Mark P. Fisher | [Pivot Series] What You Can Learn About Pivoting & Scrappiness from Camps and Retreat Centers’ Pivots During the Pandemic

Mark P. Fisher 7:00

I am so thankful I thank God and this skilled neurosurgeon, because when I got to the hospital, my wife was racing around trying to explain everybody. He needs surgery immediately. And she was kind of the hero of the story. Beautiful redheaded, Texas born wife has been married 32 years, five kids, four grandkids. She was a beast in the ER. I didn’t know any of this until later. Because that doctor did the six or seven hour surgery on my spine, pulled out a bunch of bones, drained all the blood, sewed me back up. Said to my wife, I don’t know if it worked. We’ll have to see.

And the next thing I remember, was waking up in the hospital bed, about one in the morning and all five of my kids were at the foot of my bed. My wife was there and my youngest son Brennan looked at me and said, “Paps, can you move your toes?” And I started wiggling my toes and made a sheared Hmm. And then they explained to me what had happened. And that that is one of those moments I like to say that perhaps some detours are not detours. Perhaps they’re actually the path. And that set me on an 18 month recovery course, that gave birth to Inspiring Growth.

John Corcoran 8:32

So you took a look at your life and you said, I got to make a change. This is not this is not the path for me. I want to do something new. How did you know what you were gonna do? Great question. I don’t think you had it. Was this your first entrepreneurial venture?

Mark P. Fisher 8:50

I yeah. No, I started a business in college. Okay, fine. And we used to wash and wax cars. Okay, that’s going for college. We called it Shine, no cracks in your nose waxing or cracks in your money backs.

John Corcoran 9:06

So how did you figure out that you wanted to advise companies?

Mark P. Fisher 9:11

Well, I knew that I had an entrepreneurial spirit even in the nonprofit space.

Unknown Speaker 9:17


Mark P. Fisher 9:20

what happened is the first three months, my board of directors at the sandy Cove said stay home, recover. So I did. And then about three months later, they brought me into the boardroom. And they asked me, john, the absolute right question any nonprofit board should ask their CEO and that is, do you have the strength to get back on the horse? Hmm.

Let me ask you something. Has there ever been a time in your life where you knew the next thing you’re about to say would change the trajectory of

Unknown Speaker 9:58

your life? Hmm, sure.

Mark P. Fisher 10:02

That’s it. That was the case. exactly what happened. Yeah. As I said, No, I don’t have the strength. And they were kind of surprised. And they were like, really? And I said, Yeah, I know what this job requires. So we had grown from a $4.9 million nonprofit to an $8 million. We had just done amazing work as a team. But I knew I didn’t have the strength to get on. So they did something very uncommon. Especially in the nonprofit sector. They said, Mark, please go home. Come back in 24 hours, we’re gonna talk and pray and decide what to do with you. Okay. Imagine walking into a room of 12 or 13 people board members really your friends but and the HR manager sitting there with a notepad we’re gonna find out what happens. I know what’s going on. Yeah. Well, let me just tell you what they said to me. shocked me.

They said, We love you. And we appreciate everything you’ve done in growing this organization, what your family sacrificed. So here’s a one year severance. We’re going to cover your medical. And we’re going to hire a career coach for you. To help you in the transition to what’s next. That john, that’s what gave me the runway to give birth to Inspiring Growth.

Unknown Speaker 11:26

That’s amazing. That’s really a

Mark P. Fisher 11:28

matter of fact, I won’t tell you something else that you’ve really inspired me. You talk a lot about the people in our lives that have made a real big difference in our life. And after you and I first talked months ago, I got this idea. Why don’t I spend five days on LinkedIn and Facebook and call out five people in my life that made a huge difference in my life. And so I wrote a story about them because I like to say, five years from today, you and I are going to be the same people except for two things. The books we read are the people we meet.

And so I called them out, showed them a picture. Matter of fact, in doing that, one of the guys that I chose was the career coach that walked with me for six months, who at the end of all of the process of preparing me for my next gig, said to me, Mark, you’re an entrepreneur, you’ve been disguised entrepreneur in the nonprofit sector, start your own business, and just start giving your business away to every single contact you have in your 25 years of life. And so I started writing emails to presidents of organizations, with the subject line limping leader for hire. That’s what gave birth to his home. It was called the P Fisher marketing group. And about two years in, one of my clients called me and he said, Mark, you, you’ve really inspired growth in me as a leader, and we’ve grown 62% and I’m thinking of running for mayor of Prescott, Arizona. What do you think? Oh, wait a minute, Greg, what did you say at the beginning?

