Why Conviction is Critical to Your Sports-based Youth Development Nonprofit

When I started out as a professional youth coach, I thought it was all about making kids laugh and feel good and, of course, throwing a couple balls. About 10 years into coaching, I realized I had a huge depth of knowledge in coaching, which led to writing and tracking my players’ development. I found the process very rewarding.

It wasn’t until a parent of a child I coached challenged me to take the next step that I realized it was time to channel my knowledge and talents into making a difference. He told me that while I was a great coach, I could be more. I could be a role model and make a real impact by bringing the sport of baseball to more Black boys in my own inner city Atlanta community.

Personally, I define knowledge as a combination of information and experience. Since knowledge is power, I realized my friend was right. I was in a great position to empower Atlanta’s youth with both responsibility and authority to change their lives. My wife, Kelli, and I started our nonprofit in 2007 and we haven’t looked back.

Starting a nonprofit is similar to starting any type of business and it has a relatively low threshold of entry. But making it work, that’s a whole other thing. It’s not always easy.

Why Conviction Matters

People ask me all the time what it takes to be successful in the nonprofit world. My answer is always the same: The No. 1 thing you need is conviction. Conviction comes from personal experience—whatever makes you cry or empathetic is where your conviction is, and likely, somewhere in there is a vocation that will be extremely rewarding.

For me, it was hard growing up in poverty in Atlanta. But playing baseball changed everything for me. It wasn’t just the skills I learned or my talent. It was also having access to adult role models, and a world beyond my poverty-stricken NW Atlanta neighborhood. Kelli and I are convicted to provide the same thing for today’s youth in Atlanta.

"Starting out, we knew what we wanted to do. But having that conviction helped us to find the people and resources to help us do it."

Here are 3 ways having conviction can lead to success:

No. 1 – Conviction Gives You Perseverance

The business part of starting your nonprofit is fairly straightforward. It is a tangible administrative process of all the things you need to do. It is easy to pull all the paperwork you need together, but there are hoops to jump through and plenty of headaches along the way. If you are not starting your nonprofit for the right reasons, even this step can lead to your plan fizzling out before you get started.

No. 2 – Conviction Can Bridge Your Community

One of the first things you should do if you are planning to start a nonprofit is to get involved in your community. Join your local chamber of commerce, and attend community meetings and events. When Kelli and I would start talking about our vision for our nonprofit in a crowded room of community-minded people, we found our supporters.

Just sharing our vision led to people coming together and offering to help us at no cost. Everyone has a unique set of knowledge, so finding people who were excited about what we were doing and wanted to lend their talents and experience to help was invaluable. Our conviction helped others in our community find theirs and the process became easier with support.

No. 3 – Conviction Helps Secure Funding

Another big hurdle when starting a nonprofit is knowing where your funding will come from. Most likely, when you start out, you are relying on individual support and crowd-raising funds, but foundations usually follow.

We have learned that nine times out of 10, you will be talking to individuals and it is important to know how to communicate your conviction to them in a way that also will be inspiring to them. They need to believe you and feel you. People may forget what you said to them but they won’t forget how you made them feel.

Conviction is all about how you make people feel and there is no connection without conviction. If the way you walk your walk everyday does not line up with the story of your conviction, they will see right through you and you won’t get the financial support you need.

Most nonprofits don’t last three years. The reason? The people behind the nonprofit lack conviction. If you’ve got it, everything falls into place, but if you don’t, it may be time to explore opportunities in the for-profit space.


As a featured contributor to E2E Navigator, C.J. Stewart shares his insights and tips for how building a non-profit organization can make a real difference. 

C.J. is a former Chicago Cubs outfielder and Amazon No. 1 Best Selling Author and co-founder (along with his wife, Kelli) and Chief Visionary Officer for the non-profit organization L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct).

Take your first step at having a real impact!

Visit and reach out to C.J. Stewart.


C.J. Stewart

L.E.A.D. - Launch. Expose. Advise. Direct.

C.J. Stewart understands the power of opportunities. Growing up in one of Atlanta's most dangerous housing projects, he used baseball as his path forward.

Today, the former Chicago Cubs outfielder and Amazon No. 1 Best Selling Author is co-founder (along with his wife, Kelli) and Chief Visionary Officer for the non-profit organization L.E.A.D. (Launch. Expose. Advise. Direct).

By using baseball as his guide, C.J. is providing life-changing opportunities for Atlanta's at-risk youth.

Through his efforts, young men are winning at the game of life by improving their social emotional learning (SEL) capacities. Ninety-two percent of youth in a single program cycle show growth in multiple SEL capacities, 75% reported gaining more supportive adults in their lives from LEAD programming (social capital) and 100% reported satisfaction and a willingness to invite a friend.

» C.J. Profile Story

» C.J. LinkedIn Profile

» Website www.LEADCenterForYouth.ORG

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