“I’m just a girl who can’t say no”. Do you remember that line from the song I Caint Say No in the musical Oklahoma? I felt like that a couple of weeks back. In the consulting business we continually get requests to work for charitable organizations across a variety of projects. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they don’t have any money! One consultant recently said to me: “I’ve captured 100% market share. The problem is that it’s the pro bono market”. So, how do you say NO graciously without coming across as a selfish Pratt?
Dress for Success: A friend of a friend recently asked me to help a newly formed charity Dress for Success work up their strategic plan. The Board members were part-time and extremely busy, so the session would have to be run on Saturday. I said I’d meet for a coffee and see what happened. It’s a slippery slope. We ended up developing a detailed agenda for a day-long session with the Board. 2 weeks later I trundled into Liffey Street on a cold Saturday morning, looking for an early morning caffeine hit, after a hard night playing music (at some future point, there will be an avalanche of ‘deafness claims’ in pubs all across Clontarf).
All Women: The charity focuses on helping women to improve their financial independence by getting a job (if they are unemployed) or upgrading jobs if they need a better income. Dress for Success provides 2 specific services. Firstly, they provide business attire to help women get through the interview stage (and, later, if they are successful in securing the job). Part of this is to provide expert help with clothing selection. It all takes place in a beautifully appointed room, supplied by Arnotts. Secondly, they provide focused interview coaching – to help the women tell their story (and the stories are diverse) in the best possible light. The core idea is simple, yet powerful. It is a charity for women, run by women (there is 1 man on the Board but he couldn’t make the strategy session).
Good Humoured: Perhaps we were all a bit giddy on Saturday morning or just happened to be in good form, but it’s a long time since I had this much craic with a group. I informed them that the last time I’d worked with a women-only group was the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary. They told me: “Good girls go to heaven; bad girls go everywhere”. It set the scene. Throughout the day the debates were serious, but never po-faced. People would take a strong stance on a particular topic and then, having listened carefully to a counter point of view, publicly change their position. Perhaps I’m normally around too much testosterone, but this group worked in a collegiate and highly effective way.
Great Leadership: The Dublin charity was set up by Sonya Lennon – the presenter of the Off the Rails TV programme. The Chairwoman Bernie Gray and a motley crew of talented executives ably assisted Sonya with a range of expertise (marketing, fundraising, community development, project management etc). It was a formidable team. Egos were pushed to one side in the search for the best ideas and solutions. And the early results (since they started up) have proven that the concept really works.
Mission Driven: We developed the plan. The Board knew they were working on a noble cause and were now crystal clear and aligned. I went home chastened, having learned a lot from working with this group to craft their strategy. Sometimes consultants think (falsely) that the red-blooded commercial sector is the pinnacle of achievement in terms of high performance organizations. That Saturday session represented something more, a sort of ‘fitness for the soul’. For a very small time input, I felt really good about myself. So, it turns out that they did me a favour. Would involvement in this or something similar work for you? (it might save you going to confession!). If you’d like more information visit their website: Dublin@dressforsuccess.org. You’ve nothing to lose except a Saturday morning lie in (it’s overrated anyway).
PS: Lighter Note: A local charity realized that the organization had never received a donation from the town’s most successful solicitor. The person in charge of contributions called him to persuade him to contribute. “Our research shows that out of a yearly income of at least €500,000, you don’t give a cent to charity. Wouldn’t you like to give back to the community in some way?”
The Solicitor mulled this over for a moment and replied: “First, did your research also show that my mother is dying after a long illness, and has medical bills that are several times her annual income?” Embarrassed, the charity representative mumbled, “Um … no.”
The lawyer interrupts, “Or that my brother, a disabled veteran, is blind and confined to a wheelchair?” The stricken representative began to stammer out an apology, but was interrupted: “Just 3 weeks ago, my sister’s husband died in a traffic accident…” the lawyer said, his voice rising in indignation, “leaving her penniless with five children”. The humiliated representative, completely beaten, said simply: “I had no idea…” On a roll, the solicitor cut him off again, “So if I don’t give any money to them, why should I give it to you?”
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