June 14, 2017

5 proven ways to find success in your community work

These community leaders are building social enterprises from the ground up and inspiring the next generation, so how'd they do it?

For the last year, The Renewal Project has shared the stories of nonprofit leaders and social entrepreneurs and how they came to find success in their work. From building a successful social justice nonprofit from the ground up, to launching a company with a mission to uplift a neighborhood, these innovators prove that combining passion with hard work can make a difference.

From the dozens of stories we’ve published, we pulled out five lessons that will inspire anyone who is similarly committed to being a leader in their community:

Randi Gloss first created the “And Counting” series for a sign she carried during the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Since then, she has made it a signature piece in her GLOSSRAGS collection. Photo by Othello Banaci

1. Know your history

Social entrepreneur Randi Gloss launched her design company GLOSSRAGS in 2014 with a simple, yet compelling, idea: T-shirts that honor people of color who were the targets of racially motivated killings. Today, Gloss’s original design is on its ninth iteration, and her T-shirts have been featured on the cover of Essence magazine. She finds inspiration from knowing her past: “Knowing my people’s history is so important,” Gloss wrote for The Renewal Project in May. “Our history, black history, but really American history hasn’t been an easy one. It’s a continual journey of survival, struggle, success—almost like a cycle. I saw those cycles reoccurring throughout my lifetime and eventually decided that I could do something about it.”

Justin and Ashlee Kruger, center, founded Project Helping, an organization whose mission is to "use the joy and purpose created by volunteering to improve mental wellness." Photo courtesy of Project Helping

2. Ask for help

Justin Kruger founded the nonprofit Project Helping based on his personal struggle with mental illness. But sharing his own inspirational story wasn’t enough to convince others to join his cause. “The very first mistake I made—and there are many others—was thinking that I just had to build this idea and the support would come,” he wrote in October. Now, he says, he dedicates time to building a plan and getting comfortable asking the right people to help him implement it. “Don’t tell your story, no matter how compelling, and expect someone to offer their help without you asking.”

The founder of the Essie Justice Group wants to help women with loved ones behind bars escape the stigma, shame, and self-inflicted isolation to become advocates for ending mass incarceration. Photo courtesy of Gina Clayton

3. Align your skillset and passion

Gina Clayton uses her Harvard law training to advocate on behalf of families affected by mass incarceration. Her work has been highlighted by John Legend’s Free America Campaign and Gina was featured in Ava Duvernay’s acclaimed documentary “13th,” which explored the history of racial inequality and mass incarceration in the U.S. The founder of Essie Justice Group says success will come if you align what you’re good at with what you care about: “Align your unique skillsets and passion to discover your purpose. I consider my skill to be building. I consider my passion social justice. When I am flexing my skillset to further what I am deeply passionate about, I know I am living my purpose.”

With every piece of clothing they sell, Mitscoots gives an equal-quality item to someone in need. The company also employs the transitioning homeless. Photo courtesy of Mitscoots

4. Adopt “patience, hope, and hustle” as your mantra

Tim and Agata Scott started a clothing company in Austin with the mission of outfitting and employing those in their community experiencing homelessness. The co-founders of Mitscoots say the three things they’ve learned while building it into a successful social venture are “patience, hope, and hustle.” “We built a veteran-owned, U.S.-made, philanthropic, eco-conscious company with the foundation to lift others out of poverty while making a great product,” they wrote in an essay earlier this month. “We wish we could say that was enough to end up on The Today Show. The truth is, you’ve got earn those few fleeting moments that people take out of their busy lives by making something that is worth talking about and then hustle to tell the world about it.”

Summer Search's Interim Chief Development Officer Emily Edwards and former student Lunide Louis, in 2015. Photo courtesy of Summer Search

5. Become a mentor

Just because you’re busy at work doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to reward yourself. One of the most rewarding things you can do is to share what you’ve learned with a young person or someone who’s just starting out in their community work. Emily Edwards of the nonprofit Summer Search shared a letter from a mentee, a young woman who went on to become an entrepreneur and college professor. Edwards wrote that the note and her mentee’s commitment to her own community inspires her in her life and work as a mentor and leader.

Margaret Myers

Margaret Myers

Margaret Myers is the editor of The Renewal Project.