Knowing your north star — what is your primary goal in all that you do.

For someone who wants to set aside money to establish a Philanthropic Foundation or Fund, what does it take to make sure your resources are being impactful and truly effective? In this interview series, called “How To Create Philanthropy That Leaves a Lasting Legacy” we are visiting with founders and leaders of Philanthropic Foundations, Charitable Organizations, and Non-Profit Organizations, to talk about the steps they took to create sustainable success.

As a part of this interview series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Fass.

Named Claremont’s Community Hero in 2017, Shoes That Fit’s CEO and Executive Director has worked in nonprofit management and development for over 25 years. When the opportunity arose to lead Shoes That Fit- A national nonprofit that has been delivering shoes to children in need for over 27 years- Fass knew the organization well and was proud to take on the challenge.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about a ‘top of mind’ topic. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?

I have spent significant periods of time in different areas of the country (Baltimore, Dallas, Iowa farmland, and both Northern and Southern California ) as well as overseas. I feel very fortunate (and sometimes confused) to have seen our society through a myriad of different lenses and perspectives. It’s definitely broadened my view of the world, and both our potential and our challenges.

At the same time, I spent much of my life trying to “fit in” to different cultures and expectations, and developed a significant fear of failure. At times I missed great opportunities by taking the safe path. Music was always a significant portion of my life, and in college I had an opportunity to move to Vienna with an opera singer — but I was too nervous. In later years I vowed to never live out of fear again. I think my favorite adjective now is “courageous.”

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? We would love to hear a few stories or examples.

Someone I respect greatly once told me that my gift was being able to “read the tea leaves.” As I’ve reflected on that, I think that being able to see large opportunities that aren’t always obvious; to take calculated risks; and to inspire others to think of what COULD happen are essential in running a successful nonprofit. And I have to add a fourth: truly caring about people — not just what they do for you, but allowing them to bring their whole selves to work.

I’ve spent my career asking people to ask big questions and not be limited in responses. But when the pandemic first hit and schools shut down, I wasn’t sure how to keep our nonprofit running — Shoes That Fit provides brand new athletic shoes to school children in low-income families — we want to help them stay in school and be active. We work through schools and need access to the kids to measure their feet — so our access points were closing and kids were no longer going to school. And it soon became almost impossible to resource shoes as supply chains dried up. I didn’t want to lay off staff during an economic crisis. It was a very scary time.

So, we started brainstorming internally and talking with our partners. We valued our staff and decided were going to do everything possible to keep them safe and financially whole. And we soon learned that kids WERE still going to school — they were picking up meals each day, and materials and technology they needed to keep learning. They were outside more than normal and families were hurting financially — they needed shoes now more than ever! Food banks told us that shoes were the number one request they received after food. Several teachers cried when we called to let them know we still wanted to help their kids. We changed our operating models, started purchasing shoes however we could find them, and kept our eyes focused on our mission. We took some calculated risks in purchasing whatever we could get and storing for future use. We didn’t let the way we operated in the past get in our way, we kept our staff whole, and the organization actually grew.

What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made since you started leading your organization?

When you run a nonprofit, you are actually running TWO businesses, not one. You’re providing a service to those who cannot afford it — and you are leveraging others to fund that work. They are really two entirely different enterprises that you are linking together.

Can you please tell our readers more about how you or your organization intends to make a significant social impact?

Shoes That Fit is a direct and concrete response to the overwhelming problem of child poverty in the United States. We tackle one of the most visible signs of poverty in America by giving children in need new athletic shoes to attend school with dignity and joy, prepared to learn, play and thrive. Our mission is much larger than shoes — we remove a basic barrier to a child’s success and invest in their self-esteem, providing an often-overlooked item that is intrinsically important to a child’s sense of self. Our organization is a piece of the puzzle in addressing an enormous problem

Shoes are important to kids. Everyone knows the feeling of walking in brand new shoes. It puts a smile on your face. You stand up taller. That experience alone can do so much for your sense of self and how you feel about life. Kids look up to athletes and popular culture “mentors” who are associated with shoe brands. At a basic level, a pair of shoes helps a child who wants to fit in — giving children shoes increases self-esteem on a fundamental level. Children who wear shoes that belong to a relative — that smell or are falling apart — face embarrassment and shame. It affects attendance and leads to behavioral issues. Shoes are fundamental to a child’s sense of self-worth. Giving a child a pair of good shoes is a simple, concrete action that anyone can do to make a difference in a child’s life today.

What makes you feel passionate about this cause more than any other?

I believe that kids are our future, and they deserve to have all the tools that they need to thrive. Think of what the world would look like if all of our children were thriving.

