Entrepreneur Sherelle Hunt is the definition of defying the statistics. Born in Michigan, Sherelle grew up with both of her parents being incarcerated from ages six to 14. Unfortunately, Sherelle fell into one of more than five million children, or one in 14, in the U.S. who have had a parent in state or federal prison at some point in their lives. Somehow, Sherelle knew she had a greater purpose in life and not only defied the odds of being in the prison pipeline, but surpassed all expectations.

Sherelle graduated from the University of Michigan in 2013 with a psychology degree focused on child development. After a few years of working, Sherelle quit her job and embarked on starting her non-profit, the Pure Heart Foundation, a foundation established to empower children of incarcerated parents to break the cycle of generational incarceration. The Pure Heart Foundation has helped over 2500 kids, ages four to 17 years old, break the cycle of generational poverty through partnerships with several prisons throughout Michigan, consistently working with the scholars on their mental stability, writing letters to their parents, taking educational field trips and more.

With a 100% graduation rate of all its scholars coming through the program it is still just the beginning for this powerful non-profit.

Sherelle was kind enough to sit down with Mogul Millennial to give us 5 tips for starting a nonprofit out of the norm.

Find your niche, don't recreate something. Do research on how your nonprofit will help.

Sherelle recalls meeting a colleague and being asked “What is different from your organization than the other hundreds of mentorship programs? Why should I fund you when there are so many others doing exactly what you’re doing?” Think about a service you can personally provide and will separate you from other non-profits. Find something that nobody else is doing but needs to be done.

Educate yourself on your nonprofit and understand what you're getting yourself into

A lot of people see the word “non” and think that it doesn’t take the full work of a business. The reality is your probably putting in more work than a [traditional] business for profit. With a for-profit business, they are making money and not required to explain it. With a nonprofit, you’re required to explain everything. You have to get the money, use the money, and explain how you use the money. In addition, you’re required to operationalize that money to carry out the mission of your nonprofit.

Have a passion and true purpose in doing the work (Including your staff!)

Nonprofits are not about capital gain. They are about creating an avenue to bring effective change to a situation you want to make better. Your staff needs to have this attitude as well! Be very strategic in making sure whoever joins your organization is a good fit. Every staff member may not fit into the exact mold of the nonprofit (ex. a woman working for the Boy Scouts) but they need to be there for the correct reasons—to do the work!

When staffing your organization, it’s important you bring people on that are assets and complement your organization. Bringing in a diverse staff of motivated people will increase your chance of having a larger reach.

Photo credit: Timothy Paule

Be open-minded to change and adapt

Pivoting is a necessary part of the business at times. And the same holds true for nonprofits. Sherelle recalls initially starting her nonprofit and simply focusing on educational support and mentorship for children. After one year, her non-profit saw limited growth coupled with dwindling savings.

After taking a hard look at her non-profit and personal life, Sherelle changed her mission from focusing on educational support and mentorship to specifically working with children of incarcerated parents. After making that pivot, Pure Heart began to take off into the powerhouse it is today, serving over 2500 children in just 5 years. By being open-minded to changing her mission and willing to adapt to her audience, Pure Heart was able to experience immense growth.

Stay in your lane and stick to your goal

Yes…I know. You just read the fourth tip and it’s a bit confusing, right? There is nothing wrong with a pivot/change when necessary but it is essential that you don’t try to overextend yourself with your non-profit. There is nothing wrong with telling someone “We don’t provide that service, but I would be happy to direct you to someone who does."

What makes non-profits so unique is that they do serve a specific purpose for a specific group of people. If you try to do everything then you will end up doing nothing. It’s essential that you become very secure in exactly what your mission will be.  

Currently, the Pure Heart Foundation is working on expanding its program, opening up its first agency in Detroit, Michigan earlier this year, and working on securing a second location in efforts to extend their reach.

If you are interested in learning more about this program or supporting their efforts, visit the Pure Heart Foundation website or Instagram. You can also email email the organization at info@pureheartcares.org

For volunteering and family registration opportunities, call (586) 690-1431.

Feature image credit: Timothy Paule