You—Yes, You—Can Change the World: 4 Steps to Make an Impact
All of us can think of a change we’d like to see in the world. And contrary to that little voice of doubt, we all have the potential to be the ones who make it happen: even if it’s only in a small way.
Christen Brandt and Tammy Tibbetts had no idea their two-person media campaign would one day become the international nonprofit She’s the First. Founded in 2009, the organization supports groups around the world that are helping girls gain access to education.
In 2020, the two co-founders published their book Impact: A Step-by-Step Plan to Create the World You Want to Live In with advice for anyone who has always wanted to make a difference but doesn’t know where to start. It’s something they could have used in the early days of She’s the First.
“We didn’t begin with this grand vision of one day leading a global nonprofit organization: It really is the perfect case study of what can happen when you take things one day at a time,” Tammy says.
In this episode of SUCCESS Stories, Chief Storytelling Officer Kindra Hall talks to Christen and Tammy about how to make an impact plan, how to divide your energy between your causes and the importance of consulting the people you want to serve.
Start with what you’re good at.
No one has the skill set to do every single thing it takes to make a huge initiative work. Start with what you’re good at. Maybe you’re a clear communicator, or you have a large and active network or you could sell stripes to a tiger. Use those skills to take your first steps, and as the project evolves, bring on people who have the abilities you’re missing.
Christen and Tammy’s original idea was to launch a media campaign around the message of girls’ education. This initial mission was based on their experiences studying journalism and the networks they had access to. It evolved as they went along and discovered additional needs in the communities they were helping. Building a foundation made of your strengths gives you a solid base from which to grow and adapt.
Choose a single focus.
You probably don’t have one single thing you care about deeply. But taking on every cause isn’t just impossible, it’s so overwhelming that it might keep you from getting started at all.
Choose one issue or goal as your focus: your North Star, as Christen and Tammy call it. Think about what really gets you excited—or makes you angry. Many successful projects have been launched with an aim to combat injustices, large or small.
From there, make an impact plan. This should include:
- A statement outlining your North Star at the top
- Your biggest, wildest, most daring dreams
- Your medium dreams (e.g. regularly volunteering, training programs)
- Weekly or daily impact goals that keep you on track for the long term
Review your plan every six months to make sure it’s still working for you. You can’t fix every problem in the world, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference.
Reserve some energy for your other causes.
Even though you have your North Star to guide your main mission, reserve some of your time, energy and resources for other causes that matter to you. Christen recommends a rough balance of 85% to 15%. This broadens your scope and your ability to work for large-scale change, without drawing a lot of focus from your primary goals.
Contrary to popular misconception, leading an initiative isn’t always the most effective way to make a difference. You can be the leader of your own group while making time to support others behind the scenes when they need you. This way, every cause will benefit from a well-resourced core leadership and a network of broader support.
Consult the community you want to serve.
No matter how close you are personally to your central goal, you are still only one person with a limited perspective. To grow in a way that is most beneficial to other people, you need to ask those other people what they actually need and want. That way, you won’t waste resources trying to push for something that isn’t practical or helpful in reality.
For example, Christen explains that people often want to donate books to the organizations She’s the First helps around the world. But many of the donations come from the U.S. and feature white characters, whereas the recipients are often people of color who want to see themselves reflected in the stories they read. Also, shipping books is so expensive that it makes more financial sense to buy books locally. Listening to what your target audience wants—whether you’re a nonprofit or serving paying customers—will help your organization keep expanding in a way that’s meaningful and sustainable, instead of hitting a ceiling.