Have a true passion for your purpose. Running a non-profit is probably one of the hardest things to pursue with no immediate return — there will be setbacks but it’s your passion that will help you persevere.
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 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 series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Martine Harris.
Martine Harris is a Speech and Language Pathologist, author and the co-founder and President of Travel & GIVE, a non-profit organization that improves the quality of life of youth, ages birth-21, with speech, learning, mental, and physical disabilities through direct services, advocacy, and training-based service projects. Martine travels to Haiti and Kenya to educate teachers, caregivers, and the community about creating inclusive environments for people living with disabilities.
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?
There are so many life experiences that have shaped me to be who I am today. A major life change was when I was in 5th grade and my mom and aunt decided it would be best for us to technically adopt my 16-year-old cousin who was deaf and living in Haiti. From this experience alone, at a young age I learned about the limited resources for people living with disabilities in Haiti. My cousin moving in with us changed my life — I was immersed in the hard-of-hearing community, learned sign language quickly, and became a young advocate for people living with disabilities. Another life experience that changed my life was deciding to move to California after my divorce in 2018. Through heartbreak and being forced to take time to myself, I was able to find myself.
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.
Thank you for pointing out that I’m a successful leader. I don’t know if I would say I’m completely successful — I would say I’m learning along the way. And maybe that’s what makes me successful — I’m always willing to hear feedback from my team and hence constantly working on my shortcomings. Other traits that I encompass are my perseverance, optimism, and flexibility. You can spend months to a year working on a program that you feel will work, and once it’s put into action, you realize that you might have to go back to the drawing board. Although it can be disappointing at times, I believe in trial and error and that it truly takes time to achieve a goal.
What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made since you started leading your organization?
I’ve always known that it takes a community to move things forward, but with running a non-profit, I understand that on another level now. You can’t do anything on your own — you need a good team and a community that believes in your mission to see real change.
Can you please tell our readers more about how you or your organization intends to make a significant social impact?
We advocate for people living with disabilities on a global scale. Disability discrimination is a global issue, and the typical person doesn’t think or speak about it much. We are their voice. We are the ones who work directly with people who deserve to be integrated into the community but instead are often isolated. Our social impact is to spread awareness, and to provide access to quality therapy and resources for the people who need and deserve it the most.
What makes you feel passionate about this cause more than any other?
As I mentioned earlier, my cousin moving in with my family is what changed my life. Being exposed to the fact that he had to leave his country because of limited access to resources due to his disability was completely unfair to him and my family. As an adult who has traveled the world, to see that disability discrimination is a global issue is something that I’ll fight for — forever.
Without naming names, could you share a story about an individual who benefitted from your initiatives?
In 2018, a teacher in Haiti pulled me aside and told me to never give up on Travel & GIVE. He said that our one visit challenged him and changed his outlook on how it’s possible to target different learning styles within the classroom.
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?
The first step to solving a problem as a community is knowing that there’s a problem! Disability discrimination is not only an issue in Haiti and Kenya — it is a global issue. So, the first step would be to do research and educate yourself about the issue of disability discrimination. Travel & GIVE’s mission is the solution to this problem, so a second step would be to spread awareness by sharing the mission of Travel & GIVE to family, friends, and colleagues. The final step would be to donate to our cause or join us on a trip.
Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful & Effective Nonprofit That Leaves A Lasting Legacy?” Please share a story or example for each.
- Have a true passion for your purpose. Running a non-profit is probably one of the hardest things to pursue with no immediate return — there will be setbacks but it’s your passion that will help you persevere.
- Have your legal paperwork and finances/accounting ledgers in order. Hire a lawyer to ensure that all of your paperwork is in order such as your 501c3 paperwork, bylaws and more. Bring an accountant on board to make sure your finances and accounting ledgers are in order.
- Network, network, network! — Join different networks, attend conventions and a variety of summits. Always talk about what you do — you never know if there will be someone in the room who finds interest in what you do and is willing to help — be it with their professional knowledge, making a connection, volunteering, or donating.
- Donor appreciation — Show your donors appreciation by sending a holiday card, keeping them updated with the non-profit by sending monthly newsletters, and sending a small token of appreciation once a year.
- Your board of directors are your backbone — As you’re doing the groundwork, you need a board of directors that you trust are going to guide the non-profit in the right direction.
How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?
Travel & GIVE almost didn’t make it through the pandemic — “TRAVEL” is the main thing that we do, and that was impossible in 2020 and 2021. We are still suffering in quite a few ways because of the pandemic; however, it forced the team to think differently and create a program, the Telehealth program, that is now accessible to our partners 24/7, whereas prior to the pandemic, our partners only had access to us when we were in-country. I call this a true success.
How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?
I always revisit my WHY, followed by taking time to be kind to myself, re-evaluate the situation, and remind myself that with every setback there’s a learning opportunity.
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. 🙂
Stevie Wonder — not only is he my favorite musician, but he also founded the Stevie Wonder Foundation which encourages inclusion of people with disabilities through music.
You’re doing important work. How can our readers follow your progress online?
Follow us on Instagram @travel_give, and visit our website at www.travelandgive.org where you can learn our programs, upcoming events, and join our newsletter.
Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.