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Creating organizational culture - Non-profit Operations at the UEC Intensive

Written by Megan Andrews-Sharer
    Tuesday, 19 February 2019
Creating organizational culture - Non-profit Operations at the UEC Intensive

Dana Render

Atlanta, Georgia

Operations Manager, Trees Atlanta

When Trees Atlanta was founded in 1985, its stated purpose was to protect and improve Atlanta's urban forest by planting, conserving, and educating. 30 years and over 113,000 trees later, that mission remains the same. Through a combination of full-time staff, their dedicated and ever-growing community of volunteers, and partnerships with contractors and corporate partners, Trees Atlanta is committed to maintaining and expanding the natural tree canopy. (Read more about the work of Trees Atlanta here).

Trees Atlanta sent two staff representatives, Dana Render and Judy Yi, to the Urban Ecology Center Intensive believing that their organization had the capacity to expand current operations. The Urban Ecology Center’s Executive Director Ken Leinbach had worked with Trees Atlanta Executive Directors and then keynoted at Atlanta’s annual Park Pride conference. There was city-wide excitement about the model Ken shared, and interest in equipping a team with best practices for program growth through the Intensive.

In an interview just two days into the Intensive, Ms. Render shared great admiration for the summer camp-esque experience. The days packed full of learning the UEC model outside in the parks had a significant impact on her -- it was a living example of the program prototyping and operations.

1Dana with the group

Dana Render with group celebrating the co-learning continuing even after returning home.

Looking back now, six months later, Ms. Render’s most valuable take away from the program was how to create unity in diversity in action on all levels of an organization. She says, “The organizational structure and leadership at the Urban Ecology Center worked to have consistent foundational cultural values while embracing the unique idiosyncrasies of each of the Branch locations. Having multiple branches of any organization can be challenging because of the silo effect that inevitably happens, but at the Urban Ecology Center there was collaborative and synergistic energy among the branches.”

As Trees Atlanta considers program expansion and additional branches, Ms. Render’s observations play an important role in planning. “I also appreciated how diversity was celebrated and used as a vehicle for community buy-in. That each location took into account the residents in the surrounding neighborhood and developed programming that would be valuable to those who would most likely use the center the most.” The Urban Ecology Center and Trees Atlanta remain in conversation, learning together as the Atlanta project moves forward.

Megan Andrews-Sharer

Megan Andrews-Sharer

Megan began at the Urban Ecology Center around the time Executive Director Ken Leinbach began writing his book, Urban Ecology: A Natural Way to Transform Kids, Parks, Cities, and the World.

Throughout Ken’s writing sabbatical, book publishing, formation of the Institute with speaking and consulting projects, 4-day Intensive, and now focus workshops, Megan has helped Ken create and coordinate the project. Megan has a background in community-based program development and membership management at small non-profits and a degree in History and Environmental Studies from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota.

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