How a Suicidal Drug Addict Became a Successful Social Entrepreneur: Scott Silverman

Two things turned Scott Silverman from a junkie into a successful social entrepreneur: Near suicide and an interaction with a homeless man at a food kitchen. Lendio’s exclusive interview with this CNN Hero Award winner outlines 5 tips in starting a non-profit:

In 1984, Scott Silverman sat on the edge of a window seal and looked down 44 stories to the streets of New York.

“I just sat on the edge and thought, ‘If I just leaned, I’d hit the ground in a few seconds and all my pain would be over,'” he said.

He was addicted to methamphetamine, cocaine and alcohol, and his struggles all combined in that moment to make death seem preferable to living. He started pushing himself through the window, when someone walked into the room and said: “What are you doing? You’re going to fall out the window!”

Silverman stepped back into the room and emotionally broke down. He immediately called his wife and told her he was ready to do whatever needed to be done.

“When you are ready to say goodbye to the world, that is a clear bottom,” Silverman said. “That second changed my life.”

Since then, he went into treatment, got sober and found solace and fulfillment in helping others similarly change their lives.

That satisfaction has since turned into a multimillion dollar non-profit called Second Chance, where he’s helped more than 24,000 economically disadvantaged and homeless persons gain employment, find shelter and leave gangs and a life of crime. He’s now a best-selling author, received many awards, including the CNN Hero Award, and San Diego recognizes Feb. 19 as “Scott Silverman Day.”

His First Client

Before he started Second Chance, he volunteered regularly in a feeding kitchen. After a few months he started noticing the same people — regulars of the food kitchen.

He finally approached one man and asked “Why are you here every Sunday?”

The man gave Silverman an array of reasons, including that he was on probation, that nobody would hire him.

“I told him, ‘These sound like excuses.’ Then I said, ‘How would you like me to help you get a job?'”

Eventually, through Silverman’s guidance, the man shaved, bought new clothes, got a job, and got off the streets.

“This guy came back and I didn’t even recognize him.”

Silverman found his passion and his calling.

Starting a Non-Profit Takes Business Smarts

Helping others is what truly brought Silverman out of his drug addiction and depression.

“The more I gave away, the more I got to keep,” he said. “This is a way to give of yourself to create a better place on the planet. Do something for others and you will do better for yourself: You just don’t get that in the regular business model.”

But in reality, making a non-profit successful took more than just personal satisfaction and passion. Silverman learned you also need serious business acumen. Non-profits need funding, grants, investments, and business loans more than any for-profit organization.

“You still have to perform. You have to cover your expenses and show an ROI,” he said. “It took me four years to make any money.”

Silverman’s 5 Steps in Starting a Non-Profit

For anyone who wants to be a social entrepreneur, Silverman has some critical advice. He started his organization from the ground up and overcome many obstacles along the way. These steps will give you a head start.

‘Tell Me No, I Dare You’

scott silvermanSilverman wrote a book “Tell Me No. I Dare You” about the lessons he’s learned along the way. The themes are about taking personal challenges, turning them into strengths, and finding what really motivates you.

“The No. 1 trait you need is attitude,” he said. “I can’t control the weather, I can’t control the environment, but I can control my attitude. Once you have established a solid ground for a good attitude, you can move into success, whether that’s starting a business or starting a new career.”

Summary: Fail Often

As Silverman tells his story, it’s hard to imagine he was ever in such a dark place where he’d want to take his own life. He got a second chance at life, and has guided thousands of others do the same. Those stories have one similar theme: failure. Silverman and all of his clients at one time failed miserably, but picked themselves back up. All business owners usually go through a similar cycle.

“Fail often,” Silverman said, “so you can succeed quickly. Success is in you. Have the attitude of “Tell me ‘No’ I dare you.”

It takes a little cash to change the world.

So what are you waiting for?

About the author


  1. I would like to give back and help others get employed through my company. We manufacture commercial cleaning products and offer commercial cleaning services. http://www.a-pro-clean.com I think that the Scott Silverman story is a great story, very inspiring!

    Kyle Boone – CEO
    BO-MAR Industries, Inc.

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