Sharon Alexander of Unicorn Children’s Foundation: “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket”

Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket — Make sure that you have a diversified funding strategy that includes special events, peer-to-peer fundraising, grants, social media campaigns, direct mail, investments, etc. Such a strategy will ensure your sustainability and make you less impacted when unforeseen events occur such as pandemics or financial market crashes. As part […]

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Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket — Make sure that you have a diversified funding strategy that includes special events, peer-to-peer fundraising, grants, social media campaigns, direct mail, investments, etc. Such a strategy will ensure your sustainability and make you less impacted when unforeseen events occur such as pandemics or financial market crashes.


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sharon Alexander.

Sharon Alexander serves as the CEO of Unicorn Children’s Foundation in Boca Raton, Fla. It is a one of a kind organization that changes the lives of people living with developmental differences who are disconnected, isolated, and need support. Alexander oversees its longterm and short term strategies and goals, develops new programs, and devises financial plans in cooperation with the Board of Directors and staff. In 2015, she founded and continues to lead the Special Needs Advisory Coalition of Palm Beach County.


Thank you so much for doing this with us. Before we begin our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”?

I am a child development specialist by training. Prior to joining Unicorn Children’s Foundation, I worked in a private practice helping children with developmental or behavioral challenges and their families. I was also an adjunct instructor at Florida International University, so I was able to train therapists and provide them with on-the-job supervision.

Can you tell us the story behind why you decided to start or join your non nonprofit?

I was provided the opportunity to join Unicorn Children’s Foundation in 2006 as their Director of Programs to establish a clear and strategic direction for the investment of funds raised. While I was unsure how my training and skill set would work in a not-for-profit organization, I decided to take a leap of faith because of the impressive credentials of the people involved in the organization. Plus, it was an opportunity to help others who may have financial constraints. One of the most frustrating parts of private practice was the inability to assist families who did not have the financial resources to afford private, individualized critical interventions to help their child succeed. A child’s future should not be negatively impacted by finances.

With that said, I realized early on that I had a lot to learn. They don’t teach business skills in clinical therapeutic programs. I enrolled in a variety of business programs and courses to quickly build my acumen and surrounded myself with team members who were skilled in areas I was not.

Can you describe how you or your organization aims to make a significant social impact?

The Unicorn Children’s Foundation is a one-of-a-kind organization that changes the lives of people living with developmental differences who are disconnected, isolated, and need support. We are a family helping families navigate life from cradle to career and building collaborative networks to expand the availability of services and support across the community.

Without saying any names, can you share a story about an individual who was helped by your idea so far?

There was mom of a 3-year-old daughter who had been diagnosed with autism and two beautiful twin babies. After establishing a routine that met all their needs, she had to face a devastating life decision to relocate to another state, thus losing her natural and therapeutic supports. Fortunately, she called Unicorn Children’s Foundation to help her find the resources she needed for her family in a new community.

While adjusting to her new normal, she feared that one of her twins was experiencing developmental delays. Unicorn Children’s Foundation was, once again, there to help her and her family navigate the complex system of accessing care for her newly diagnosed son. Fast forward 12 years, her daughter had overcome many of her challenges and was preparing to enroll in an Honor’s College, but mom continued to have significant concerns about her son. He frequently ran away from his classroom at school and expressed his frustrations through frequent and physical assaults against teachers and staff. The team at Unicorn Children’s Foundation visited school after school to help find the best fit for him.

Upon the realization that there was no “perfect” fit, Unicorn Children’s Foundation set out on a fundraising campaign to open the Unicorn Village Academy, a specialized high school that would focus on academics relevant to daily living, life-skills, vocational training, and community integration.

