As YNPN looks to provide resources for young professionals interested in the nonprofit sector, I wanted to take a moment to offer a perspective to those individuals thinking of launching an organization of their own. Eight months ago, I took the leap, harnessed a lofty dream, and launched Allowance for Good. My goal with the organization was to fill two specific needs: 1) to create a web-based giving platform for youth to encourage global philanthropy and 2) to address pressing challenges in international education with solutions that aim to reduce the cycle of poverty. My vision was born over a year in the classroom. I couldn’t quiet the ideas – of tackling the complex and multifaceted challenges of international education blended with those of philanthropy and the power of pooling funds for change – that swirled in my head. After prudent consideration, I discerned that I was ready to harness my energy and enthusiasm. Allowance for Good was born.
What I want you to take away, though, is that the learning only begins when one endeavors down such a path. In fact, it provides ripe opportunity to reflect on one’s own approach to motivation, leadership, action, and work ethic. Just as leaders in any position – government, business, or nonprofit – must do, social entrepreneurs also have to consider how to act in ways that lead the organization to its greatest potential. This demands that we be cognizant of how our own actions will influence the success – or lack there of – of the organization, especially one in such a nascent state.
A woman I greatly admire gave me a gift when she invited me to step out of old work habits and into a new reality in my day-to-day work with Allowance for Good. After reflecting together at length about my workstyle, she suggested that I often assume the role of a lone warrior, determined to make my vision a reality by solely leaning on my own strength, commitment, and resolve. While drawing on such traits remains important in certain aspects of my work, it is not beneficial in every scenario. Coming to grips with this was not swift or pretty. I had to (re)learn how to ask for help – and I’m terrible at it! I have spent countless hours – and still do – exploring my approach to work, adapting my style, and contemplating how I might take alternate actions in lieu of those that come more naturally. I do it not for myself but in order that Allowance for Good might be a stronger, more well-rounded organization built by many, not one. You see, there is immense value in collaboration and in empowering others to contribute to the success of Allowance for Good.
I learned three key lessons from this exercise. First, when launching something – from a blog to a project to the first draft of your dissertation – it’s okay to rely on what comes naturally. You will do so anyway (and that’s what makes you driven to launch something in the first place!) so find your initial energy there. Had I not relied on my tendency to be a lone warrior, I may have never pursued this venture in the first place. Second, be open to asking for help. We all have talents, and yours might be to lead a new idea or endeavor. But it doesn’t mean you have all the answers. You can work tirelessly to find them, but spending your energy leaning on others for those ever-important tax and accounting questions will save you countless hours. And here’s a secret – if people love what you are doing, they will want to help. So don’t be shy. Finally, in all your work, be willing to adapt (and I don’t mean you should adapt your mission – in fact, you probably shouldn’t). But YOU should be willing to adapt through the inevitable highs and lows that launching an entrepreneurial ventures brings. And when you are in the weeds, you’ll have to lean on the passion that led you down the path of founding an organization in the first place. May that zeal you have to ignite change be the reason you are willing to adapt; may you never lose sight of your vision to inspire enthusiasm for your endeavors.
Elizabeth Newton is Founder and Executive Director of Allowance for Good. She holds a master’s degree in International Comparative Education from Stanford University. Prior to attending graduate school, Elizabeth worked in various capacities with the Center for Global Business and the Economy and the Center for Social Innovation at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Her work endeavors, especially those internationally, led her to value the importance of understanding the local context, creating respectful relationships that honor cultures, values, and communities, and pursuing activities that make a significant, positive impact in the world. Contact Elizabeth at firstname.lastname@example.org.