Oh goodness, we are thrilled to (finally!) announce our partnership with Twelve. Similar to our other partnerships we are still holding onto the deets for a little longer - we're not quite ready to share all of our secrets. Stay tuned for the full news, but for now, please take a minute to get to know this incredible organization.
Hi, I’m Will (He/Him). Delivery driver, content creator, fundraiser, donation box builder, and founder (to name just a few roles) of Twelve.
Illustration by Rachel Joanis
When I was asked to write this, I immediately thought of what a great opportunity this would be to highlight Twelve and the work we do but, as I started to write that story, it didn’t feel right.
Before Twelve became what it is today, I spent a lot of time reading about how to build a not-for-profit. For the most part, the stories were about older, well-to-do, educated people and I just didn’t feel represented. This realization that I didn’t fit the mold of a CEO or conventional leader sent me down the path of “this will never work,” and convinced me that there was no way I could accomplish my goal.
My hope for this blog is to showcase a different way, one that exists for people who didn’t have the best start or perhaps don’t think they are capable. Starting an organization isn’t easy but if I could do it, you can too! I hope this blog captures the spirit of Twelve and shows you who we are. So, without further delay here are three things that I thought I needed to start Twelve, but turns out I didn't (and you don't either).
You don’t need a degree:
I guess you could say that I come from a long line of drop-outs. I’m a high school, college, and University (twice) drop-out. Fuck, if they would have let me drop-out of middle school I probably would have done that too. I was never a great student and always felt more clever than smart.
My mother who is in part the inspiration for Twelve dropped out in grade 9 as a single teenage parent. Life was hard on her, and it was hard to live. We went without more often than we went with and I can’t imagine the sacrifices my mother made with her menstrual and mental health to ensure that she kept two growing boys fed, clothed, and safe.
This isn’t to say that I don’t think education has any benefit at all. A degree, however, can seem more like a barrier to start. We as a society have emphasized a degree as being the minimum or starting point. The beauty of starting your own organization is a degree doesn’t mean anything. People see that we are making a difference and ultimately, that’s all that matters.
More important than a degree is the degree to which you’re committed to building your organization. In my case, a degree isn’t going to get 10,000+ menstrual products a month to menstruators in need, and it certainly is not going to spend the 40 hours a week punching the Twelve clock. No degree can ever replace you!
You don’t need a lot of money:
I started Twelve with $40, and in all honesty, it’s about as much as I could spare while still being able to pay my rent and bills. I remember beating myself up about not being able to invest more or making a greater impact from the jump. I was limited. But the truth is, you have to know your limit and play within it (hoping OLG doesn’t sue me for this one). I negotiated with a graphic designer to pay in installments to get our first website created. It was a wee bit embarrassing but looking back at it, I'm glad I took the chance. Here is a photo of our first web page:
Twelve took it slow. During the first half of Twelve's existence we were doing drop-offs and pick-ups on foot, public transit, and using rental cars when the pickups got too large. We were (and still are) using our 450 square foot condo as our HQ where I have counted every single one of the 72,240 menstrual products we have donated. It still blows my mind to think that we could even fit a few hundred let alone the few thousand menstrual products in our shoebox apartment.
We hand painted our donation bins, which took up our whole apartment...
My partner and I pay for all expenses incurred by Twelve, meaning that every single financial donation we’ve received has gone 100% to buying menstrual products. It hasn’t always been easy as I’ve flirted with unemployment a few times throughout Twelve’s existence, but I feel very fortunate to be able to continue funding Twelve. I don’t regret spending a single dollar on Twelve because it is truly the most satisfying thing that I have ever spent my money on.
I do, however, have to take a moment to recognize that I’m in a privileged position of even being able to support Twelve. I’ve been on the other side and I know it’s not easy. I would never advise anyone to start something if it means you can’t provide for yourself but if you do have a bit to spare just know that a little can go a long way.
You don’t need to know everything!
As a cis-gendered man, I can tell you that before I started Twelve I knew very little about menstruation. It wasn’t that I didn’t have exposure to it because I did. My mother was very open about it, but as a younger man, I never fully grasped the magnitude of the issue and how impactful it can be on a menstruators life. Instead, I lean on my partner, her family, our friends, and those working in shelters to understand the need, what we can change, and what could be done better.
I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and knew I wanted to give back, I just didn’t know how. When I found out about the hardships of menstruators and the enormous problem we have here in Toronto and across the country, my first instinct was “surely the government is funding menstrual products for those in need.” I was VERY wrong. Our municipal government only funds 13% (introduced in 2019). Nonetheless, this got me thinking about who was going to fill the remaining 87% gap.
Instead of assuming I was right or that I could even build a not-for-profit, I decided to reach out to a few local shelters, get their opinions, and find out exactly what they needed. I learned more about the problems in five meetings (roughly 2-3 hours each) with shelters than I did in 6-7 months of research! What came of those meetings was the start of Twelve.
I stay grounded and push through because I know no struggle that I will go through with Twelve will ever be as difficult as the struggles the menstruators we serve have faced and that keeps me focused!
This is how our Instagram started with just 12 friends following us...
Failure is not fatal, it is only with failure that you will truly understand and enjoy success. If you have an idea, go for it. I had numerous people tell me that Twelve was a dumb idea. Twelve isn't perfect, we are only human and, most of all, it’s important to note that what we've done is achievable. Dream big and take the chance.
“If your dreams don't scare you, then they are too small” - Richard Branson