OWF Initiative – Shepherd Social Enterprise Water Nonprofits

“For too long, information, opportunities, and resources have been constraints, they need to be the bridges.”

– Sharad Vivek Sagar

“Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.”

– Bill Dryton

The OWF Shepherd Social Enterprise Water Nonprofits initiative focuses on helping start-up nonprofits in the water or environmental arena who need help to develop organizational systems, define their mission and vision, secure their 501(c)3, and get answers to business set-up questions. Often nonprofits are staffed by people who are passionate about the cause, but may not have the breadth and depth of experience or skills to create the organizational structure or run the business of the nonprofit.  The nonprofit may need some incubation or acceleration to fulfill their mission.  The OWF also recognizes that our experience as a social enterprise start-up can provide lessons learned to other organizations, including established nonprofits that are seeking to evolve their business models.  Below are examples of how OWF is shepherding other nonprofits to increase their impact through this initiative.

Strengthen Nonprofit Organizational Capacities

OWF works with nonprofits to recognize their primary revenue drivers, establish strategic plans, and provide both the breadth and depth of skills to build a robust nonprofit.

Often nonprofits in the early stages lack certain core organizational/operational elements that need to be developed for the nonprofit to thrive.  In addition, nonprofits that hire an Executive Director (ED) without knowing their own strategic direction, operational planning, or organizational structure will limit the ED’s ability to do the work the organization is meant to do.  Organizations simply won’t flourish without the proper recordkeeping, management, financial planning and requirements, procedures, fundraising plans, and governance all take time to create and execute.  In addition, the importance of protecting the 501(c)3 status of a nonprofit is vital to organizational health. The selection of the right person with vertically integrated nonprofit experience and water background may take some time and without the balance between the two, the nonprofit may not realize its potential.

OWF operates in an entrepreneurial environment and can help organizations be strategic through:

  • Collaboration (How do organizations work together and across sectors to provide social impact?)
  • Innovation (What are the lessons learned? Are there better models?)
  • Scaling (How can we grow the organization)

Helping Nonprofits Meet Their Vision (An Example)

OWF joined the Colorado Water Innovation Cluster (CWIC) because of our interest in pursuing triple-helix relationships with university, industry and government partners. Recognizing that CWIC has the opportunity to grow but was constrained by a lack of staff, OWF offered the services of our CEO, Louann DeCoursey, to provide a backbone of support for CWIC operations and to provide expertise in organizational development.

In 2011, CWIC expressed in the 990, that “In the next five years, our initiatives will establish our region as a global leader in water innovation.”  If this lofty goal was to be met, certain organizational pieces needed to be in place. OWF has a vested interest in helping CWIC to follow their mission to be a “Leader in water innovation…to provide a framework for collaborative initiative that make global impact” and OWF is leading the reorganization of CWIC.   Some of the activities that OWF is engaging in over the next year include:

  • Creating an asset map and social network analysis to understand the capacities, skills and assets of people and organizations to provide a platform to develop partnerships, programs and policy for water innovation.
  • Adding events to CWIC’s calendar including “Think & Do Tanks”, Membership Meetings with panels based on member interests, convening leaders in water innovation including Innovation After Hours, Lunch & Learns, as well as co-sponsored events between clusters including the Colorado Clean Energy Cluster, partners and members.
  • Producing a strategic plan that outlines how CWIC can be an advocate for water innovation through communicating water innovation actions and successes, defining initiative areas, supporting a pipeline for innovative projects, adding additional partners, facilitating financing and funding opportunities, and supporting research, development, and demonstration projects.
  • Creating a start-up project pipeline and project protocols that include project requests forms, project approval agreement language, project scope checklists, project budgeting, and financial tracking systems.  These system tools will be used for initiative and project tracking.
  • Engaging with other clusters nationally to provide a strategic platform for members.


Colorado Nonprofit Association

Colorado Water Innovation Cluster