Ignite Your Cause was born two years ago.
And boy has it been one hell of a journey filled with ups, downs, and a whole host of lessons learned.
I could wax poetic about my early failures in targeting the right audience. I could jump upon my soapbox and talk about how listening to the gurus got me nowhere in a hurry. I could even share my experiences completely re-tooling my business from top to bottom when I realized I wasn’t doing the work I meant to do. But I’m not going to do that. Because the most painful (and rewarding, in the end) lesson I’ve learned in the last two years has had nothing to do with operating my business.
I learned that this work… being in the business of impact… isn’t a journey filled with rainbows, sparkles, and warm fuzzies despite popular opinion.
There’s more at stake than your pride or your pocketbook when do you this work.
When the stakes are high and making a difference in the world is on the line, feelings of frustration and pressure blossom in their intensity and the fear of failure is exponentially more gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, and earth-shattering.
Especially when the foundation of your mission falls to pieces in your hands.
The Back Story
When I originally started Ignite Your Cause, my personal mission was to use the money I earned from this rockin’ little side-hustle to fund the philanthropic endeavors that light me up. At the outset, that meant supporting the children of an orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya that my family had been involved with.
This orphanage was in desperate need of help. Underfunded and located in the midst of the horrendous conditions in the Mathare slum of Nairobi, they were short on food, clothing, funding for quality education, and even beds for the ever-growing number of children they served. And because the cost of living there was so much lower than here, I knew that every modest dollar I could wrangle for that home would stretch a lot further there than it could if I’d donated it to a US non-profit.
So I got to work. I raised thousands of dollars for the orphanage during my first year of business and in January of 2014, I was able to travel to Kenya, meet the children living in the orphanage, and see first-hand how I could put the funding to work for the children residing there.
The Definition of “Dire Need”
Outside the orphanage’s front gate, the first time I visited the home, I saw an unattended infant wearing only a diaper under the hot tropical sun of Kenya atop a mound of garbage, fighting off a chicken for what appeared to be a discarded piece of meat. That slum, although a place of refuge for these children, was no place for a child. If the children living in the orphanage were to have any chance at a better life… a safe, healthy life with opportunities to prosper, I knew they had to get a proper education.
But the education system in Kenya is broken beyond belief. I won’t get into the nitty gritty but the public schools there are not sufficient in any way. A good education is only available through private schools that cost money – money the orphanage had too little of to put toward schooling when they also had to provide food, clothing, and shelter to hundreds of kids.
So I used the money I’d made through Ignite Your Cause to pay for 8 of the children’s private school tuition, books, transportation, uniforms, shoes, and supplies. And while it felt tremendously rewarding to help just 8 of the children, it didn’t feel like it was enough.
In a year, tuition and other costs would be due again. Just for those 8 kids… not to mention the others in the home that hadn’t yet been able to be placed in a private school. So I kept hustling, working hard to make the money necessary to keep these 8 kids in their schools and try to find a way to fund more children.
Months passed and I received updates on how the kids were doing in their classes. A few of them were struggling to keep up. There was no doubt the children were bright, but the living conditions at the orphanage were simply not conducive to academic success. But if I tried to help improve the living conditions, I wouldn’t be able to contribute as much to educational costs. It was a painful dilemma I simply couldn’t solve myself with my meager financial contributions. The feeling that what I could do for these children just wasn’t enough kept growing and growing.
Then the Bottom Fell Out
I started getting reports from volunteers at the home that money wasn’t being spent where it should be and that the children were being mistreated – from severe medical neglect happening with the kids who needed AIDS and HIV medications to heinous physical and sexual abuse between children as well as between volunteers and children.
My heart was broken. As more and more details came to light, I started to feel like my efforts to contribute to the well-being of these children may have even been enabling these terrible things to happen. By fall of 2014, the do-goodery had gotten so tough I didn’t know if I could continue it.
Then the camel’s back broke. The one person I felt I could trust at the home was let go. The reasons for his dismissal were sketchy, to say the least, and I’m not entirely sure which of the stories I believe, but my only trusted resource on the other side of the world was gone. And I knew I couldn’t continue to support the orphanage without his presence there.
So I had to make one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made: to stop providing an education to the most promising and deserving little angels I’ve ever had the honor of meeting.
Making that decision was awful. There were more tears and sleepless nights than I can count. It took me weeks to finally work up the courage to tell their teachers. And when I did, I was left with an aching hole in my heart. I felt like I’d abandoned these children I’d come to know and love.
