Adding to my Title: Disruptor

November 23, 2014 By Tom

I know this might not come as a shock to many of you, but I like to shake things up, turn things upside down and make some noise standing on the opposite side of the room from everyone else.

Professionally, personally, socially….I always want to challenge the accepted norm and see what changes arise from not being complacent and accepting of things being how they are.

It hasn’t always made me the best friend, the best boyfriend, husband, or employee–but it has made me damn good as a social entrepreneur who wants to redefine how non-profits engage the community, find funding resources and achieve real results.

The term in the start-up world is “disrupt” and “disruptor”. The definition for disrupt is:


1. To throw into confusion or disorder: Protesters disrupted the candidate’s speech.
2. To interrupt or impede the progress, movement, or procedure of: Our efforts in the garden were disrupted by an early frost.
3. To break or burst; rupture.

I have not always been comfortable calling what I do and my passion to redefine the nonprofit world “disruptive”, I felt like our actions and how we operated spoke to the fact we were shaking things up but by not labeling myself with the “D” word. I think I felt that being considered disruptive in the nonprofit world and actually acknowledging it would put me even farther outside the gates of the accepted community than I already was in my younger professional days.

I asked a potential intern the other day why they wanted to spend the summer working for Nine13sports for lots of sweat and little pay, and this 20 year old told me, “because you’ve got a great program that helps kids and you’re disrupting the traditional non-profit community”.

got this fortune cookie the same day I talked to the intern–thought it seemed fitting

I wrestled with my thoughts on this over the last 72 hours. I’ve been wrestling with my thoughts on a lot of things over the last few weeks and have been feeling pretty stressed. I wrestled with being labeled a disruptor without giving my consent to the word, in fact, my purposeful avoidance of the label.

I reread old guest posts I did for other organizations, I wrote two blog posts for future publication, I thought about all my conversations with corporate partners, community partners and local leaders. And I realized, I am a disruptor.

More importantly, I realized that not only should I be comfortable with that being what I’m doing, but that’s why our corporate partners continue to expand and grow.

Disruption is cool. It’s sexy. It’s tangible change when you have a good product and a good presence.

It’s okay to accept what I am, it’s okay to brand myself with a very descriptive and powerful word that summarizes the overarching mentality of the organization.

I realize it’s better to control the word since it’s associated with me rather than to duck from it. Being totally honest, I’m really okay with that. I sometimes worry that I’m becoming “mainstream” and “conforming to authority” in terms of our ever-growing corporate stance; but looking through the last 12 months I realize that it was us (and me personally) being so anti-mainstream that has made us appealing to so many others.

Disrupting stuff is really pretty cool, especially when the disruption becomes the new normal. And when that day comes, is the day I’ll be able to say “I’ve made it”.

So, I’ll embrace the word that I’ve been both actively avoiding and actively participating in—enough of dipping my toe in the water, it’s time to own it and control it.