Do you have a question that other Raise Your Voice community members can benefit from? Contact me and I’ll answer it!
I recently received the following question from a woman who is interested in starting her own nonprofit:
Hello, Nicole. I am very impressed with your blog and I enjoy reading it for more ways to get inspiration.
I’m interested in creating a nonprofit organization for teen girls, focusing on empowerment, education, and sports. I am Latina, and while I enjoy working with young Latinas, I’m wondering if I should focus my business around working with all teen girls, regardless of race or ethnicity. I see that your business focuses exclusively on women and young women of color. Do you ever get asked, “Why do you only care about women and girls of color?” Do you ever feel that you may be limiting yourself? I feel that if I create a business that focuses on all teen girls I will look more attractive to potential clients and will be able to grow my business more quickly, but if I focus on Latina teens, I would feel that I have more of an investment beyond getting paid for my services. I believe deep down that I know what I should do, but I don’t want to limit myself. And I’m afraid of overextending myself.
Thank you again for your inspiration! I look forward to your reply.
This is a really great question, and I’m happy to answer it!
I’ve been asked “Why do you only care about women and girls of color?” in a variety of ways for a long time. I think the first time I was asked was years ago, long before I could even envision what my business would look like today. But instead of being asked by a woman, I was being asked by men, who wanted to know what makes women and girls of color more important than working with entire communities of color. I was given advice on how I can include more men and young boys of color into what I wanted to do, how young men and boys of color “have it worse” compared to young women and girls of color, and how communities of color needed someone like me to provide inspiration to all young people, not just young girls of color. I’ve also be questioned on why I, as a Black woman, focus on all women and girls of color and not just Black women and girls.
(It’s always interesting how people who have the most ideas on what you need to do, never seem to have the time or interest in making these improvements themselves. But that’s another matter!)
I’ll answer this question in three parts: 1) Why I’m invested in all women and girls of color, 2) the benefits of creating a niche and 3) the fear of limiting yourself:
Like our reader, I’m invested in women and girls of color because I am one. While I don’t doubt that men and boys of color need services that cater to their needs, and while I believe that want I do as a program evaluator and speaker can lent themselves into working with men and boys of color, I tend to point interested people to organizations and people I know who are doing the work of providing services for men and boys of color (and to the organizations that serve them). I don’t believe that women and girls are superior than men and boys. My life experience as a girl of color and now as a woman of color just lends itself more to wanting to devote my time to improving the quality of life for women and girls of color in any way I can. Also, I feel that what I do with program evaluation and speaking works great for all organizations that provide services for women and girls of color. It helps me to be more culturally competent and helps me to recognize the strengths of all women and girls of color, not just Black women and girls. Communities of color are resourceful and there are many people (regardless of gender) who are on the ground offering their perspectives, talents, and insights that we are the better for.
I believe the easiest way to get noticed is by positioning yourself in a way that when people are looking for someone to help them, they know just who to look to. You stand out more, that’s for sure. Creating a niche is always a work in progress, but I’ve found tremendous value in creating my business on working with organizations, agencies, and communities that either provide services exclusively for women and girls of color, or they have at least one service, program, or initiative that focuses on women and girls of color. In fact that is a requirement of mine. I love to work with all kinds of organizations, from large organizations, to more grassroots. As long as what they’re requesting services for provides benefits to women and girls of color, I’m very open.
Outside of program design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation, I also have a passion for issues related sexual health and reproductive justice and I love to create and facilitate workshops and participate on panel discussions on these topics. In the beginning of my business, sexual health and reproductive justice were also required topics in addition to working with organizations that provide services or programs to women and girls of color, but now they lend themselves more to the speaking aspect of my business.
Not only does creating a niche help you to stand out more, it also establishes you as an expert. You can always have many interests, but I’ve found that you’ll often be known for a handful of things. For me, it’s being a social worker, a program evaluator, and a reproductive justice activist. At any given time, i may be asked to speak on any topic from one of these viewpoints.
And about limiting yourself: This part in the above question stood out the most: “I feel that if I create a business that focuses on all teen girls that I will look for attractive to potential clients and will be able to grow my business more quickly, but if I focus more on Latina teens, I would feel that I have more of an investment beyond getting paid for my services.”
It’s very tempting to want to be all things to all people. There’s always that fear that you’ll miss out on something. It’s more of a mindset situation than anything else. What I’ve found in my own experience is that the quality of work that I do is more important than the amount of work that I do. If I have 3 clients that I know value my work and give more work on a consistent basis (and they in turn tell their colleagues about my work ethic), I develop a great working relationship which can lead to more opportunities with them and with others through word of mouth.
It’s also important to remember that, as with a lot of things in life, starting out slowly is not that bad. The beginning stages of your business will focus primarily on getting everything in place (LLC registration, 501c3 status, etc.) Then the real work begins. If I just decide to work with everyone, I run the risk of burning myself out, and it prevents me from establishing myself as an expert. “Jack of all trades, master of none”. We don’t want that.
It’s pretty obvious that I would recommend our reader focus on creating a nonprofit that works with Latina teens. Being a Latina herself puts her in a positive position with the teens she will be working with, and will no doubt allow for their parents who connect with her as well. There are many nonprofits that are thriving, and they’re thriving because of their decision to work with a particular population. The more you focus on developing your niche and the population that will benefit from what you have to offer, the more you and your business will succeed. And it doesn’t hurt that funders will view you more favorably too, and who wouldn’t want that?