We had the good fortune of connecting with Dinh Chau-Kieckhafer and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Dinh, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
I had graduated from University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) with a Bachelors in Fine Arts. With a degree in hand, I’d discovered my passion and creation of art does not translate to the economic/financial world of today. Like so many artists, I spent years working in the corporate world simply to earn a living and negated my artistic expression. A few years into working in the corporate world, I’d accomplished what so many MBA graduates aspired to accomplished, I was awarded the position of VP of Operation. Three months after that, I discovered my executive position was simply not satisfactory and I didn’t understand why I was feeling the way that I did. Financially, I was secured, yet I was completely miserable. I went to HR, told them I was not happy and wanted to quit. They interpreted my unhappiness to money, so they’d double my salary, essentially making me the highest paid staff under the President/Owner. By my wanting to resign, I’d inadvertently broke the “glass ceiling”. With the amount of money thrown my way, I stayed on the job. Four months later, I was even more miserable. Not knowing what to do, I turn to my friend with whom I respect as a mentor, Joyce Nelson-Leaf, Director of Educational Equity Resource Center (EERC) at UNLV – a grant base/nonprofit center. I had met Joyce in college. I was a work-study student employee at EERC.
I’d turned to Joyce and explained to her how unfulfilled I’d felt. She patiently listened and asked one question that changed my outlook. Joyce asked if I would consider leaving the corporate sector and be willing to work for a nonprofit using my artistic talents. Until that point, it had never occurred to me to look at the nonprofit sector. Immediately, my interest was sparked. I’d spent the next several weeks researching nonprofit organizations that served the arts exclusively in the Las Vegas valley. I’d discovered none existed. It was then, I’d decided to remedy the problem. Think & Wonder Inc A Place Where Creativity Can Grow!tm was launched and ThinkArt! Empowering Imaginationstm was formed to carry out the mission of Think & Wonder Inc. And, like they say, the rest is history.
Think & Wonder Inc’s mission is to offer an environment that stimulates creativity and learning, promotes connections to ideas, cultures, and artistic expressions; and to offer a place for freedom to imagine, to create, and to welcome the arts into our daily lives. We are proud of our achievements and accomplishments within our community and beyond. We are one of the few, if not the only nonprofit organization, to have operated successfully for almost 15 years without an annual budget. We are the model for self-sustaining nonprofit. We’ve been awarded Senatorial Certificate of Commendation and Congressional Certificate of Recognition in the Arts.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Two weeks after the launch of Think & Wonder Inc, we’d received an invite from Marriott International through a referral from Jerry Schefcik, UNLV Director of Galleries, to take part in Marriott’s community initiative, ArtNight, to help launch their new boutique brand, SpringHill Suites – Convention Center Las Vegas. We were given six weeks to pull the event together. We accepted it as a challenge and was able to execute the largest fine arts event that Marriott has ever collaborated with a community partner. Pleased with the outcome, SpringHill Suites invited us to extend our concept in producing ArtNight from one night event to a quarterly arts exhibition event with ArtNight as the annual end of year art gala. Along with the invite, we were offered an opportunity to be SpringHill Suites Marriott’s exclusive partner for the arts. We’ve been their exclusive partner ever since.
With our collaborative partnership with SpringHill Suites, Marriott International, we learned to harness our relationships with donor in ways that is symbiotic benefit rather than monetary gain. During the pandemic lockdown, where so many nonprofits and charitable organizations shuttered their doors due to lack of funding, their dependencies on donor give, we were able to continue to be in operation and was able to offer programs unimpeded. As possibly the only self-sustaining nonprofit organization and one without an operating budget, it has allowed us to be more creative, offer more enrichment, and giving us the flexibility to focus on achieving our mission goals. We are not held back by funding, we are only held back by our lack of imagination, which luckily for us, we are never without. We have place our focus solely in serving our community and have never put our focus on fund development, nor have we ever asked for financial assistance through grants or other sources of funding. Our focus will always be, to bring the arts into our daily lives and to provide programs and projects that is meaningful to both our community-at-large and corporate/business community. We set the benchmark for “think”-ing outside of the box “and” in the process, creating “wonder”tm.
Side note: After our ArtNight event, we were told by Marriott that we were the only organization that had accepted their invite in the Las Vegas valley. Had we not accepted, they would’ve cancelled the event. It was serendipitous.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Las Vegas is the entertainment capital of the world so if a friend of mine is visiting, I would not take them to the Las Vegas strip. I would highlight the natural beauty, the community, and all the wonderful local businesses that the city has to offer. Many do not realize that within 20 minutes’ drive, you can experience two different natural terrains: Red Rock National Park, where you would see the dessert landscape with natural red rock formations; on the opposite spectrum, is Mt. Charleston where you find lush green pines, natural waterfalls, and snow (in winter). Our community is more diverse than most people realized. We have residence from all over the world: Russia, Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Europe, Ecuador, Ethiopia, and etc. Reflectively, we have restaurants and businesses off the strip that are as varied as our community. The City of Las Vegas is more than “sin city”. It is a warm community, it is a multi-cultural city, and it is home. I would make a point to show my friend all of those things…of course, after they’ve exhausted their gambling demon.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
The task of launching a nonprofit begins with naming the organization. I was stumped for a long while, and part of the complication was, I wanted to be all inclusive, all disciplinary, and open ended for creativity. I must have gone through hundreds of names, nothing was right.
One afternoon, my daughter, two years old at the time, asked me to read to her. She pulled a stack of Dr. Seuss books – she love the rhythm and rhyme of his books. I began with “The Cat in the Hat” and followed by “The Foot Book”, and so on and on, onto the next book. Two-thirds through the stack of books, “Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!” was the book to be read. As I was reading it out loud, one of the verses, about 55 elephants having a drink, caught my attention. Something about it, just grab my imagination. Just like that, my nonprofit finally has name, Think & Wonder Inc.
My daughter, Keala, deserves recognition for offering an unexpected resource for inspiration when I was at a lost on what to name my organization. Dr. Seuss, Theodor Seuss Geisel, for his creativity and his beautiful verses that ignited my imagination. And of course, I cannot be doing what I am today, without Joyce Nelson-Leaf, who gave me guidance, support, direction when I was lost, and for giving me her love. And lastly, my husband, Darrel. While I was going through all of my self-discovery and uncertainty, he gave me courage to quit my job, supported my pursuit to launch a nonprofit, and because he doesn’t have a choice – he’d married an artist.