You have a healthy idea that you want to put into action, just like WebMD’s Health Heroes do. Be ready to use your heart and your head.
The experts we asked for advice put passion and planning at the top of their lists. Find something you want to do, then figure out how to do it.
“If you have already figured out what you’re passionate about, you are halfway there,” says Laura Turner Seydel, who chairs the Atlanta-based Captain Planet Foundation, which funds green projects in schools.
Seydel knows what she’s talking about. She runs the Captain Planet Foundation, which her famous father Ted Turner founded along with producer Barbara Pyle. She also helped start Mothers and Others for Clean Air and is a trustee of the Turner Foundation, which makes grants to green groups.
Decide What You Want to Do
“It has to be something you couldn’t live without doing,” says Tiffany Denyer, a 2010 Health Hero who trains service dogs. “It has to be a calling.
“Figure out whether it’s time, talent or treasure you can contribute,” Seydel says. She believes working as a volunteer with a group is a great way to learn -- and give back -- while planning your own project.
Take the Leap
Katherine Stone, a 2008 Health Hero who started the postpartumprogress.com blog, knew there was a real need for news about postpartum depression.
“It’s easy to wait around. I waited two years after recovery, when I got better from my illness,” she says. “I kept thinking, ‘Who am I to do this?’ Don’t bother asking that. You are you. You will learn more along the way. If you see a need out there, you can do something.”
Know Your Strengths
Richard Siravo, a 2012 Health Hero, says your project should be something that uses your passion and your skills. Siravo started The Matty Fund with his wife, Debra. It honors their son, Matty who had epilepsy and died from a seizure. Some people want to be the public face of a cause, he says. Others want to work behind the scenes.
Make Time to Plan
Manny Hernandez, a 2013 Health Hero, works on behalf of people with diabetes. He says you need some planning to go along with your passion.
“Start by focusing,” he says. “Be very specific about what you want to accomplish. Look at what others are doing.” Think about asking other groups with similar goals for advice or even working with them.
“Establishing a nonprofit brings a lot of responsibility,” he says. “You should be aware that it may grow and demand more time and energy.”
If you’re raising funds, Hernandez says, you’ll need a lot of sources to draw from instead of just one or two. In other words, don't put all your eggs in one basket. You'll need a wide base of support to help if there's a downturn in the economy and to compete against other groups.
Write It Down
Get the details down on paper if you’re asking others for money or support, says Kari Rosenfeld. She worked with her daughter, Clare Rosenfeld Evans, a 2006 Health Hero, to get a UN Resolution to start World Diabetes Day.
Your plan is your roadmap, Rosenfeld says. It will keep you focused and help you find the people to make your idea a reality. It helps you show people where there time and money are going. A good plan can make your group look more polished in the eyes of future donors.
Once you get started, stay tuned in to what’s going on around you – with the economy or changes in the law that might affect what you are doing.
“Keep your finger on the pulse,” Hernandez says. “Be willing to adapt. If something doesn’t work, be willing to let it go.”
Find People Who Can Help You
Put together a diverse board of directors or advisors, says Seydel. “A lot of passionate smart people sitting around a table – that’s a good way to approach something.” One real key to success: “Look for partners -- stakeholders, if you will -- whether it’s government, business, other nonprofit founders. Form coalitions, alliances, partnerships.”
Startups can have a harder time getting grants. Most groups that have money to give like to see that you’re working with others says Seydel, who co-founded Mothers and Others for Clean Air to create laws for children’s lung health. It became an environmental education project of the American Lung Association’s Georgia chapter.
“Don’t give up on your dream,” says Rosenfeld. If you have the drive and you can see a pathway, you’ll make it happen.
You’ll have some tough times, but stick with it. “My dad always says winners never quit and quitters never win,” Seydel says. “It’s good advice.”