Sometimes the Little Things ARE the Big Things

Sometimes the Little Things ARE the Big Things

You have a good heart. You’re compassionate. And you love helping people in need. But you’re also busy! You keep thinking, dreaming and talking about all the ways you’ll make a big difference in the world.


That same “someday” that’s “around the corner.” And that never seems to come.

A Bit of Encouragement

Well, today I want to encourage you to stop putting it off. Stop looking for the perfect time. Stop waiting for everything to settle down in your world. You know as well as I do that you’ll be waiting a zillion years and one dark night for that to happen.

So maybe you can’t do that Big thing right now. Maybe you can’t change the entire world. That doesn’t have to stop you from doing the little things. In my experience, thoughtful “little things” are huge to those who receive them when they need them most.

Here’s the reason I KNOW the value of little things:

My “Little Things” Story

Hospice Satilla is a small nonprofit medical facility in Southeast Georgia. The staff there care for patients facing the end of life and support their loved ones through this challenging time. The staff is compassionate and professional, and they understand what families are going through.

Volunteers at the hospice house, go the extra mile, too.

You might find a volunteer at the front desk acting as a greeter when you visit. She’ll help you get acquainted with the hospice house by giving you a tour of this beautiful 5-bed facility. (It’s a beautiful, peaceful place.)

The family of former patients help stock the hospice house with snacks for those visiting current patients.

And some volunteers donate hand-made afghans. When enough afghans are available, the staff lays one on each patient’s bed, and it becomes a keepsake for the family.

A Surprising Personal Touch

All these things might sound like little things to you. But when your heart is hurting and you’re feeling confused and afraid, those personal touches become Big things. Comforting, meaningful, unexpected things.

The thing that touched me most was the afghan the staff had placed on my loved one’s bed. I was moved to see the hand-crocheted creation, knowing the hours required to make it. A stranger had anticipated our family’s need for comfort and support and had cared enough to do this for nothing in return.

Well, nothing tangible. I’m sure that giving was their return.

Paying It Forward

After our family’s experience, we wanted to thank the staff and support other families who would need Hospice Satilla. And so we took home-baked snacks and a financial donation to the office and snacks to the hospice house for the staff and visitors.

Later, my mommie and I started crocheting and donating afghans. We hope every patient’s family will have a hand-made keepsake to take home. It’s been seven years since we’ve needed Hospice Satilla, and we’re still grateful and still doing little things to support other families.

Why Am I Telling You This?

I am NOT looking for a pat on the back. We do what we do because we care about other families facing the situation we faced. And we want to make a difference.

I’m telling you this because you’re busy. And because weeks, months, and years are passing while you put off doing the good that’s in your heart.

Because I want you to know you can help others now. You already have what it takes. I learned to crochet in junior high. Who knew such a simple thing could make such a difference?  So even if you can’t do everything you want to do now, find SOMETHING meaningful and do that.

Make a difference in whatever way you can, while you can. Someone somewhere needs your gifts.

Please share below in the Comments some of the “little things” you’ve done or received that made a big difference. Maybe your story will help inspire someone to get moving!


I’m a Person, Not a Problem: How the Labels We Use Can Backfire

I’m a Person, Not a Problem: How the Labels We Use Can Backfire

Labels can be an explosive topic in the nonprofit world. Labels that governments, organizations, and ordinary people use to describe people and places. 

By people, I don’t mean secretaries, bankers, or astronauts. And I don’t mean labels like “stylish,” “talented”, or “funny.” I mean labels that hurt when people are talked about as if their challenging circumstances have become their identity.

For Example…

You’ve probably heard people labeled in one of these ways: low-income, at-risk, underprivileged, abused, uneducated, and disenfranchised.

On the surface, some of these labels look like simple descriptive words. But who wants “abused” to define them? Who considers “low-come” to be an inescapable part of their identity? And who wants to walk around knowing people see them as “underprivileged” or “at-risk”?

Nobody does. Especially when they don’t see themselves that way.

The Pushback

Every industry has its own “internal language,” and some of these labels have become a part of that language. That makes the labels both acceptable and invisible within those industries. 

By invisible, I mean that those who use the labels don’t necessarily consider the people behind them anymore nor the biases that have become attached to the labels.

But from time to time, you’ll see pushback as advocates for “labeled” people and places stand up and call for change. They call on those who use the labels to reconsider them. 

One example is the 2014 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, called, Who Are You Calling Underprivileged? The author gives us a first-hand account of what it feels like to have positive self-esteem and then realize that others see you through a label. One you didn’t choose and don’t want.

