Starting Smart – A 7 Step Discussion Guide for Startup Program Leaders

Much of the consulting work I do is with nonprofit organizations. Some years ago, I realized that many 501c3’s and new projects within existing organizations began with great intentions, but weren't starting smart. They were started without proper reflection, planning and resources to realistically sustain the leader’s idea.

This often occurred due to a well-intentioned leader, with a heart of gold, and a worthwhile goal who followed the “ready – fire – aim” approach to program development. The following questions were developed to help project leaders think clearly and plan accordingly to greatly enhance the chance of sustainability and high impact.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why are you really doing this? What’s the motivation or inspiration to take on this issue? What’s the real need or problem you’re trying to address – is it clearly identified?
  2. Are You Personally Ready? This will take time, money, emotional and physical effort, social capital, etc. It will change your life in fundamental ways at you can’t foresee, and is not to be taken lightly.
  3. Is Leadership Ready? Is the organization’s leadership ready to wholeheartedly endorse this project? Is there a larger group of leaders who know about and will support this effort with their voice, time, financial assistance and social capital.
  4. What are the Facts? Does your premise (financial difficulties, need for after school programming, domestic abuse, etc.) hold up? How do you know this? Can you build a case of support based on real surveys, data, etc. to demonstrate the need? Who are the other “players” in your community who also care about this and could/should collaborate with you? Are you certain no one else in the region is doing this work already? The world does not need one more ill-prepared or weak nonprofit organization.
  5. What Are You Really Trying to Accomplish? What’s the real outcome? (Ex: Financial education, relationships in a safe environment, improve literacy rates with immigrants, etc.) Have 3-4 clear outcomes, so if you were carefully watching what’s happening with this group you’d see “this” change. And “this” change would be worth the investment of time and money.  (Ex: improve…, advance…, increase…, etc.)
  6. Where Might This Lead? What if your idea becomes a great success (or failure) – then what? What are the long-term implications? Are you thinking about this with “eyes wide open?” How will you sustain this beyond seed funding?
  7. Whole Person Approach - Is your approach one dimensional? (Ex: an exercise project that is only about strength and weight loss versus an exercise project that incorporates a mind, body and spirit approach). How is this approach going to be about mind, body and spirit?

By taking the time to discuss these seven questions with other leaders in your network you’ll greatly increase the likelihood that your first steps to launch this new idea will be successful and sustainable, or maybe you’ll decide that the smartest thing to do is to put your passion to work in another organization that’s trying accomplish something similar. Either way, Start Smart and you can can help a worthy nonprofit rewrite its story so it’s more powerful, meaningful and filled with hope.


This blog shares perspectives on how you have the ability to create new story endings that are meaningful, powerful and filled with hope. Is your organization needing to change its culture or create a transformation plan? That’s what I help organizations do…I facilitate culture changing processes that help organizations achieve greater impact. Also, I provide leadership coaching to help executives and aspiring leaders become the fullest expression of who they’re intended to be.

If you're looking for coaching or consulting services, contact me -

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