John Corcoran 13:07

I realized he had called out to me. My why. And so now, what I DBA is Inspiring Growth. That’s great, great leaders in their brands. That’s great. And thank you for sharing that story. I love that you did that. I think everyone could learn from that. So everyone listening to this, if you just do nothing more after this interview, but going and posting on your Facebook or your LinkedIn or whatever, and just sharing publicly, someone who’s inspired you could be one could be five could be 10, whatever it is. That’s such a wonderful gesture. I love that you did that. I want to go backwards a little bit and I want to dive into your story a little bit more. You love stories. I love stories. What drew you to kind of the hospitality industry because you actually did a stint in radio. But then after that point, you worked with a number of different camps and retreats. facilities and conference facilities, many which grew tremendously. So first, I want to ask about how you got into that focus. And then second, I want to ask about some of the strategies that you employed in order to grow them.

Unknown Speaker 14:12

Great question.

Mark P. Fisher 14:15

Um, I was 16 years old in Northern Virginia. And my mom had had a faith experience. And our neighbors invited her and me to go to this camp in the Adirondacks of New York. And at the time, my I was long haired, hippie freaked, and I would sign my name’s DS and r&r, drug sex and rock and roll. And I didn’t want to go to this camp because I heard it was a Christian camp of faith. And all I knew about Christians was they don’t have fun.

Unknown Speaker 14:52

That’s all I knew.

Mark P. Fisher 14:54

And my mom used a strategy on me that I still am embarrassed to admit but she said Mark a bout like 70% of the campers are girls.

Unknown Speaker 15:05

I’m in.

Mark P. Fisher 15:09

And I had the time of my life. It was transformative. It taught me about my life, about confidence, leadership, about humility. I can tell you story after story. Well, fast forward the tape. I was so impacted by that camp, that when I was a senior in high school, I decided I wanted to go back and become the program director on that island on screen like in New York. And I thought to myself someday, I think I’ll be a camp director, maybe when I’m in my 50s. What I didn’t realize is after I got married, my mother took my wife to a conference where a well known woman speaker was at a place called Sandy Cove, on the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay. And when Laurie came back from that, after we’d only been married a couple years. She said, Let’s go together and when I went, I met the president. I heard about all his struggles in sales and marketing. I said, Hey, I’ll just volunteer to help you. And one thing led to another and I became the first VP of Sales and Marketing for Sandy Cove. Six years I served there, I left and went out to a place called glorietta in New Mexico for about 10 months, too long. And then ended up in California at a place called forest home, six camps, retreats and conference centers in Southern California. And, and so it just got in my blood because I saw the power of camp. Hmm, yeah.

John Corcoran 16:31

And I couldn’t agree more. Yeah, it was one of the things that interested me in your story, because I went to overnight summer camps as a kid, you know, like, a couple of weeks, and I was around age, you know, 10 to 12, nine, 910 12 you know, that sort of thing. And it had such a big impact on my life, even though I look back now and you think it was like a couple of weeks of your life, you know, about the

Mark P. Fisher 16:54

impact, what kind of impact can you attribute to that?

John Corcoran 16:58

You know, I think Most importantly, when I, when I went through other experiences in my life, like going to college or starting your first job or starting any new job, when you’re in your 20s, you’re starting out in your career, I felt like I would be okay. Because the experience is summer camp often you’re being dropped off for the first time without your family in a foreign foreign place. Oftentimes, without anyone knowing anyone there. You have to comply with other people’s rules, all kinds of rules, right? It’s just so such a different experience. And and, you know, at least my experience was, it was really hard, but then you adjust and then you love it. And by the time you leave a week or two later, you’re just transformed. That’s the best way I can describe it.

Mark P. Fisher 17:47

And I think what you just described is something that I’ve watched thousands of young people, including myself experience, which is and most people can’t articulate this, especially in a Our youth, but our parents trusted us. Now, they may have just wanted to get rid of us for a little while. But there was this level where we were given some level of trust and freedom. Yeah. And then in that space of freedom, we could literally be whoever we wanted to be because almost nobody knew us. Yeah. Sometimes it was about reinventing ourselves in a residential creation driven, Counselor focused environment. And I gotta tell you, most kids grow up in camp, they’re given opportunities to lead and, and create and learn and, and I just see it’s funny because as soon as you and I first talked, I heard about your camp experience, and I realized you’re a leader. You’re a visionary. I think a lot of those seeds were planted at a camp. You just didn’t realize it.