Another example is the youth-led media campaign, We Are Not At Risk, that “calls attention to, and changes the harmful rhetoric around youth and lifts up the voices of young leaders”

So Why Use Labels?

Here’s my own super quick-and-dirty take on it:

First of all, as humans, we tend to like shortcuts. We often use labels as shortcuts to help us understand the world around us more quickly. Those labels categorize and help simplify what we see and experience.

Then, there’s the government. Lawmakers are concerned about people and neighborhoods that need help to thrive. So they allot funds to help. Then, to ensure that the funds support the intended people and neighborhoods, those people and places get categorized and labeled.

Now, a scholar would have a much longer and more sophisticated explanation about this kind of labeling. But this isn’t an academic essay, and I think you get my point.

So what’s the problem? What’s wrong with those labels?

The Trouble With Labels

As helpful as they’re intended to be, labels can have a negative effect when they “paint” people as less-than, unable, incapable, threatening, or unwanted. And two things tend to happen.

First, the label gradually takes the place of the full, complex, multi-faceted character of the labeled people and places. And that leads to stereotyping. Stereotypes tend to carry negative judgments that take the place of digging deeper and getting to know people and places.

Second, a surprising side-effect that sometimes accompanies negative labeling is the fact that some people start to live out those labels.

This is partly because outsiders can’t separate the labeled people from the labels assigned to them. So those onlookers treat them differently than they otherwise would.

Labels Create Expectations

Here’s a jarring example of that: Back in college, I took an educational psychology class that required students to read about academic studies on an array of ed psych topics. I found a study about the effects of teacher expectations on students.

After testing some young elementary school students, two groups with average scores were randomly divided into two classes. One teacher was told the students were above-average performers, and the other was told the students were below-average performers. At the end of the study, the first class had above-average grades, while the unfortunate second group had below-average grades.

The abstract described how differently the teachers performed in the classroom. One expressed high expectations for the students and told them they were high performers. The second teacher expected much less of the students and didn’t push them to achieve more.

The abstract concluded that the teachers’ expectations for their students shaped their behavior in the classroom. The teachers’ behavior then contributed to the students’ performance—positively for one group and negatively for the other.

Wow! I read that abstract more than 40 years ago, and I still feel bad for that second class! Can you see how labeling the students changed teachers expectations and behavior? Can you see how one label resulted in altered student performance?

Now imagine what would happen if both groups of students believed the labels and continued to act as if they were true. For the rest of their academic lives!

I hope you can see why we must be careful about labels in the nonprofit sector. We might just sabotage the very work we’ve set out to do.

Caution for Nonprofit Founders

This gets tricky for charitable nonprofits that serve people and neighborhoods. In order to qualify for nonprofit and tax-exempt status, your organization must be created for charitable, educational, religious, civic, and certain other purposes.

The truth is that serving some of the people and places that have been “labeled” will make your organization eligible for nonprofit status. Why? Because nobody hands out nonprofit status for you to help people and neighborhoods that don’t need help! And those that need help have probably been labeled.

Grantmakers, nonprofit partners, and government contract administrators probably use some of those labels. If so, they’ll ask you to address those issues, and you can’t just ignore them.

So What’s The Answer?

We have to make sure our conversations, grant proposals, and organizational descriptions make the distinction between the identity of the people we serve and their circumstances.

So for example, you’re not helping “low-income people.” Instead, you’re serving people whose earnings and assets fall below the poverty level. See the difference? We’re helping people who find themselves in a particular set of circumstances. But those circumstances don’t define them as people.

Peeling Off The Labels

One way to become more sensitive to the ways we inadvertently use insensitive labels is to have an honest dialogue with the people you serve. Obviously, not all of them will have the same viewpoints, but you’ll probably learn a lot.

As compassionate ChangeMakers, we’re eager to help people transform their lives, and our enthusiasm is an asset. Sometimes, though, we need to pump the brakes so that we avoid doing things to—or in some cases for—people instead of with them. When we buy into traditional labels, we may subconsciously believe we know what’s best for other people.

We’re not saviors descending from above to give them what we “know” they should have. We’re guides, companions, counselors, and friends. We hurt when they hurt and want to support their efforts to improve their circumstances.

A great way to learn what people want and need is to stop presuming and actually listen to them.

What’s Next?

Now it’s time for some reflection. Whether you’re thinking about launching a nonprofit, or whether it’s in progress or well established, think about the ways you think and talk about the people and places you serve. Do you need to make a change? If so, where will you start?

What Makes Me Crazy

As you’re thinking about your answers, let me throw out one more thing:

I have a pet peeve about the way we use language in this culture. When we don’t like what a word stands for, we vilify the word. And once we vilify it, we make up cutesy or wordy alternatives to replace the offending word.

