With the holidays rapidly approaching, many will choose to incorporate charitable giving or donations into their end-of-year plans. But giving back is something that’s always in season, as Andre McDonnell, founder of the nonprofit It’s From the Sole, detailed for In the Details listeners this week. McDonnell and host Karen Allen also discussed how we can change the narrative around helping those who are less fortunate.
The 411 on It’s From the Sole
He began distributing his own sneaker collection to the less fortunate before and after work, and eventually the movement morphed into a 501c(3) organization that receives sneaker donations from companies and individuals. In the ten years since its founding, It’s From the Sole has been to 40 United States cities and 15 countries, and provided 34,000 sneakers to people who need them.
Giving should go beyond the holidays
Whether it’s a family initiative or a part of your corporate culture, giving is often baked into the holiday season. McDonnell challenged us to consider helping others throughout the other 10 months of the year. It’s not only satisfying a critical need, but also showing your family or employees the value you place on helping others, no matter the season.
Changing the giving narrative
McDonnell’s role in fashion gave him a birds-eye view into what often takes place in our culture. He believes fashion can contribute to an unhealthy sense of pride and superiority. You’re not a better musician because of a certain sweatshirt; you become a better musician when you take the time to work on your craft. The brand of sneakers you wear doesn’t determine your athletic prowess; your commitment to training does.
And within some families, parents tell children that if they do well in school or athletics, then they’ll be rewarded with some new clothing item or pair of sneakers. McDonnell wants to set up a new habit and belief system that not only rewards children when they do something well, but also encourages them to do or provide something to others because it’s the right thing to do. It’s not the fashion that makes you who you are, but your drive, determination and what’s on the inside.
Choose your language carefully
McDonnell is very deliberate in using the term “less fortunate” rather than homeless. Less fortunate means that one day the people you’re helping will be in a place of greater fortune. His company also doesn’t give the less fortunate sneakers—they provide them. Giving someone something means you’ll walk away. Providing means you don’t leave that person until their shoes fit properly.
How do you want to be treated?
McDonnell boils down It’s From the Sole into three tenets: providing comfort through the sneakers, being respectful, and extending a certain level of service. McDonnell wants those who are less fortunate to get a positive sneaker store-like experience—isn’t that what you would want? Why shouldn’t those less fortunate get to experience the good feeling of opening a box and trying on something brand new?
What is your passion?
While McDonnell’s passion and knowledge originated in the fashion realm, he remained open-minded to his next steps, which was to use that passion for the greater good. Whatever your passion is, it’s important to give a little of it back. You never know who’s paying attention to you, and who else you could possibly inspire.
It’s also important to not be competitive about others that are operating in your same area. Instead of thinking with an us-versus-them mentality, realize that you’re really mobilizing an army of good people doing good work.
If you give your skills back to people in need, that’s creating your very own version of It’s From the Sole. And if you stay faithful to what you know you’re supposed to do in this world, things will tend to go your way.
Jill McDonnell is a Chicago-based content writer and communications professional. She has a bachelor's degree in magazine journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master's degree in public relations and advertising from DePaul University. She is currently at work on a psychological thriller novel.