“Formerly known as Fort Collins Startup Week, the event became self-branded in 2022 as Founded in FoCo to celebrate the diverse entrepreneurial spirit of our community.

Led by a diverse group of local entrepreneurs and experts representing our community’s best and brightest business minds, each session is packed to the brim with actionable information on the topic at hand. Sessions and speakers are selected not just for the relevancy and applicability of the content, but also to represent well the social and cultural makeup of Fort Collins’ economy as a whole.” -from FoundedinFoCo.com

Founded in FoCo is a free, 3-day event that reads a lot like a conference for local entrepreneurs and experts from throughout our community to come together, learn from one another, and collaborate.

A few of us from Arula were lucky enough to be able to attend Founded in FoCo for the first time this year, and boy did we have a blast! In this blog we’ll be going over just a few of the amazing sessions we were able to attend, and hopefully encourage you to check it out and maybe attend in the future as well!

Steps to Starting a Nonprofit

Kicking off Founded in FoCo’s Nonprofit Friday was Kim Fisher’s “Steps to Starting a Nonprofit” session. Kim is the Founder and Chief Strategist of Vision Catalyst, offering services from starting a nonprofit and developing a board to managing finances and continuing with ongoing support. She has been both a business coach and a nonprofit executive for over 30 years, so when I say she is more than qualified to herald the last day of Founded in FoCo, you can feel confident in that statement.

Kim explained the main reasons people begin nonprofits, and that once you’ve decided to do so you need to clearly define three main aspects of your to-be organization’s goals; Vision, Mission, and Values. She defines each of these like this:

  • Vision: How will the world be different because of your work?
  • Mission: What is your part of the greater goal of what you’re looking to do? You want to do this in 15 words or less.
  • Values: What beliefs are core to how you’re going to operate and drive your organization?

In tandem with this, Kim emphasized that it is essential to identify your community’s needs by answering questions like What is the community that you are responding to, Who else is doing this work, and What are you doing that is different from them? 

I have worked with nonprofits in the past, either as an employee or a volunteer, but I had never put much thought into all the intricacies it takes to get an idea–a passion–off the ground and into realization. Kim does, and she did an exceptional job laying out the steps it takes to do so. The knowledge that Kim shared during her session was invaluable, and I believe that what she offers even beyond this presentation can benefit everyone; from an individual just beginning to think of creating a 501(c)3 all the way up to the more established nonprofits.

Strategic Planning, Simplified

Another amazing presentation I attended was “Strategic Planning, Simplified” by Elizabeth Martin. Elizabeth is an award-winning nonprofit strategist and is currently the Director of Strategy and Development at The Fort Collins Museum of Art and founder of Inspiritus Leadership

Elizabeth has an amazing ability to see a vision and make a plan to successfully bring it to fruition. She emphasizes that you need to finish the statement, “My organization will be successful when _____”. She breaks her strategy down into easy-to-follow, simple steps: know your vision, mission, and values, then build an achievable timeline with tools to evaluate goals and outcomes. She is an engaging speaker that can create a compelling narrative for any audience to follow. 

How to Build an Effective and Accountable Board

Hannah Casey, who gave the presentation “How to Build an Effective and Accountable Board,” is an Associate Program Manager at Bohemian Foundation. She serves on multiple boards herself and has an incredible insight into what makes a board successful. 

Hannah shared the “PEN” method for finding board members, and I was blown away by her insights. She warns about recruiting board members solely on their technical expertise, their passion for your mission, or their networks. She emphasizes that people who fall into one of these categories could act instead as your organization’s advisor, volunteer, or donor respectively. However, recruiting a board member solely in one of these areas can lead to pitfalls such as a lack of experience in a mission organization, lack of time to forward the mission, or even a lack of passion about the nonprofit’s work. Hannah concluded that a good board member should have all three–passion, expertise, and networks (PEN). 

Additionally, Hannah provides tips to ensure board accountability and effectiveness. She suggests creating ownership, setting expectations, communicating clearly and consistently, and recognizing contributions to build trust. Overall, Hannah’s presentation was engaging and she provided tangible insights that can be applied to any organization. 

Run Your Nonprofit Like a Business

I had the privilege of attending “Run Your Nonprofit Like a Business” presented by  Carol Bennis. Carol is the Principal Consultant at Riverside Consulting Partners in Fort Collins and has over forty years of experience optimizing organizations through marketing and planning. Carol specializes in organizational leadership changes, operations efficiency, and strategic planning. She is an amazing speaker and even more wonderful to talk to in person. If you ever have a chance to attend a presentation or meet Carol, I highly recommend her!

Running a nonprofit is essentially running a business. Some great takeaways I learned from Carol’s presentation were: you need to choose your advisors wisely, invest in a good team by treating them well and allowing them to grow professionally, have a plan and be diligent about reviewing it, know what the competition is doing, treat your sponsors like investors, and always be impeccable with your word by doing what you say you’re going to do. The most important thing you can do for your nonprofit is to have a plan and to constantly be revisiting and revising it as needed.

Nonprofit Track: Speed-Consulting

Arula had the incredible opportunity to participate in the “Nonprofit Track: Speed-Consulting” segment that ran on the final day of Founded in FoCo. The premise we were given by our Founder, Alex Koenigsberg, was that it was basically “speed-dating, but for nonprofits” where we would be at a table or area of the room as experts and answer questions from the people that came by. Needless to say we weren’t expecting personalized signs to hold up and introduce ourselves to an awesome crowd of people, but wow was it exciting to do!

 Here’s the lineup of experts that hung out at the front of the room:

  • Hannah Casey
  • Chris Imsland
  • Carol Bennis
  • Denny Otsuga
  • Elizabeth Martin
  • Kim Fisher
  • Kaila Bryner
  • Samantha McClain
  • Christina Bondhus

“The room was so full of energy as nonprofits connected with each other and discussed shared experiences and collaboration.” – Kim Fisher

We found it valuable to give nonprofit professionals the opportunity to ask a variety of questions of consultants that each had a wide range of experience. This was such a great way to network and meet other people in the nonprofit field. There are a lot of organizations doing great work that need support and it was awesome to get to be part of a team that helps them move forward in their missions. 

Additionally, this segment was catered by FoCo Cafe, a local nonprofit restaurant whose mission is to build community by providing nutritious and delicious meals to the people of Fort Collins regardless of their ability to pay while using mostly local, organic, and sustainably grown ingredients. FoCo Cafe provided sandwiches and salads with delicious gluten-free and vegetarian options. It was great to see Founded in FoCo actively supporting nonprofits in so many different ways today! 

In a Nutshell

Overall, our experience at Founded in FoCo was amazing and so educational. It was wonderful to network with so many individuals, learn about what they do, and see the passion that drives them to further their adventure in business. We loved being there and are very excited to go back next year! Hopefully, we’ll see you there, too!