Here’s my favorite (or is that least favorite?) example: We practically worship youth in this culture; so we adore the word young. But since we dislike the idea of being old, we dislike the word old. We consider it an insult when it’s just another adjective. (So now my auntie is “98 years young” instead of 98 years old, even though she’s well past caring about such vanities.)

In the nonprofit sector, let’s not get crazy. Let’s not work so hard to avoid words that have negative or unpleasant associations that we start making up wordy phrases and inaccurate words to replace them. (Euphemisms come to mind here.)

Let’s just be thoughtful about the effect our words might have on the people and places we serve.

Nonprofits tackle negative issues. Ugly issues. Unthinkable issues. And we shouldn’t try to cover up that fact. But we can do a better job of attacking problems without injuring the people affected by them. We can, and we will!

What do YOU think about all this? Do you have work to do? I hope you’ll share our thoughts in the Comments. This is the kind of topic I’ll address inside The Nonprofit Founders Circle–my new group mentoring program for ChangeMakers who are ready to launch and lead a charitable nonprofit. Tap the button below to learn when enrollment opens.

Why I’m Taking My Own Advice

Why I’m Taking My Own Advice

I had my head down for hours today creating more of the Nonprofit Founders Circle–my new membership program. I’ve been fleshing out the first 12 months in advance because I want my members to have an amazing experience. I even invested in a course to learn how to build a membership program the right way!

Why am I telling you this? Because I want you to know I’m taking my own advice! 

If you’ve seen the almost-daily quotes I’ve created for my company’s Facebook Page, you know I love Visionaries and the way they serve people in need. And in many of my posts, I encourage Visionaries to not just Dream, but to get to work on their Visions.

My Vision–one of them anyway–is to make a life-changing difference for nonprofit founders who are changing the world for Good. To do that, I have to invest time, energy, and resources. Otherwise, I’d have nothing to offer them. I can’t just dream about serving them, or talk about it, or post about it. I have to get to work. And that’s what I was doing today–working on my Vision of supporting real ChangeMakers.

Taking my own advice.

Beware The Comfort Zone!

The thing is, having a Vision can be cozy and comforting. It makes us feel good, and it gives us something positive to look forward to. We share it with family and friends, and they encourage us with their head-swelling complements. Complements on our compassion and on the Change we INTEND to make in the world.

So we adore our Visions. We cling to them and recite them over and over, impressing the masses.

But getting to work on that Vision–bringing it to life–is another thing altogether! That path is not always cozy or comforting.

Sometimes it means giving up time we might prefer to use doing something else. Or it might mean asking for help, and if you’re like me, you’re not so good at that. It means moving into the unknown, and it means having the courage to take risks.

A lot of folks will spend the next 20 years Dreaming and talking about their Visions. But a few will get off the couch and put in the work to bring their Visions to life. These ChangeMakers are not about throwing something together just to say they started a nonprofit. They’ll put in the effort to build a solid organization and a program that changes lives. 

THESE are the people I want to work with! And they’re the ones I was working for today!

(Now, if you’re a couch-sitting Dreamer, I am NOT mad at you. We’re just on different paths right now.)

The Nonprofit Founders Circle

Launching and leading a nonprofit is real work. It takes time, patience, and persistence–among other things. (And it’s not for everyone.)

I want to make the journey of launching and leading a nonprofit more enjoyable. I want these ChangeMakers to reach their goals faster and with less confusion and wasted time. I want to be there as they start small, develop a track record, grow the organization, and create the Change they once dreamed of. 

These ChangeMakers are the reason I’m taking my own advice! They’re the reason I was hard at work today!

If you’re a true ChangeMaker I’m putting in the work for YOU. If you’re ready to put in the work for the people you hope to serve, I invite you to join me when the Nonprofit Founders Circle opens in a few weeks. You can click the button below to learn more and to get on my VIP Waitlist. When you do, you’ll get free training related to nonprofit startup, exclusive Founders Circle offers, and notice when program enrollment is coming up.

After reading about the membership program, drop any questions about it in the Comments below, and I’ll come back with answers. And if you know someone else who might like to read this, please share this article on your favorite social media channel using the buttons on this page.

Meanwhile, I hope YOU’RE the one who’s ready to get off the couch. If so, I’m ready to help you change the world!

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What’s In A Name? 3 Questions to Ask When Naming a Nonprofit

What’s In A Name? 3 Questions to Ask When Naming a Nonprofit

Just like a person, an organization needs a name; you can’t create a nonprofit without one. That seems pretty obvious when you think about it—a no-brainer. 

