First-row, earth-abundant metals offer an inexpensive and sustainable alternative to precious-metal catalysts. As such, iron and cobalt catalysts have garnered interest as replacements for alkene and alkyne hydrofunctionalization reactions. However, these have required the use of air- and moisture-sensitive catalysts and reagents, limiting both adoption by the non-expert as well as applicability, particularly in industrial settings. Here, we report a simple method for the use of earth-abundant metal catalysts by general activation with sodium tert-butoxide. Using only robust air- and moisture-stable reagents and pre-catalysts, both known and, significantly, novel catalytic activities have been successfully achieved, covering hydrosilylation, hydroboration, hydrovinylation, hydrogenation and [2π+2π] alkene cycloaddition. This activation method allows for the easy use of earth-abundant metals, including iron, cobalt, nickel and manganese, and represents a generic platform for the discovery and application of non-precious metal catalysis.