John Corcoran 18:58

I think so too. I mean, you have You meet all a new group of other kids and you have to adapt really quickly. And you’re going to get along with some and you’re not going to get along with others. And you have to navigate that without your parents’ support for the first time of your life. And, you know, seek out mentors in the form of other counselors, or older kids, counselors in training, that sort of thing. Yep. And, yeah, I mean, just everything about it is an amazing adventure. And you learn skills too, that you never maybe haven’t explored at all before because the camp stretches you and forces you to try new things. And yeah, it was just so for me it was an amazing experience. And so yeah, my oldest is hitting that age. Now. Unfortunately, this summer, it’s not happening, but I’m hoping that he’s nine. So he’s, he’s hitting an age. I’m hoping next summer. I’m hoping he’s gonna go back to the camp that I went to which is Belknap which is on Lake Winnipesaukee. It’s in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, right. It’s been there for over 100 years, it looks exactly the same as it did 100 years ago, and that’s, that’s a blessing and

Mark P. Fisher 19:58

a curse by the way. You? Because camps like to stay the same, but then they don’t innovate?

John Corcoran 20:05

Oh, yeah, that’s a good point. And then they die. Yeah, that’s a good point. So that’s a great question. So how does a camp then preserve its identity? And also not suffer that trap of failing to innovate?

Mark P. Fisher 20:21

Ooh, great question. So, when I was hired by Sandy Cove, there was a lot of downward spiral and registration and revenues and so forth. And it was almost, you know, started in the 40s. So what I did is I went in and I asked everybody who worked there, a series of questions, what do you love? What would you keep? What would you get rid of? Those kinds of questions and, and it took me about eight months to chart a course. But I spent a lot of time studying the founder and the founder started this bad thing and that is really an amazing story. And I realized that I was standing on the shoulders of an innovator, that if I, because people were a little put off by some of my changes, and they would say things like, our founder would have never done that. And I had to get tough skin. And I said, actually, our founder was an innovator. And that’s what we’re doing right now. So I hope you’ll stay around. But this is the direction we’re going. So I think it’s partly in history. Got to really understand the history before you can make changes. I think it’s also listening to the customers asking questions, the guests and the people who use it. I remember the first week I saw this, it was a thing, kind of a conference with adults. And nobody was talking to themselves and each other and I was like, What is going on? So I started asking questions. The more I learned about why they were there, and what their history was, I realized we could shape an experience that would change this into a connecting experience and not just a Content dumping experience. And so I think for anyone to innovate, they have to really ask questions. That’s the core of Inspiring Growth, curiosity. And the Curiosity creates focus. And then focus tells a new story

John Corcoran 22:15

How did you make it into a connection experience? What did you do?

Mark P. Fisher 22:19

Well, so in the case of five weeks in the summertime, we changed the focus to be in this conference experience where adults came in and heard a speaker dump into their brains. And we changed it to what we call family camp. And we encourage kids instead of pushing them aside, and we said, you know, moms and dads have a hard time throughout the year connecting with their kids. What if we create an experience where they connect with God and each other in a beautiful creation, that creates transformation in their family? So we cast that new vision, and some people are pissed. They’re just mad because I was taking something Oh, I remember one time Guy called me goes, single old guy. He says, Why did you do away with Memorial Day? March, you know, he’s a go around with a flat on Memorial Day. And I said, well, we’re doing family camp. Now, Memorial Day weekend, he goes, why don’t have a family? I said, Well, not for you anymore. Then he punched me in the face. And that was the end of that. No. I said, we have these three things for you. And I learned how to say no, but yes, no, that’s you anymore. But yes, here are three things you can choose from because we’re building this thing called family camp for this audience. And we started to see our average age come down. And then we saw this boom in attendance. And then on Thursday night, we did a fundraising banquet and that began to fund all of the improvements for the future because those people loved those happening in their families. Hmm. The problem was, that old organization was like a

Unknown Speaker 23:58

cruise ship.

Mark P. Fisher 24:00

And I was acting like I was on a jet ski Hmm. And I was making turns left and right really quick, which I think contributed to a lot of my stress and health issues.

John Corcoran 24:09

Mm hmm. So how do you get every analysis that has been there for a while is used to things being a certain way? How do you get there and how do you rally them around the new vision?

