Episode 50: Creating Success At The Intersection Between Marketing And Communications With Ashley Desrosiers And John Russo From Seaside Sustainability

RTNP 50 | Marketing Communications


If you’re a long-time listener, you may remember when we talked with Eric Magers, the Executive Director of Seaside Sustainability a few months ago. At the time we had a great discussion about Seaside’s unique perspective around stakeholder engagement to drive their mission.

There was SO much good information in that episode, but we barely scratched the surface!

That’s why this week we decided to return to Seaside Sustainability and chat with Ashley Desrosiers and John Russo, two of their marketing advisers. The goal was to dive a little deeper into how Seaside navigates the intersection between marketing and communications.

Ashley and John have put a lot of effort into engaging stakeholders in the Inspire phase of their journey to help spread the Seaside Sustainability mission and create engagement with like-minded audiences. They’ve also done a great job of creating systems to develop and nurture relationships with interns who help fuel engagement and outreach.

Seaside interns work as functional teams who are empowered to become integral components of the bigger system. In this way, the organization paves the way for each successive group to pass expertise and institutional knowledge on to subsequent teams and to engage and communicate among cohorts.

This episode is full of great ideas and ways for nonprofits to thrive at the intersection of marketing and communication. I think you’ll enjoy it!


Seaside Sustainability

Action Ask:

Figure out your sweet spot and nail how your mission comes to life.

Be open to trying new things.

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Creating Success At The Intersection Between Marketing And Communications With Ashley Desrosiers And John Russo From Seaside Sustainability

My guests are Ashley Desrosiers and John Russo from Seaside Sustainability. We spoke with their founder and we wanted to have Ashley and John on to talk about the intersection between marketing and communications. They are doing an amazing job and have a cool model at Seaside where they leverage the power of cohorts and these groups of interns that they bring in to help fuel their outreach and everything that they do at Seaside. Our conversation is jam-packed with a lot of great ideas and ways for nonprofits to thrive, particularly in that marketing and communications intersection. It is going to be a great episode for you. I’m excited for you to read it.

Ashley and John, how are you guys doing?

I’m doing well. Thanks, Stu

Likewise, we are happy to be here.

Thank you for being here. I spoke with the Executive Director of Seaside Sustainability, Eric Magers. I am pleased to have you both on the show.

We are happy to be here. Thank you.

With Seaside Sustainability, you guys are doing some great work in attempting to help clean up our oceans and do some cool things. I know that you have a neat model as well where you bring on and train a host of interns as opposed to necessarily having pure volunteers working for the agency. Is that accurate?

It is. We have an executive director as well as a dedicated board of directors and community action team who then work and help co-lead the structure for engaging with many of our interns. Our interns are this fantastic group of individuals of all ages and backgrounds. They help work within a number of functional teams within Seaside Sustainability. John and I co-lead our marketing and communications team.

It is a great model. I love the idea of being able to bring people into a working system that allows them to get hands-on experience within that organization that they can then take out into the rest of the world to apply those skills as they enter the workforce. You two are in marketing and communication. Have you separated those two roles? How do you work together along with this group of interns?

We originally had the team organized into a single unitary team but then realized that there were specializations that both Ashley and I brought to the team. Also, we could help to allow the interns to focus on particular areas. Roughly speaking, the way that it is divided is that around half of the team works under my direction, and it is more operational in focus. We are making sure that the website continues to be updated and we have all the tools and technologies that we need, our email marketing platform, and so forth.

My team tends to focus on the more technical aspects and operational aspects, whereas Ashley’s portion of the team is responsible for finding the stories, developing the stories, reporting them, the writing and content, as well as public relations, so it is split into those two. There are a lot of crossovers and work as well.

To pick up on one of the things we talked about working with the interns and John shared about how that overlap has been the source of key learnings for us throughout the past years. Our model continues to evolve and we are experimenting all of the time. We have these loose divisions between content and operations, but we very much work to have mechanisms for them to collaborate.

Each cohort of interns stands on the shoulders of the one before.