I believe that most people want to make a difference — but the need is so enormous that it’s difficult to know where to start. Provide a basic, immediate and tangible need for a child — providing something that brings immediate joy and access — is a great place to start making a difference in the world.

And the teachers report the significant impact that a pair of shoes has a on a child’s life. They tell us about the kids’ increase in attendance, more participation in class and on the playground, becoming more talkative and present, and joining sports teams. But the number one impact they write about consistently is in a child’s self-esteem. Here is a letter from a teacher in LA that I just received TODAY:

My favorite memory is how kids from K-3rd love to run the minute they get their new shoes. The shoes are like wings that help them fly! Often they want me to watch them run, to see how fast they are now. Lots of times, their shoes were super tight and probably painful. Thus the almost instant desire to run. I have had to pry off old shoes that kids were wedged into to give them new shoes almost two sizes bigger. I have had kids walking on the squished heels of their shoes to make them slides that would fit. Yet I don’t judge the parents wanting to get as much wear out of shoes as possible. They are expensive! With the older kids, 4th and 5th, they hold the new shoes gingerly like a treasure. They have a much more tangible sense of gratitude because they are old enough to understand the cost of shoes. They frequently try to get a pair for a friend or ask if I have extras because someone they know needs shoes too. It’s very heartwarming to see kids who receive want to give. On a personal level, so often we are not in a position as school employees to spoil our kids. So, passing out a lot of new sneakers feels like a real Oprah moment! You get new shoes! You get new shoes! It’s a moral boost for us as well! I know the parents really appreciate the shoes too. The rents in our neighborhood have skyrocketed. Many families are living two generations to a two-bedroom apartment. Inflation hurts at the gas pump, at the grocery store. Heck! A load of laundry at the laundry mat can be up to $6!! When you think that minimum wage for many of our parents is under $20 an hour, a pair of sneakers can be two to three hours wages. Having nice shoes on their kids helps the parents’ confidence too. When they take their kids to the doctor, the parent conference, church etc… and the staff see nice shoes, the parents feel less judged. It’s a ripple effect.

Without naming names, could you share a story about an individual who benefitted from your initiatives?

One of my favorite stories is of a boy in Pomona was wearing his sisters’ plastic sandals to school — his parents drove him to school but he wouldn’t go in. He was being teased and bullied, but they were all the family could provide. The principal found him hiding in bushes and called us. We were able to provide a pair of athletic shoes immediately — the principal later told us that the boy never missed another day of school that year.

We all want to help and to live a life of purpose. What are three actions anyone could take to help address the root cause of the problem you’re trying to solve?

  1. Make a donation at
  2. Get together with friends and colleague to adopt a school has low-income school near you.
  3. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Threads and Twitter — spread the word!

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful & Effective Nonprofit That Leaves A Lasting Legacy?”

  1. Clear cause — what is the stated need that no one else is addressing fully.
  2. Donor base–who is going to care? Are there people/organizations who will help you support the cause?
  3. Motivated staff (or volunteers) — you need good workers!
  4. Vision: what would the world look like if you were successful beyond your wildest dreams?
  5. Knowing your north star — what is your primary goal in all that you do.

How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?

More than anything, I think most nonprofits have had to redefine their definition of failure. I just watched a great clip of an interview one of the Milwaukee Bucks after they lost the playoffs this year where he was asked if he viewed the season as a failure — his epic response was “There is no failure in sports.” Every year you work toward something — you learn, you improve. You don’t get a promotion every year.

I think the same is true in nonprofit work. You have a longview and have the end goal in mind.

How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?

One of my mantras in life is “never let a good crisis go to waste.” Or as Dolly Parton say “The way I see it, if you want the rainbow you gotta put up with rain.” A set-back or crisis is always an opportunity to look at life through a different lens, so see your blind spots, and to reevaluate priorities and implement change. Humans resist change. Which is why sometimes it takes a crisis to shake us up a little. So, I remind myself that there is always something to learn from roadblocks.

Personally, I try to focus on things that ground me. For me, it’s coming back to why I’m doing the work I’m doing — the stories of kids that have been helped, the value of our children and the opportunities they have before them IF they believe in themselves. It’s my why.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non-profit? He, she, or they might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Michele Obama! She loves children and really understands the importance of exercise and self-esteem. And I think she’s an awesome human being.

You’re doing important work. How can our readers follow your progress online?

Facebook: @ShoesThatFitNonProfit

Instagram: @ShoesThatFitCharity

Threads: @ShoesThatFitCharity

Twitter: @ShoesThatFit

LinkedIn: Shoes-That-Fit

Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success.