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Special Project

Special Project
From the 6th Annual Shorty Impact Awards

PayPal Uses the Power of Storytelling to Support Black-Owned Businesses

Finalist in Racial Justice


America’s racial wealth gap is as severe as it was in 1968, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the problem. Black-owned businesses, which already lacked equal access to capital, were especially impacted: 41% closed between February and April 2020 (nearly double the U.S. average) and many were left out of government assistance programs, like PPP loans. 

As a purpose-led company working to democratize financial services, we knew we had a responsibility to leverage our unique capabilities to play a meaningful role in addressing the economic underpinnings that contribute to the racial wealth gap. In June 2020, PayPal announced a multi-pronged set of initiatives—now totaling $535 million—to advance social justice and address racial equity.  

As part of the initiative, we allocated $15 million in emergency Empowerment Grants to help Black-owned small businesses cover expenses and stabilize their businesses. We received nearly 55,000 applications within 72 hours of announcing the initiative via PayPal’s corporate newsroom and social platforms.  

In partnership with the Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO), we distributed grants to nearly 1,400 Black-owned businesses in just over three months—with 62% of recipients being women and 53% being sole proprietors. As we collected stories of impact, we were inspired to utilize our content platforms, broad reach and trust as a global payments company to showcase the entrepreneurs behind these companies. In doing so, we had two objectives: contribute to the visibility and recognition of these small business owners, and ultimately help grow their companies.

Strategy and Execution

PayPal designed a campaign featuring the stories of Empowerment Grant recipients in their own words, profiling five diverse grantee stories on how they started their businesses, how they pivoted to navigate the pandemic, and how grants fueled growth for their businesses: 

Bridgett Jeffries, owner of doggy daycare Café Wakefern, who used her grant to keep her business open and continue helping people raise their pandemic pups.  Cameron Kirkland, owner of creative haven Cam Kirk Studios, whose photography studio is a vital part of the Atlanta arts scene.  Jeanette Bolden-Pickens, a third-generation owner of 27th Street Bakery, who was concerned her family’s business wouldn’t survive the economic impact of COVID-19.  Matt Mullens, a young entrepreneur who used the grant to turn his vegan cheese business into an online operation.  Brandan ‘BMike’ Odums, street artist and owner of StudioBe, who is transforming his community through art. 

We used PayPal’s reach to share and amplify these stories in the following ways:  

Owned channels 

Newsroom: Our initial announcement received 91.1K views on PayPal’s Newsroom in the first week and is one of the highest-performing pieces of content on the site to-date (now nearly 261K views). Building on this engagement, we prioritized the Newsroom as our primary platform for Empowerment Grant storytelling. For each profile, we developed an editorial-style feature based on in-depth interviews with each business owner. Features were complemented with original photography and videography to bring these stories to life.  Organic promotion: We first shared each feature package with PayPal employees via our intranet and internal engagements, including President and CEO Dan Schulman’s Global All Hands meetings. We then amplified the content externally on PayPal’s corporate/brand social channels, executives’ social channels, and through influencer partners, reaching PayPal’s broad audience of customers, merchants, and partners.  Paid social: We also invested in targeted paid campaigns on Twitter and LinkedIn to reach new audiences, including those affiliated with the non-profits PayPal partnered with to distribute the grants, and other small business owners who we knew would connect with these personal stories. 

External media & other venues 

We partnered with local media to further amplify our storytelling, including a Los Angeles Times feature on 27th Street Bakery owner Jeanette Bolden-Pickens, which drew additional business to the Los Angeles-based bakery. We also coordinated a feature for Matt Mullens’ Empasta business in his local Greensboro News & Record publication—a media milestone for his company.   We promoted a live conversation on PayPal’s main Instagram channel (387K+ followers), passing the microphone to Cameron Kirkland and celebrity chef Roi Choi to discuss entrepreneurship.  To reach new audiences, PayPal’s leaders—including Dan Schulman and Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Franz Paasche—took campaign assets and videos to the mainstage of various speaking engagements, including HOPE Global Forum and The Atlantic Festival. 

Through the development of feature profiles and digital creative packages, we enabled our grantees and partners, as well as the broader media landscape, to help these small businesses reach new customers and achieve greater financial security.


More than one-fifth of our original Newsroom storytelling in the past year has been dedicated to telling and amplifying the stories of small Black-owned business owners. Based on our engagement metrics, we know that our Empowerment Grant editorial profiles and complementary social campaigns have resonated strongly with audiences. In total, our promotion of the initial announcement and five grantee stories earned nearly 7M social media impressions, 153.9K social engagements, 1.73M video views, and 271.2K article views on PayPal’s Newsroom—introducing a large new audience to these small businesses and their services.  

These metrics also translated into tangible business results for the Empowerment Grant recipients profiled. Following our Empasta All Hands feature and social campaign, vegan entrepreneur Matt Mullens saw a dramatic uptick in sales—at one point receiving 80 orders in a single day. Similarly, following our editorial feature on 27th Street Bakery and the accompanying piece in the Los Angeles Times, owner Jeanette Bolden-Pickens saw her store’s busiest holiday season in history, with lines stretching from her store down the block. And most impressively, by our most recent assessment, 90% of our grant recipients—including all those profiled—are still operating.  

Building on the impact we’ve already generated through our $535M commitment to racial equity and supporting Empowerment Grant campaign, we’ve continued to focus external storytelling efforts on PayPal’s mission-driven products, services, and initiatives through the eyes of our customers. As with our business operations, people and purpose are—and will continue to be—at the center of our brand identity.


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