Even as something as foundational as an every other week team meeting where everyone could be together, and hear and learn from one another to the point of the purpose of the internships, allowing folks to sight into how the other teams are working, and more importantly, how their work complements one another.

I like the idea of getting people into their role and in their bucket and allowing the creativity to expand beyond that particular area of influence. It is great to understand how you guys came into this idea of breaking people out into those groups. Was that intentional or did you start to see how people were filling their roles?

This was probably with the second cohort of interns. We realized that what we had tried previously was not quite working for everybody. Some folks were comfortable switching from one work to another and others will need a little more structure than that. When we started working with the second cohort of interns, we identified areas of specialty, asked them for their interests, and then formed teams around them.

As much as we collaborate on a weekly or a bi-weekly basis in our meetings, we involve them quite a lot in the decision-making about how we organize. Both help us grow as an organization, but it also helps the interns have a lot of input into how their internship will help them, which is foundational to what we are doing.

I read something about the idea of reframing how your volunteers or interns are looked at in terms of a volunteer organization. One of the things that we see nonprofits struggle with is how engaged those individuals get with the organization. A lot of times, they are given tasks and accountabilities that seem a little bit not important. When a nonprofit can take that leap to create an actual job for their volunteers or the interns in your case, those people tend to jump into the deep end and they get engaged with those. Is that something you have found?

That is one of the major secrets to the success of Seaside that we have evolved into. Eric Magers is our Executive Director and Founder and he recognized this. We have been evolving that model over the couple of years that I have been working with the organization. It is a continuous learning opportunity as an organization to find and approve ways of working together.

When the pandemic hit and we were 100% virtual, we had already organized into teams that could operate virtually. Part of the organization has interns from around the world. The ability for them to find something that matters to them and for them to work on it is crucial, and it is something that has paid off for us.

How did you find that to work with your team? Is it similar to John’s experience? Is there any advice that you can give to some of the other nonprofit leaders out there who might be struggling with this?

I would echo that seeing this pay-off, the continuous evolution has been one of our key learnings. For me, I spent a little more than a decade in communications and public affairs consulting. I would argue that anyone in communications is a control freak, especially if you are in a client service business. Anytime you are representing an organization and your team is putting out content in the world that is representing that organization, it requires a level of polish and being buttoned up.

For me, especially as we continue to figure out the right ways to work together, part of the journey is figuring out when you should be in the weeds but then when you can let go. For me, that has been part of my professional growth in my Seaside Sustainability role, but it has also helped our team flourish. Empowering them has paid off tremendously.

It is an interesting process when one moves from that position of doing to this position of guiding. I have certainly struggled with it in the past. When I used to work in the corporate world, I bumped up against the idea with the vice president of the company that I was working for, but at that time, I did not get it. I was too young and I did not know what he was trying to say. It was coupled with the fact that he did not say it eloquently.

There was some project that I needed some help with, so I went to him and I started asking him for some assistance, and he said, “Stu, what you need to understand is that I do not do anything here.” In my 30-something-year-old brain, I glitched out and was like, “That was the weirdest, most obnoxious thing I have ever heard.” After becoming an entrepreneur and going through the challenges of letting go of some of the stuff that I used to do on a daily basis and now I have some teammates and people to help me with, it can be an interesting and difficult transition for sure.

RTNP 50 | Marketing Communications
Marketing Communications: When it comes to nonprofits, the secret sauce is to let volunteers and interns engage with the organization. This is an opportunity to find improved ways of working together.


I will relate to a similar experience. I’m retired now, but I had a 40-year career in technology. Over the 40 years, the number of technology shifts and approaches to project building changed dramatically from enormous top-down projects to grassroots bottom-up organizational structures using agile and scrum methodologies. I was at several companies that are transitioning to an agile approach.

One of the most difficult things was getting management to buy into the idea that even if we did not have a Gantt chart that showed absolutely every move we were going to make, we were going to be able to be successful in developing and rolling things out. That prepared me for this more hands-off approach and got a stewardship approach to leadership. It is something that has worked pretty well for our organization. Without something else to corrupt their understanding of how things work, the interns that we are working with who tend to be fairly young and college-age or shortly thereafter are graduates, and they are keen on this. They like this and it feels comfortable to them.

