I was coaching an enthusiastic and talented client who is at the beginning of her nonprofit career. Given her passion around several issues, she asked if it was better to work for an existing nonprofit or start her own. I couldn’t help but take off my coaching hat and speak from the heart.
I shared that when I launched Teens Run Yonkers (TRY) it felt like a once in a lifetime moment where my work, passions and interest in serving diverged perfectly. I was running in the Philadelphia Marathon in 2008, saw firsthand the impact of Students Run Philly Style (www.studentsrunphilly.org) and was inspired to replicate their program in Yonkers NY, my hometown at the time.
That “entrepreneurial spark” seemed to occur in a singular moment following the marathon. In reality, it was the next step on an accidental but meaningful journey. My nonprofit career began as a funnel with the simple intention to “do good stuff”. My first stop was launching a fundraising operation for a nursing home. From there, my experiences enabled me to narrow my focus to work supporting young people with a special interest in their health. Not a big surprise here as I was born with a congenital heart defect and often questioned my potential.
Just a few years prior to starting “TRY”, I participated in a transformative program called Leadership Westchester. During this nine-month program, I spent time with twenty other leaders understanding our own mission, vision and values while being introduced to the many services in our community. I came away understanding the many opportunities to serve and how I wanted to do so.
Part of the program was doing a service project. Working in partnership with an organization where I served on the board, we created a local model of YouthBuild, a national program that helps young people change their lives through education and training. Unfortunately, our proposed program didn’t receive the funding to launch. While It was frustrating, I now had a taste of what it felt like to create something new with the potential to have a positive impact. Around the same time, I had developed a passion for distance running. Running became “my thing” and I never tired of sharing the joys of it with others.
I probably couldn’t have intentionally created the path I just described. Yet the series of actions and events contain steps worth following in pursuit of creating something entrepreneurial. You can’t force that Entrepreneurial Spark but you can do things to Nurture it. Here’s what I suggest:
Wikipedia describes a Creative Spark as a small but noticeable and desirable quality or feeling. If you really want to find that spark, make sure you are forever nurturing its potential
The challenge of the coronavirus grows daily and continues to be very much top of mind. We’ve awakened to a conversation about race and equality that is way past due and sorely needed. With these challenges becoming our daily reality, we sometimes need to seek out special opportunities for gratitude, positivity and forward thinking. One way I do this - in fact, one of the true joys of working side by side with nonprofit leaders - is to enter their world of possibility, optimism and creativity. At a time when some in the nonprofit sector struggle to see beyond the current moment, I wanted to highlight these inspiring leaders and skills we might want to cultivate:
Scaling the Smart Way - Starting Small and Learning Big: When I met Peggy Welch about a year ago, she was incredibly motivated to launch her new nonprofit Justified Ministries. Peggy had plenty of ideas and passion for having a positive impact on women who were leaving prison. After developing her focus, she’s been able to hone down her programming to her best offerings. She’s launching her operation with a simplified yet powerful model where she and her team will work closely with a cohort of four women and build from there. Peggy has also started to raise the funds necessary to support this approach. Equally important, it allows Justified Ministries to be a learning organization, perfecting its’ model before scaling up.
Adaptability - Making the Most of the Current Environment: Billy Coleman, Matt Benford and Barry Tonge head up the leadership team at Today’s Youth Matter (TYM) a youth development ministry that provides year-round services in West Contra Costa, CA. As I highlighted in another post, the team did a fantastic job of transforming their annual fundraising walk into an engaging and inspiring virtual event. Next on their agenda is reimagining TYM Summer Camp, their signature program, into a virtual experience for kids. Given their commitment to providing a holistic transformational experience, the team moved quickly to meet the new reality and is hard at work creating an engaging online experience for the nearly 200 young men and women they serve through this impactful program.
Creative Leadership - Building Connections and Community - As an adult with congenital heart disease, the work of the Adult Congenital Heart Association is extremely important to me. The ACHA is committed to improving and extending the lives of folks like me through education, advocacy and research. Beyond the high quality programming however, what’s stood out to me during the last four months is the dedication of Aliza Marlin, one of their national board members. Since the beginning of April, Aliza has been creating and sending a weekly calendar of virtual events that volunteers like me can participate in and connect with others. This includes ACHA Cafe, Yoga Classes which she leads, a Trivia Night (I’m really bad at these!) and so much more. She has provided true leadership in building a connected community through these events, a true gift during this time of separation.
I hope the stories above provide you with inspiration of the possibilities that are there for us even in difficult times like these.
Robert Grabel is the President of Nonprofit Now! You can find his posts here and at www.robertgrabel.com
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