Mark P. Fisher 24:20

Well, I think, you know, there’s an old fundraising principle, that Money Follows vision. So I think once you can cast a clear vision that answers the question, what’s in it for me? Then I end others I think, then you start asking your team, hey, is that where you want to go? And if not, that’s okay. You got hired for a different vision. This is the vision. So maybe it’s time for you to move on. And the more you get people to buy into that vision and that mission in that purpose, then, all you see is excitement and innovation and ideas.

I remember I hired a young young guy. He started in the despit in San Diego. And I made him in charge of the programs, family camp and so forth. And I said to him one day, listen, this is my print. This is my philosophy. I’m gonna cast a vision. You figure out how to get there and whatever creative, innovative, fun missionally focus where you want to. He was like, give me an example. I said, Well, now Sandy Cove is in the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay. So I looked across the water, and I said, on the other side over there as a town, I’d like to get to that town by Thursday, and I have $1,000 you tell me how I’ll do whatever you need to get there. He was like, I get it now. And so as I begin to say, we’re going to we’re going to our target is families or women or senior adults or whatever the target audiences, then he created a mission minded program. That met the needs of those people and don’t hear the funniest part of the story. He’s now the president. Cool.

John Corcoran 26:09

Good higher than So, um, talk about some of the differences you know, in my introduction here I mentioned that some of the different for profit and nonprofit organizations that you’ve, you know, one grew 98%, another got 99% satisfaction rate. I want to ask you about that about getting reviews and ratings, the importance of that right now, in a moment, but, but talk about some of the different growth strategies you’ve employed or tell me a story about one of your clients that you’ve helped with a growth strategy that’s led to some stunning growth figures.

Mark P. Fisher 26:45

Yeah. So I’ll tell you about angels crest out in Los Angeles. They were stuck at about $800,000 of revenue a year, a small little camp that rented property from the National Forest Service and when I got in, I started doing what I do. That is there’s no mystery to how I inspire growth. It’s with curiosity, focus, and stories. So I asked a bunch of questions. And one of the questions I asked one day was, how much do we charge for two nights five meals for a retreat at your camp? They told me, “ What was last time we raised prices? They said, We haven’t for three to five years. I said, Well, what if we raise prices? Oh, I don’t know if we should. People will say no. I said, Well, let’s do a comparative analysis. So we did. Every year, since I started with that organization, we’ve raised the price. And we’ve gone from $800,000 to $1.4 million. Now the second was just one thing. The second thing is this is a little known secret in the nonprofit sector. Did you know that Google will give a nonprofit up to $10,000 worth of free advertising every month. Well It’s called the Google grant program. Well, so what I do is help my clients apply for the grant, get the grant. And then we manage all of the Google AdWords, because the old way was they would go down, talk to people, invite them in. Well, you and I both know that the new way that people decide where they’re going, is they google it? Yeah. So then we built a Google campaign based on targeted things within the LA region. And we saw our attendance jump. So you know, one of those statistics, we had a 58% increase in revenues over the course of just about 18 to 20 months. Wow. So it was asking questions, finding what was going on before, because we all became myopic. We keep doing what we do. And until someone says, what, Hey, what about this? And if you’re teachable, and you’re willing to try something, because this CEO is very, I mean, he was, as Patrick lencioni says, he was humble and hungry and and, and he would say he’s smart because he hired me.

John Corcoran 29:04

And talk about, you know, I know, one of the strategies you employed, you know, you’ve advised conference facilities and started, for example, a writers conference or started a festival, using the facilities just as a way of leveraging the facilities further filling it with another event. So, talk about that strategy.

Mark P. Fisher 29:24

I call it the surfboard strategy. Because people come to me and say, hey, I’ve got a great idea. Like, for example,

I want to do this, this huge event. And I say, Well, are there other waves out there that are telling you that that event will have a lot of people? Well, I don’t know. I said, Well, let’s find the waves that are already existing. And let’s put our surfboard in front of the wave. Right. In other words, you can’t just say we’re having a writer’s conference, you got to get the writers to come. There’s got to be enough interest out there. There has to be interest. And now with Google, you can do google keywords. Word searches to find out what people are searching for. And you can make a very data driven decision about will people want to do that. Now in what that example was a place out in New Mexico, where called glorietta is a conference on a huge 2300 acres. middle of nowhere, but what I started seeing was Albuquerque has this big huge thing with balloons, you know, that got hot air balloons. Yeah, I was like, what there’s thousands of people who come to Albuquerque that are adjacent to Santa Fe. So what if we did and Who are they? How old are they? What are they about? What if we created a senior event and some 50 and above and which I qualify now? And we did this thing with the hot air balloons and we housed them homeless.