After a few weeks, I’d managed to come to the realization that I wasn’t improving their quality of life by paying for their education if they couldn’t benefit from it because of the conditions where they were living in. I was essentially paying for a band-aid on a broken arm. And while that had me reeling inside, realizing nearly two years of blood, sweat, and tears in my business may not have done a damn bit of good in the world, it at least helped me to move forward and stop beating myself up for the decision I had to make. But the aching hole in my heart persisted.
A Do-Gooder Without a Cause
When I made peace with my decision to cut ties with the orphanage, I had to find a new cause. My need to give back was still burning strong but I knew I had to go about selecting my next philanthropic endeavor very carefully. I wanted to find a cause that I could be more hands on with, one that I could see first-hand the results of my contributions, and one that I could trust to use my talents, time, and/or money responsibly and where they were most needed.
Weeks of research ensued. A spreadsheet was made. Pros, cons, possibilities, pitfalls, it was all documented. Organizations were weighed against one another. I ranked opportunities on transparency, longevity, hands-on-ness (totally scientific term there), location, type of contribution (money, time, services, etc), length of commitment, depth of commitment, ability to see results first-hand, and how challenging they would/could be.
I narrowed the list of do-goodery opportunities down to three. I sent emails, made fact-finding calls, you name it. And after talking to a fellow do-gooding entrepreneur about her experience with one of the organizations, I knew I’d found my next endeavor.
There are a lot of causes that I feel very passionately about but children top the list for me. When children become victims of abuse or neglect, they far too often go unheard. Sometimes this happens because they don’t know what’s happened is wrong. Sometimes they’re too scared to speak up. Sometimes there’s just no one they can trust to be their voice in a big, scary, grown up world.
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children is a network of 951 community-based programs that recruit, train and support citizen-volunteers to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in courtrooms and communities. Volunteer advocates—empowered directly by the courts—offer judges the critical information they need to ensure that each child’s rights and needs are being attended to while in foster care.
Volunteers stay with children until they are placed in loving permanent homes. For many abused children, a CASA volunteer is the only constant adult presence in their lives.
I’ve got two evenings left in my mandatory 30 hours of training to become a volunteer advocate. It’s been an incredible experience so far and I know, without a doubt in my mind, that this is the perfect cause for me and for my business to support moving forward. Making an impact, being a voice for the unheard, advocating for children… it couldn’t be a better match.
But, the commitment required in order to be a CASA is not a small one. Once appointed to a case, I’ll visit the child(ren) once a week, attend all their court hearings, meet with their case worker(s), foster family, biological family, teachers, etc. on a regular basis, and make recommendations to the court on their behalf. Something’s gotta give in order to make time for this incredible opportunity.
Another Shift for Ignite Your Cause
Being a CASA is an enormous responsibility and will require a lot of my time, obviously. But it’s the perfect fit for the type of impact I’m looking to make on this world. And because of that, I’ve decided to make some changes to how I serve the do-gooders, change-makers, and ruckus-starters of the world so I can free up my schedule and allow myself to be more available to the children and families I’ll be serving as a CASA advocate.
Starting in May, I’ll be reducing the number of one-on-one clients I take on. As much as I love the one-on-one work I do – whether it be through copy/messaging coaching, brand consulting, or graphic design – in order to keep helping my audience while also making time for my CASA work, I’ve got to move more of my time and energy into creating classes and products for groups and spend less time and energy working on one-on-one projects.
In gearing up for this change, I’ve got a few great courses in the works currently that I want you to know about.
- A content-strategy workshop that focuses on creating content that not only demonstrates the amazing skill and talent you have, but also amplifies your voice and builds on the foundation of the change you aim to make in the world.
- A wordsmithing workshop that walks you through all the powerful ways you can build your own brand dictionary – for sticky and memorable copythat oozes your personality and bolsters your mission (it’s The Wordstorm Tool … in course format, on steroids, with all new tricks & tips!)
- A community-building course that shows you how to use your weapons of inspiration, influence, and impact to build an army of ambassadors to help you launch your genius products and services into the world with a bang
Keep an eye out for announcements about the courses if you’re interested in any of them. In the mean time, I’ve got a Mission Ignition Monthly challenge for you!
April’s Mission Ignition Monthly Challenge
Comment on this post and let me know what type of eBooks, courses, workbooks, workshops, and trainings YOU want to see from me. What topics do you want help with? What formats are your favorite? Let me know in the comments below!