projects - that’s been my specialty in the past,” Bri says. “But I kept trying to break the business plan, and I realized, ‘Hot damn, this is actually a good idea!’”

It shocked Bri that she could only find one competitor – more like a half competitor. Its product is geared toward small businesses and just couldn’t do what nonprofits really needed – print professional appeals that cater to the donor’s needs.   

“Software services is a big industry, but there is a gaping hole for the needs of nonprofits,” Bri says. “I saw how impactful our tool would be - and I wanted in.”

Must Love Chihuahuas:  A job in animal welfare united Brianna with her Abeja partners and adopted dog Paco. 

Must Love Chihuahuas: A job in animal welfare united Brianna with her Abeja partners and adopted dog Paco. 

People skills inform product design

As a partner at Abeja Solutions, Bri now manages development of the company’s Beezable fundraising platform. She’s played an integral part in creating what the team believes is the answer to fundraisers’ direct mail frustrations.

“Fundraisers are trying to find a middle ground between hiring an outside firm to handle direct mail and doing it all themselves. Beezable is that middle ground.” 

Fundraisers simply choose a template, upload content like copy, images and a mailing list, and then pay for printing and shipping. The appeals arrive in donors’ hands in 7-10 business days.

Bri’s instructional design skills are valuable to the team, but it’s her theatre background – her fascination with understanding people, their motivations and natural impulses – that makes her truly special. 

“A lot of the work, real work, is just interacting with other humans and being very observant,” says Bri. 

Her empathy and respect for the work of nonprofit staff have helped her shape Beezable’s development.  

“We’re trying to maximize the effectiveness of their grant making, their programs and help them further the mission,” says Bri. “I want to help them get there faster and with less pain.”

Bri and her partners at Abeja are fully aware that there’s a high number of women employed in nonprofit work. As a female-owned company, Abeja hopes to improve the lives of women at nonprofits, advance their missions – and boost their bottom lines. 

“Right now we’re thinking locally – helping the nonprofits in Arizona. There’s such a need in this state,” says Bri. “We can do a lot of good work starting here.”

Get donor mail done in minutes. Create, print and mail your next campaign with Beezable.com.