Given that Ashley and I are among the leadership at Seaside, we do not have a VP breathing down our neck and trying to tell us that this approach is not going to work. We find some issues, improve on them, and move on. One of the things that Eric had said in his conversation with you is that each cohort of interns stands on the shoulders of the one before, and that is how we think about it. It is a nice continuous learning opportunity.

It is a neat structure. Ashley, you said that it was an evolutionary process. John, maybe you would echo that and say iterative as well. When we can make small changes, it is like tacking that boat. We are not always going directly to the North Star or at the place that we are trying to reach, but we are moving in that general direction and making small adjustments as we go. It sounds like you have created a pretty successful team framework for that at Seaside.

Thank you. Having the humility to constantly challenge ourselves and say, “Does this make sense? Do these systems work?” It is a comfortable dynamic that both John and I have with one another with the team and, of course, with Eric and the other board members.

Have you formalized that? Is that part of a process that you have? Has it become something ingrained in how you handle the team dynamic that is natural?

Some aspects of it have been formalized. We were probably among the first teams to encourage or require this overlap period. The interns work for roughly four months. We always have a roughly 2 to 3-week overlap period so that at the end of one cohorts’ internship, we have already onboarded the next cohort and they learn from one another. That was something that we have pioneered and is now something that the entire organization does. We did not have a formal HR department when we first started this. Now we have an HR department that is made up of interns. They have set up the cycles for interviewing and hiring to account for this overlap. That is one key learning that is embedded in the process now.

Stu, you should see these onboarding materials that our teams have created. They could put certain corporate onboarding practices to shame. Our interns could be better oriented than most folks are in a job. I have been blown away by how comprehensive they are and how thoughtful and deliberative they have been in creating them. Also, this has been an intern-led process too. By going through the internship, our interns have said, “What do I wish I had when I started?” That has continued to improve and create more seamless handoffs between intern cohorts.

This is an interesting topic of discussion. I know that there are a lot of nonprofit leaders out there that struggle with how to manage, whether it is off-site contractors or even bringing on new team members. One of the things that you hear in business is how disruptive and costly a turnover can be. Businesses and nonprofit organizations are out there trying to solve this problem of, “How can we keep people longer?” It is interesting how you have embraced this idea of turnover as part of the system and even the culture at Seaside. It sounds like you have created these systems to take advantage of that turnover.

I do have to couch that and say we are always disappointed when a cohort of interns are highly functioning as a team and their internship is about to end. There is a tear or two that has been shed around that. The next cohort comes in and within a couple of weeks, they are highly functioning, and we are back up and running at full speed. It is pretty remarkable. It is not 100% of the time. We see these little peaks and valleys as the teams’ transition. We recognize that that is going to happen, we account for it, and everybody recognizes that. It is part of the system and process, and now everybody is comfortable with that.

One thing that seems to help as well is our fellows, who are more of intern managers, if you will, and have more of a senior position within the intern structure. In the last couple of cohorts, we have had some carryover. Somebody will complete a traditional internship and then stay on another period in an elevated role as a fellow. That has helped tremendously, creating that type of continuity when possible with the right type of candidate.

Being in touch with your team continuously is crucial to helping everyone stay focused on the task.

I believe you said you have eleven people in the cohorts. Is that accurate? Is it six per cohort?

We have eleven interns on our marketing team between the two sub-teams. Collectively, across the organization, we have 44. It is quite a large team. They are working on every aspect. We have a small HR team. We have interns working on development, which is fundraising. We are in science and education, so they are doing COVID safe projects that are more typically done in person. We are finding projects that can be done outside of that, but they are with the more science-oriented ones.

We have a tech team, which is a bit of an overlap with the operations team but is IT-oriented. They are in the process of building a sustainability calculator that is based on good scientific research that the marine science team has helped with. We also have a legislation and activism team, which has been important in some localized legislation around single-use plastic bands. Also, we are expanding outward into other areas. There is probably a couple that I have forgotten, but each of those teams has between 4 and 8 interns. The marketing team is a little bit bigger because we are an engine that keeps some of the other teams operating.

