Follow Your Passion: The Nonprofit Path to Personal Success


Listen to Your Heart and Discover the Rewards of a Truly ‘Successful’ Life

“Success.” What picture comes to your mind’s eye when you say the word? Is it the corner office with a personal assistant and your name in bold print on a fancy business card: the private company limo and a penthouse view? Is it an expensive foreign sports-car and lunch with all the “power players” at an exclusive country club? While some of the biggest and most well-known nonprofit organizations do pay their top earners as handsomely as many private corporations, only a privileged few will ever enjoy the kind of company benefits the word “success” usually brings to mind.

However, if your personal view of success involves living a life where you are free to follow your heart and live a purpose-filled life doing what you love, starting a nonprofit of your own may be your path to a more personal version of the truly successful life. As a middle-aged single mother, starting my own nonprofit organization was not the easiest way to a life of leisure – but it has certainly been one of the most personally rewarding experiences I could ever hope for. After working with underprivileged youth and single mothers who were struggling to make ends meet for most of my professional career, becoming a single mother myself was an eye-opening experience. Suddenly I became one of those single parents who had to face all of the daily challenges of raising two great kids alone, while still putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their head without the benefit of a second paycheck. Fortunately, I come from a very supportive family and their Dad is still an active part of their lives – but I began to wonder what would keep me from one day becoming one of my own clients? What truly separated the “successful” people from the ones who were struggling to survive and losing the battle?

In the current economy, our local homeless shelters are filled with women and children who face this issue – some of whom are well-educated formerly successful middle-class citizens. I began to do my own research into the problem: if it wasn’t a matter of education or social class, then what was the deciding factor in their present dilemma?… Resources. The one thing successful people had in common was access to a strong family support system and basic resources: someone they could call on in case of emergencies, reliable transportation and dependable childcare. But how could one person with limited resources of her own to draw on possibly hope to make a difference for so many? Over the next two years, the answer became clear – I couldn’t: but WE could! Fortunately, I happen to live in one of the most collaborative cities in the country. Once I began looking for the answers to my questions, I discovered many of the community leaders and local organizations were already working on the solutions to my dilemma, but the organizations themselves were also in trouble.

Working with shrinking resources and underfunded programs, they were struggling to meet the needs of a growing number of unemployed and under-employed people: people who had always been generous with their time and money, but were now having to use those services themselves. My job was not to serve these people, but to funnel resources into the organizations who already had those programs in place: to form a nonprofit that could devote time and energy toward finding and developing all of the resources those providers needed in order to serve my clients – helping them to overcome their present circumstances and become self-sufficient productive citizens again.

Thus “Stone Soup Ministries” was born: a non-denominational nonprofit organization devoted to the acquisition and development of resources for other nonprofits that address poverty-related issues. Along the way, I learned several important lessons for anyone who wants to follow their own passion:

  • Do your homework. Is there anyone out there already doing what you want to do? What are the current “best practices” in your field of interest? How can you contribute your efforts to a greater cause? Never reinvent the wheel: it is always an easier and more effective use of your time and energy to help someone else than it is to start from nothing on your own.
  • Do it right the first time. Once you decide to form your own nonprofit, build a strong foundation for your platform. Find a mentor and possible board members who can help you navigate the pitfalls of starting your own business through Score.org. Use the free resources available at SBA.gov to create a sustainable long-term business plan and determine what business model best fits your objective. Search IRS.gov for possible names: don’t invest all your time and energy into building a brand you will have to abandon later due to copyrights.
  • “FREE” is always better. Take advantage of free websites and resources whenever possible: the less you spend, the less time you will have to waste raising money in order to just maintain your organization — and the more resources you can funnel into achieving your real mission. Scour your local library and free internet sites for “how-to” information. Ask your board members to contribute their areas of expertise and resources. Create your own free websites with “point and click” templates at websites like Tripod.com and Webs.com. Search Grants.gov for possible funding sources. Find local marketing students who will help you create a pro-bono marketing plan for your organization in order to add to their own professional portfolio. Apply for 501c3 status at IRS.gov so you can offer tax deductions to your supporters, and ask local businesses to donate the supplies you need rather than money – people are almost always more willing to give what they already have to a worthy cause.
  • Stay focused. Determine what your real “mission” is, and then focus all of your time and energy on that: never allow yourself to get side-tracked. Develop a “mission statement” that contains everything you want to achieve at the most basic level, and then always ask yourself “how will this help me move toward that goal?” If the answer is “I don’t know”, it’s time to find another strategy.
  • Don’t quit your day-job. Start your nonprofit as a side business on a shoestring, and don’t expect a pay-check in the very beginning. Determine whether you have a viable business model that will sustain paid employees first, and then have at least 2yrs worth of personal money in the bank in order to pay your own bills before you gamble on the charity of others.
  • Never, never, never give up. There is no such thing as a real “overnight success”… Persistence, perseverance and enthusiasm will carry you through the tough times and make up for a multitude of unknowns on your way to following your own passion.
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