From Passion to Nonprofit: How to Start a Philanthropic Organization
Black Enterprise Magazine January-March 2019 Issue

The holiday season is the time of year where, both nationally and globally, our collective heart seems to expand a bit larger. Maybe you put a little extra in the collection plate at church. Or perhaps you slow down before entering the grocery store to appreciate the ring of the Salvation Army bell. But how many of us go that extra mile and actually form a charitable organization of our own? The mother and daughter duo of Gayla and Donya Gardner did just that when they founded The Twelve Days of Christmas, Inc. nearly fifteen years ago in Houston, Texas. A family vacation was the catalyst for the idea. “We were just talking about our own fellowship during the holiday season,” Mrs. Gardner explained. “We love celebrating and having family around. We get excited going to each other’s homes and eating and rejoicing during the season, and we wanted to find a small way of helping others enjoy the holiday blessings” during otherwise difficult times. They came back from vacation inspired and committed.

The Twelve Days of Christmas, Inc. puts a new life into the phrase, “party with a purpose” by holding annual fundraising gatherings in order to “adopt” local families in need and assist them throughout the year, especially during the holiday season. Each year, families with children ranging in ages from newborns to teenagers are selected. Next, the chapter members get to know each family and their specific wishes for the holiday season. Then, the chapter’s members shop for the children–by size and age–for toys and clothes as well as for back-to-school supplies and uniforms at the beginning of the school year.

The organization has grown to a national effort. Currently, it has five chapters–Houston, TX; Oakland, CA; Dallas, TX; Washington DC and New York, NY, and is expanding to Atlanta and Chicago within the year. Instead of a few families, the organization assists more than 150 families with hundreds of children annually. And now, in addition to receiving monetary donations from generous family members and friends, the organization receives corporate donations, from large sponsors including Sam’s Club, DSW, and Mercedes Benz. Moreover, the Gardners are especially proud of the fact that 100% of all donations go directly to the communities they serve. The members agree to pay all administrative costs themselves. Additionally, the “hands on” approach of the organization’s members–from getting to know the families personally to shopping and delivering all the gifts, is a special aspect of the organization’s purpose.

Do you have a desire to share your blessings with others through a non-profit organization? Here are a few tips to consider:

Just Do It. The Gardners agree that while many people have great ideas, the action you put behind that first step is the most powerful one. Mrs. Gardner firmly believes that action, coupled with the faith of knowing you are doing something with purpose, can create wonderful results.

Partner With Like-Minded Visionaries. When you work with talented people who share your passion and commitment to a cause, a successful outcome is most assured. The energy that people bring to giving and community service is special and can be harnessed to effect meaningful change.

Call In The Professionals. During the initial phase of the organization, Donya Gardner personally completed various documents that were needed to set up the organization, including the 501(c)(3) and incorporation documents. However, since the organization has grown to include national board members and corporate donations, the Gardners stress the importance of having excellent legal and financial assistance on hand. Are you looking for information on formation, compliance or education? Visit The Foundation Group at for more information.

Spread The Word. Social media is a powerful resource for many small businesses, and nonprofits are no exception. Let people know what you are passionate about and they will often support your efforts. “Just Ask”, says Donya Gardner. Her experience has been that people have generously supported and encouraged her family’s mission to serve and believes that the act of asking for assistance yields life changing results in the community.

It’s abundantly clear that this organization is led by the philosophy: “The blessing is in the giving,” as Mrs. Gardner states. If you are interested in finding out more about The Twelve Days of Christmas, Inc., visit the website at www.

Nicole Cober, Esq. is a partner at Cober Johnson, a law firm focusing on trademarks, brand licensing and small business consulting. She is a former small biz owner of the award winning chain, Soul…Day Spa and Salon. She is also a Legal Consultant for Washington DC’s NewsChannel 8 and author of soon-to-be released book: “CEO of My Soul: The Dos and Don’ts of Small Biz”. Follow her on Twitter @CoberJohnson and like her on Facebook Visit her website at

As a trailblazer in the small business community for nearly a decade, Nicole Cober is an advocate for the small business community. For eight years, Ms. Cober owned and operated a day spa and hair salon chain that served as a revitalization catalyst in a developing area of the nation's capital. During that time, she received national media coverage regarding small business management and entrepreneurism in various publications such as People, Essence, Allure, Entrepreneur, The Washingtonian, The Washington Post, Upscale and Black Enterprise. Ms. Cober was also featured on the CBS Morning News, BET and the reality show, "Ambush Makeover." The salon and spa received recognition by the Washington City Paper as "The Best Stylist" and "Best Spa" and Ms. Cober's commitment to the community was on display annually when she used her business for philanthropy by provided complementary services to Rachael's Women's Shelter. Ms. Cober blends both her legal and business skills together to offer a uniquely powerful list of services for clients. Affectionately known as "The Lawyer-preneur," she now seeks to empower start-ups and local small businesses with by creating effective business, branding and growth strategies. Ms. Cober is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley as well as Howard University School of Law. She was a judicial law clerk for the Chief Judge of the DC Court of Appeals and worked for a number of years at Dickstein Shapiro as a litigation attorney, specializing in employment and insurance coverage law. Currently, she is a regular contributor to Black Enterprise and Citibank's Women and Co. as well as a legal consultant for NewsChannel 8 WJLA. Ms. Cober is also a public speaker, coach, a contributor to Pulse Magazine, a publication devoted to international spa management, and soon to be author who will publish a book later this year titled “CEO of My Soul”, which chronicles the do's and dont's of her early days as an entrepreneur. Follow her on twitter @CoberJohnson