top of page

THRIVE Participant Perspective--Smart Beginnings Greater Richmond

Updated: Mar 4, 2021

Each Friday, we'll bring you the perspective of a nonprofit in our THRIVE accelerator program and share a little about their organization.

Smart Beginnings Greater Richmond

This third session of THRIVE, facilitated as always by our partners at The Spark Mill, focused on Board Engagement and Governance with facilitator Myra Goodman Smith from Leadership Metro Richmond. We asked the team from Smart Beginnings Greater Richmond to tell us about their experience this week.

What are you hoping to get out of this program?

Chanel Bea, Early Childhood Community Liaison: We’re a small and mighty team--how can we get the best bang for our buck? I want to see how we can engage our board and stakeholders better, so we can highlight the best of all that we do.

Jeanine Harper, Chair of Impact Committee, Board Member: The opportunity to be with the team, to have the space and time to reflect on where we are and where we want to go. Most of the time, we’re very task driven, and we have to be to get the work done. THRIVE allows us to pause, reflect, ask ourselves questions that we don’t usually get to ask, and think about the implications of those questions.

Tell us about your experience in the program today?

Meg Pienkowski, VP of Community Partnerships and Programs: We had great conversations about the composition of our board. Who are our constituents and stakeholders? We work at the systems level--we don’t do direct service, but we ultimately want to support the families of our region. How do we combine those in board representation? So often we don’t have the time to have these discussions.

Chanel: I really like the conversation we've been having in the networking breakouts, to get to see who else [the other nonprofits in the cohort] is here. Those breakouts are thought-provoking and helpful to go along with the discussions we’re having as a team. That’s not always the case [in other trainings].

Rich Schultz, Executive Director: COVID-19 has really devastated the early childhood system. TRHIVE comes at a great time, as we’re wrestling with racial injustice, with the pandemic, as a system. It will help us end up with a plan that is responsive and proactive in the short and long term.

What did you learn, or feel spoke to you about today?

Brad: Today we honed in on the need for us to spend more time and focus on governance.

Rich: Myra did such a good job. I had not seen that life cycle of nonprofits before. It had me thinking about where Smart Beginnings is that the life cycle. Reflecting on the interesting journey of this nonprofit, it feels like we’re in the growth mode right now. We’ve been through a lot of change in the last decade.

Brad: that’s an understatement.

Meg: On the lifecycle graphic, it said that infrastructure development leads to expansion and impact. Those are happening kind of concurrently with us right now. As an organization, we have to wrap our arms around that.

Lifecycle of a Nonprofit

How do you see this applying to your organization?

Chanel: We're already talking about how this can change and support our strategic plan. Splitting governance away from finance as committees can be an immediate change.

Meg: Identities, as it relates to diversity, inclusion, and equity, is something we can take away and have further discussion on. What implications does it have to our board composition? We can also put the mission on every agenda. Share a mission moment [a example of how your organization is having an impact].

Brad: It’s a good way to start a meeting--it grounds the meeting into what we’re all about. 95% of a human brain is developed by the age of five. Unless kids have the right environment in those first years, they don't get a good start and fall behind too fast.

Jeanine: having Amy Nisenson, our mentor, to ask us another question, provide another resource--her presence has and will be valuable to our process.

Brad: I've loved the opportunity to connect with this wonderful team, in what I feel is a high-quality way. It’s an unexpected surprise benefit. I love these guys.

Meg: We ought to figure out a way to do this more often.


Smart Beginnings Greater Richmond is a regional coalition of public and private organizations, business and citizens working together to ensure that the region’s children enter school healthy, well-cared for, and ready to succeed in school and in life. It represents a powerful network and organizing force, and the staff of the partnership serves as the backbone for coordinating and accelerating the shared vision. Since the first Regional Plan was launched in 2010, Smart Beginnings Greater Richmond has increased public awareness and coordination, leveraged new resources for quality services, and built strong cross sector representation and relationships.

The THRIVE accelerator program provides an opportunity to look beyond the current challenges and obstacles and plan out a direct and streamlined path forward. Organizations will spend concentrated time planning and executing real-time solutions with guided facilitation.

The second cohort focuses on helping organizations engage leading practices in program design, community engagement, board development, fundraising, storytelling, and HR/operations with a racial equity lens. This experience creates a set time for teams of boards and staff to come together to look at their organization holistically and then apply what they are learning to their specific context.

THRIVE was created through collaboration between The Collaboratory of Virginia and The Spark Mill, and is currently sponsored by Carmax, Robins Foundation, and Virginia Community Capital.

bottom of page