WESTCAVE OUTDOOR DISCOVERY CENTER
The trend toward sedentary living could mean that today’s children are the first generation at risk of having a shorter lifespan than their parents. However, research shows that kids who spend more time outside are healthier, happier and perform better academically. Westcave was looking to effective and impactful ways to engage children and families with the natural world.
COMPREHENSIVE SUPPORT FOR LOCAL CHILDREN IN NATURE PROGRAM
In 2009, Westcave Preserve launched the Children in Nature Collaborative of Austin. Shortly thereafter, a second local collaborative called the Consortium of Green Schools was created. With similar missions and goals, the organizations sought to merge in order to avoid competition and duplication of services. In 2012, with Mission Capital’s guidance, the two collaboratives united as the Children in Nature Collaborative of Austin (CiNCA), which was then adopted as a core program of Westcave. This merger brought together 30+ organizations and 100+ individuals across multiple sectors, including the education community, pediatricians, city departments and more. Following the merger, Westcave partnered with Mission Capital to create a three-year strategic business plan, articulating a vision and long-term goals, and adopting a new name to reflect the new business model.
“Through this work we became Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center and strengthened our impact beyond the boundaries of our preserve,” says then Board Chair, Hayden Brooks. “This strategic plan is something that is referred to on a daily basis and provides very pragmatic advice to move the organization forward.”
As a result of in-depth strategic planning and merger implications, both Westcave and CiNCA are moving forward in a more effective and impactful way. With the help of Mission Capital, the program has seen significant initial success including hosting regular educational events, developing new community-wide programming and successfully completing an online fundraising campaign to buy an outdoor adventure bus for CiNCA members.
Multi-Year Strategic Support Leads to Increased Impact
With the goals of the organization better defined, they’re working to increase the frequency, number and duration of kids active in nature, and to create the next generation of environmental stewards.
“The far-reaching relationships that Mission Capital has, beyond the nonprofit community, has resulted in unique opportunities and new funding partners that we otherwise would not have had access to,” adds Brooks.
In 2016, the city of Austin was selected as one of seven cities in the U.S. to be awarded a planning grant from the National League of Cities for a new initiative called Cities Connecting Children to Nature (CCCN), a national public-private partnership bringing together more than two dozen nonprofit, private and city agencies to ensure that all kids get to play and learn in the outdoors.
“These seven cities are on the leading edge of the children and nature movement … and, in fact, could help define the nature-rich city of the 21st Century.”
Richard Louv, Author of Last Child in the Woods and C&NN Co-Founder
Austin was selected due largely to the existence and success of CiNCA, which will become a pilot site for Cities Connecting Children to Nature. The selected cities will receive technical assistance to complete community assessments, and will have extensive opportunities for peer exchange and learning. This summer, Mission Capital facilitated the initial working group for Austin’s involvement in the CCCN initiative in partnership with the City of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department to develop a collective impact model. The organization plans to launch this initiative in October 2016.
“Today’s social issues are complicated. It requires someone who has the knowledge and is at the center of nonprofit work, has resources that can be brought to bear, and can come up with multi-departmental, cross-sector solutions using disciplined planning processes such as collective impact. That’s where Mission Capital comes in,” explains Brooks.
Each new level of success brings a new level of challenges. What’s the best business model for the organization’s programs? Should Westcave rely solely on grant funding or is there an opportunity for earned revenue? And, as their collaborative work grows on a local and national level, what best practices should be implemented to make that process as effective as possible? Brooks credits Westcave’s continued work with Mission Capital for helping them find answers to these challenging questions.
“I’m certain that the good work of Mission Capital has helped us discover more of the answers – and also taught us to ask more of the right questions,” adds Brooks. “Through the process working with Mission Capital, we were able to create a working plan that allows us to be very intent on moving through that plan and informs our growth moving forward.”
During the strategic planning process, Mission Capital did significant market and financial analysis and developed tools to answer some of these questions as well as equip Westcave with decision-making filters to address new questions and opportunities as they arise in the future.
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