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Nonprofit founder: What I do and where I'm going

Ananya Vahal, a writer and MFA student, founded the Sid Foundation to honor her brother and raise funds for lung transplant research. She uses creative methods like comic books and digital content to spread awareness. Balancing her writing career and the foundation, she delegates tasks to manage time effectively.

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Video transcript

My name is Ananya Vahal, and I'm 29 years old. I'm a writer and an MFA student in creative writing I'm also the president of the Sid Foundation. So I founded the Sid Foundation in 2015. It was a year after my brother, Sid, passed away from lung transplant complications, so I wanted a way to keep alive his legacy and raise funds and awareness for lung transplant research. It's not just smokers that need lung transplants. Lung transplants can be needed by anybody. You know, there's so many diseases like COPD, emphysema, and things like that that eventually lead to a lung transplant. My brother had interstitial lung disease, which destroyed his lungs within weeks, and it wasn't because of smoking. So people don't know why lung transplants are important, but there's a huge population out there because there's so many different diseases that can lead to a lung transplant. Lung Girl is the Sid Foundation's official mascot, and it's also a way for us to educate about lung transplant health and lung health in a fun way. So in 2016, we published the first Lung Girl comic book, and the second one came out in 2017. We go out into the community and do comic book workshops and things like that, so people who may not normally be interested in lung health or lung transplant research will become interested through the comic book, through Lung Girl, so that's another way that we pull an audience in, and then the website digital content is very important. We have monthly blogs on there I make educational videos about lung transplant research I make videos about our events and things like that so that we can, you know, share that information online and spread it through social media. Time management is very important because you have to make sure you're, like when it comes to organizing events and staying relevant as a business, you know, you want... Especially with a nonprofit, people have to be emotionally connected to you, so you have to constantly be in their mind. You have to constantly put yourself out there, let them know that you're doing something, you know. The emotional attachment can die if they don't hear from you for a while. You can't possibly do everything yourself as a business owner, for profit or nonprofit, so at some point, you have to go out and find volunteers or hire people. So, you know, I rely on both because even if I have the skills, like I can write grants myself. I'm a writer, but I don't have the time to do that. I don't have the time to go out and look for grants all the time and sit there and write, you know, these essays all the time because that's not what I want to do with my writing career. So I hired a grant writer, so you know, she looks for grants for me. You know, we have a meeting every week, every Friday, to discuss what grant we are applying for now, what she needs from me, information, you know, what project it's for, all the specifics, and then she's the one who fills out the grants for me so I don't have to spend that time, you know, and then she takes her commission off the grants. So you know, things like that, I had to hire. Last year, I hired a guy to help me with the promotional aspects of the Sid Foundation. These are skills that I have, but it's the time. Time is very precious. So you want to make sure you get volunteers or hire people to do those things so you can focus on the bigger, more important projects and on, you know, the bigger vision of your company. The thing I like least about running my own business in general is the budgeting, the Excel sheets, the tax paperwork preparations. We have an accounting company, one of our sponsors, who files our taxes for us for free every year with the IRS. So I have some support, and my dad keeps sending me these Excel sheets with the formulas already in them, so I have to fill it out. Makes it a little bit easier, but I still hate it, and I can't wait to hire someone to do that for me. Starting a nonprofit is not an easy endeavor, but I knew starting out that I would have to not pay myself for the first couple of years just to make sure the business is running and invest all the money, donations, everything I could get, into events and marketing and saving up so I can actually fund lung transplant research and things like that, so... My long-term aspirations are to continue building the Sid Foundation, and I'm building a team for the Sid Foundation so that I don't have to wear all the hats forever. That's exhausting. I would rather be on the board of the Sid Foundation so I can still kind of influence the legacy of my brother and the direction it goes into, but I don't want to have to be wearing all the hats all the time, and then, of course, I'm building my freelance, my writing career, you know. I want to be a published author, and I want to keep building that business up on my own terms, as well, because that's gonna pay my bills. So those are my long-term plans with balancing the two businesses.