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Plan, Research, Innovate and Connect!

August 27, 2014

HeadshoToday’s guest blog comes from AmeriCorps VISTA ‘12-‘13 Alum Latrice Dudley of Atlanta, GA, a social entrepreneur and nonprofit professional passionate about leaving people and places better than she found them.  Connect with her via email.

I grew as a social entrepreneur in AmeriCorps, but my path toward social innovation began when I was in college working as a student coordinator for a division in my university’s College of Arts and Sciences. Not long after I started working, I was encouraged to create an event to mark the anniversary of an important social justice occurrence. Without much forethought, I took on the event—coordinating the event space, musical performances, travel, catering and keynote speaker. With the event just eight weeks away, I approached the dean of the department where I worked and told him I needed funds to pay for the event. He approved $300 dollars of department money and instructed me to fundraise the rest. By my own doing, I was stuck with an unfunded budget. Producing a $5,000 event on a $300 budget seemed impossible—especially with only sixty days to secure $4,700 in support.

Latrice Dudley, University of Alabama Student Coordinator of Programs with Dean Jim Hall

Latrice Dudley, University of Alabama Student Coordinator of Programs with Dean Jim Hall

I coaxed my way onto the calendars of other campus administrators and faculty, soliciting sponsorship. Admittedly at the time, I was fueled by nervous excitement and desperation. I successfully raised the $4,700 to cover the event expenses, and I was fortunate enough to revisit the same sponsors the next year. This experience served as a valuable lesson. I fully understood the importance of planning, research, and relationship building. My AmeriCorps term inspirited me with the right attitude to become even more involved in social enterprise to better my community.

Social innovation is taking initiative to plan, organize, market and employ opportunities and resources to address a social problem. It takes courage to do so, and since the experience, I have programmed five original community initiatives. AmeriCorps catalyzed me to continue learning how to build community by collecting resources and “getting things done.” I would like to share with you some of the techniques and knowledge I have gathered along the way through my experience planning initiatives in college, AmeriCorps, and professionally.


Planning is mandatory.

Develop your social venture plan (otherwise known as a business plan), know how to present it well and stick to it. This takes spending time in your “creative space” to explore solutions to the problem you wish to solve. You want to think of at least three possible solutions or improvements and be prepared to critique them by comparing and contrasting. You likely will end up with a synthesis of your best ideas from the three. Release the idea of scarcity: focusing on the perceived scarcity of things results in mediocre solutions. Believe that the things you need to be successful are out there; it is merely up to you to successfully market your needs to others and convince them to appropriate resources you need to achieve your goal.


Cropped Youth Pride--Tiffany Sartor and Mike Barnes VISTAs (2)

I continued innovating and relationship building with AmeriCorps. I networked with fellow VISTAS serving with Youth Pride, Tiffany Sartor and Mike Barnes, and they joined me at a nonprofit fair.

Research is essential.

Schedule a “think tank” with some  good people in your life, buy some poster board and markers, and outline people, places, and things that will help you achieve your vision. List other organizations that have goals and values similar to your plan and people who are aligned with your mission. Brainstorm businesses and corporations that could possibly have an incentive to support you financially or through in-kind donations of their time or supplies. Write down friends and acquaintances who can offer experienced advice related to your new project and have informational interviews with them.  Ask yourself what challenges you may face, how you may avoid them, and what remedies you would utilize to alleviate the challenge.


Convincingly talking about your plan is critical.

Knowing how to convincingly talk about your plan is critical when navigating the new relationships you will form to see your plan through. Relationship building takes fearless gumption along with some grace and tact. Fearlessness is valuable but can be dangerous, therefore keep in mind the culture of the people you solicit for help. When going into a discussion, always know more about a person or organization than they know about you and your project. This will arm you with information to use in the conversation about how this particular person or organization aligns with your mission.


Managing your energy is key.

At some point you will see your vision unfolding, and you will feel very excited, but you will also grow tired from all the work you are investing. Remember, it’s not about managing time. We all have the same 24 hours. Manage your energy. Know when to invest it. Innovation drives the successes of social initiatives and our future depends on the courage we exercise today. Our work is our daily devotion to the human spirit that we love.


My latest innovative social program at work is The Student Leadership Consortium, between The Children Healthcare of Atlanta Foundation and students at Georgia State wishing to volunteer at the Hughes Spalding hospital. Pictured here is the inaugural 2014-2015 SLC.

My latest innovative social program at work is The Student Leadership Consortium, between The Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Foundation and students at Georgia State wishing to volunteer at the Hughes Spalding hospital. Pictured here is the inaugural 2014-2015 SLC!

Many of the service-oriented ideals I hold dear to my work were cultivated when I served as a VISTA member. Perseverance, courage, charity and citizenship drove my service term making it meaningful and rewarding and ensuring that I never gave up. AmeriCorps members have been providing capacity building and direct service to America’s nonprofit organizations and public agencies for two decades. Today, more than 80,000 AmeriCorps members serve annually using social entrepreneurship as a vehicle for change. Take a moment and reflect on our national impact. Can you remember how wonderstruck you felt when you realized thousands of people were dedicated to service? Use that information to keep you grounded in that there are so many alums and other individuals out there that are willing to help you. AmeriCorps Alums are ideally suited to run social innovation programs after AmeriCorps, and I hope to make a connection with more alums. Connect with me and other alums on LinkedIn.


Latrice Dudley and AmeriCorps Alums Communications Coordinator, Maria Caruso, partnered during their AmeriCorps VISTA terms on a nonprofit fair at Martin Luther King, Jr. High School in Atlanta, GA to honor Dr. King’s legacy.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 27, 2014 3:06 pm

    Ms. Dudley, I love how you turned $300 dollars into $5000 for your University’s awareness event (RTR!). That is an amazing testimony to walking in faith and not by sight and of course keeping an optimistic mind set as you go. The exert on managing your energy was necessary for me to see because we do all have the same 24 hours in a day, but it’s what we do with them that counts/matters. I really need to focus on utilizing my creative-space & taking more advantage of “think tanks”-Napoleon Hill could not have said that better himself. Thank you for sharing Ms. Dudley!

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