Archive for November, 2007

Mornings…It Isn’t About the Coffee

Rita in the MorningIf I lived in England, I would not be a happy camper. One’s regular hangout tends to be the neighborhood pup, which can be very smoky and not surprisingly, full of people drinking. What is great about living where I am in Clayton, Missouri, is that my choice of hangout is as varied as are the quality of the coffee and the fascinating people you meet.

In addition to a great latte, Northwest Coffee is where my pal Rita hangs out. Rita and I live in different worlds. When we first met, she was a personal shopper at Saks, now at Neiman Marcus. I am about the same age as her kids. What I love about Rita is that she has no filter between her brain and her mouth. You always know exactly where she stands. In today’s PC society, an outspoken, totally honest woman is a rare find.

When she has helped me find a special outfit at Saks, I always knew that her opinion could be trusted. And it was reflected in the compliments I got from the clothing I bought when she helped me. She doesn’t write her customers thank you notes like the folks at Nordstrom’s. Her customers write her thank you notes. She would rather fore-go a sale than have a customer look anything but her best.

I also appreciate her use of language. When she had heart surgery, she told me that, “He cut my incision on the bias.” Her surgeon probably didn’t even know “a bias cut” was in his operative  repertoire.

Having such an out-spoken friend can also be a bit startling. I showed her a photo of my son Frank and she said, “He’s gorgeous. Is he adopted?” My son was appalled. I thought it was hysterical.

For a great latte and some home truths, you can’t beat Northwest Coffee and Rita in the morning.

Carol Weisman, MSW, CSP, full of caffeine


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When You are A Great Mentor, You Are Never Alone

Two weeks ago Wednesday, Arthur and Sheila Prensky had their 38th wedding anniversary. On Thursday, Arthur turned off her respirator.

Arthur and Sheila had no children. They had two dogs, Judith and Sarah, who are long gone.

Arthur was my boss when I was a pediatric neurology social worker and he was Chairman of Pediatric Neurology at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. The first time I laid eyes on him, he was screaming and upsetting the entire nurses station claiming that someone had stolen his puppet. One of the nurses finally dug her hands into the enormous junk filled pockets of his white lab coat and found it. He muttered an, “Oh, I’m sorry.” and wandered off. I thought, you have got to be kidding. This is the supposed genius I’m going to be working for?

He was not only a genius, but one of the quirkiest, dearest and kindest men in the world. He was always playing tricks on people. One night while working late, one of the other docs, Ed Dodson, went to the bathroom in their suite of offices and Arthur held the door so that couldn’t get out. Then he let go of the door so that Ed would go flying. Unfortunately, it turned out to be an elderly lady psychiatrist. The good news, she had no major injuries. The bad news:  She had no sense of humor. I didn’t say he was always good at his stunts.

My personal favorite was when I had my son Teddy. My Mother ran into Arthur and Sheila at the symphony. I was now living in Washington, D.C. and Mom told them I was in labor at Walter Reed Army Hospital. After I delivered Teddy, everyone was running around the recovery area trying to hook up a phone. Arthur was calling as “General Prensky” to wish me well.

There is never a time when a group of us who worked for Arthur don’t share stories of his kindness, genius or quirkiness. Our spouses and friends who never had the opportunity to work under him are forced to listen to stories for hours. The truth is, those who don’t know him can’t wait to meet him and are never disappointed when they do.

With the passing of his wife, those who loved and learned from Arthur have come out of the woodwork. I was called by Walter Lemann, an adult neurologist in town about Sheila’s impending death. I contacted the “Aussie Boys,” former neurology fellows now 45-65 who came over and studied with the great one. They have called and written.

His colleagues have been out to the house and have called frequently. We are talking to one another to make sure he gets the help he needs to get his house ready for sale and to move.

Frank and I took Arthur out to dinner last night, and although he is very lonely and misses his dear Sheila, he is looking forward to some traveling. He is a white knuckle flier, but still wanted information on how long it takes to get to Australia.

I will never forget when he offered to have my wedding at his house because my Dad was dead. Last night, when he came for dinner, I used the serving try he gave me for my wedding 31 years ago.

When you are a great mentor, as Arthur was and continues to be, you are never alone. Especially when you continue to surprise and delight. Arthur wants me to find someone to help him get rid of the porno on his old computers before they are donated.

Carol Weisman, MSW, CSP, friend of Arthur Prensky

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Is $4 Million A Lot of Money? What Does Your Nonprofit Board Think?

Is $4 Million dollars a lot of money for your board? Well, it certainly is a lot of money to pay for a dress, a pair of earrings, a pair of golf clubs. Is it a lot to pay for a condo? A 12 family apartment building? A payroll for 80 employees?

I asked this question during a retreat, “What would it take to deal with this problem for the entire city.” Someone came up with the figure $4 million.” To most of the people in the room, it could have been $4 billion. Only one person said, “Is that all?”

