Stephanie Thompson Harris: So, You Want to Start a Nonprofit? Here’s the 411

September 19 - Sarah Ashlock

FIRST THOUGHT: A Great Big Cause

During the past few weeks, I’ve felt hella excited about some of the awesome stuff my co-workers have accomplished for On The Dot. Seriously, I’m feeling like one of those glam, rainbow-colored confetti poppers. My co-workers have reminded me just how intoxicating and contagious being around a few hardworking women can be. They also made me realize I need to actually praise them for that hard work because it’s not enough to feel fired up because of your badass co-workers. Every individual needs to hear how much butt kicking he or she is doing. If you feel genuinely delighted by something, give kudos where kudos is due.


Many jobs are thankless. We often think of the work nurses and firefighters do, for example, as being hard and humbling. A position I’d add to that list is working for a nonprofit organization—where money is always at the forefront—but, believe it or not, nonprofits are actually in abundance. In fact, more than 1.5 million nonprofits are registered in the United States, and are eligible for federal exemption and grants. But operating a nonprofit is also expensive and paperwork-heavy. To start one, you’ve got to learn about the demographic-specific data that will help the community you’re looking to serve. Then comes the tough work of building a business plan, mission statement and board, along with filing for tax-exempt status and more.

WOMAN TO WATCH: Stephanie Thompson Harris, Founder of A Dancer's Heart

Showing gratitude is more important than ever when you lose someone you love, but at a time like that, it’s also the hardest to show. Today’s Woman to Watch, Stephanie Thompson Harris, knows a thing or two about loss. Stephanie lost her 16-year-old daughter, Imani, to a heart infection. Stephanie remembers Imani’s quiet strength and positive outlook, which Imani particularly displayed when she danced.

Aside from her dancing talents, Imani was academically accomplished, making it into the top 1 percent of high-school students in Georgia selected for the Governor’s Honors Program. The imprint Imani left on her mother and those who witnessed her talent for dancing led Stephanie to start the Atlanta-based nonprofit organization A Dancer’s Heart.

Stephanie’s idea for A Dancer’s Heart was inspired by the things that made Imani so special, like the idea that just because you’re a teenager doesn’t mean you can’t do incredible, life-changing things. The organization supports young dancers, raises awareness of Group B Strep and Bacterial Endocarditis, and advocates for emergency medical planning for kids.

While A Dancer’s Heart grew from a heartbreaking situation and deals with some tough issues, it has helped Stephanie perpetuate the memory of her daughter’s life through scholarships and programming. Last year, the nonprofit completed its seventh annual 5K, during which women walked with strollers, dancers posed for the cameras and friends held photos of Imani.

It isn’t easy running a nonprofit, especially when your days are also consumed by a full-time job. Stephanie is also the vice president of client services at Communique USA, a marketing firm. Despite the devastating loss she sustained, she has continued to excel in her marketing and advertising career, but she didn’t always have dreams of being a marketing maven and business owner. As a kid, Stephanie actually wanted to be an attorney, and she’d pretend to be a defense lawyer for her dolls, while her brother pretended to be a judge.

Throughout the years, Stephanie has witnessed the advantages of being a business owner by witnessing her dad’s career as an upholsterer. She learned one of the pros of owning a biz is you own your own time too. So, she studied business administration in college, later heading to corporate America. The corporate environment eventually made Stephanie feel uneasy and full of drudgery, so she left. According to Stephanie, the reason she felt she could pursue something different and later build a nonprofit—despite her friends and family wondering why she was leaving a “good job”—was because she trusted herself and God.


Biblical writer Toni Sorenson said:

“Strength comes from struggle. When you learn to see your struggles as opportunities to become stronger, better, wiser, then your thinking shits from ‘I can't do this’ to ‘I must do this.’”

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