Steve Reynard ’10M, a graduate of the International Peace and Conflict Resolution program, is the co-founder of Sports4HOPE, a non-profit organization that serves citizens of the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Below, he shares some lessons he’s learned about starting and leading a non-profit organization.
The Importance of a Team
Sports4HOPE would be no more than an idea if it weren’t for the support of others who have helped along the way and the support of a core group of individuals dedicated to making the vision a reality. If you are looking to start a non-profit of your own or leading a similar project, the first thing I would suggest doing is finding those who are interested in your idea and start building a solid team. Build a team of individuals that will challenge each other and the process every step of the way. Also, a team of visionaries will get you about as far as a team of organizers...nowhere. Try to develop a team that is diverse, comprised of individuals with different and complimentary skill sets.
Too Much Organization Too Quick
In our case, we actually created an organization before really creating our program/product. Due to the relational nature of our vision, our program/product requires the input of targeted communities and thus can only fully be developed once we are in Eastern DRC. Waiting for the right time to start our project has been difficult and has often found us further developing our organization while having to put program development on the back burner. There must be a balance between organizational and program development otherwise you get either top or bottom heavy. It takes time and experience to find and understand the equilibrium of healthy non-profit growth, but signs of unhealthy growth will be clear as it will seem like you either have the cart without the horse or the horse without the cart.
Success Requires Unreasonable Persistence and Risky Decision-Making
In developing our non-profit we have gone through periods where it seems like the work is endless and then there are times when we are so stagnant that we start making up work for ourselves. I think that whatever the case is, you need to maintain an unreasonable persistence that says, 'Whether this happens now or in the next 10 years, I will continue to work towards realizing my vision.' Also, I have found that in order for us to continue as an organization risky decisions have had to be made. In leading a non-profit you are often faced with chicken or the egg situations, and the health of your organization may depend on you taking the first step despite not having all the information to possibly know whether you are making a good decision or not.
The Value of the Journey
For those looking for jobs or stressed about the prospect of graduating and wanting to know what to do next, I have found that there is no one way to get to where you want to be and that keeping an open mind to what opportunities are presented is an important mentality to have in realizing professional goals. The process of achieving your goals and the experiences accumulated along the way are just as important and interesting, if not more, than the end result. Enjoy the process, as it is where most of us spend the best part of our lives.