Small & Gutsy with Laura Wittcoff
Updated: Oct 6
The good side of social media is that you learn about what other purpose driven people are doing to make a difference in the world. I found Laura’s podcast this past spring so inspiring and I was impressed with her ability to help others tell a story about their positive energy and contribution in tough times with COVID yet in wonderfully heart felt ways.
I reached out to her in LinkedIn and we are building a great friendship. I thought you might want to know her as well so here is a story about her work and the gift she gives us by getting to know social impact leaders in our community.
Sherry: Tell me about what prompted you to start the Small & Gusty podcast?
Laura: First let me say that the goal of the Small & Gutsy podcast is to raise the visibility of the “Big” little social impact and nonprofit organizational sector, meaning organizations doing good under $10 million. We bring their stories to life and celebrate them.
This idea started during while working toward my doctorate. I was influenced by the Deming, TQM and the continuous improvement movement where you take one concept and test it out in a short period of time. In my doctoral program, I wanted to test out what might change for nonprofits when working in marketing, support and donor development. I replaced one aspect of the Deming cycle with the concept of gamification using low and high tech options. I was curious about creating engagement through game-like strategies and what of these would help raise awareness. I started with a plan, tested it out and modified it. It was all about ways to engage nonprofits. I looked at those organizations under $2 M.
When COVID hit, the nonprofits needed quick and effective ways to get the word out about their mission and raise visibility, but were in no position to spend money on marketing. They were busy trying to keep their doors open to those with the greatest need, often pivoting their services to include food
I began to test the concept and the year after my doctorate. I was on contract with a client and last December we were still in COVID and non-profits were struggling. The goal was to reach the greatest number of people and serve the non-profits during a challenging time. I expanded to include for profits with a social mission, because they are in need of sharing the good work they do, and shouldn’t be penalized just because they are profit-based. This began as a simple celebration and then expanded to telling their story in engaging ways. We had our first interview in January 2021 and now we have 39 fascinating and unique episodes.
Sherry: What has surprised you most from this deep dive into this smaller social impact organizational sector?
Laura: One of the biggest surprises was that all of those whom I met this year never closed their doors during COVID. I was stunned to learn this. Many would create opportunities to connect online; others would have a contactless pick-up location for goods that others needed; and others would shift their mission to address immediate needs (food and basic resources) One organization’s mission is to create urban agriculture for the benefit of both nutrition and green space for those living in fresh produce scarce areas. The executive director pivoted during the pandemic and ran a free farmers market for those in need of food. People shifted their business to other related work or modes of working but did not stop. The 24 Street Theater – children’s theater with grown-up themes, had to close but did not really close. They are housed in an old Victorian horse-carriage building in LA. They were able to teach on-line and extend their reach far beyond their local area. Additionally, they remained open and offer the homeless coffee and a place to rest. Beautiful stories like that really move me.
Another surprise was the serendipity with these stories and people. I would be interviewing someone who has a youth program for boys and girls and we would discuss something related to agriculture and I would connect two seemingly very different organizations for the purpose of exploring ways to utilize their respective expertise. It was a fascinating way to connect others with compatible interests. This was a wonderful surprise of growth opportunities for the folks that I would meet during this process.
All of the stories inspire me and I love learning about their networks and how to help them build and extend their reach.
Sherry: What are some examples of “your models for change” that you apply in your work with students and clients?
Laura: I think if we are not open to change we are not open to growing. The biggest model for change in doing Small & Gutsy is the concept of a hybrid working model. Do we need to always engage in person? Everyone is learning quickly how to reach out, connect, teach, engage others in a virtual space.
I am fascinated by the resilience and ingenuity demonstrated by the small nonprofits and for-profits that I meet. They are working both in person and in various virtual ways. I met an organization that is a recovery program for substance use, called My Recovery Day. Their podcast was released last month (September) which is National Recovery Month. We try to work with each organization’s timing (special months, events, etc.) when possible. My Recovery Day has created a way for those in recovery to immediately build technical skills, e-commerce know-how, and earn some income while they look for long term employment, all through eBay! It’s incredible! When these organizations had to pivot due to COVID-19, they led with smart intention, innovation and creativity, doing much of their work, including teaching, peer support meetings and even exercise, all online as well as contactless pick-ups and drop-offs. It will be interesting to see the results of this change eventually as well as how they sustain this new way of doing business.
Sherry: How can our readers learn more?
Laura: Consider giving to these small and gutsy nonprofits or purchasing from these for-profit social impact organizations. There are so many ways to contribute, get involved and support them financially. I recommend listening to the podcasts as a first step. You will learn about those that support families, children, youth, individuals with disabilities, cancer research, summer camps for special populations, grief and addiction recovery programs, sustainable agriculture, the arts and much more. The link is below.
More about Laura
Laura Wittcoff is the co-founder and principal of the Intrinsic Group, www.theintrinsicgroup.com , a boutique consulting firm, and currently teaches as an Adjunct Instructor at the Sol Price School of Public Policy at USC. She consults to organizations and presents at business conferences in the areas of strategic thinking, creative problem solving, change and culture. Laura has developed a method, Gamifying Engagement®, for organizations to capitalize on better understanding and delivering their message to increase their visibility and more recently, developed a podcast, Small & Gutsy.
Here is the link https://linktr.ee/smallandgutsy
Laura’s goal is to support nonprofits and social impact organizations in their efforts to spread their message. Laura previously served as the Associate Director for JRI Health’s Realize Resources, a capacity and leadership building practice. In this role, she designed and directed all areas of organizational capacity development, focusing on strategic planning and change management where she values building and coaching internal teams to lead change efforts.