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Nuggets from the Nonprofit 2.0 Unconference 2011: Stacey Monk of Epic Change

By on Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Stacey Monk, CEO and co-founder of Epic Change delivered an emotional keynote address for the Nonprofit 2.0 Unconference.

I had never heard Stacey’s story before, and was surprised to hear some parallels with my own. Stacey left her management consulting job after her brother died suddenly from a drug overdose. Taking time off for a life-changing trip to Africa, Stacey came back to the States ready to transform her life. The transformation was not easy. She got divorced and rebuilt her life.

While I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector for many years, I must admit, my own life course has been impacted by tragedy. After my 22-year-old brother’s death in Iraq in 2007, like Stacey, I was forced to confront some of the big questions in life too. And while I’ve continued consulting with nonprofits, my practice has shifted to include more organizations helping veterans and families of the fallen. And I would say my pr work has gotten more personal. It matters more to me now. I tweeted as Stacey shared her story that post-traumatic growth opens new doors for many of us and that “your pain is about the breaking of a shell that conceals your understanding.”

Epic Change is a startup nonprofit that amplifies the voices and impact of grassroots changemakers. The organization began its work in Arusha, Tanzania, where Stacey met Mama Lucy Kamptoni, a former chicken farmer who used her income to build a school in her village.  Epic Change has rallied thousands of people across the globe to invest nearly $200,000 in the school so far to build a locally-led primary school for over 400 children that is now completely self-sufficient and consistently ranks among the top 3 out of over 120 in its district.  The school’s founder, Mama Lucy, has already repaid over $15,000 of that investment, and funds have been recycled to invest in Nepali changemaker Subhash Ghimire who is currently building a school – to be open this summer – in the village where he was born and raised.

Monk’s work is about micro-change, working at a grassroots level to organize volunteers virtually (most of whom she has never met) and inspire community change and growth. So needless to say, to professionals working at nonprofits with “big mind” mentalities, she had some fascinating, inspiring, and controversial things to say:

  • Start from the heart. Resources flow from love, don’t start with the intention of raising money.
  • Look at your language. When is the last time you wordled your site? Are the words that pop up about gloom and doom, or about hope and love?
  • Giving should not just be a transaction. Nonprofits need to cultivate more meaningful giving experiences. It should be about cultivating love and gratitude.
  • Supporting a cause should give people joy. Conscious giving gives people radical joy.
  • Giving is personal. “Giving is a sacred act that we diminish when we think of our jobs as getting people to click a donate button.”
  • Embedded giving may be a wonderful idea – but does it take away something, or give us more? Does embedded giving (10% of my coffee purchase goes to a cause) diminish “regular” philanthropy? If so, what does this mean for future?  
  • Our donors and the people we help through our nonprofit organizations should not be kept segregated in discrete cones of communication. Our donor and beneficiary communities should not be kept apart as discrete entities. Linkages between these groups can be good for both.
  • Trust others. You can’t be a type-A control freak if you are innovating. You must be able to trust others to steward the vision.
  • We may be losing something in getting too big. Goods can be commoditized but human lives can’t be. Nonprofits should re-evaluate scale and the social entrepreneurship model.
  • Use the tools available to you that help you connect and share your nonprofit’s vision. Social media is a tool to build relationships, but not an end in itself.
  • We have to trust the people we work with. Radical trust can be inspiring on a small scale.

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