A Founder’s Story: Taking a Social Program from Small Startup to Long-Term Sustainability


  • Julia Tang Washington University in St. Louis
  • Janelle Gibson Washington University in St. Louis




Starting the Conversation (STC) began in 2016 as a mental health program created by a small grassroots organization in St. Louis, Missouri. In 2019, following success of the program, the organization incorporated as a nonprofit. By 2021, however, STC’s all-volunteer leaders were struggling to sustain their program, as they were being pulled in other directions. To save this important service, they proposed a merger with a large nonprofit: the Gateway Region YMCA (GRYMCA), an association of 24 YMCA branches across Missouri and Illinois. The GRYMCA’s leadership embraced the merger proposal because they saw a programmatic opportunity. Thereafter, the STC program became an integral part of the GRYMCA’s community-focused work. The journey to this win-win outcome has revealed important lessons, which can help those looking to engage in social entrepreneurship, as well as leaders of both small and large nonprofits who seek innovative ways to keep their missions and visions alive.