Don’t try to help everyone, yes, it is great to want to help everyone, but you literally cannot. The more clearly you define your mission, vision, and the demographic you serve the more impact you will be able to make.
For someone who wants to set aside money to establish a Philanthropic Foundation or Fund, what does it take to make sure your resources are being impactful and truly effective? In this interview series, called “How to Create Philanthropy That Leaves a Lasting Legacy” we are visiting with founders of Philanthropic Foundations, Charitable Organizations, and Non-Profit Organizations, to talk about the steps they took to create sustainable success.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelli Melissa Hansen.
Kelli Melissa Hansen is a Warrior for Mental Health. After losing her middle sister to a completed suicide in 2017, she founded BCC Evolution, a mental health and suicide awareness nonprofit in 2018. She has made it her life’s mission to make mental health matter by educating the masses about the importance of mental health because she truly believes and has found that a mental health challenge is generally what leads people to complete the act of suicide. She is the mom to 3 incredible kids, thrill seeking adventurer, tattoo connoisseur, Master Jedi NLP life coach, mental health educator and keynote speaker. She has a B.A. in Communication, minor in Psychology, an NLP Master Practitioner certification from Worldwide Institutes of Neuro Linguistic Programming, is a certified as an Adult and Youth instructor for Mental Health First Aid and an author for a collaborative book called “From Bottom to Top”.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/211ede31764569eb5875a30c45e0cd8c
Thank you for making time to visit with us about a ‘top of mind’ topic. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?
There have been several experiences that I have been through in life, and I feel like have really shaped me to be the person I am today, but the biggest two that stick out in my head the most was when my middle sister Carrie died by suicide on February 20th, 2017. That was really the beginning of this journey that I would have never thought I would have followed. She was the one sister that I grew up with the most out of 5 girls, so when she passed my whole life changed. I was just surviving for the first year after she passed until I found this three-day event called the Greatest Year of Your Life, which is the second biggest experience for me. I was introduced to NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) which allowed me to go back and forgive my sister and forgive myself, something that I did not know I needed to move forward in life. Through this forgiveness the idea of my nonprofit emerged, and I was launched into the ultimate mission of my life. I joined the Transformation Academy with this group which started to allow me to break through my biggest fears, the patterns and beliefs that were holding me back and embark on a self-development journey that I needed more than I knew I needed. This changed the whole trajectory of my life and opened the door to allow me to become more confident, purpose driven, serve people at a higher level and open my eyes to all the possibilities that were already inside of me that I never saw before. These two experiences are what has led me to become the master of my life and opened so many doors that have shaped me to be the person I am today.
You are a successful leader. Which three-character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? We would love to hear a few stories or examples.
First character trait I believe is most important is having a growth mindset. With a growth mindset you can literally do anything, be anything you want, have anything you need and truly master the skills it takes to be a successful leader. With a growth mindset you are always looking for ways to give more value, learn new skills, whole heartly serve at the highest level and make an actual impact on all the people around you. On the flip side, if you have a fixed mindset which most likely means you are set in your ways, you do not value others’ opinions or suggestions, you want to do things your way or the highway or are not open to any opportunities then you are going to have a much harder time getting anyone to support you, your cause or what to be a part of your organization. There is a good balance to have especially in the nonprofit space.
The second character trait is being a visionary and knowing how to either put yourself or other people in place that can keep you grounded, organized, and structured. It is important to be the dreamer, the designer, the vision, but also having those people or the skills in place to bring you back to the structure of how to make that vision into reality. This is a skill that can be a learned and sometimes can be hard for those of us big vision people like me, but it is such a valuable skill to have.
Third trait is energy. The energy that you bring to the team, the energy that you bring to the project, the event, and the organization. This energy is going to make or break you as a leader. People like to be around people that they like. People like to buy from people that they like. The same goes with leaders, people like to join arms with a leader that they like, know and trust and that has the positive energy. Sure, you are not always going to have perfect energy days, we are all human, but the more you can exude positive energy, the more you will get people on board with the direction you are leading.
What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made since you started leading your organization?