Roughly twenty-ish graduates have finished their internship, twenty stays on, and some overlap with the exits. Is there a pretty consistent flow of people in and out? Are there these graduation events where you have a large group leaving and another large group coming in?

It is the latter. It is 44 in and out every cycle or roughly 40 to 50. With some carryovers, it is more or less a three-tier system. When they first join as an intern, those who are interested in a leadership role pretty quickly can be promoted or announced as a project manager or project mentor. Those who are a little more senior and who have a longer time commitment may also be asked to be a fellow or an intern manager. That is where we get that longer-term carryover, but we have roughly 45 to 50 new interns who join and 45 to 50 who leave with that two-week overlap every four months.

At some point during there, you have about 80 to 90 interns. I was trying to get a feel for how the system works because it is an interesting model. I’m fascinated by how it works and some of our readers would be as well. What are some of the tips that you would have for organizing those teams? In that two-week overlap period, is that when things shuffle out and people figure out which division they are going to be working in for their internship? How does that all work?

Oftentimes, a lot of that is determined in the interviewing process. These intern management fellows that we discussed as well as our HR team, help with reviewing and selecting candidates for interviews among our applicants. In the episode you have with Eric Magers, our Executive Director and Founder, he shared this figure. I still am in shock about it every time I hear it. We have about 45 to 50 applicants for every internship position that we offer. It is highly competitive. As you can imagine, that speaks to the caliber of the interns that are part of our organization.

That is certainly nice to have that much interest in your program and all those great candidates being able to come in and take part in what you guys are doing.

During the interviewing process, this is also when John and I will often work together, especially between cohorts, to say, “What worked well with the last one? We might have projects on the horizon where we need some help?” This is where we will have a pretty specific list of criteria specific to the marketing and communications team of where we might need a certain type of skillset. Even tactically speaking, this is where we might supply certain types of interview questions and criteria to the interns who are leading that selection process. It starts from there.

I’m sure that once people get in if things are not working out as well as they had hoped or as well as you would hope, there is some opportunity to move around within the organization as people get their feet wet as well. Are things pretty well set during that hiring process, for lack of a better word?

Things are pretty well set, but there is the opportunity to move. I’m thinking about one of the interns that we had, not the cohort that finished up but the one before. She was on the legislation team. She expressed interest in learning more about marketing. She was on both things for a while. We had a project where we were working on a grant for another team. Because of her legislative experience and we knew her writing skills, she was helpful in pulling this grant together. It was right around Christmas, the end of the year, holiday time.

There is an example of a single intern who was on three teams over the course of her stint, which was a little bit longer than typical. It is quite possible that she was in another team as well. That is not uncommon, but it is equally common. If somebody has a specific skillset that they possess or want to develop, they will also stick to the same team. That is equally common.

RTNP 50 | Marketing Communications
Marketing Communications: You want to improve the turnover process, so you want to create a more seamless handoff between intern cohorts.


As you two work together as the co-lead of these closely-knit teams in part of your marketing and communications, what are some of the successes that you have been able to achieve or things you have been able to implement to make that run smoothly?

We meet weekly with our team. Ashley and I meet either one week with the project managers and the fellow who is assigned for the marketing team. In between weeks, we have an all marketing team meeting. There were 25 faces on the Google Meet screen when we had the overlap week, which was pretty interesting. That has been helpful.

We do use Google Meet. We also use Zoom occasionally when we need the capabilities that it offers. We tend to use Google Meet because it meets our needs. Continually being in touch with the team and having that bi-weekly touchpoint with the whole team is crucial to helping everyone stay focused and on task.

The other thing that we use is a product called Trello to keep track of tasks and manage those tasks. We use a kanban style approach to the task management from much of it. We have instituted a couple of interesting little twists there. Because we have got large teams with lots of projects going on and only two boards that we use on marketing, we have a couple of conventions that have helped to allow the team to focus during that once every two-week meeting.

