Updated January 1, 1 . AmFam Team
It takes a special person to devote their lives to helping others. But if you’ve got a strong pull to take action on a cause in your community, you may be one of these people! However, starting up a non-profit or volunteer initiative is hard work, no matter how genuine your intentions. So if you’re thinking about heading down this path you may need some inspiration — and we know just the person.
Barb Blalock, founder of Treasures 4 Teachers (Opens in a new tab), saw how desperate local teachers were for supplies during a visit to a 2nd grade classroom that tugged at her heartstrings.
“I witnessed a young student having to give up their shoe for a pencil,” shares Barb. “The teacher used the shoe as collateral so that she could get it back for the next student that might come to school without a pencil because she just did not have enough to go around. That interaction broke my heart, and I felt the responsibility and desire to change it.”
From then on Barb sought out ways to remedy this issue. And what started as a small initiative headquartered in her garage has grown into a 20,000 square foot warehouse space operated by 100+ volunteers each week, and teachers from all around the state can come to stock up on everything from pencils and crayons to craft supplies and technology items for their classrooms. But this passion project didn’t grow into what it is by sheer luck. Barb put in many hours of hard work and diligently sought to overcome obstacles that might have shut the whole thing down. And we could learn a thing or two from her, starting with this:
Only bite off what you can chew. When you see an opportunity to make a real difference, it can be overwhelming. You may want to jump all in and tackle a million large things all at once — but don’t. You’ll be more successful if you start small.
“I started by focusing only on what I could manage, even though the opportunity was greater,” says Barb. “I always tell people to grow small, slow and smart instead of large and fast. It will be a much greater benefit to you and what you’re trying to accomplish.”
Establish a clear mission to attract volunteers. The best way to gain support for your initiative and attract volunteers is to clearly and concisely lay out your mission. You want to be able to tell people exactly what you stand for and what issues you support so they can be confident that they align with your cause before they donate time or resources.
“At Treasures 4 Teachers we focus on a 3 pronged approach,” states Barb. “We support the environment, businesses and teachers. So when people hear what we support, it’s likely that at least one of these initiatives resonates with them. They are more than happy to volunteer their time and businesses are happy to donate supplies because it’s helping the teachers, yes, but it’s also helping the environment because they can divert surplus supplies instead of sending it to a landfill.”
Flex your creative problem solving skills. Operating a non-profit comes with a unique set of challenges that for-profit businesses don’t usually face. And the only way to keep your initiative from sinking is to constantly come up with creative ways to overcome obstacles — because things like funding, awareness and growth are so often not black-and-white issues. To give you some examples, Barb shared just how creative problem solving has been crucial to their success.
“We have been blessed with getting an abundance of donations, but this can be a great challenge logistically because we have to figure out how to pick it all up and where to store it,” explains Barb. “We overcame this by utilizing off-site storage locations and trailers. We also opened a thrift shop so we could distribute donations that aren’t necessarily teacher related, but still have value.
The other challenge we face is getting the word out that we exist. Word of mouth is the number one way that teachers learn about us, so we continue to get creative and find incentives to get teachers to share information about us with their fellow teachers. We recently started a guest pass program where a teacher could bring another teacher and if they became a member, the referring teacher would receive a beautiful gift basket. This has proved to be quite successful.”
Taking these three pieces of advice into consideration will definitely serve you well as you look to take action on your cause. But, above all else, remember never to lose sight of why you’re pursuing this. The most successful people fuel their dreams with passion.
Looking for more ways to get involved and give back to your community? Learn how you can fight hunger by supporting your local food bank.