I started my journey heavily in the suicide awareness space since I lost my sister to suicide, however I found quickly that there are some amazing organizations that are really leading the charge in that area like the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention and Project Semicolon. I also knew I wanted to do something in the health care world as my sister was a CPR instructor and care giver for a paraplegic and at the beginning of my journey, I found Mental Health First Aid which opened my eyes to the world of mental health. It completely aligned with my vision and what I knew in my heart that I wanted to accomplish, so much so that I transitioned everything my organization does to focus on mental health. Through this discovery I found that a mental health challenge is what ultimately leads most people to complete the act of suicide. If we can get to the root cause which is the mental health challenge, we can get those struggling to ask for help; which is very hard to do when at the bottom of the bottom; or our organizations solution is to give everyday people the knowledge and understanding of how to assist those in need. This will then start saving lives and reduce the rate of suicide. At the time of starting my organization there were only a few national mental health organizations that I personally knew of like NAMI. And as we know today the professional mental health world is inundated and overwhelmed, so the need for more resources, more ways of having conversations and more education was very apparent to me. Also knowing that I did not have the skills, knowledge or understanding of the mental health challenges that my sister was going through to save her life became my biggest motivation and focus.
Can you please tell our readers more about how you or your organization intends to make a significant social impact?
We aim to ACE; increase Awareness, cultivate Conversation, and provide Education. By focusing on education and resource awareness, we can curate conversation around mental health challenges and stop the stigma of asking for help. We make mental health matter because each individual matters.
What makes you feel passionate about this cause more than any other?
As I said earlier, I lost my middle sister Carrie to a completed suicide on Feb. 20, 2017. I had completely shut my emotions off to her because she had attempted 6 other times and I could not deal with knowing that she did not want to be on this planet, so that is why I never saw it coming when she finally completed suicide. After she died, I knew I couldn’t sit around and do nothing. I wanted to make an impact on this thing that we called life, even if it is one person at a time. I also acknowledge now that I didn’t understand what my sister was going through since I didn’t have the skills or the mental health knowledge that I do now. Through this discovery and gaining more knowledge personally over the past 4 years about mental health, I have found that as a society we have a huge lack of understanding and how to communicate about mental health challenges. This is what led me into the nonprofit space and the desire to educate as many people as possible about mental health challenges and suicide prevention, so that we start to break down the stigma and lower the rate of suicide. I have found over time that a mental health challenge whether for a moment or over an extended period is what leads most to complete the act of suicide. Also, that suicide is not actually a selfish act, in their mind they think that the act is beneficial for those around them due to whatever circumstance they are currently going through, or they just want to make the pain stop and that is the only solution that they can come up with at that time. Unfortunately, they choose a long-term solution to a short-term problem. My saying is “If we can open our minds, hearts and mouths, together we can make mental health matter”.
Without naming names, could you share a story about an individual who benefitted from your initiatives?
We have an annual Gala every year to showcase all the things that our organization does, but also allows for a fun night out for adults to come and mingle with like-minded individuals. We had a husband and wife come this year which it was their first experience with BCC Evolution. They had found the event on Eventbrite and are advocates for mental health, also he was a veteran and that is a demographic that we serve. Our event spoke to them, and they wanted to know more about what we do. I give my keynote speech at all our events about what BCC Evolution is all about, what we are up to and tell my story about my sister. After my speech the couple came up to me and told me that they were so glad they made the choice to come to the event because during the week prior they had a friend, a fellow veteran that had attempted suicide and they were about to fly to him to say their goodbyes before they pulled the plug. They proceeded to tell me that they didn’t know anything about BCC Evolution, but they knew for some reason that they needed to come to our event that night. They were so touched by my speech and amazed at all the thing we do as an organization they ended up being the biggest donors of the night. I wanted to return the favor and give them something that could maybe help a little with some of the pain that I knew they were about to go through, so I gave them the very first BeeKind2YourMind military care packages that we had just launched. It was a small gesture for such a big journey that they were about to face, and they were extremely thankful. The connection of communication and community is powerful. You never know who needs to hear you message at that moment and have the community to support them.
We all want to help and to live a life of purpose. What are three actions anyone could take to help address the root cause of the problem you’re trying to solve?
- Don’t be scared or ashamed to talk about mental health and the challenges that you might be facing or have faced previously. You are not alone. No one is full of rainbow and puppy dogs all the time, we are human and have ups and downs, that is normal. Also, we all have mental health, it’s our emotions, thoughts, and feelings. Every person on this planet will experience a mental health challenge, whether it be for a short period or an extended period. It is also important to know that not everyone suffers, some live with or experience a mental health challenge and they are okay with this, so don’t assume they are struggling. It is important to open the conversation and ask the uncomfortable questions to start breaking down the stigma.
