Reimagine Update

Reimagine Update
October 28, 2019

To download a PDF of the Reimagine Update, click here.

We have prepared this Reimagine Update to give our friends, supporters and others in our community a more complete understanding of why WREN went into hibernation, our Reimagine Initiative, and our strategies and plans for the remainder of 2019 and 2020.

Our First 25 Years and Factors Leading to WREN’s Hibernation
When WREN was founded 25 years ago, our mission was:

  • Supporting better lives and livelihoods.
  • Enhancing the vitality of Bethlehem’s Main Street.
  • Practicing innovation in rural economic development.

Through the years, we have helped more than 8,500 people start their own business as well as strengthen their business and life skills. The Gallery at WREN and the Local Works Marketplace support the livelihoods of local artists while also increasing the vitality of Main Street by providing educational and community programming and events.

Our mission and accomplishments have widespread support in the community.
Over the years in addition to the store and gallery, WREN had also accumulated a portfolio of physical assets that included the WREN Central building on Park Avenue in Bethlehem and the Maker’s Studio in Berlin. WREN also secured space for a gallery at the Omni Mount Washington. This portfolio of physical assets put a financial strain on the organization.

WREN, like most nonprofits, was highly dependent on grants for income. Grants are often awarded to develop new programs and services and are not designed to provide ongoing financing for physical and capital expenses. Although WREN was able to secure income through its membership program, the income was not enough to support the expenses associated with maintaining the three buildings.

The complexity of organization grew as WREN sought additional income in a variety of areas including organizing farmer’s markets in Gorham and Bethlehem, managing incubator space in the WREN Central building, offering business classes and coaching for artists and entrepreneurs, and creating a maker’s space in Berlin. The number of staff and unique expertise required to lead and manage each of these areas of operation grew. This growth of staff and programming in different locations made the organization more difficult to manage both on a personnel and financial level. Former employees and board members reported that it was difficult to secure accurate and up-to-date financial information that accurately reflected the financial viability of specific programs and the entire organization. Without this information, it was difficult for leadership to make the financial decisions that were required to reverse the financial decline of the organization.

Another factor that contributed to WREN’s hibernation was the changes in leadership. WREN experienced several changes in the Executive Director position and board membership over a period of a few years. Changes in leadership often lead to changes in vision, priorities and management styles which does not bode well in building vision, momentum, coherence and consistency within an organization. When an organization is struggling financially, it is even more important for an organization to have strong and consistent leadership. Unfortunately, WREN was not able to maintain strong and consistent leadership through this difficult period.

To protect WREN’s dwindling cash reserves, the Board made the difficult decision to put WREN into hibernation on December 31, 2018.

Reimagine Accomplishments
WREN’s hibernation has been difficult for the WREN employees who lost their jobs, the store vendors whose income relied on the sale of their products in the Local Works store, and the community members who enjoyed attending WREN classes, workshops and community events. Board and community members who remained committed to seeing WREN through this difficult period also had to deal with the emotional, financial and legal fallout of the hibernation. Although WREN’s Board of Directors examined different operating models for the future including art cooperative, business incubator, co-working space, community hub, and pop-up store, most of the energy and resources of the remaining board and community members was focused on protecting the dwindling cash reserves (WREN was still paying overhead on three buildings), and delivering workshops, classes and services to fulfill grant program requirements.

In July, WREN met two critical goals. WREN sold the WREN Central and Berlin buildings. WREN was also awarded a community development block (CDBG) grant of $125,000 to support the microenterprise program. This microenterprise program provides business development workshops and services to WREN’s business members (approximately 800) and supports the innovative Launching Emerging Artists Practicum (LEAP) program.

During the hibernation and Reimagine period, WREN Board and community members contributed countless hours to managing and funding the day-to-day operations of the organization. Because of the work done during the reimagining process, we have

  • Significantly reduced our overhead by consolidating our assets to one location.
  • Re-opened the Local Works Marketplace at WREN and The Gallery at WREN.
  • Restarted our LEAP and Technical Assistance programs for WREN members.
  • Secured funding to support our business development programming for 2019-20.
  • Showcased the important role WREN plays in the community.
  • Engaged professionals and advisors to provide guidance and expertise to developing the long-term sustainability of the organization.

We thank everyone for their unwavering support during these difficult times.

WREN’s 2019 – 2020 Strategic Goals and Plans
Throughout 2019, WREN Board and community members have achieved major milestones with very limited staff and resources. We are striving to becoming a sustainable organization by working on achieving the following strategic goals.

  • Make the The Local Works Marketplace and The Gallery at WREN profitable. This will require WREN to find innovative ways to utilize the store and gallery space to generate additional revenue for the organization while providing valuable benefits to our members.
  • Recruit advisors and volunteers to fill essential roles. Throughout this past year, WREN board and community members have filled essential roles that are typically completed by paid staff. WREN will continue to recruit advisors and volunteers to contribute their time, expertise, and/or financial resources to help WREN survive this next critical period.
  • Continue our core LEAP Program. WREN’s innovative LEAP Program helps local artisans and makers start and grow their business by providing them with skills and information in areas such as marketing and finance.
  • Encourage tourism in the region by collaborating with local and regional partners. WREN will contribute to the growth of the tourist industry by collaborating with other partners and developing programs and services for entrepreneurs and small businesses working in the tourist and service industries.
  • Develop a viable business plan and implement standard business and financial planning practices to ensure the long-term sustainability of the organization.

Helping WREN Move Forward
Over its 25-year history, WREN has weathered many storms. When WREN closed its doors on December 31st it left a hole in the community. Although this period was very challenging it helped to increase awareness of the value WREN provides to the entire community.

In the upcoming weeks, WREN will be asking you to make a financial contribution to WREN through its annual appeal.  Your contribution will make a statement of how much you value WREN.

You can help WREN in many other ways:

  • Bring your family and friends to shop at the Local Works Marketplace and Gallery at WREN. Your purchases will not only help WREN pay expenses associated with maintaining the store and gallery, but also provide valuable income to WREN artists and makers who make a substantial portion of their income through the store.
  • Attend WREN events. Your presence helps to build community and increase the vitality of Bethlehem.
  • Contribute your passion or expertise and help create additional educational or cultural opportunities for WREN members and the entire community.
  • Renew your WREN membership. We will be sending you updated membership information very soon.

Thank you!