A “Shark Tank” Inspired Model for Motivating Staff and Investing in Community

Tennyson-Tank1.jpgThis year, a local Colorado nonprofit that serves children launched a new initiative based on the hit TV show “Shark Tank.” Their spin off of this idea, Tennyson Tank, would offer a pool of $25,000 to fund projects staff presented to their own panel of judges that would benefit the nonprofit, staff, children and the community.

The inspiration for Tennyson Tank started as a conversation between Natalia Samman and CEO Ned Breslin about encouraging community engagement and how the Tennyson Center could potentially light a fire around their workers. The Tennyson Center for Children provides a therapeutic school, crisis stabilization unit, residential mental health facility, and community-based services for children who have been the victims of abuse, trauma, and other mental health issues, as well as their families. Tennyson Tank gives staff that support these children and understand their needs an opportunity to tap into their personal passions and creativity, providing a forum to make their professional dreams come into fruition at the organization.

Ned Breslin, CEO of the Tennyson Center for Children, explained “Tennyson Center’s goal is to build a community of collaboration and we are excited to share lessons from our efforts to unleash staff talent in new ways. Tennyson Tank seems to have been one way to do exactly that – unleash staff talent and ideas for the good of kids.”

Natalia Samman spearheaded the event, where four projects were presented by staff members, showcasing how their ideas would benefit the nonprofit and community as a whole. These projects ranged from building a traverse wall for students to learn climbing skills from and further boost self-esteem, to creating a sensory room as a safe space for individuals with developmental disabilities or trauma histories to stabilize and calm down. Each presenter incorporated an interactive component, for example demonstrating a real-life version of a sensory room for panelists to enter and experience.


Although a little less cutthroat than the billionaire investor’s demeanor on Shark Tank, the four judges asked hard hitting questions on allocating space, upkeep and costs to ensure each project was well researched. Judges deliberating included voices from all sides of the organization, from a member of the board to a young client, 11-year-old Cadence who was nominated to be a part of the decision making process for her charisma and creativity. And after all four projects were presented, Breslin explained that “the pot was increased to ~$40,000 because the ideas presented were so powerful and so profoundly impactful on kids.”

The Tennyson Center plans to make this an annual event where they can continue to inspire staff to share their ideas on how to improve the nonprofit’s services and the Denver community around the organization. The Tennyson Tank initiative could serve as a good model for other nonprofits looking to boost morale and utilizing your own staff to bring exciting new ideas to the surface.

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