How to start your own non-profit from a College keynote speaker


How to start your own non-profit from a College keynote speaker

As a college keynote speaker, my audience loves to talk about the Front Row Foundation the minute I step off stage.   It’s only 1 minute of my entire message, but the aspect of giving back to others, starting a charity, and making a difference in the world by helping other really gets students excited.

college keynote speaker

Jon Vroman is a world class college keynote speaker who engages with students on topics of leadership, social responsibility and student engagement.

Of the 50 speeches I give every year, there hasn’t been one time when a student hasn’t said to me, “I’ve been thinking about starting my own non-profit, how would I go about doing that?  Where would I start?”

My first comment is that it takes HARD work, and a soft heart.

I believe that community service isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth it. I believe we all have something of value that the world needs, and it’s a tragedy to see people who refuse to, or are too scared to share it.   Most people don’t need the blueprint for building something great, they just need a vision for what the building looks like and they must be willing to learn how to use the hammer and nail.

I believe that when your WHY has heart, your HOW gets legs.

I think my earliest memory of doing something creative, positive and meaningful for another person happened in elementary school.  I had a crush on girl named Gina.  I was a boy scout at the time.  So for Valentines Day I decided to use my new pocketknife to carve a heart from a bar of soap (I was on a limited 7-year olds budget).  My mom always said that gifts made with love were better than gifts bought with money.   My memory of that day is crystal clear, my mom drove me to Gina’s house to present her with the gift I had worked so hard to make.  My hands were sweaty, and I fumbled to find the right words as she opened the door.  I presented my soap masterpiece.  She loved it.

Ok….now this is where the story gets good.

Growing up, I was a military brat, so we moved every 2-3 years.  I moved away from Camp Hill, Pennsylvania to South Carolina, then Maryland, then Virginia and finally in my senior year of high school, back to PA.  Guess who was also a High School Senior?  A girl that never left town – you got it – Gina!   After she found out I had returned to my old stomping ground, she approached me in school, and handed me a small box.  She said, “Guess what this is?”  I knew almost immediately.

It was the heart shaped soap from 11 years ago. She kept it all this time.   Amazing.

Now you might say, “Jon…this is a story about gift giving, not community service.” I would say, community service is gift giving.  And most importantly, I want to emphasize how little actions can go a long way.  Many people in this world are desperate for your time, energy, love, talents, and gifts.

“For it is in giving that we receive.”   Francis of Assisi

One of the more common questions  I get these days as a college keynote speaker is, “Jon, how did you start the Front Row Foundation (FRF)?”    They want to know how I came up with the idea, how to get started on their own, how to raise money, how to attract volunteers and how to do it year after year without burning out.   This article gives you my two big ideas to those questions. They are the nuggets to either starting your own charity, or finding one that feels like home for you.   The HOW or WHERE aren’t as important as just starting and giving back. We all have something to offer.  We need to share our talents with the world.   Today.

Nugget #1 – FIND YOUR WHY:

What excites you most in life?  Is it people, art, travel, animals, food?   What is it about people, art, travel, animals or food that you love?   It’s much easier to labor intensely when you’re serving in an area of life your passionate about.  For me, I love to create memorable experiences with people.  This is what we do at FRF.

For the last six years, I’ve been able to sustain passion for being a college keynote speaker and Director of Front Row Foundation because the  mission is everything to me.  It’s what I love about life most.  For you, if you’re love is food, perhaps you can get involved in a local soup kitchen.  If your passion is animals, perhaps it’s an animal shelter.  You get the idea. Start by making a list of your 10 most valued experiences in life.  Then make a list of your 10 most cherished gifts in life.  Finally, make a list of the 10 people you admire most in life.   Now ask yourself, what specifically makes these memorable?  What do they have in common?   What values do your answers share?   You may start to see patterns emerging.   Knowing what drives us is essential to finding sustainable energy to live fully, or as I like to say, live life in the front row 0 /!

Nugget #2 – FIND YOUR FEAR:

What is your itch about the world?   What bothers you most?   What is your biggest fear in life?

Our fears move us.  Imagine someone is chasing you because they want to hurt you, how fast can you run?   A lot faster than you would for a local charity 5k turkey trot!   I’m motivated by my fear.  Mine is simple.  I’m afraid to have my life end early and not have lived fully for the time I have.  I’m afraid of getting old and saying, “I wish I would have.”   This is what wakes me up in the morning and gets me going.  I’m motivated to serve others in the FRF because my heart goes out to other who have the very thing I value most about in life – and that’s life itself!

So what bothers, upsets, angers, or scares you?   Answering this question will give you fuel to fulfill your service.   When you tap into your heart, anything is possible.   You can work for hours and it seems like minutes.  You can recruit because your sales pitch is convincing, because it’s REAL.   If you’re upset that people live in poverty, do something about it.  If you’re upset about kids being overweight, do something about.   If you’re afraid about what our environment will look like in 100 years unless we change our habits, do something about it.

When you have the fuel (WHY you’re contributing), you’ll have the energy to create HOW, WHEN and WHERE.

When it comes to starting your own charity, follow these simple steps:

1.)   Develop a basic written game plan as to how the charity will help others.

2.)   Next, you share that vision with others to start generating support.

3.)   Legally, you’ll need to become a recognized charity by the government if you want to take tax-deductible donations, which means either filing the paperwork yourself or using a service like Legal Zoom. For about $1,000 you can have it done for you.

4.)   Have a fundraiser and involve others.  Share the vision.  Build excitement for your cause. (This fundraiser is assuming your charity needs money!)

5.)   Do something good with the money.  Fulfill your mission.

6.)   Brag about your service and the impact that it made.  This will attract more volunteers and donors.  (For students, this may mean attracting more administrative support)

7.)   Continue to refine who does what and how things are being done.   This is an ongoing process and it never ends!

Starting a charity isn’t that hard, but keeping it going is another story.  You need real passion for your mission.  There will be challenges along with way.  You can overcome almost any obstacle if your commitment is strong enough.

Don’t let anything stand in your way of giving back starting today.  Tomorrow is too late.  Take action now.   The world needs you.  Yes, you!

Jon Vroman is a world-class college keynote speaker who engages students on the topics of leadership, social responsibility and student engagement.   See videos and read about Jon at

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