Celebrating BDI’s 20 Years of Impact and Innovation

Releasing generosity to transform lives & inspire hope

From Michael J. Tomlinson (“MT”), CEO and President, BDI

In life as in business, 20 years is a significant milestone – a testament to growth, resilience, dedication and hard work. As BDI celebrates this special anniversary, I invite you to join me in reflecting on our agency’s story, of which you have played an important role. 

Every organization has its origin story, and for BDI, our story is central to who we are and who we are becoming. So without further ado, let me tell you the inspiring, exciting, at times daunting yet relentlessly rewarding story of BDI…

Our story starts with a man, a calling and a vision. Around 2004, Randy Brewer was encouraged by several nonprofit organizations he served to launch his own business as an expert direct marketing fundraiser and trusted counselor. These partners shared Randy’s passion for promoting the good news of Christ and believed Randy could champion theirs and other Rescue Mission causes in their work to expand help to more of the hurting.

In May 2004, Brewer Direct, Inc. (BDI) is officially incorporated. Its first clients are Wheeler Mission, Long Beach Rescue Mission and Kansas City Rescue Mission.

As Randy served, God blessed his efforts, and other Rescue Missions came calling looking for fuel for their cause and a down-to-earth relationship. Randy ran his business and onboarded new client partners who were in alignment with his Christian values.

A growing team at Brewer Direct allowed Randy’s business to grow beyond a “founder and his friends” into a boutique-style, small-but-effective agency. This meant serving more Rescue Missions within a focused network program allowing for economies of scale. 

During these years, the agency deepened its focus on high-touch service, leading to expansion of our digital marketing services as well as our first client-only conference, then known as BDI Institute. Over the course of several concentrated days of fundraising workshops, devotional plenaries and training sessions, the small yet mighty Brewer Direct team looked to not only equip its client partners for fundraising and development success, but also empower and encourage them in their nonprofit work.

As the agency developed a strong reputation for integrity and results, the wider philanthropic industry started to take notice. 

Randy began to invest in his growing team in new ways – like the Wellness Program. The agency became a magnet for talented fundraising professionals and nonprofit organizations seeking a capable alternative to the larger, more established agencies in the industry.

Brewer Direct also welcomed Shellie Speer-Burnett and her ENEX Group team through an exciting merger in 2016. While this acquisition was not without growing pains, it brought with it new opportunities for fundraising and development training through BDI Academy.

This season also saw the launch of BDI Storytellers, our unique photo and story resource gathering program that allows for a greater level of personalization to our client partners’ fundraising appeals, within a network program.

However, the reality of Randy’s personal health challenges and battle with an aggressive form of cancer led to some critical decisions and future planning, specifically, what would become of the agency when he could no longer continue.

In 2017, Brewer Direct (BDI) became an ESOP, or Employee Stock Ownership Plan.

In line with Randy’s history of radical generosity, he decided to move the agency into an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), in essence transferring his company to his employees who would earn shares in the business over time. Randy’s decision would allow the agency to take the next important step and ensure that the value that had been created thus far would be generously given to the ministries and causes he cared most about upon its sale.  

In that process, a Board of Directors was formed to guide the next stage. Brewer Direct continued to grow with more client partners, wider scope, greater needs and demands from the market, and with it all, significant and predictable growing pains in teams, systems, vision and direction.

In 2019, BDI successfully executed that transition of leadership. I was privileged to join BDI to help us step into the future, and the baton was officially passed on from Randy, marking the dawn of a new age for the company.

 During the five years since the leadership transition, the BDI experience has been defined by a laser-like focus on expanding impact.

Here are just a few ways BDI has committed to expanding our impact:

  • Assessing market changes and client needs every year – and responding accordingly
  • Welcoming new client partners and new verticals into our scope of service
  • Pivoting to a hybrid work environment to enjoy the benefits of remote talent and greater flexibility, while opening new headquarters in Monrovia, CA

I’m humbled and grateful to report that God has blessed us in our endeavors. BDI has grown year-over-year for the past three years, even beyond our plans! Another merger, this time with James Read’s company Idearaising, accelerated opportunities for growth in custom programs.

In this season, BDI has also added to its executive leadership – including Lolly Colombo, whose unexpected passing we sadly mourned earlier this year.

Yet, I am thankful for the continuing leadership of Phil Stolberg, Mike Rogers and James Read who serve alongside me as our Executive Leadership Team (ELT). 

What incredible milestones! To reflect the dynamic evolution of our company in this time period, we changed our brand from Brewer Direct, Inc. to simply BDI.

Now, as we look ahead, BDI alongside our nonprofit client partners continue to face challenges and a changing landscape in philanthropy. I know we can meet those challenges and thrive… just take a look back at the story of BDI’s past resilience, innovation and grit that have brought us forward to where we are today!

I believe our DNA as an agency is hardwired; our drive tested and exemplary; and our vision for the future God-sized. Our game plans and the tools that have brought us to this 20th anniversary may not be sufficient for the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow – much less the next 20 years. 

Yet we are poised to rise to these challenges. We are expanding our capacity. BDI is committed to being bold in our pursuit forward with all of the gifts and resources that have been entrusted to us to invest in helping millions of people in their need, both in the US – and around the world.

As we embrace what’s next, our collective success will be driven and measured by our effort – by our ingenuity and flexibility – and by our openness to welcome new solutions… all vital things that are well within our control. 

In the words of my friend and BDI’s Chief Operating Officer Phil Stolberg, we are determined to move “ONWARD” to our goal of greater IMPACT. 

Thank you for your belief in BDI. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement for our team and our client partners, and for me. Thank you for being part of BDI’s story these last 20 years… and in the decades to come.

Michael J. Tomlinson CEO and President BDI
  • Michael Tomlinson, BDI CEO and President

    Michael J. Tomlinson, CEO and President

    Michael J. Tomlinson, better known as “MT,” is the CEO and President of BDI. With more than 25 years of executive leadership in business development and media, MT’s expertise involves leading organizations like Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk and Dunham+Company in the ideation and execution of successful integrated marketing, broadcast and digital media, and fundraising strategies that fuel growth.

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