Photo by Alexis Brown
Here at Charity Charge, we’re more than just a credit card company. We strive to humanize the personal finance experience by pairing it with real people and real nonprofits. To help do that, we asked some successful nonprofit leaders for advice for future nonprofit founders and CEOs. Here’s what we found:
1. Heidi Stieglitz Ham is the Founder and Director of Spectrum Fusion, a charitable organization dedicated to creating programs and communities for adults with autism in Houston, Texas. She earned her Ph.D. in Psychology, specializing in autism, from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and shared these words of wisdom for aspiring nonprofit leaders:
“The first step in undertaking any project in any field of research is to identify the gaps in knowledge when reviewing the published studies. When starting a non-profit, it is important to follow the same line of reasoning. What gap is this non-profit seeking to fill in the market? Is it possible to join forces, or extend programs of another non-profit with a similar vision and mission? Examine your heart as to why you want to start your own non-profit. Non-profits are not the place for egos or attention seekers if you want to see powerful and authentic change in the lives of the people that you serve. In the case of Spectrum Fusion, we did connect with the other autism organizations and found that what we are doing was different enough to warrant the launch of a new non-profit. More importantly, when you do start a new non-profit, be clear in your point of difference to the existing organizations, and come in to the market ready to fill in a gap, provide a niche service, and connect, link, and collaborate with existing organizations in your area.”
2. Nicole Cardoza is the Founder and Executive Director of Yoga Foster, a New York-based nonprofit that teaches educators to foster yoga in the classroom. Nicole told us:
“Start with your strengths, not your limitations. Starting a nonprofit comes with its challenges, particularly as a woman, or a founder of color (or both). Bring your impact audience into the development process of your organization. Encourage your funders to be as responsive and diligent as you are. And be patient with the practice of growing a company, instead of obsessed with the outcomes.”
3. Kenton Lee is the Founder of Because International, a nonprofit committed to practical compassion with a focus on developing innovative solutions to long-standing social justice problems. Kenton also had some special advice for aspiring nonprofit founders:
“I would tell them to follow their passion – and invite others to join. That is what it is all about. Just keep going. Never quit. Keep operating in your passion. And keep finding ways to invite people to join you. You got this!”
4. Gina LaMotte is the Founder and Executive Director of EcoRise, an organization inspiring a new generation of leaders to design a sustainable future for all. EcoRise’s school-based program empowers youth to tackle real-world challenges by teaching sustainability, design innovation, and social entrepreneurship. Gina shared some insightful guidance for nonprofit founders:
“Before anyone starts a nonprofit, they should spend at least one full year immersing themselves in the issue they are trying to solve. Get to know every player in the ecosystem: the clients, the funders, the colleagues and competition. What are their needs, strengths and challenges? Where is the gap in services or products? What untapped resources, opportunities and collaborations exist? The more you do your homework – the more you listen, discover insights and identify like-minded partners – the higher chance you have of making a meaningful dent in the universe.”
5. Jim Ziolkowski is the Founder, President and CEO of buildOn and best-selling author of ‘Walk in Their Shoes.’ BuildOn is a movement empowering U.S. urban youth to transform their neighborhoods and the world through intensive community service. Inspired by his own travels to some of the most impoverished countries in the world and his experiences living in Harlem, Jim had some impactful advice for social innovators.
“Fear is useless. What is needed is trust. As social innovators we’ve got to be tenacious, gritty and courageous. We deal with cynicism and rejection- especially when what we’re working on is important. So we can never give up. Ever.”
6. Skyler Badenoch is the Chief Executive Officer of Hope for Haiti. Hope for Haiti is a non-profit charitable organization with the mission to improve the quality of life for the Haitian people, particularly children. A returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Cote d’Ivoire, Skyler managed international programs in Haiti, Nicaragua, and Malawi for buildOn for 10 years. Most recently as Vice President of New Business Development, he raised more than $10MM for those programs. Skyler earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the University of Arizona and a Master’s Degree in International Development Studies from the George Washington University. He has a working proficiency in both French and Creole.
Financial accountability and controls are crucial to the long-term sustainability and impact of your nonprofit. You may have an inspiring theory of change, a sound logic model, great staff, and the ability to make true impact, but if you don’t have sound systems for financial management and controls, then you are destined to fail. My advice is to study up on best practices, adopt policies that promote transparency and accountability, and find outside help if you need it to ensure your organization is fiscally excellent.
Are you a nonprofit leader with helpful words of wisdom? Or do you know someone who should be featured on our blog? Please let us know in the comments or by emailing us!