Much of the work we do in the social sector takes immense courage. We have to make critical decisions in an environment of ambiguity, overcoming our natural fear of the unknown. The weight of making the wrong decision – failing those who need our support the most, being wrong about our theory of change, choosing program A over program B when there is no data to support the choice – can be paralyzing for leaders of nonprofits and foundations.
Earlier this year, I explored the courage of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in sticking to bold ambitions. And, recently, the stories of two past clients stuck out to me reinforcing this idea of courage playing an important role in the DNA of successful social sector leaders.
The clients are the Cuyahoga Valley National Park Association (CVNPA) and Center for Families and Children, both of which participated in our Cleveland Community Wealth Collaborative. (Our Community Wealth Collaboratives are focused on helping organizations launch or grow social enterprises in an effort to assist them in solving problems on the scale that they exist.) I’m going to explore the story of CVNPA in this post and will share that of the Center for Families and Children in the near future.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a hidden natural gem right outside Cleveland, Ohio. It’s bright green as far as you can see with beautiful historic buildings, miles of pristine trails, a scenic railroad and more types of wildlife than one might expect in the middle of Ohio. We worked with the park’s association, which was dedicated to providing experiences for individuals and communities to connect with and enjoy the park, thereby inspiring them to become stewards of the natural world.
I recently communicated with Deb, the association’s CEO, who shared that the events business that we helped them plan and launch, Extraordinary Spaces, is doing well. They were booked for weddings every weekend this past year from early May through the end of October, and bookings are already strong for 2012. And, as she states, “…without this venture, we would have been in the red for the past several years.”
Following the launch of Extraordinary Spaces, CVNPA launched a seasonal store, Trail Mix, which this year had sales 22% over last summer’s sales. Now, they are launching a new venture, which is a retail store/welcome center right where people get on and off the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. The store will include retail, children’s activities and snacks. In a recent e-mail, Deb closed with this: “Thanks for your help–we credit you often for helping us get off to the right start.”
The Collaborative experience may have given them the skills and know-how, but it took so much more. Given the high rate of small businesses that fail, it took immense courage on the part of the board and staff to start a new business – something they never had done before. Having overcome that initial hurdle of uncertainty, they are now churning out new ventures and new opportunities that have each helped to ensure that the park can sustain itself as an important community resource!