Ep 26: Building a Culture of Optimism (with Steve Gross)

nonprofits are messy

Two brothers start a business selling t-shirts. They start with just $78 in the bank. They live out of a van and eat PB and J for 5 years. They aren’t just selling t-shirts. They are selling optimism.

The business takes off and really speaks to people who haven’t had the easiest road in life and yet still recognize that life is good. Yup, this is the origin story of the company “Life is Good”.

These brothers bring in their friend, Steve Gross; a social worker, who has seen the power of optimism to heal and bring joy to children who’ve been through tough times. Together, the three of them establish a foundation to harness the power of optimism to those who need care and those who do the caring.

We can all learn from this model how to avoid burnout, how to bring joy back to our work and how to connect more deeply with one another. You’ll love this podcast and its timing is perfect.

About Steve Gross

Steve Gross is a social worker and the Founder, Chief Playmaker, and “Chief Executive Optimist” of the Life Is Good Foundation. He has devoted his career to the service of our most vulnerable children. Steve’s talents have been called upon to respond to some of the greatest catastrophes of our time, including the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, and the 2012 Newtown school shooting. At the heart of his work, Steve helps others access their own playfulness so that they can build resilience and bring greater joy, connection, courage and creativity to their work and their lives.

Steve can also be seen as a panelist on NBC’s GIVE, a reality show that shines a light on nonprofits and the power and responsibility of philanthropy. I met Steve through this production – you may know that I am a regular panelist on the show as well.

In this episode:

  • The power of optimism.
  • The importance of narrowing the focus of your organization.
  • How to be a Playmaker.
  • Bringing the joy back to your work.
  • How passion, drive, and commitment can sometimes get you in trouble.
  • How to avoid burnout and nurture organizational optimism.

Episode Links:

Joan Garry
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Joan Garry

Widely known as the "Dear Abby" of nonprofit leadership, Joan works with board and staff as a strategic advisor, crisis manager, change agent and strategic planner. Joan also teaches at the University of Pennsylvania with a focus on nonprofit communications and leadership.
Joan Garry
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  • Danielle Kempe

    I’m proud that Life is Good is a Boston based company.

    I visited their headquarters last week. Love their work!

  • What a wonderful story! Love that it’s much, much more than just a t-shirt company! Steve seems like a really cool guy, very down to earth. Great interview, Joan!