We have a special label that says, “Agenda Item or Hot Topic,” or something like that. We do not have to look across the board or at all 50 or 60 items. The person who wants to make sure that that gets discussed during the course of the meeting labels it that way and then we know which things we need to focus on. It keeps things moving along.

Now that I have had a moment during John’s response, there is a couple of additions to what he laid out. We have had a shift since the interns’ marketing and communications team was formed. This has been an evolution over the years. When we first started that larger team structure, John and I often ran the meetings. It would be more agenda-driven from our side. I see that the meeting is more successful the less he and I speak. We have had it such that the interns who are running the team are the ones driving the agenda. We are there to be sounding boards and to offer guidance as needed.

It is a lot like my show. When I am not talking, it seems to go a lot better. I appreciate that. You mentioned scrums and agile a couple of times, John. Are you applying that development process to marketing and communications? Am I hearing that correctly?

Yes, but do not tell anybody. I deliberately stayed away from labeling or naming things. Here are some ideas that we can use, take them or leave them. We have evolved it over time so that it is not pure agile, and it’s not pure scrum. It is something that is a hybrid. We are not developing software here. It is a close analog. There are things that need to be delivered over time. Some aspects of them are complex and some are simple. This kanban approach is a pretty comfortable way. It is easy to understand and it is easy for folks to pick up on as they join the team. It is lightweight and self-sustaining as a result of that.

We have used a variety of different project management tools over the years. Trello was certainly one that we have played with over time. That Kanban approach does feel comfortable. It is moving things from bucket to bucket if I’m not mistaken.

We have introduced a couple of little nuances into it. We have a pause or on-hold. In some cases, we ended up with a lot of things in progress but not a lot of activity going on. As people were signing up for things, they were eager to get things done. We then realized we had 30 tasks or 30 projects in progress and not all of them were being worked on actively. We have introduced this idea of pause so it moves back to almost ready to start. As soon as we have some of the other things that are in progress done, we will move those first. It is an adaptation that we have identified that has been pretty helpful.

What is the team intern’s responsibility and structure within the marketing group itself? Are there different areas of expertise within your marketing cohort or are people working on a variety of different things?

I can start to describe especially more from the content side and then we will have John share more about operations. To give a quick list of what is within the content teams’ view, largely, that is our social media strategy and then the content development across all of our platforms. Overseeing blog posts as well, we have quite a robust pipeline of content for our blog and it has been a nice way to weigh in on timely topics and be that content engine for the organization.

Stop looking at the end of the pipe and start moving upstream.

Our newsletter also comes out of the content team and is often distributed bi-weekly or so. We have more than 2,000 subscribers as well as our media relations. We have a dedicated small group that oversees our public relations and relationships with the different reporters who are either hyperlocal and cover Seaside regularly and our friends as well as the broader environmental and regionally focused outlets.

On the operations side, there tend to be specialties in our web platform, which we use the Wix. We use MailerLite for our marketing. They have expertise in all of the techniques and capabilities of MailerLite where they develop that as well as for analytics. Because I have an interest and some skill in the individual realm, we have a visuals sub-team that scour our library for good-looking video and still images or find them through external resources like libraries or we develop them for ourselves. We built a content library and management system to keep that fresh.

There is probably a little bit of overlap in terms of web content unless, John, your team is handling that as well.

My team handles the content updates on the site except for the blog posts. Imagine the other teams at Seaside, especially the marine science team, legislation teams, and others. They are the creators of some of the content that gets then polished by Ashley’s content team. It then gets posted in the static areas of the site. The posting of the blog posts is pretty much self-sustaining within the content team.

What is upcoming for you guys?

One of the constant sources of need with any nonprofit is funding. We have tried several different things. In 2021, we were going to do our first online auction. We are gearing up for that. In addition to sitting on the marketing team as a board member, I also help out with development. This is one of the crossover areas for me. We are working with a company that will host our online auction. We are beginning to contact local businesses focusing on the visitors to Cape Ann, which is quite a beautiful area North of Boston. We see the overlap with visitors and businesses who serve the visitors to keep.

