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Hey you, with that great idea…

Updated: Aug 30, 2022

At No More Trafficking, we’re focused on ensuring our strong foundation, to secure our own stability and sustainability, so we can come alongside others working to strengthen, repair and build. Who better to speak to this topic, than one of my most trusted and valued partners in foundation building, Carla Schillero? Watch for an upcoming series and repository of tools. And if you want to join the building, let us know!

—Suzanne Lewis-Johnson, CEO, No More Trafficking

I recognize you. You look and sound like me in so many ways. It is exhilarating to have those “light bulb” moments that seem to almost define destiny.

I see a pervading issue. I have a viable solution. I will start a NON-PROFIT!

As someone who has formed a non-profit organization and worked amid the infrastructure of other non-profits, I have gathered some take-aways.

I believe take-aways are meant to be shared so we can strengthen one another’s visions. “Light bulb” moments matter, but what you do next makes all the difference in the world.

Take-Away #1: There is greater strength in collaboration.

I see a growing number of non-profit organizations sharing a common objective. Although an increase of this presence is inspiring, I wonder why we keep laying a new foundation for something that already exists. What if we found ways to make existing entities better through collaboration and shared expertise, rather than expending additional time and resources to keep another plate spinning?

News flash: Starting (and maintaining) a non-profit is a lot of work.

Trust me. I’ve been there.

At the risk of squelching a “light bulb” moment, some questions might be valuable before venturing out into non-profit land:

  • Does the idea already exist? How might my vision and skill set enhance or improve an already thriving organization, or assist a struggling one?

  • Can we do more with less? Might joining efforts be a more efficient way to generate finances and steward resources?

  • Am I helping or hurting the cause by creating a new entity?

  • What might be a catalyst for greater impact – depth or breadth?

  • What can I learn from the successes and mistakes of organizations that already exist?

Should you decide to take on the responsibility of forming your own non-profit, read on…

Take-Away #2: A strong and persuasive vision statement does not solely ensure success.

That might seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how subtly this can be overlooked.

It is human nature to enjoy and aspire to ideas that tangibly change the way things are. Beautiful homes and towering buildings catch our eye and invite us in. That’s where we tend to invest our time, efforts, and money: in what looks good, sounds good, and impresses others. We envision the exciting thing we want to accomplish, and we get to building!

It should be common sense that no structure will last long unless it is standing on a strong foundation. FOUNDATION. I’m going to say it again: FOUNDATION. Show me an organization that is struggling and I’ll wager that the foundation is not being attended to and fortified on a regular basis. In fact, I will affirm that the ongoing success of any non-profit activity will only be as strong as its foundation. Unfortunately, this seems to be what we rush past and/or take the least time to maintain.

Friends, that vision is only meant to get the ball rolling. It merely points you in a new direction. The bulk of your initial effort and investment should be in the all-important step of laying a foundation that will support that vision for years to come. The motivation accompanying your “light bulb” moment may fade, and the time may come to hand the torch to another. That’s when the commitment to and the sustainability of your foundation will carry the vision through to completion.

What might that foundation entail in practical terms?

  • Clear objectives and strategies

  • Core values

  • Defined scope of activity

  • Policies and procedures

  • Financial responsibilities

  • Legal requirements

  • Communication tactics (Don’t underestimate this!)

  • Established structure for governance, management, and accountability – the right people doing the right things in the right way

This is a short list and may vary depending on the nature of your non-profit activity. But laying and regularly maintaining the foundation for your important work will create a pattern for success and much-needed peace of mind.

Take-Away #3: Really smart visionaries will possess the willingness to 1.) admit their limitations and 2.) surround themselves with people who can fill in those gaps.

I believe the world is made up of two types of people - starters and finishers. If I’m correct, then it goes without saying that BOTH types are desperately needed. A world without starters would get nothing done. A world without finishers would quickly derail in chaos. But when we work in tandem, we can accomplish amazing things!

(A quick sidenote: Indeed, we all possess a little bit of both qualities to varying degrees, but recognizing where you are strong and where your limitations lie will be a game-changer!)

I am a self-proclaimed finisher. Therefore, it is no surprise that I find myself working alongside some of the most inspiring people, who see things and make things happen in a way I could only wish for! The Creator exercised great wisdom in bestowing gifts and abilities that require a beautiful interconnectedness.

If you are a visionary, then I will quickly and proudly categorize you with the starters! I often see folks like you soaring above the challenges and creating new frontiers. You are motivated, persuasive, and seemingly unstoppable. But with those impressive qualities comes your need for something more. I know that follow-through can sometimes feel like a chore. The details hold you back. There’s work to be done and forward motion is the only thing that makes sense. That’s where the finishers step in.

Let me tell you a little something about the finishers. They know how to get their heads around things. They have a knack for getting you from Point A to Point B. And they’re really good at laying a STRONG FOUNDATION. (There’s that word again!)

I cannot emphasize this enough. Before you run with your vision, find yourself a finisher to work alongside you. And then make yourself accountable to this person. There are times when you will need to slow down and hold back. Finishers are not only wired to function this way but understand the important reasons why it is necessary. Tap into that!

This is not to say that visionaries can’t get things done; or finishers can’t dream new dreams. But there is something vitally important about realizing that we are better together.

Take-Away #4: Do it right the first time.

I have seen firsthand the frustrating and wasteful consequence of moving too quickly. Going back to my emphasis of laying a strong foundation, the unseen planning, calculating, and preparing takes time. It’s not fun. Building is fun. Building is exciting. Building is the point, right? Until you realize you have to rebuild because, well….the unseen planning, calculating, and preparing was not given its due diligence. No one likes “backing up the truck” and re-doing the work.

It really is true - haste makes waste. So, don’t be in a hurry. Think it through. Get advice. Consult people who already know. Gather data as you go; assess what works and what doesn’t along the way. Catch mistakes early. Gathering good data is a priceless evaluation tool and builds momentum. People want to invest in what is proven. Repeated mistakes are a sign of an indifferent approach to your objectives. Others will notice. And then you’ll find yourself working too hard to persuade those watching why your idea was good in the first place.

Take-Away #5: Work yourself out of a job.

If you make your non-profit activity a platform for showing off your great idea and expertise, that alone will be your reward. But if you aim for your work to be so inviting that someone else will actually want your job, then you’re on to something! I’ve been there. Watching excellent leadership has drawn me in.

Carry out your objectives in a way that it doesn’t depend on you to get it done. Make it attainable for others to take your place, to carry the torch! Create, and give something to pass on. Make replication a real possibility. Start your venture with this mind, so those coming after you can easily slip into your shoes.

That’s the point. Great ideas, strong and smart collaboration, thorough planning that passes the test of time, to see amazing societal and cultural change for years to come.

By Carla Schillero


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