But have you ever tried to name an organization? Unless you’re going to name it after yourself, coming up with the right name is not always easy. 

If you’re ready to launch a nonprofit, and you’re thinking of names, here’s a little help. I have 3 questions to get you started. So grab paper and pencil and get ready to work. (Yes, I did go old school with the “paper and pencil” thing. I find it therapeutic. And I like to erase stuff!)

Question 1: What do you want the name to convey?

A name can do so many things. Describe something, create curiosity, inspire, confuse, entertain, or even repel. What do you want people to know, or believe, or feel when they read your organization’s name? 

You might want the name to reveal who you serve, your location, the kind of service you offer, or even the way you work—like providing emergency or in-home services. The options here are almost endless. And that’s part of the problem when you’re coming up with a name!

A Few Examples

These names give the reader clues about the organization’s mission : 

These organization names tell us some important things at a glance. They tell us who or what the organizations serve, give us an idea about the help they offer, and the third example tells us the geographic focus.

Simple, clear, informative naming like this is one way to go.

You might prefer a clever name or one that’s more creative. And that’s ok. But if you want people to read your name and not have to guess what your org does, keep it straightforward like these.

Now grab your pencil and quickly brainstorm your answer to Question 1. Just breeze through it without second-guessing or editing yourself. You can come back to it later.

Question 2: What’s More Important, Present or Future?

Another question is whether the name should reflect the current program and location or be broad enough to remain valid if the nonprofit evolves.

Here’s What I Mean

Gateway Children’s Services in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky launched a project in 1981 to offer emergency shelter to at-risk youth in a 7-county area. Many of the young people they took in were victims of abuse or had attempted suicide. In response, Gateway added a therapeutic component to its program.

Gateway introduced a “cutting edge treatment program called Living It Up” in 2008, Therapeutic Foster Care and Adoption Services in 2013, and outpatient behavioral health and substance abuse services in 2015.

Not only did the organization expand its services to meet the young people’s needs, but the organization expanded to serve the entire state of Kentucky.

What’s The Point Here?

I want you to see what Gateway didn’t do. They didn’t use the word “shelter” in their name, even though they were creating a youth shelter. And they didn’t get too specific about the kinds of young people they were serving. They didn’t add “runaway youth” to the name, for example.

They could’ve done those things, and nothing would have been wrong with that. But in this case, Gateway’s clients and programming expanded over time, and the nonprofit didn’t outgrow its name.

Sweet, right?

So what’s your preference: a name that clearly defines your current program or one that will survive if your program evolves? It’s your choice. Still, let me caution you that a more restrictive name might confuse people a few years from now if your program evolves.

Now it’s time to brainstorm a few answers to Question 2.

Question 3: Will It Cause Confusion?

Most likely, your state won’t let you register a nonprofit corporation name that’s already in use there. Obviously, that cuts down on confusion. You’ll want to avoid other types of confusion, too.

Avoid names that sound too much like national brands or well-known companies. This might cause confusion, or people may assume your organization is connected to the brand.

As you name your organization, you should also search the internet to see who else might be using the name or website domain name you want to use. You might find that an organization four states away is using the name you’ve chosen. Your state will let you use it, and you won’t have any trouble locally. But that could change if both organizations have an online presence.

Finally, avoid stepping on someone else’s registered trade name. Otherwise, you might open a “cease and desist” letter from an attorney demanding that you stop using the name. (This actually happened to a church I attended a long time ago!) So, conduct a search at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and avoid names that you find listed as “live.”

A Few Extra Cautions

Here are a few more things to watch out for when you’re choosing a name:

  • Avoid “tortured” acronyms. You might love the word “unity,” for example, but if you have to blow out brain cells to come up with an org name that spells unity, STOP it! When people read your org name, instead of saying, “Oh. I’d like to know more,” they’re more likely to think, “What the….?” (You get my meaning.) Just K.I.S.S.–Keep It Simple, Shirley!
  • Avoid snicker-producing acronyms. Here in the U.S., folks are addicted to shortening names. So someone will probably use an acronym for your org even if you don’t. Check the acronym your name creates and make sure it doesn’t spell a 4-letter word or some embarrassing body function. Otherwise, folk might be laughing behind your back!
  • And finally, be sure the name doesn’t imply something your organization doesn’t do. Here’s a fictitious example: If I’m experiencing a crisis, I expect Crabgrass Crisis Center to help me right away. But if I call them and the rep only gives me a list of phone numbers to call, I’m going to be frustrated, disappointed, and angry. The nonprofit seems to be an organization that doesn’t deliver what the name promises. Enough situations like that will ruin an organization’s reputation.

