In this podcast, we are talking with Nick Arquette, Founder and Executive Director of Walk With Sally. We discuss topics relating to integrating your mission into a fundraising event, how to grow your board and staff at the right pace for your organization, how to recruit and keep a strong core team, and more.
Walk With Sally was founded by Nick Arquette in 2005, naming it for his mother who was diagnosed with breast cancer and after many years of treatment, died when Nick was sixteen. After attending both the American Conservatory Theater and Boise State University, Nick moved to Manhattan Beach, California, 25 years ago to pursue a career in the film industry and has worked as a professional actor ever since. With an entrepreneurial spirit, Nick created and founded a series of companies beginning with a niche’ business within the film industry. For the past 20 years, Nick has been a broker to this industry, negotiating deals for major productions shooting on location in LA and throughout the United States. In 2006 with a new passion for aiding the aging population, he cofounded Adia InHome Care, support services which enhance quality of life for the aging, and recently started Assisted Preferred, a local information site and customer support service for placement services, quality senior care referrals and ongoing support.
Nick never forgot how challenging and isolating the years of his mother’s illness and loss had been for him as a child. Wanting to keep the legacy of his Mother alive while seeking to serve youth facing similar circumstances, Nick searched for mentoring opportunities in the community only to discover that no organization was filling this critical support gap. After careful research, he launched Walk With Sally and began mentoring a youth who had recently lost his mother to cancer. From that first successful friendship, Walk With Sally’s core mentoring program has expanded, having served hundreds of families throughout the South Bay over the past 10+ years and today actively serving 63 children, boys and girls ages 7-17, with trained volunteer mentors throughout Los Angeles County.
Additional support programs now include the Junior Mentoring program; quarterly Friendship events; Hope for the Holidays; and scholarship and assistance programs. As the only known organization providing this specific service within Los Angeles if not beyond, Walk With Sally has partnered with school districts, hospitals and health care providers, and local cancer and grief support organizations for referrals to the program and to facilitate access to additional services as needed for mentees and their families. With all his work throughout the community, in 2011 Nick was awarded Citizen of the Year by Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce Women In Business Committee and was a finalist for the Daily Breeze Most Philanthropic in 2012.
Nick Arquette currently lives in Manhattan Beach, California, with his wife Megan and 2 children, Charlotte and Delilah.
You can listen and enjoy the full discussion with Nick Arquette in our podcast, but here are some of the highlights.
Integrating Your Mission into a Fundraising Event
Many organizations struggle to make their fundraising events related to their mission. The White Knight event worked well for the Walk With Sally nonprofit organization. When asked how he was able to accomplish that, Nick Arquette, Founder and Executive Director of Walk With Sally, explained that he knew early on that the event really needed to bring the community together in a fun way to understand their mission.
How could he bring something new, fun and different to the community? To interject their message into the theme of the event, he used the idea of white healing light which his mom had used to involve her 2 sons in her treatment. The healing color meditation had been very powerful for them as a family. So he made it an all white party which people thought was just a color theme for the party with food and music, and turned it into a meditation that galvanized the night. This was very powerful and impactful as it stopped people for a moment and really got them thinking about the while healing light and who they knew they could send it to.
From Volunteer-Run to Staff Organization: Growth as Needed
Walk With Sally started as a volunteer run organization. The transition to a full-fledged organization happened in phases. In the beginning they were in their late twenties/early thirties and everyone was inspred by the idea. But after a couple of years, it became a hard model to sustain. Lives changed and priorities changed and people get burned out. It is hard to grow a program with all volunteers who are mentoring others, but not program building. The first position he filled was a Program Manager. The program started expanding as they were finding families, kids who needed their help.
The most difficult part was having enough money to be able to hire the staff they needed. To do this, they needed more funds than the annual event brought in. Eventually Nick knew that the missing piece to make this happen was to become a full-time employee and manage a team of people. This was a difficult but also inspirational time for him because he finally admitted to himself that he was the piece that needed to be there daily in order for the organization to really grow.
Intentional Board Growth
At first, they managed their board using the rules of the 501(c)(3) and kept it small (3 people) and flexible. Eventually, they realized they needed more board members in order to reach the next level, and they actively starting looking for more. Building the board as they need to for growth has been an effective approach, Nick explains. One needs to find a balance between enough board members to produce results and advance growth, and too many which can lead to distractions and too many opinions for efficient decision-making.
Recruiting and Keeping a Strong Core Team
The first team that Nick hired are all still with him which is quite an accomplishment. He attributes that to his focus on the experience of the employee and making their jobs a fun and exciting opportunity. Even though they are dealing with the affects of cancer, he wanted to create an environment they would want to work in and where they would love what they were doing, even down to having a pretty office. What could they be doing that is creative? He wanted them to be excited about their office, the work they were doing and the impact they are having.
Potential for growth and seeing a future with the organization as an employee is another important factor. Nick accomplishes this through constant communication, reviews, group meetings, creating a vision, creating a corporate culture and an annual retreat. At the retreat, they are given an opportunity for 2 days to choose what future looks like for them and the organization.
When hiring, Nick looked past the skill sets and experience, and considered where they were at in their lives, what were they doing prior to that, and what they discussed that was missing in their prior situation.
Avoiding What You Don’t Understand Could be a Recipe for Disaster
When asked what failures were his greatest learning experiences, Nick talked about how staying away from areas with which he didn’t have experience or he didn’t feel comfortable. In his case, this was in the areas of accounting, budgets and financial reviews. Then you are in a situation where you have to completely trust others and are too vulnerable if they aren’t really getting done what’s needed and how it needs to be done.