Our overlap is we are helping to preserve the beautiful, pristine environment that we have here. We are doing more than that. To the visitors, that is what’s important. We are soliciting donations from hotels and restaurants, tour companies, museums, and those kinds of things for that. It won’t be successful unless we have a big marketing push. That is something that we are gearing up for.

What system are you using? I get this question a lot from nonprofits trying to navigate this ongoing virtual space that we live in. Did you build those auction tools yourself?

No. The product is called Bidding For Good. The overall product is Panorama. We signed with them and began building out the auction portion of it ourselves. What we recognized was that they had some other interesting tools that would help us. For example, with our main donation page, we have been struggling a little bit to get a donation page with several features.

We wanted the ability to have recurring donations, the ability to have a predetermined donation amount, and donations in honor of or in memory of someone. They have a donation page product that allows us to do all of those things and it is quite easy to use. We are going to be quite happy with this product. There is a fairly expensive but fair cost to this. We thought it would not be worth the investment to sign up with them.

Are you using Google Ad Grants or anything to drive traffic to the auction?

We have not done well at that. We need more information on how to do that.

RTNP 50 | Marketing Communications
Marketing Communications: Organizing your interns has to be determined in the interviewing process. Your HR team has to review and select the right candidates for the position.


I’m going through that with one of the nonprofits I’m on. I serve on the board and their communications team. We are trying to integrate that as well. It is certainly money that is available to help try and drive some traffic and at least you can get some data out of it.

Stu, I can build on what John started. An important strategic thing we have learned in both our programming and our marketing is what our community values in terms of the geographic scope of our news and messaging. We found that there is a tremendous value in the information that is hyper-local to the North Shore of Boston. Seaside Sustainability is headquartered in Gloucester, Massachusetts. It is about an hour North of Boston. There is a pretty tight-knit group of communities.

At the same time, we have positioned ourselves as a regional, national, and even sometimes global resource because of our expertise and experience. John highlighted a program on top that is local to Massachusetts. At the same time, because of the way we are hosting the platform, it has that broader reach to the other large portion of our community that may not be in the Gloucester area.

When I think about a couple of other programs we wanted to share with you and readers, I will start with the one that is a little more hyperlocal and that is a collaboration with other stakeholders around preserving the health and water quality of a watershed called Chebacco Lake. It is a source of drinking water for a number of towns on the North Shore.

Because of our deep relationships in the area, Seaside, especially the chair of our board, Alan McCoy, has advanced our position as a convener to say, “We have a large network. Here is a body of water we all care about. How can we all work together?” Including other local water associations, nonprofits, and even some local politicians to identify water quality issues, secure funding, and then prioritize how to make that happen in the next couple of years.

You are mobilizing all of these organizations to come together to help with the life and longevity of this particular water source.

Secondly, the other big resource that is important to note is it has its roots in more of our local activations and speaks to Seaside’s expertise in advocacy and legislation. In coordination with Earth Day, we released a single-use plastic ban guide. This is an incredibly comprehensive resource. It is meant to be a playbook for aspiring activists throughout the United States and the world to help them propose legislation based on their community’s needs.

It includes a number of different resources. It is a step-by-step overview of passing a plastic ban and giving information on how to work with the different stakeholders in your community, including businesses who are often resistant to a plastic ban. It gives guidance on sustainable alternatives for a variety of single-use items. Even sample templates, letters, or flyers to help initiate change. We have made better resources, even going so far as helping draft what a ban could look like. It is serving up some of our local cities and towns.

I would share that in Rockport, Massachusetts, the neighboring town to Gloucester, where Seaside Sustainability is headquartered, has one of the most comprehensive single-use plastic bans in the entire country. We are able to take those learnings and all of that technical expertise in a nice, simple guide and give it to others.

There are so many people out there who are activists, but they want to do more. They are passionate, but they do not know where to start. Having that guide and being generous to share it could fuel a lot of great environmental activism in progress throughout the country.

Thank you.

Thanks for making that available. That sounds valuable.

