“We are lucky to have a highly skilled board of directors that represents the breadth of the Lake Street community. However, we’ve been under-utilizing our board members.” – Allison Sharkey, executive director of Lake Street Council
“I love Lake Street!” are the exact words you’d want to hear from the executive director of the Lake Street Council. Allison Sharkey sees her role of leading the organization that engages, serves, and advocates for the Lake Street business community in Minneapolis as more than a job. As executive director for Lake Street Council, she gets to support the community she has called home for the past 15 years. “For me, being on Lake Street has always had some of the excitement of traveling,” said Allison. “I love getting to know the owners of the restaurants and stores where I do most of my shopping and eating out.”
Working Behind the Scene for a Vibrant Lake Street
For over a hundred years, Lake Street has been a welcoming place for immigrants to come and open a first business. The Lake Street corridor spans 14 neighborhoods and has approximately 2,000 small businesses. Lake Street Council works on behalf of these business owners and the larger community on marketing, small business advising, and planning for the corridor’s future. This year, the organization is celebrating its immigrant-rich heritage by supporting and promoting the immigrant and refugee entrepreneurs who make Lake Street so vibrant, including several business owners from Latin America and East Africa.
LSC has recently been focused on creative placemaking in the Bloomington-Lake area. “Here you can eat tamales at the Mercado Central, visit the Somali Museum of Minnesota, and see a show at In the Heart of the Beast all in one afternoon,” said Allison. The Council has secured over $2.5 million in funding this past year to improve transportation access to Lake Street, which will transform the confusing intersection of Hiawatha and Lake and make it easier to connect between the Midtown Greenway and Lake Street.
Better Board Meetings, Ambassadors, & Engagement
In 2018, Allison and the board approached Propel Nonprofits for board development. “We are lucky to have a highly skilled board of directors that represents the breadth of the Lake Street community,” said Allison. “However, we’ve been under-utilizing our board members.” Allison knew there was untapped board potential and was looking for ways to share their skills and connections while also grappling together with the challenges the Lake Street community faces.
The organization was in a strong place financially and was looking to become better ambassadors for the Lake Street corridor and the work of the Council itself. In early 2019, the Lake Street Council board worked with Amanda Ziebell Mawanda, one of Propel’s strategic services consultants. Amanda had everyone work on their elevator pitch as one concrete way of helping board members develop their confidence in speaking on behalf of the organization. “The differences between everyone’s elevator pitch also illuminated some opportunities to dive deeper into our strategic vision,” noted Allison.
Amanda also worked with the board to structure more engaging meetings by creating agendas that make time for four key things: relationship building, learning together, board business, and generative thinking. Allison noted that the board development process also helped the board to be more intentional about its composition. “We’ve identified gaps on our board, and now we’ll determine which gaps are highest priorities to fill and identify new people to invite onto the board,” said Allison.
“It can be hard to prioritize board development when you’ve got programs to run and a grant application due by 4:00 pm on Friday,” said Allison. “Working with Propel helped us take a vague notion that our board could be more engaged and effective, and helped us break it down into manageable chunks. We identified several specific tasks and put them on our calendar, making it much more difficult to procrastinate on needed long-term changes.”
Visit Lake Street this summer!
Summer is the perfect time to explore all that Lake Street has to offer and to support small businesses. Watch for a series of videos telling the stories of Lake Street’s immigrant restauranteurs. The Lake Street Council is hosting an outdoor community dinner on August 10 that will feature food from around the world. Come and share a meal with your neighbors and hear the stories behind the dishes.
Photos provided by Lake Street Council.