Nationwide, only 19.3% of people with developmental differences will enroll in a post-secondary program or become employed. Since its launch in 2013, all graduates of Unicorn Village Academy have gone on to post-secondary programs or become employed. Her son needed an additional year of support through a pre-employment internship program following graduation which Unicorn Children’s Foundation was able to establish with a community partner. He is now one of those graduates who was hired at a local store and has even received his first pay raise following a performance review. For the first time in the family’s life, the future is much brighter as they take comfort in knowing that their son has found meaning and purpose as an engaged member of the community and that he has built natural peer supports.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  • Increase Awareness — So often the focus in the disability world is focused on deficits rather than strengths. It is important for society to gain a better understanding of developmental differences and raise expectations of what these uniquely-abled people can do.
  • Open doors — As we raise awareness and expectations, we need to open doors for opportunities. Too often, and as a result of established stigmas, many businesses or organizations fear that inclusion will be too difficult or a liability. People with developmental differences can contribute greatly to a company’s bottom line, create cultures of compassion, and bring out-of-the-box thinking to solving problems.
  • Invest — There is not enough funding committed to support programs that are strength-based, community-focused, and inclusion-driven. We need to advocate for better allocation of funding streams to make an impact in the lives of these individuals, who so desperately want to make a difference, to be contributing members to society, to create lives for themselves, no matter the challenges they face or the barriers that may have previously kept them segregated from mainstream society. An investment early on in providing support and training can result in more expensive and longer duration reliance on governmental and societal supports.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is the accomplishment of a goal through the coordination of people. One person or organization cannot make a significant impact to address systemic societal changes. It requires the collaboration of a great number of voices at the table. For example, in 2015, the Unicorn Children’s Foundation was trying to identify its next big project and sought to understand the landscape of services and support available in the community. Rather than conducting this community needs assessment on our own, we reached out to over 50 individuals representing agencies and systems that provided services and support to people with disabilities. Those 50 individuals have grown to over 600 members of the Special Needs Advisory Coalition of Palm Beach County who continue to meet monthly to partner in providing a more coordinated and comprehensive system of care for residents living with a disability.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 things a person should know before they decide to start a non profit”. Please share a story or example for each.

Networking — Build your “army” of ambassadors. Running a not-for-profit organization entails a wide variety of skill sets. Some will be ambassadors who can spread the word of your good work. Others are connectors who can introduce you to prospective donors. Still, others can volunteer their time and talent to help you accomplish your goals. You organization cannot succeed in a vacuum.

Be true to your initial intent! — Make sure you clearly understand what your short-term and long-term goals are and be clear on who you seek to serve. It can be tempting to drift away from your initial direction particularly when certain funding sources become available.

Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket — Make sure that you have a diversified funding strategy that includes special events, peer-to-peer fundraising, grants, social media campaigns, direct mail, investments, etc. Such a strategy will ensure your sustainability and make you less impacted when unforeseen events occur such as pandemics or financial market crashes.

Collaboration — You can’t do this alone! Build your team with people smarter than yourself or who have different skill sets.

Get comfortable with technology! — Since the pandemic began, the use of technology has kept us connected. It also helps to improve efficiencies. With a good donor management software system, you can easily collect data on your donor’s history and interests which will allow you to better target your messaging to their particular interests and steward a longer-term relationship.

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 or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Richard Branson — he attributes his success to his own learning difference, Dyslexia. His out-of-the-box thinking and creativity has launched his Virgin empire and recently launched him into space!

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson” Quote? How is that relevant to you in your life?

”Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” –Margaret Mead

One person can create a ripple, but it takes a village to create real, impactful change. Most people who start a not-for-profit do not do so for fame and glory. They do it because they want to make a difference in someone’s life or create a better world where marginalized people can flourish. As a child development specialist, I only had the capacity to impact 30–40 individuals per week. By building a team of therapists, we were able to help 150–200 individuals per week. By engaging in collaborative partnerships with like-minded organizations, the impact is infinite.

How can our readers follow you online?

https://www.unicornchildrensfoundation.org

https://www.facebook.com/unicornchildrensfoundationJavaScript is not available.
Edit descriptiontwitter.com

https://www.instagram.com/ucfoundation/ https://www.youtube.com/user/TheUCFoundation

https://www.linkedin.com/company/unicorn-children%27s-foundation-inc-

This was very meaningful, thank you so much, and we wish you only continued success.

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