We are using that as a model for additional legislation and activism in other areas. We recognize that the last place we should be looking is not the end of the pipe. We should be moving upstream. We are beginning to develop expertise and connections with other organizations as well as legislators to help with some other state and regional initiatives around extended producer responsibility, which is the beginning of the pipe.

You do not merely want to be considered the best of the best. You want to be considered the only ones that do what you do.

We are making the producers of plastics and other recyclable materials take more responsibility for introducing them into the stream. Reducing packaging is a better way than trying to clean it up at the end of the pipe. We are working on that. Once we develop that expertise, I anticipate that we will follow a similar model by making it available for others to follow.

Do it once and then figure out how to do a search and replace and change the plastic ban. This is another place that you guys have a particular interest in, in terms of sunscreen guides and things like that. It is cool to be able to scale things like that and have one’s eyes open for those opportunities where if this is the process to get legislation for a single-use plastic ban, maybe you are targeting grocery bags or whatever. You can duplicate that document and do some changes to it to make it a viable resource for other environmental causes that you are looking to roll out.

One company that is also 1% for the planet is a company called All Good, which makes reef-safe sunscreens. I’m sure that they would be interested in some of that information as well. Is there anything else that you guys have coming up? Any big new initiatives that you are trying to roll out that have some particular challenges you are trying to overcome?

I will say one thing we are excited about. John nodded to this in his earlier remarks about our transition from over the last couple of years being much a founder-led startup and now growing our team and being able to decentralize and have these various specialty groups. We are also growing into that longer-term view as an organization. One of the processes that are coming to an end is a strategic plan, having that multi-year focus. Eric Magers, our Founder and Executive Director, said in his episode that it is standing on the shoulders of giants. There has been so much amazing work that has been done. Seaside Sustainability has grown so much and we are poised to look at our next chapter of growth.

What process did you guys use to start exploring that idea of longer-term planning and thinking? Was there anything in that process that stood out as problematic or helpful? What did you guys go through to get to that planning document that you are about to wrap up?

We were helped by a friend of our chair who has helped a number of other organizations with similar efforts. He led us through the exercises. A sub-team of ours met periodically about twice a month in the evening for a couple of hours. He would guide us through a series of exercises and homework sessions offline. We were doing this virtually using Zoom and a couple of other tools. Miro and Mural are two that we use similar platforms for that. It revolved around re-finding what our core mission was.

We had begun to take on some additional projects that we were not sure whether they were sustainable. We wanted to make sure we were not spreading ourselves too thin. We are a small organization that has large aspirations and lots of energy, but we still can’t be everything for everyone. It helped us focus on our core mission and be able to put that in perspective of the things that we would like to do maybe at some point. We need to put that aside for the moment. It was helping us to hone that mission and message so that we can continue to grow and thrive.

I missed an important major project that the team is working on, and I know that Eric mentioned this in his episode, and that is the Green Scholars program. We have launched an MVP, Minimum Viable Product, of that online version of the Green Scholars program. This is a project-based learning curriculum for middle and high school students. It is adopted by a teacher, by a school, or the entire district and has between 5 and 20 students per course. They build, direct, and design around projects, but some fundamental curriculum materials are part of this as well. This is another example of how we make this program available at scale.

Previously, Eric would do this in person or one-on-one with a school or teachers in a district or at conferences. We recognized that Eric is a limited resource. How can we turn that into materials and a process that would allow schools and teachers beyond our normal reach to take advantage of that? We are working on building out that curriculum and putting it onto a platform that we can make available at a much lower cost. We are bringing the cost of delivering that down so that it is $100 or $200 a year for a membership or subscriber to have access to that and of the materials and all of the coaching that goes along with that subscription fee.

This will be a source of sustainable revenue for us. More importantly, it is a curriculum that helps through that delivery of STEM but also project-based learning in a way that is pretty unique and valuable to an audience that would not have been able to have access to it otherwise. That is something that is launching and something that we are excited about.

It feels like there is an opportunity there to inspire the next generation of environmental stewards and kids who are going to be doing some great things here for the world and get them excited about Seaside Sustainability. Potentially, they come in and become interns or grow with your organization as well. It is a great feeder program to the idea of environmental stewardship. I love it.

