From Surviving to Thriving: The Align Success Story of Soles4Souls

In the wake of the tragic 2004 tsunami that swept southeast Asia, a spark of compassion and resilience emerged. Less than a year later, as Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and surrounding areas, the same spirit of solidarity and support manifested once again. 

Before Soles4Souls was born, its creators responded to these disasters and immediately recognized the impact they made. This came with a revelation that short-term disaster relief is only a fraction of what can be done to alleviate a much bigger problem.

In 2006, Soles4Souls was founded with the mission of providing relief by distributing shoes and clothes to those in need. But despite its impactful mission, bringing that mission to life while maintaining a sustainable model proved difficult.

Within a few years, the organization was in serious danger of going under. Around March 2012, the board separated from the current CEO, and in the following months board members were quitting amid negative press, and losses were piling up fast.

At the same time, Buddy Teaster was on the cusp of a career change and considering getting back into the nonprofit world. Knowing a challenge lay ahead, he wanted to help the organization and stepped in as the new CEO in October 2012. Two weeks after he started, the bank had pulled their line of credit.

“We’ve come a long way since 2012. There is no question for me that without Align and coaching, there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell we would’ve gotten here.”

Buddy Teaster, CEO of Soles4Souls

The Turning Point

By the time Buddy took over, the crisis was evident. He knew the organization was desperate for some restructuring if it wanted to survive. His immediate efforts to save Soles4Souls centered around four pillars: 

  1. Defining the organization’s values
  2. Putting those values into an operating system to run the business efficiently
  3. Clarifying the mission
  4. Strengthening the team

By reformulating efforts based on these four elements, things began looking up. Over the next three years, the organization went from losing money, to breaking even, to finally becoming profitable.

But growth still was not happening fast enough. By around 2016, Soles4Souls was ready to take its vision to the next level.

The team implemented what is known as a “BHAG” or “North Star.” The BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) defines a high-level, aspirational, long-term objective that motivates a team and provides clarity around the work they do every day. The S4S team set theirs as “$1 billion in economic impact by 2030.”

It was around this time that Buddy began dabbling with the idea of professional coaching, although it was a big investment that the organization did not have budget for at the time. Nonetheless, Buddy knew that his team needed a structure that would consistently align them with that North Star goal and drive their work to make a long-term impact.

They began using coaching minimally, and quickly realized that it was a necessary investment if they wanted to reach their full potential. They began working with Petra Coach, a service for coaching, consulting, and mentoring organizations who want to scale.

Through their coach, they were introduced to the Align software.

Initially rolled out just to the executive team, Align soon became a pivotal part of the organization’s planning and operations. The software provided the structure Soles4Souls desperately needed, facilitating clarity in annual and quarterly goals. 

“We’ve come a long way since 2012. There is no question for me that without Align and coaching, there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell we would’ve gotten here.” – Buddy Teaster

The “Aha” Moment

Align enabled the team to maintain laser-sharp focus on its objectives and fostered unparalleled collaboration across departments. They were better able to understand their BHAG and bring it to life by tying daily tasks to the long-term objectives.

The leadership team was now heavily involved in annual planning, setting quarterly goals, and assigning relevant tasks among the rest of the staff. It was at this point that the team clearly saw the benefits of Align, as it began not only assisting in, but driving the way they work. 

“We finally had a structure that allowed us to say what the most important thing is, and that probably saved the organization.” – Buddy Teaster

Furthermore, they saw a clear connection between the discipline Align provided and their core values.

“We have four main values: Being transparent, entrepreneurial, accountable, and that the work we do is meaningful. When we finally figured out Align, it hit three of those four.” – Buddy Teaster

Align is designed to enforce transparency and accountability by aligning teams around common goals, keeping the most important data front and center, and encouraging ownership of various goals and targets.

The team immediately reaped the benefits of Align’s communication tools especially.

“It was the first time that everybody had a sense of what everybody else was working on. We didn’t have a way to communicate that before. The communication piece was dramatically better.” – Buddy Teaster

The team had already been utilizing daily and weekly huddles, quick meetings where team members share updates about their priorities. Align’s huddle tools and templates provided them with the habit reinforcement they needed to maintain these meetings and ensure they follow a productive structure.

The team also found benefit in Align’s ability to narrow focus on the most important tasks that pave the way to achieving the vision. They began using the Top Priority Calendar, which provided a visual way to break down goals into daily tasks.

“I think it makes you better if you stop for a few minutes and think about what the most important thing for the day is.” – Buddy Teaster

The Top Priority Calendar tool in Align is a customizable calendar unique to every team member. They can easily input their top priority for each day, and check it off when they complete it. The idea is to reinforce focusing on one thing and understanding how it moves the needle toward the bigger goals. An employee may have three things they want to get done in a given day, but there should always be one single most important priority. As long as this priority is achieved, the day can be marked as productive. 

Powering Through Disruption

Soles4Souls was finally thriving. They had nailed down a system for goal setting, tracking, and reporting–and were working in sync with each other. 

But unfortunately, more bad news was headed their way. In 2020, their beloved COO passed away. The organization was forced to restructure yet again, while coping with the emotions of losing an esteemed team member who had played a prominent role in their growth. On top of this, like many other organizations during this time, they were unsure how they’d make it through the pandemic.

The Soles4Souls Team. Credit: Soles4Souls

Buddy says that when forced to reformulate, what enabled the team to tackle what seemed impossible was having the framework to do so. Maintaining their quarterly goal progress and communication rhythms provided a sense of consistency that aligned the team and enabled them to push through this hard time. Buddy says that without the discipline that Align provided and ability to understand where they needed to focus, he isn’t sure they would have made it.

“The real payoff came when it seemed like the whole thing was going to go up in flames, and instead, we came through the fire stronger than we’d ever been.” – Buddy Teaster

Proof in the Numbers

Soles4Souls has continued to grow in size, impact, and ambition. Since 2006, it has distributed more than 83 million pairs of shoes and pieces of clothing to 137 countries and all 50 U.S. states.

Since 2012, the organization has increased:

  • Headcount by 19%
  • Revenue by 201%
  • Expenses by only 59%
  • Net Income by 254%
  • Reserves from $0 to $2 million
  • Impact by 163%

One thing that makes Soles4Souls unique as a nonprofit is that its leadership has used an entrepreneurial and sustainable approach to save the business in the beginning, and grow it in the long term. Nonprofits are often placed in their own category, but the truth is that a business growth mindset is equipped to enhance any organization.

“I wish more not-for-profits would use Align because it’s such a great tool,” Buddy says. “We are not the unicorn–lots of not-for-profits could benefit from this.”

Align has helped Soles4Souls enact its mission by improving focus on the work that matters, enabling strategic communication, and providing tracking tools to visualize progress. All organizations strive to provide purpose behind their work, and facilitate measurable progress that illustrates that purpose.

“If any not-for-profit leaders are reading this, {Align} is worth it.” – Buddy Teaster

Get Involved with Soles4Souls

Feeling inspired? There are multiple ways to support Soles4Souls in achieving its mission.

If you have a pair of shoes or clothes to donate, you can find a drop-off location near you, or ship them for free with Zappos for Good. You can also give a monetary donation, either as a one-time donation or on a continuous basis.

Check out ways to give for details.

You can also get involved by registering to volunteer, or becoming a partner of Soles4Souls.

For more information, visit

Finally, if you want to learn how Align can help you achieve your biggest goals just like it did for Soles4Souls, book your demo today.