Well, just, you know, it’s that entrepreneurial with that, where’s that need that you can meet? I like to say You see, you need to meet it.

John Corcoran 31:01

Yeah, yeah. Well, we’re running a little short on time here. But, you know, there’s been a lot of disruption. A lot of companies are having to pivot change plans, much like you did after your surgery change plans. So, talk to me a little bit about some of the clients that you’re working with and how companies are pivoting, how they’re exploring new opportunities.

Unknown Speaker 31:28

I’ll tell you two stories. One.

Mark P. Fisher 31:30

It’s on my podcast, Inspiring Growth podcast, Episode 29. And it’s the secret of transition. And it’s a story of how one camp and a homeless shelter in Seattle got together and realized camps were closed, homeless shelters were overflowing. They decided to get together and have a partnership and they’re helping each other helping people get off of drugs and who are addicted or homeless or hungry and struggling. One who was struggling, looked at somebody who was n’t instead, what if we could do something together? I think partnerships right now is a great and important focus. I’ll give you another example. One of my clients called Safe Harbor behavioral counseling, it’s mental health counseling. They do counseling both in person and by video. I was walking with the CEO one day. I do these walkabouts with leaders. And I was asking him, what percentage of your clients that call and want counseling, end up not booking a session? Because of whatever reason he goes, he told me, I think it was like 25 to 30%. And I said, What was it? What’s the number one reason they say their health insurance? copay is either too high or their deductible is too high. I said, Well, what if we started a nonprofit to help fund the difference for people who have financial needs. So this month, after months of work, we gave birth to harborevoke Community Services. It’s a nonprofit To help people struggling to pay for mental health, say yes to mental health, and we’re going out and getting grants in order to fund it so that people can actually get help. So we’re helping both those who are struggling, the counseling business, and so many people are being laid off right now. I’m actually saying to businesses, as an exit strategy to say goodbye as sort of a severance to those you’re saying goodbye to. What if you provided them three professional hours of counseling at no charge to them, to help them make a step forward? Just like, what happened to you? Exactly what happened to me? I try to pay attention to my story.

John Corcoran 33:44

Great. All right. Well, I want to wrap things up, Mark. This has been great, very inspiring. wrap things up with a question I was asked, which is, let’s pretend we’re at an awards banquet, much like the Oscars or the Emmys and you’re receiving an award for Lifetime Achievement, for everything you’ve done up to this point, and who do you think it may be? The five people that you already called out on your Facebook and your LinkedIn, maybe others as well.

Mark P. Fisher 34:06

Well, it’s hard to pick one. But I will pick one of the five I did call out. His name is john Ashman john is a part time cowboy, and a full time visionary influencer. And about 25 years ago, he was a VP of an association of camps around the country. And I was a young kid. And I was asking all these questions at the first convention. And he came up to me afterwards and he said, You ask really good questions. Would you be interested in helping camps all over the country, increase their sales and marketing by doing some seminars, doing some things to help. I ended up writing two pieces called Marketing Without A Marketing Director and something else and john, john actually gave me a book years ago called Same Kind of Different as Me you Call me when I had my medical issues. And he said, I heard you’re out of work. And would you like to start consulting because I’m now the president of the Association of rescue missions, homeless shelters around the country. And I said, really, if I can do it from my couch, and so he was one of my first customers of Inspiring Growth. And what that led to was a relationship with the author of the book, Ron Hall, who I am now the booking agent for and we go around the country helping raise money to help get the homeless off the street and back on their feet. I worked with Paramount Pictures to produce the movie, same kind of different as me which I’m in honsou Renee Zellweger, Greg Kinnear, john void Olivia Holt, and it took me down a path because somebody believed in me before I do. So I’m grateful for John Ashman.

John Corcoran 35:49

That’s great. That’s a great story. Thanks so much Mark. Where can people go to learn more about you and your website?

Mark P. Fisher 35:55, that’s biz.

John Corcoran 35:59

Excellent. All right, Mark. Thanks so much.

Mark P. Fisher 36:01

Yep. Thank you, John.

Outro 36:02

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