Some of the early interns that joined Seaside were former students of Eric’s. He had been a teacher for twenty years in the area. We have a couple who have been rebounds. We have had 2 or 3 that I’m aware of who did an internship several years ago when they were leaving high school. Now, they are in college and have come back to us. That happens and it is something we are hoping to see more of.

RTNP 50 | Marketing Communications
Marketing Communications: Seaside released, in coordination with Earth Day, a single-use plastic band guide. It’s a playbook for aspiring activists around the world to help them propose legislation based on their community’s needs.


That program certainly allows you to take it to scale and build out that next round of environmental stewardship.

Environmental leaders.

I have had a great time talking with the two of you. What is the best way for people to find out more about your organization and learn how they might be able to get involved?

Go to our website and sign up for our newsletter. We are www.SeasideSustainability.org. Follow our blogs. Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. We have a small but growing number of items up on YouTube and other platforms. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are our big ones.

I love having these conversations and talking about all the great things that you and your organization are doing to help the world. I also like for people to be able to take action or have something to take away and do. If there is one thing that you wanted people to do, what would you have that be?

I’m thinking about this as a nonprofit leader. My to-do is to figure out your sweet spot. We discussed a lot about learning for your organization as you go about doing that. You are always balancing as a small team, staying focused, and experimenting with your programs. That is part of the process for nailing clarity and how your mission comes to life.

My husband is a big Grateful Dead fan. When I was thinking about this episode and what I wanted to suggest, I would like to use a Jerry Garcia quote that sums it up best. He said, “You do not merely want to be considered the best of the best. You want to be considered the only one that does what you do.” That is at the heart of what we are working towards every day as we grow.

Be open to trying new things. It is a little trite, but it is certainly how we have been able to manage. We did not know what we were facing before, yet we could grow the team and mature the team. Because we were adaptable, we allowed things to happen. We tried new things and if it did not work out, we would nip it in the bud and we would move on. The willingness to embrace that change was important for us.

You guys are doing a great job. You have figured a lot of things out that people are struggling with. It is an iterative, evolutionary process. The fact that you are trying those new things and are leading the way here in terms of team management and navigating that challenging space and doing some great things for the world, I’m super inspired. I would encourage everyone to go check out SeasideSustainability.org. I want to thank you both again for being on the show. It was a lot of fun.

Thanks for having us.

Talk to you soon.

There you have it, another great episode of Relish THIS. Thanks for reading. If you would like to learn more about how to apply the audience engagement cycle to expand your organization’s mission, there are two things you can do. You can go to MissionUncomfortableBook.com to download a copy of my book. While you are there, you can get your purpose-driven marketing score to see where you can unearth some gold for your organization. If you would like to read the back episodes of the show or sign up to be a guest, go to RelishStudio.com/podcast. That is it for this episode. I will be back next time for another great episode of Relish THIS.


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About Ashley Desrosiers

RTNP 50 | Marketing CommunicationsAs a vice president at FoodMinds, Inc, a consulting and communications firm, Ashley solves problems with creativity, leading interdisciplinary teams and building effective partnerships. She brings that same approach to her work as a board member at Seaside and her commitment to protecting the world’s waterways and marine environments. A Delaware native, she moved with her husband to Rockport in 2014. In her free time, she tries her hand at beekeeping, bread baking and backyard gardening. A registered dietitian, she holds a bachelor’s degree in dietetics from the University of Delaware and a master’s degree in nutrition communication from Tufts University.


About John Russo

RTNP 50 | Marketing CommunicationsJohn is a 30+ year software industry veteran, having developed products and led projects working for global leaders in healthcare, biopharmaceutical services and financial services. Now retired on Cape Ann, with his wife Dianne, John has time to explore his passions: photography, travel, nerding out on architecture, design, local history and boats, while making time to give back to the community. He holds a BS in Environmental Science and Technology from Florida Tech. John operates Lightship Photography specializing in Interior Design, Architecture, and Product photography.