Interested in starting your own journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Susan Berta, Co-Founder of Orca Network, located in Freeland, WA, USA.

What's your organization, and who are your members?

Orca Network is a nonprofit organization my husband and I co-founded in 2001 in Washington State. Our mission is to raise awareness about the whales of the Pacific Northwest and the importance of providing them with healthy and safe habitats. Our programs include the Langley (Whidbey Island) Whale Center, the Whale Sighting Network, Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network, and efforts to return Lolita/Tokitae, the Southern Resident orca at the Miami Seaquarium, back to her home waters in the Salish Sea. Through our programs and our Education staff, we hold annual events, present to schools, communities, naturalists, and boaters, and we advocate for the whales, their prey, and their habitats. Our "customers" are the whales and community members who can help us help the whales - through community science, volunteerism, and education.

Tell us about yourself

I was a program coordinator for an environmental volunteer organization, which taught me the power of volunteerism. I learned about the orca captures that took place in Penn Cove, Whidbey Island, and that Lolita, the orca who was captured in 1970, was still living alone in a small tank in Miami, FL. I instantly knew I wanted to help her, and decades later, I continue working with my husband, staff, volunteers, and other organizations to bring her home - 20+ years later! I also began to learn about her family, the Southern Resident orcas, who we have watched go from almost 100 members to 73 and become listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Our organization works with community members and other organizations to advocate for not only the return of Lolita but for her family in Northwest waters and for the endangered Chinook salmon they need to survive. We have also monitored the presence of other whales, such as gray whales and humpbacks, and documented changes in habitat use and species presence over the past two decades. Living and working in this beautiful habitat, and having whales as our neighbors, inspires me to continue doing the work we do.

What's your biggest accomplishment as an organization?

Though we are a nonprofit, not a business, we have grown the organization from a mom-and-pop nonprofit with just my husband and I and no budget or staff in 2001 to a large, popular, and thriving organization with 15+ staff, hundreds of volunteers, and hundreds of thousands of people we reach around the world through educational events, online presentations, website, and social media. Orca Network now has the foundation to continue on as an organization for future generations of people and whales, something we are very proud of!

What's one of the hardest things that comes with being an organization?

The relentlessness 24/7 of being the person who is responsible for keeping things going, keeping staff happy, making sure we bring in the funds needed and keeping up with the growing administrative burden.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow an organization today?

  1. Do what you LOVE!
  2. Do something you feel has worth for the community, the planet, and the people.
  3. Try not to grow too fast; bring in enough funds to pay for the staff you need as you grow.

Where can people find you and your group?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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