Every board needs someone who is used to dealing with big numbers and has a comfort level with them. The member doesn’t have to have the money, but a familiarity and comfort with thinking big and expanding the horizons of the group. (Although if someone would be able to write the $4 million check, it would have been interesting to see what the reaction would have been!)

I did a retreat for a group where more than 51% of the group were on disability. The CEO’s salary was so low, it wasn’t even on the chart on the Association of Fundraising Professionals Salary index. No one in the room, including the CEO, had a clue. If something happened to her, she could not be replaced for anywhere near this salary. No one was financially literate about salaries. Good, caring people. But NO ONE knew how underpaid the CEO was.

If you can’t talk about the big numbers, you can’t ask for them. Every nonprofit does not have to be large, but if there are people you want to serve and aren’t, get someone in the room who doesn’t think $4 Million is big bucks!

Carol Weisman, MSW, CSP, Asking big, but shopping the sale rack.

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Keeping Great Staff For Your Nonprofit

laura-and-lynne.jpgCompare and contrast, as we used to hear in high school English class. Last Saturday night, I was at an auction for Rebuilding Together, a fabulous client of mine that rehabs houses for the poor and elderly. The board chair not only graciously thanked the volunteers, but the development director got flowers.

Another client, just a few months before, had a huge convention. They were in deep financial crisis. They had to sell their building to avoid bankruptcy. An interim executive director came in and made very hard decisions which bills to pay to keep the doors open. There wasn’t enough dough to take a salary, so she didn’t. She wasn’t even acknowledged from the podium, much less presented a posey.

I have a meeting regarding the strategic plan for Rebuilding Together this morning. I can’t wait to go. I have recruited one of my sons to get involved. I had lunch with a friend on Monday and suggested her husband join the board.

I believe strongly in the mission of the other organization. There would have to be a big time culture change before I would refer a friend into that snake pit. They chew up staff like a combine goes through hay.

The difference between the two: the simple act of acknowledging good work. And all it takes is $10 worth of flowers.

Carol Weisman, MSW, CSP, glad to be able to work with good clients

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Just When You Think No One is Reading…Someone Threatens to Sue!

I recently wrote an unflattering blog entry about a very, very difficult client that micromanaged, threatened, and in just about every conceivable way made my life and work with them a misery. I, of course, did not mention them by name. And son of a gun, I heard from their lawyer who threatened legal action if I didn’t take down the entry immediately.

Let it be known that I am a person who will cave in immediately to just such a threat. This client has a history of frivolous law suits. I have better things to do with my time and money. The name of this organization has been totally deleted from my website.

And here I thought no one was reading!

Carol Weisman, MSW, CSP, surprised and looking forward to going back to my 99.99% fabulous mission-focused clients!

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The Accidental Fundraiser

If you ask my friend David Strom what he thinks of fundraising, he’ll tell you that he hates to ask people for money, but in fact, he is a phenomenal fundraiser.

Here is what he has to say about it in his own words,

“For the past 8 years, I have been doing fundraising but I didn’t really realize it until lately. I am an avid bicyclist, and during the warmer months it is my main source of exercise. In my 20s, I was a big biker and actually went across country one summer to get to grad school.

So I took it up again a few years ago and remember seeing a sign advertising one of the NYC-Boston AIDS rides. These were well organized group rides that took several days and involved thousands of people camping out at different spots and riding 70-100 miles a day.The first one that I did was in 2000 and it was a real blast. I spent months training, and raising money, and getting myself psyched up for the ride. I did the entire route and came home on a high.

david-and-shirley-2-big.jpgThat was all it took to get me started. Now I do one or two events a year. I have raised thousands of dollars for various causes, met my lovely wife on one of the rides, and gotten my sister and several friends involved in doing similar activities. My sister does a “Think Pink” party with a DJ for teenagers, asking each one to bring $25 as a donation for her cancer walkathons. Last year’s party raised several thousand dollars, and she is looking for a place in Manhattan to host her next one.

I don’t think of myself as a fundraiser, but more of a fundraising mentor. I don’t like to do the whole “ask” thing. But this year on the Mo. MS 150, my chum Steve (who has MS) 147_0345.jpgwas the top fundraiser and his first time out. He went on and did another MS150 in California and raised even more money for that. And this is after being unsure that he could do the ride and was afraid of asking his friends to support him. ”

So, to summarize, because David likes to get exercise he has

1. Raised money for causes he believes in

2. Met his fabulous wife Shirley at one of these events

3. Can proudly wear spandex in middle age

4. Has found an activity to do with friends that benefits others

5. Has given other friends an opportunity to participate by giving money (always asks by e-mail, never a hard sell)

6. Has had a ridiculous amount of fun

7. Has inspired others

David’s hobby is cycling. When I look what he’s done with it. I’m inspired. My hobby is shopping, and believe me, its not for spandex!

Carol Weisman, MSW, CSP, Thinking about cycling.

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