Our Success Stories:

The McLaughlin Whitewater Design Group

Engineers and partners with specialty expertise were confident in and proud of their accomplishments having designed and overseen construction of restored riverbeds and features that improved recreational quality and reduced the likelihood of injury by paddlers, swimmers, and surfers. However, they worked under the umbrella of a firm known for traditional civil engineering works, such as infrastructure support for wastewater treatment and water supply. They did not seek to start another company, but needed to establish an independently relevant specialty amidst the ubiquitous context of water engineering.


Sub-Branding – Working with The Shimoda Group, the internal subgroup created a brand, the McLaughlin Whitewater Design Group, to differentiate its focus, expertise, and appeal to river communities and economic development organizations. Projects completed by the team include the longest river segment improved specifically for recreation in the world in Columbus, Georgia, and the precedent-setting whitewater park in Boise, Idaho, where kayakers and surfers share the river and entertain visitors to an ambitious river-focused city park complex.

River Management Society

The organization got its start in order to provide a networking and peer learning organization for river managers employed by federal agencies charged with administering use of rivers, such as the Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service. Strong general operating support continued until 2011, and today has all but disappeared. Separately, the dwindling presence of decades-long founding leaders called for an effort to reach out to new constituents – notably students and early career professionals to create a future that suited their aspirations and evolving skillsets. The organization needed to redefine what it does and how it serves members and their peers.


Mission-Based Reinvention – TSG identified priority programs that support the organization’s mission and serve the same agencies, as well as water trail organizations, state agencies, colleges and universities with students studying science, law or tourism focused on outdoor resources. With the support of the River Management Society Board of Directors, the organization has developed an exciting and evolving range of programs. Products include a national database of rivers available for research or trip planning; a River Studies and Leadership Certificate with colleges and universities across the nation; and a growing compendium of CliffsNotes-style summaries of 150-200 page hydropower licenses that enable citizens, with a quick scan, to understand how they impact communities. The result is a nearly 100% replacement of the former financial model that relied on general support to one that can be sustained by fees for services, grants and gifts.

American Whitewater

Serving twice as Executive Director of the nationwide river stewardship organization, Risa developed its first major revenue stream and helped developed brand pillars. The Gauley River Festival became an annual tradition after plans to dam the river’s stunning whitewater were defeated in the early 1990s. The festival was entrepreneurial and fun, but financially insecure.


Fundraising – As founder of the Gauley Festival Marketplace, Risa helped transform this annual festival in Summersville, West Virginia, which continues to be the largest gathering of paddlers in the US, from a bake sale-style event to a vital fundraiser for American Whitewater’s national river protection initiatives.

Perception, Inc.

Kayaking started to boom in the 1990s when boats designed for non-technical, “everyday” paddlers were offered an alternative to whitewater craft and sea kayaks that demand a large investment of time and a commitment to learning skills. New craft began to proliferate, and these two categories no longer seemed relevant for the unending stream of new users.


In her role to steer new product development, marketing and sales, Risa introduced a “Recreational” category of kayak that suits livery rentals, is perfect for beginners and promoted as a means to introduce the public to kayaking. The Recreational class outgrew all other categories, and the category name remains in use more than 20 years later.