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Challenge: Back to School 2021

15 Lessons Learned From 15 Years of Running a Non-Profit

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I can’t believe it's been 15 years since I embarked on the building of WIT - Whatever It Takes! This year we will celebrate this milestone in different ways, but for today I want to kick-off the year with a bit of reflection. So, whether you're a seasoned veteran or just starting out, here are 15 lessons I've learned from running a non-profit that might give you a heads-up, make you nod, or simply go, "Yep, been there!"


No one will care about it as much as you … and that’s OK
Your passion is the driving force behind your non-profit.. While not everyone will match your level of dedication, your unwavering commitment will be the beacon that attracts like-minded contributors. But never expect the same level of “obsession” from your team.

Know Your Competition
Know who's out there doing similar things, collaborate when you can, and share the love. That said, don’t be surprised if people don’t want to collaborate - don’t take it personally. Some organizations want the spotlight all to themselves … move along and let them have it. You’ve got work to do.

Check Your Ego
Remember why you started in the first place – it wasn't for the glory, but for the change you wanted to see. Humility is a key trait in successful leaders. Your journey began with a noble cause, not personal acclaim. Let the impact speak for itself.

Invest in Yourself
You can't pour from an empty cup. Take time to recharge, learn, and grow. Personal growth fuels organizational success. Elevate your leadership game by investing in your skills, knowledge, and well-being. I’ll share more about the programs that helped me on the DO WIT podcast.

Adaptability Is Key
In the ever-changing landscape of non-profits, the ability to adapt is crucial. Embrace change, learn from it, and watch your organization evolve. Try not to get stuck in the “but this is how we do it” mentality. Remember that your goal is to meet the needs of the people you are serving. If their needs change, be willing to change, too.

Measure + Track
Numbers don't lie. Keep track of your impact, successes, and areas for improvement. It's not just about the warm and fuzzies – data matters.I didn’t do this very well and now I’m missing out on some great data and information that would really help WIT.

You can't be an expert in everything. Don't hesitate to outsource tasks that are outside your wheelhouse, allowing you to focus on what you do best. Delegate tasks and trust your team. It's a team effort. This is why it’s important to build a great team.

Fire Fast
Trust your instincts and don't be afraid to part ways when it's not working out. You'll thank yourself later. I wasted waaaaay too much time on people who just weren’t a fit. I would have done us both a favor by parting ways sooner.

Check In On Your Customers
Stay connected with your beneficiaries. It's not just about numbers; it's about the people you've impacted. Check in, celebrate their successes, and learn from their experiences. Some of WIT’s best programs came from ideas shared to me by our students and parents.

Create Multiple Revenue Streams
Diversify your funding/donor sources. It's like having multiple safety nets for your organization, ensuring financial stability. Also, it’s OK if you try something and it doesn’t work. Learn what you can and move onto the next.

Learn From The Mistakes
They will happen, make it a win. Mistakes are inevitable, but the real win is in the lessons learned. Embrace the hiccups, adapt, and turn them into stepping stones to success. Setbacks are setups for something better.

Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself
Balance is key. Don't let your non-profit consume every aspect of your life. Your well-being matters too. Remember, it's a marathon, not a sprint. I had way too many burnouts during those first 5 years. I thought running myself down meant I was really working hard. Not true.

Focus on the Give More Than The Get
Make generosity your mantra, and watch how it fuels your mission and builds lasting connections. When you go in for an “ask” make sure that you are also sharing how you can “give”, too.

Quit More
Quitting has a negative connotation in many aspects of life, but in the non-profit world, it's more of an art than a failure. Recognizing when to let go of certain initiatives, strategies, or even partnerships can be a game-changer for the overall success of your organization.

Quality Over Quantity
A lot of people are impressed by large numbers when it comes to non-profits, but having fewer, high-impact programs is often more effective than spreading yourself thin with numerous mediocre ones. Quitting the less impactful activities allows you to concentrate on delivering excellence where it truly matters.

To all the aspiring founders and those who have been on the path - here's to a journey filled with lessons and a whole lot of heart. Let me know what lessons you have learned!

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