Ashley Butler – Director of Lift a Life Foundation

I make a lot of people maps. I like to put the big goal in the middle of my map and then see who I need to involve in accomplishing the goal. I put actionable items under each person or entity so that I hold myself accountable to follow up and recognition of achievements.

Ashley joined the Lift a Life Foundation in January 2011. Her responsibilities at the foundation include managing yearly grant strategies and budgeted giving, re-evaluating mission and grant agreement processes, and directing board meetings and financial reviews.

Ashley’s vision for the Lift a Life Foundation is to make a lasting impact on the lives of individuals and families in need through innovative grants. She is passionate about the foundation’s five areas of focus, and her responsibility to ensure funding is placed in the hands of strong nonprofit partners with the expertise to meet the needs of the people they help.

Where did the idea for Lead2Feed come from?

The Lead2Feed program came from a desire our family foundation, Lift a Life Foundation, had to develop future leaders at the middle and high school level . The curriculum is based on the leadership principles in the book Taking People with You: The Only Way to Make Big Things Happen by David Novak. We wanted to provide a means by which students could start to think and act like leaders at an early age. The Lead2Feed program provides a way for students to be leaders and work together as a team to accomplish a big goal. Hunger is a solvable issue and the idea of motivating the next generation to lead the way in solving hunger was an opportunity we could not miss.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I drop my little girls off at school and head into the office or out to meetings with different nonprofit agencies. Check email and lots of conference calls. I spend my time checking up on our impact grants and making sure I not only look at the details, but keep the Big Goal in check!

How do you bring ideas to life?

I have to believe deep in my heart that the big idea can be accomplished. I have to be able to create a vision of what I want to achieve in 5 years in my head and then write it down. If I cannot accomplish this initial step then I will not be committed to it.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The movement of service learning/community service in education. I think this is so critical to student success to carry into the real world. They need to learn facts but they also need to learn by implementation and evaluation. The experience of service learning is truly valuable when they enter the work world. I think we can do better at providing experiences for students to prepare them to succeed in their future careers. We focus too much on individual achievement and less of the role of working on a team. Lead2Feed forces students to work together to accomplish a goal as a team and then evaluate the process.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I make a lot of people maps. I like to put the big goal in the middle of my map and then see who I need to involve in accomplishing the goal. I put actionable items under each person or entity so that I hold myself accountable to follow up and recognition of achievements.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I was the morning delivery girl for a muffin bakery in college. My route started at 5:00 a.m. and I witnessed some beautiful sunrises. I delivered muffins to all the coffee shops around Nashville, TN. I know how to pack a two-door car with over 500 muffins. I learned how to be efficient and to appreciate the early risers.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would have majored in Secondary Education. I would be able to apply the experience of teaching to this program and have more credibility in the area.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

When you start something from scratch it is easy to get lost in the details of your efforts. I have to take the time every Monday to refocus my mind on what my big goal is for Lead2Feed and evaluate if I am spending the time and effort to spur this goal.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

We established an Educator Advisory Board after the first year of rolling out Lead2Feed. These wonderful people are involved in the program and executed it at the highest level. I look to them for insight, feedback and as brand ambassadors of our program. We bring them together every summer to review where we stand with Lead2Feed progress and they provide input around curriculum, website updates and professional expertise. all from the educator perspective. The Educator Advisory Board is our biggest proponent of the program. When we involve them we get their commitment.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

We decided to host a webinar chat around Lead2Feed and it failed miserably. We put time and money behind hosting an interview style format with my father and we both walked out of the room amazed at how limited involvement we had. We were not thinking of educators with the timing of the launch and put lot of resources behind something that was not effective. You learn from your mistakes and lack of preparation.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I wish there was an app called Volunteer Now where different organizations could post their immediate need for volunteers that would be accessible to the community. I think people want to volunteer but it seems to be a difficult process and limits involvement.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I am addicted to people magazine. It is not very educational but is a great mindless read.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

None. We run a basic shop as a private foundation. I am a huge fan of Google and what they offer to nonprofits.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Taking People With You. It is a great book with actionable things you can do to drive results through your people. Seriously…read it.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Ann Muhlam who founded Back on my Feet. She started something from scratch from intuition and really made a difference that is spanning the nation. I heard her speak at a local nonprofit conference and was inspired to continue focusing our efforts on Lead2Feed.


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