Making an Impact - Your way
Many today believe that being involved in corporate life automatically translates into a disconnect with ethics and values. On the contrary, I have personally found it is up to the individual to connect the two. I found “my way” by launching my own non-profit organization, called “City Chik on a Mission.” As such, I am living a life bridging my love of Corporate America and my own version of a global humanitarian mission and movement.
It is our time and purpose to make the world a place in which we want to live. While there are so many ways this can be accomplished, today I am speaking to all the people out there who are contemplating launching a nonprofit. I took this path because of my deep love for the world at large and the desire to “own” making an impact in my own unique way. Over the course of this four-part blog series, I am going to share my journey of starting a nonprofit with the hope of helping you make an impact your way.
In this blog post, I will particularly address the steps that are foundational to making your own impact, and also the questions that everyone should ask when contemplating starting a non-profit.
First, what is a non-profit? In jargon-speak, it is a 501(c)(3), which is a designation authorized by the Internal Revenue Service as a tax-exempt, charitable organization (see www.501c3.org for more information).
Second, you must be prepared to do a ton of work, and experience many ups and downs. There are certain stages that I (and many!) have experienced when attempting to “Make an Impact Your Way.” You must begin with translating your passion into a mission, determining your desired impact, preparing to realize a gazillion pitfalls along the way, having good intentions but experiencing a lack of follow through, and then someday realizing the beautiful rewards that come with forming your own 501c3.
An extraordinary number of nonprofits simply don’t make it - so it is critical to be realistic from the beginning. As such, remember that “making it” is a personal goal. It doesn’t necessarily mean building an enormous global enterprise - unless of course that is your goal - it is what success means to you in this endeavor.
So, before you start your nonprofit, it is critical to ask yourself these 3 questions:
1) What area of development do you want to be your focus?
2) What is the impact you want to have in your organization, and your organization on the world?
3) If I don’t pursue this dream, what would that mean to me?
Starting with question 1, where do your passions lie? What issues resonate with you? Go deep and inward throughout this process - jot down your ideas. The mind/ego will throw out limitations and barriers, but you need to get past the noise to start formulating the framework for your impact. It is important to keep mapping out your thoughts and formulating the area of focus that speaks to you at your core. Take the time review your notes and piece together your thoughts into a rough draft of a mission statement. Don’t worry at this point on how you will make this a reality - we will get to that in a later blog post.
For me, this was a process of jotting down notes and drawing in a journal, crossing out, meditating and going to a place that was larger than me, where I left my ego at the door. I was faced with people who were trying to protect me - telling me how hard it would be to start my own nonprofit, and how there were so many people like me out there. Trust me, there were times when I listened and I would take a few steps back, but there were also times when someone would encourage me to just go for it. I knew there wasn’t anyone like “me” out there because frankly there is only one me, just as there is only one YOU. My mission was simple – it was to partner on global grassroots projects while having a personal engagement model for both donors and those receiving the donations. I wanted to be the bridge, a connector.
On question 2, you must get very clear about impact, both your organization’s impact on the world, and then your own role within the organization. For example, are your efforts centered around a local community? Are you working in a specific country? Do you have aspirations for more of a global impact? On a personal level, do you see yourself as the face of the organization? Or perhaps you are raising money for a specific cause? At this point, do not worry about all of the logistics, just outline your ideal impact.
When I was creating the concept of City Chik on a Mission, I was motivated by the large amount of volunteer work I had done around the world. I saw a gap in fulfilling small grassroots projects as well as the gap in engagement. My desired impact was to show the ripple effect in life. For example, if we did something in the area of scholarships, and then built a school (and thereby gave a mom free time to work) and then a student learned and was able to give back to his community, and jobs could be created, there would be a ripple effect from one specific project. It could bring a whole community to life. During this stage of discovery, it is and was easy to get distracted and lose focus. However, I kept going back to my overall goal of a ripple impact, and realized that this will evolve through time.
Perhaps the biggest question (question 3) is the one that is most raw. If you don’t pursue this desire to start your own non-profit, what will that really mean to you? How would you feel? This is the time for brutal honesty. Because to be frank, it might be that you actually don't want to start your own. Perhaps you can get fulfilled by making a contribution through another avenue, or perhaps this isn't the right time for you to go any further. You must realize that whatever your path, it is OK! The process can be wonderful in its own right, and help you get closer to understanding your real goals. On the other hand, if you are like me, you may know in your gut that anything short of starting your own 501c3 would be selling yourself short and limiting your impact. And let’s be honest- the world needs more impact led by love and compassion.