What makes a NAWBO chapter of excellence? It takes stellar member engagement and retention, deep-rooted camaraderie, and above all, a commitment to support women business owners at a local and national level. NAWBO’s Cleveland chapter has demonstrated all of the above and has been honored with the prestigious Chapter of the Year Award for the second consecutive year. We sat down with Cleveland Chapter President Janet Kendall White to learn about the chapter’s “sauce” and what they are working on next.
Q: What makes the Cleveland chapter unique in terms of how it supports women business owners in Cleveland and beyond?
A: We do what NAWBO chapters are supposed to do—first and foremost, we attract women business owners who want to collaborate and support each other and have women businesses in our community thrive. That’s our M.O. If there is anything unique about us, it’s that we take the “sauce” very seriously—and it really is a sauce, not a secret sauce, because there is no secret. It boils down to four things:
1. All of us should be striving to be a chapter of excellence. It’s talked about a lot, we are given a graphic about it, so we just follow it.
2. It’s a numbers thing. In terms of member attraction, retention, getting people to local events and getting members to tap into all that’s available from headquarters, including the virtual educational opportunities, networking events and national events. The numbers serve you.
3. To learn, honor and respect the history of NAWBO. National is going on 50 years, and the Cleveland chapter is five years behind that. For me personally, I recently got to spend some time with one of our prior presidents at the WBC and to hear what she went through and to honor her. We really respect and honor and stand on the shoulders of all our past presents, members and board members. We also understand what our connection to National brings to the table.
4. It takes a village. At the local level, it’s critical for the board to become a team and work together. This is all volunteer driven—it’s never one person. Our Chapter of the Year is because of last year’s board and the board before that. My job is to bring that same energy and effort to this year’s board. Cleveland is also what it is because of the other chapters that we have a chance to be on a call with, and other leaders from other chapters that we have a chance to learn from. We raise each other up locally, but also around the country.
Q: What are some of the chapter’s greatest local achievements in recent years (including navigating through the pandemic)?
A: The right leader shows up when it’s needed. There’s certainly truth to that. Lisa Crilley Mallis was president when the pandemic hit and Barbara Daniel is our immediate past president, so when we were all sitting in the board meeting when the COVID lockdown hit, the board pivoted on a dime under Lisa’s leadership and then Barbara was the calm in the storm throughout the pandemic. You will hear many NAWBO Cleveland members say that they don’t know what they would have done without the chapter during that time period—we didn’t miss a beat. We immediately started Zoom at Noon on Fridays. We pivoted the chapter to all virtual programming and tapped into what headquarters was offering—our first Zoom at Noon was a check in and to support each other. We also offered everything for free and opened up our services to everyone. We have people who are now joining because they were introduced to us during COVID.
Q: What exciting things can we expect from the Cleveland chapter in the future?
A: There’s a lot happening! One of the things we knew we could do better at was onboarding new members. We’ve put a lot of effort and piggybacked on what we got from headquarters and another chapter to improve our onboarding, making it consistent and connecting our members’ businesses with local and national benefits.
The other thing that really excites me is partnering with other chapters and promoting other chapters. I met with the co-president of the NAWBO South Florida chapter and together we hosted the Know Before you Go event focused on the Women’s Business Conference.
We are also starting to share virtual programs from other NAWBO chapters. For example, the Cleveland chapter is taking advantage of a virtual event that the Philadelphia chapter is hosting.
We are seeing that our members want to interact in-person to just socialize, connect and hang out. For example, one of our members owns a winery and we went to her winery to have dinner as a social get-together. We’re also having a high-tea get-together at another potential member’s tea house.
We have taken some baby (but significant) steps in the advocacy arena this year also. Our chapter represents 11 counties in Northeast Ohio and that represents about 33 of the representatives in our state. Members have volunteered to start meeting with representatives so that together we have a louder voice.
Q: What does this honor mean to the chapter?
A: It means we are doing things right. We are in all of our practices, processes and behaviors, living the chapter of excellence to the best of our ability. It means that we are raising each other’s businesses up. We are also having an impact on the Northeast Ohio economy, which means we can have a voice at the table.