- Words matter. The words you tell yourself and other people matter. If you’re running around and saying nothing good happens to me, no one likes me, I can’t get a break…what I call the Eeyore syndrome. Your brain is just your yes man or women, and it will say okay, everything bad happens to you, no one likes you, you can’t get a break and will believe and start focusing on only those negative things which in turn makes them become reality. What you need to understand about your brain is it does not know reality from imagination. That is why the practice of manifestation and meditation is so powerful for those that use it. If you learn to intentionally choose your words positively and in a way that will benefit you, like I am strong, I am brave, I am powerful, valuable, worth, abundant, knowledgeable, a servant leader, money is easy to make, work is easy, life is wonderful. And so on and so on, I’m sure you get what I am saying. Then your brain says okay and will bring things into our consciousness that are in alignment with these positive things. Yes, this can be hard to do, but I promise you the more you do it, the more you will notice that it actually works, and it becomes easier to do.
- Create a personal safety/self-care plan if you’re someone that lives with or experiences a mental health challenge like depression, anxiety, trauma, or suicidal ideation. This is important because when you have those low moments when it is the hardest to ask for help or if you are so deep that you think that suicide is the only solution then you have a tool in your back pocket or in front of your face that you can pull out that you designed and you know will help you. It is important to create this plan when you’re in a high moment. If you’re not sure how to create this plan BCC Evolution has a class that we offer that helps you to understand and create this plan or there are several mental health facilities that also have or use a variation of this plan.
Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful & Effective Nonprofit That Leaves A Lasting Legacy?” Please share a story or example for each.
- Don’t try to help everyone, yes, it is great to want to help everyone, but you literally cannot. The more clearly you define your mission, vision, and the demographic you serve the more impact you will be able to make.
- Get very clear with your board positions and expectations. Your team is either going to make or break your nonprofit. I personally had no idea what it meant to run a nonprofit or how to start a business, I just had the experience of losing my sister and knew I wanted to make a difference instead of just sitting around. Without this knowing and understanding it has taken me 3 years to figure it out and get clear on what I need and want in a board. I am very much of a helper, the visionary and not an enforcer and that at times can be detrimental to the business. So get clear or hire someone that is business minded.
- Be sure to ask for help, you cannot do it all alone. Use all the resources that are out there for nonprofits. There are a ton and sometimes it can get overwhelming, but my favorites that I use are Funding for Good, GiveLively for donations, TechSoup for nonprofit discounts, Wix to build a website, be sure to apply and use your Google Ads Grant, VolunteerMatch, and MobileCause. There are so many more, so find the ones that work for you and your organization or ask other nonprofits what they use and why.
- Myth buster: This is a business and should be ran as a business. You cannot survive on donations and fundraisers only. There is this myth that people think just because you have a nonprofit status it means you cannot generate revenue or function like a regular business. This myth must be broken because your IRS status does not limit you on the ways to make money. Donor fatigue can set in and asking for money constantly can get tiring. Find ways to generate revenue and run this with a business mindset.
- Use PR and media to get your message out to the world. Of course, it depends on what your specific intention and goals are with your organization, and you do not have to spend an arm and a leg on hiring someone, this is something that you can do on your own or have one of your board members help with. Personally, this is something that I am starting to use more now, and I wish I would have used this avenue years ago. This could be speaking, Podcasts, writing articles like this one, starting a YouTube Channel, creating a show, or pitching national TV or news stations.
How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?
We learned how to pivot quickly from in-person to virtual events which was so amazing and fun to do. The pandemic was more of a blessing in disguise because it allowed us to open the space to incorporate the world and the whole U.S.A vs. just our state. Mental health does not have boarders and once we moved into a virtual space that you can access anyone, from anywhere, at any time, it proved that we are all facing the same challenges and are very similar no matter what part of the world we live in. Our definition of success has shifted to be able to share our message with the world and find more connections outside our little box. It opened more spaces for more collaboration and that is my definition of success.
How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?
There are so many ways that I personally get inspired when I have a setback, first is to not take it personal, it happens more often than you might like it to, especially in the nonprofit space. Second, re-evaluate the issue or the situation and what is the real problem and what is the solution that we can come up with as a team to change the outcome. Third, reach out to mentors, coaches or those that support you whole heartly to ask for help, we all need help sometimes. The one thing that works the best overall for me is to consciously practice gratitude. Be grateful for even the smallest things and write out a list of 3 things you’re grateful for every day. Do this for at least a month to 45 days and this will start to retrain your brain to look at the positives vs. the negatives. Plus, your brain cannot be grateful and worried at the same time.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non-profit? He, she, or they might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to share my vision and ideas with Lady Gaga. She is already a huge advocate for mental health and helped launch the teen program for Mental Health First Aid with her Born This Way Foundation, so I would love to collaborate with her in spreading even more awareness to tackle the mental health crisis that the world is facing now.
You’re doing important work. How can our readers follow your progress online?
You can follow us at any of the following and/or become a Warrior for Mental Health too via our monthly donor program showcased on our website:
Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.