Crystal Cove Bids Farewell to Alix Dunn, President & CEO

On May 15, Crystal Cove Conservancy will bid a sad farewell to our stalwart and inspirational leader, Alix Dunn, as she steps down from her role as President and Chief Executive Officer.  Dunn, who has served in this role for almost three years, will remain with The Conservancy in an advisory capacity.  She will be greatly missed by The Conservancy’s Board of Directors, its staff, and our many partners, friends, and community members who have had the privilege of working alongside her.

The opportunity to work in Orange County’s biggest outdoor classroom was really what drew Dunn to Crystal Cove State Park in 2016.  She had dreams of growing The Conservancy’s environmental education programs to impact even more underserved students, using the park’s tremendous natural beauty to inspire and empower them to become Orange County’s next generation of environmental leaders.  During her time here, participation in those programs increased by an incredible 175%, immersing thousands more youth in helping to explore, conserve, and protect Crystal Cove’s unique ecosystems.

“Alix’s vision for education at Crystal Cove State Park has really helped elevate our programs to the next level,” said Sara Ludovise, The Conservancy’s Director of Education.  “Her dedication to inspiring kids to protect the environment really drives her appreciation for what this place can be, and her leadership has positioned us to impact thousands of more students every year.”

When Dunn joined the organization in August 2016, the first major task that The Conservancy’s Board of Directors set for her was managing the rebranding from Crystal Cove Alliance to Crystal Cove Conservancy.  Dunn was tasked with repositioning the nonprofit as a conservancy and creating a brand guide that would elevate the organization and make it known that we were the partners working hand-in-hand with Crystal Cove State Park.

Dunn’s plan was to unveil the rebranding and roll it out to the public at the start of the summer in 2017.  This meant we needed to have a new logo, website, collateral materials, a member drive, and branding guide.  The team got behind this plan with enthusiasm and overnight, before Memorial Weekend, we seamlessly transformed to Crystal Cove Conservancy. 

Early on in her tenure, Dunn also took on the challenge of aligning The Conservancy’s for-profit and nonprofit operations.  Previously, The Conservancy’s nonprofit arm was run separately from the for-profit Crystal Cove Beach Cottages, which manages the beach cottage overnight rentals and operates concessions in Crystal Cove State Park.  Dunn brought the two organizations together under one leader, using her leadership acumen to juggle promoting the organization’s mission with making sound financial decisions.  During her time here, private donor and corporate contributions to The Conservancy increased by 150%.

“I would absolutely rate Alix’s three years with us as a definite success,” said Dan Gee, President of Crystal Cove Beach Cottages.  “Her management style, which allows her to put effort and attention into both promoting our mission and our financial affairs, was really where she has excelled.  As a result of her leadership, the organization is closer together than it has ever been in its entire history.”

Alix also took her role in the capital campaign to restore the final 17 cottages with passionate vigor.  She worked tirelessly with the capital campaign committee and Founder and Capital Campaign Chair Laura Davick to strategize and meet with donors to achieve the result of raising enough to start construction on the infrastructure phase of the north beach cottages in December 2018. “Alix’s leadership in guiding the North Beach Capital Campaign Committee to successfully reaching our milestones through each step of the campaign created the structure and discipline needed for success”, said Teddie Ray, Vice Chair of the Board of Directors and Chair of the Development Committee.

As President and CEO of The Conservancy, Dunn also stepped into the role of close partner and collaborator to Crystal Cove State Park.  She worked closely with State Park staff throughout her tenure, demonstrating a clear understanding of goals, objectives and mission of California State Parks and offering ideas on how Crystal Cove Conservancy could partner with Crystal Cove State Park to meet those priorities.

“Alix has been a great leader of Crystal Cove Conservancy, which is one of the most dynamic and successful cooperating associations in State Parks,” said Eric Dymmel, the Central Sector Superintendent for California State Park’s Orange Coast District.  “While she will be greatly missed, I am happy for Alix, and I undoubtedly know that Crystal Cove State Park and Crystal Cove Conservancy will be reaping the benefits of her hard work for many years in the future.”

As a leader, Dunn loved to challenge her team and give them opportunities to grow.  She operated on an open-door policy and has always been enthusiastic about teaching and passing along new skills.

“I really have a desire to teach everything I’ve learned over my 25 years in environmental advocacy, education, fundraising and management,” Dunn said.  “That translates to the team that supports me to the students that we’re teaching.  My drive has always been to pass along my experiences to the next generation of students. I hope that by doing so, we’re enlightening and inspiring students to choose the environment as a career.”

Dunn’s staff will miss her quick sense of humor, her supportive management style, and her unwavering commitment to The Conservancy’s mission.  Throughout her tenure, she instilled a sense of mission and purpose across the entire organization, from featuring short stories about educational programs during biweekly staff meetings, chatting with visitors and sharing her knowledge as they wandered through the Historic District, and inviting employees to spend the afternoon exploring Crystal Cove State Park’s tide pools with her during extremely low tides. 

“The first summer Alix was at The Cove, she joined me in the tide-pools in hopes of an octopus sighting,” said Jordan Diemert, The Conservancy’s controller.  “As I was wading around, I came across the biggest octopus that I had seen in the Cove to date. I couldn’t yell out to Alix in fear of scaring off my new friend, so I frantically texted her until she found me in the next pool. A few other employees were able to come and see him out in the open, almost as if he was showing off for us. I felt super cool that I got to show off my favorite part about working at the Cove to the new boss.”

As well as being popular with The Conservancy’s human employees, Dunn has also become the favorite staff member of Mako Shark, The Conservancy’s emotional support and staff morale canine. When asked for a quote, Mako enthusiastically barked that Dunn gives the best pets and that he will miss visiting her in Cottage #5, The Conservancy’s main office.

As Dunn moves on to her next adventure this summer, although she will be greatly missed, her incredible impact on Crystal Cove Conservancy and our partners and friends will surely resonate for years to come.

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