Our language about entrepreneurship tends to emphasize the for-profit enterprise and the growth-driven venture. But entrepreneurial behavior is alive and well in, and critically important to the success of, not-for-profits.
Counting health care, education, social services, the arts, and business services, there a few thousand not-for-profit organizations—those with federal and state non-profit tax-exempt status—in western Massachusetts employing over 20,000 people. State-wide, there are over 23,000 not-for-profits listed with the Attorney General and Secretary of State.
In a highly competitive environment, where these organizations compete for donations, grants, contracts, and public attention, the more successful and sustainable non-profits are led and managed by people who model the best in entrepreneurial practices. These leaders and managers help grow their organizations, manage complex organizations that include very active and engaged Boards of Directors, and deliver caring public benefits. This is an arena that requires mindfulness!
Because there are so many excellent not-for-profit organizations led by dedicated, professional, highly skilled people, I can’t possibly cover them all. I’ve had the opportunity to work in this arena on several occasions, and I still work closely with several groups; I try to follow and help as many as I can. I’m continually amazed by the brilliance, energy, professionalism and dedication of people like Thom Fox, Clare Higgins, Suzanne Bowles, Jennifer Marrapese, Mary Biddle, Dan Finn, Terry Mollner, Jeff Rosen, Heidi Nortonsmith, Diane Pearlman, Suzanne Beck, Tony Maroulis, Eloise Michael—just to name a few who come immediately to mind. These people exemplify the best of the mindful entrepreneur spirit and practice.
Among those who I’d characterize as inspired and inspiring is Sienna Wildfield of Hilltown Families. Hilltown Families is a well-known and highly regarded project founded in 2005 and led by Sienna, and is now on the brink of acquiring its federal tax-exempt status. I call it a “project” because it hasn’t been a formal organization, and it’s been the work of one person and her friends; yet it seems far greater in scope and impact than that: this initiative is a regional, and even a national, leader and trend-setter in community-based and service-based learning and education. In even a brief conversation with Sienna, one walks away with a powerfully constructed image, a reflection of her vision: every community and every public service are “schools” full of learning, exploration, and discovery opportunities for children.
To accomplish the impact Hilltown Families has already had—everyone offering anything in the way of education, exploration, and service for children wants to have their opportunity or event posted on the Hilltown Families web-site, for example—Sienna has slowly constructed a set of services and communication channels that foster her vision. She’s done this through invention and innovation, and through an approach to resilient enterprise development that includes delivery of measurable benefits. As a consequence, she can sell ads, she can present exhibits, and she can draw crowds.
Thinking back over all we’ve covered in The Mindful Entrepreneur, we find that Hilltown Families—and all those impactful not-for-profits associated with the people I named earlier—attends to significant measures: who benefits and how? What are the audiences and markets? What resources are available and how are they best managed to stay aligned with program-mission-vision? What are the attributes of the staff and team that need attention and development? Who are all the stakeholders, and how can they best be engaged? Is the quality of what is delivered and provided high and continually improving? How can the resource base be expanded to sustain on-going service delivery? What has happened over time that informs what needs attention now and into the future? What has changed in the service arena, and what is likely to change? These are all questions about forward movement, describing the present, and considering the future.
In the past year, InCommN has worked with or been part of Hidden-Tech, Pioneer Valley Symphony Orchestra, Common Good Finance, Four Winds School, Berkshire Film and Media Collaborative, NESEA (Northeast Sustainable Energy Association), PV Grows, and Valley Venture Mentors, and has done work for WiredWest. We’re now adding Hilltown Families to our own family of organizations, and looking forward to working with Sienna Wildfield to fully develop a truly mindful, impactful new enterprise serving the common good.