Time for your final exercise! Jot down the list of names you’re considering. Run them through the questions above, and choose your favorite name.

The Bottom Line

Naming an organization is NOT just about the facts. It’s also emotional. The nonprofit you want to launch is close to your heart, and so is its name. I get it.

So use your good judgment, your imagination, and these ideas, and get this one done. Don’t get stuck here! The people you want to serve are waiting for you to bring your vision to life! And serving them is much more important than any name you might choose.
How are you doing coming up with an organization name? Please tell us about it in the Comments, and we’ll help you if you need it!

P.S. Ready to launch a nonprofit? If you want a mentor to walk through this journey with you and your team, get ready to join my upcoming Founders Circle Mentoring Program. Click below for updates about the program.

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Small Beginnings, Big Possibilities

Small Beginnings, Big Possibilities

Some of us have big Dreams. Dreams of helping people in need. Dreams of making our lives count for something important. Dreams of doing something that needs to be done, that no one else is doing. 

We dream big because we’re natural-born ChangeMakers.

So…why haven’t we gotten started yet? Why is the Dream still just a dream?

Fear of Starting Small

Maybe because the Dream is so big, we think only a big program or project will have the BIG impact we want to have. We don’t have the resources to start Big right now; so anything we start would have to be small. Small and insignificant.

And that’s not what we’re about. Right?

So instead of starting small, we do nothing. We keep dreaming the Dream. And talking about the Dream. And waiting for the far-off “someday” when the Dream comes true.

All because we’re afraid—or maybe too prideful?—to start small.

Great Things Come In Small Packages

Ask any woman who’s ever gotten a beautiful necklace or an engagement ring if great things come in small packages. Yes, they do!

So why not consider starting small with your Dream?

A small beginning doesn’t have to mean an unimportant one. There’s no reason it should lack impact. 

Imagine the look on the faces of a handful of children when you provide them with stylish, well-fitting school clothes and shoes and all the supplies they’ll need for school. Kids who wouldn’t have these without your small program.

Now, imagine how their parents will feel seeing their excited kids ready for school. Not only will their children not feel self-conscious at school, but the parents can now use their scarce resources to buy nutritious food instead of school clothes and supplies.

This wouldn’t require a big project, but what a difference that would make! For the kids and the parents!

Small can have real impact!

Break It Down

Okay, so maybe you’re convinced that you don’t have to wait 10 long years and 1 dark night to pursue your big Dream. You’re okay with starting small.

But how do you do that?

The how-to will vary from one Dream to the other. Each program or project will be different. But to help you get started, here are 4 things to try:

  1. First, identify what you’ll need to make your program successful. Not down to the paperclips; just list the important things. (Volunteers, space, supplies, types of equipment, etc.)
  2. Consider the resources you have and decide how to use them. (Your time, volunteer time from family and friends, contributions from your savings, your coworkers, and friends, etc.)
  3. Then brainstorm ways to serve just a few people at a time or to serve a smaller geographic area. Work with the resources you have. For example, limit the number of people you serve in a month–to say 100–instead of everyone who comes in the door. Or, if you hope to serve your county, start by serving a small neighborhood in your county.
  4. Explore potential partnerships, especially with organizations that offer other services to the same people you hope to serve. For example, if you offer a support group for people with a particular medical diagnosis, maybe you can partner with the local clinic and the regional hospital. They might provide space and referrals.

As you open your mind to new possibilities and start talking to people in your community, you’ll probably come up with other ideas. Keep exploring options until you’ve crafted a program you can launch sooner rather than later.

Small Start, Big Bonus

You might see the benefit of starting small and maybe even the need to do it. But I wonder if you’ve considered those extra bonuses?

Of course, you’ve probably thought about the appreciation you’ll get from the people you help and the satisfaction of pursuing your Purpose. Of making a real difference in the world.

You might not have considered momentum. Things at rest tend to stay at rest, and things in motion tend to stay in motion. (Thanks, Sir Isaac Newton!) Your small start can energize you, get you off the sofa and into action. And as you stay in motion, you’ll serve more people, make new connections, and see new possibilities.

Plus, your small start can be the seed of new growth. How? Many—if not most—grantmakers prefer to support efforts that have a track record–that are stable and sustainable. They don’t want to be your savior. They want to know you can survive without them.

Starting small will give you a chance to build your program and your organization slowly and to develop a track record of success. Grantmakers and other contributors like that.

And those grants and contributions could be the ticket to your organization’s growth.

Now It’s Your Turn

So how can you start small? I’d love for you to Comment below and let me know your ideas for starting small. Or maybe you have questions. Let’s start a conversation; maybe I can help.

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