Friday, November 30, 2007

Vision & Pragmatism

Social entrepreneurs often seem to be possessed by their ideas, committing their lives to changing the direction of their field. They are both visionaries and ultimate realists, concerned with the practical implementation of their vision above all else.

- Leslie Crutchfield & Heather McLeod Grant from Forces for Good

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Speaking of Dead Poet's Society, it's been 12 years since I've last stepped into my eleventh grade English class. I don't remember much of Beowulf, Chaucer or Shakespeare but I can still recite a Keats poem. My English teacher adored this poet so much he traveled to Italy just to get lost searching through the entire cemetery for this man's tombstone. If my teacher had to die a tragic death, he hoped it would be just like Percy Bysshe Shelley's: body washed upon the shore with an open volume of Keats's poetry, stuck in his pocket. It were these stories that I remembered most... stories that came alive with personality, character and humor -- all in the form of a narrative which was illuminating, engaging, and memorable.

I can't deny the emotional impact my English teacher had on not only my love for Romantic Era Poetry but for life itself. All his lessons engaged us. We never questioned it; he had heart. He, to our junior year class, embodied leadership in action. All of us agreed we'd do anything for him. I realize now you can only inherit that kind of passion through a true and real connection, something stories have the keen ability to do. And with that, true leaders use storytelling to cut right to the heart of the matter... so much more than any textbook can do.

Do not go where the path may lead,

go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

O Captain! my Captain! rise up..

I just told my partner in crime about my year-long plan. Well, she's not really my partner, just someone I look up to since she has already incorporated as a NPO in Florida. I bounce off all my lofty and practical ideas as well as silly and serious questions through her. Does this make sense? Can I ask you something? How did you do that? I haven't met her yet, but we've become kindred spirits; changing, influencing and moving our cause along. Below is her seize-the-day-o-captain-my-captain advice to me. I love it. There's no better way to shake it all up than grabbing the bull by the horn.

Get out there. Take notes. Collect business cards of everyone you meet. If you have time, try and volunteer. Look at each organization's strengths and weaknesses. Find out where the gaps in services are. Figure out why some programs work and why some don't (hint: it's not usually about money). Collect the names of people you don't know--start a spreadsheet and include every single professional in New York City -- you're going to want to e-mail and snail mail these people when it comes time to promote and then again for fundraising. Learn everything you can about your cause. Realize that once your phone number is out there that you're going to get calls at 2:00 am or on a Sunday afternoon. These people are going to be looking towards you for answers.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Start Where You Are

After much thinking and reflection, I (for now, at least) have decided to take a year to research, study, gain experience and exposure, as well as find my voice and build momentum before I incorporate as a non-profit. I've been reading these insightful books on non-profits and social sectors and they've described what it takes to be not just a good organization, but a great one. One of the major points they make is to vision the organization beyond one's own lifetime. If I can envision this organization beyond myself -- and greater than myself -- it will develop much more effectively, with precision and definitive impact.

Many of my peers share the same goals, passions and drive. What differentiates us is our experience in the social sector -- something i am just beginning to understand. I think it's great how much insight, connection, and awareness they have, like a quarterback calling out plays, inherently aware of where and how and at what point you want to throw the ball. Me, well I'm still here futzing around with the playbook!

So I decided to create this blog to help record my progress for the year. There's this incredibly inspiring woman, Rosetta Thurman, who blogs about non-profit professionals changing the face of the social sector. She writes wonderfully about leadership:

Having the courage to speak out about anything is a challenge, but when it is especially personal or compelling to you is when it most needs to be done. Our most authentic and inspirational leaders were able to move people to social change because they pulled the courage to speak out and act on what they believed was right from the very belly of their being.

We've all got skills and talents and ideas. For young nonprofit professionals with incredible idealism and passion to boot, it seems that the only thing standing between the problems and the solutions is having the courage to step forward and take action .

The "Courage to Lead" is my own stepping forward and taking action. I grew up pretty shy and pretty self-reliant, thinking I'd just be okay minding my own business, working for some firm. But life happens and life has made me see things and how we're connected to those things in an entirely new way. Once we realize we have a vision and have this intense desire to communicate that vision with the whole world... well there's no turning back. We can't get back into the comfort of our shell. We have to move forward, with courage, hope and discipline. That's where I'm starting. First with hope, then with discipline and courage will soon follow!