What I do

What I do

A faithful reader of this blog asked me several weeks ago, “what is it that you do?” Glad she asked. When I explained what I’ve been doing as a consultant on and off for the past eight years, it led to a lunch, and ultimately a job helping her bring more structure to the non-profit that she founded three years ago. So I thought it might be good for me to share with you what it is that I do.

The answer isn’t simple and has been evolving. Some background first. When I left my position as CEO of Gilda’s Club Northern New Jersey in 2008, I decided I needed to take some time to myself and that perhaps I could use what I learned managing a young non-profit on the verge of bankruptcy to help other young non-profits. I also had a lot of successful fundraising event management experience to share. “The Cause Connection” became official on October 6, 2008 (those of you that know me will recognize a certain irony in that date). So for about five months I hovered between helping start-up and transitioning small non-profits put more structure in place and assisting some with first-time fundraising events. Then because of the necessity for me to support my family, I went back to work full time in March 2009. I continued however to be recommended to small non-profits looking to do first time fundraisers – often runs and walks. Because of my limited time, I would just set up the structure for them (event plan, timeline for execution, staffing/volunteer plan, sponsorship package), and then if they wanted it, provide some coaching to help them in the execution of the plan. When I found myself between jobs again in 2012, I took on bigger projects doing more hands on work. When I left my last full time job in July 2014, I finally decided I was going to put more effort into making my consulting business successful and see if it was something I could turn into a permanent full time job. I gave myself 18 months and would plan to reevaluate where I was early this year. During that time I also trained for Half Marathon, 10k and Marathon goal races in fall 2014, and spring and fall 2015 respectively.

I worked on several projects from strategic planning to managing a gala. And by fall of last year had learned a lot about myself and how I wanted to spend my time. Truth be told, I realized I liked coaching clients better than doing the work for them. While there is certainly a personal satisfaction in seeing your own creation come to life, I get a much broader sense of accomplishment in seeing something continue to grow and flourish because I have helped someone else realize the potential of their own goals and vision. And because it’s so much less time consuming I can have a bigger impact.

I also learned that I can’t deny how important running is in my life.

I read something about the importance of doing what you love. It asked…what makes you happiest? what would you do for free? about what do people most often ask you for advice? Running. Running. And yeah, running. And to a certain degree, non-profit management and fundraising. And of course these are the two things that I know the most about. If only I could find a way to combine those, right?

Last fall after I finished the work on the gala, and the couple of other strategic planning projects concluded, I found myself with a lot of time on my hands. Perfect time to finally get a web site up for this business that may be going no where. I figured at the very least it would impress prospective employers. A close friend from high school connected me with Raquel Fernandes-Manzo of Blondie Marketing. She sat with me for over an hour at Starbuck’s one day and asked me questions about not only my business, but about me. Her rates were affordable, so I moved ahead and in about 2 weeks www.thecauseconnection.com was live! And because she took the time to learn about who I was, she chose a picture for the “about me” page that led to my epiphany. I suddenly realized where my running and non-profit experience would come together and how I could transition my business from where it was to where I wanted it to be. This blog was the first step.

Last week I completed the requirements for coaching certification by the Road Runners Club of America. This week I will start the process toward becoming a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach (CPCC). The client I mentioned, who first asked me about what I do, is an accomplished marathoner who founded a non-profit that trains individuals and families to run and walk and raise funds to help families in their community facing a critical medical crisis and mounting financial issues. I am also taking on another client starting next week, an accomplished development professional who wants to learn to run.

So what is it that I do? “The Cause Coach” helps fundraisers (professional or volunteer) gain and improve skills, ability, and knowledge in order to achieve their goals around running for health and fitness, fundraising, and community impact. Now to revise my web site.

With that, I should also note that I decided this will be a part-time endeavor. And because I need to better fill my time, want to stay more involved in my community, and of course, pay my mortgage, I will be going back to work. Stay tuned for the official announcement.

IMG_1547Dunkerhook Road, Paramus, NJ,  Easter weekend 2016

March Madness: Why I support AliveAndKickn

March Madness: Why I support AliveAndKickn

Don’t know about you, but my NCAA picks went down in flames! March however isn’t just about the NCAA Tournament, so let’s turn our attention to something else. March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. In recognition of that, I’d like to introduce you to an organization that I support: AliveAndKickn.

I first met AliveAndKickn Founder David Dubin in fall of 2008. We were both members of the Inaugural Class of Bergen LEADS, a 10-month “learning and leadership adventure” for people who live or work in Bergen County, New Jersey (http://bergenleads.org). Dave was gregarious and opinionated. He was hard to miss. He was also a cancer survivor. I had just finished a three and a half year stint as the CEO of a cancer support organization and was at the point of overflowing with cancer stories. I tried my best to avoid him.

As members of the Alumni of Bergen LEADS, we attended a picnic with our families a few years later. It was then that I heard Dave’s cancer story as told by his wife, Robin. And I was touched. I remembered how cancer doesn’t just affect the individual, but the entire family. Robin also spoke about the hereditary nature of Dave’s cancer and what that might mean for her sons. As a mom, I got it.

It wasn’t long after that Dave told me about AliveAndKickn and how he wanted to reach out to young families to create awareness for Colorectal Cancer and Lynch Syndrome through his favorite sport, soccer. Well as a former NCAA Soccer player and a professional fundraiser, this seemed like an opportunity created for me. I wanted to help. I joined Dave and Robin and others to assist in the first AliveAndKickathon a 24-hour soccer event to raise funds and awareness for Lynch Syndrome and related cancers. The following January I joined the AliveAndKickn board.

That year (2013), I did something crazy and ran 13 Half Marathons in an effort to raise money for AliveAndKickn, simply because I was touched by the Dubin Family’s story and their passion to want to make a difference for other families. I have stayed involved partly because I have seen AliveAndKickn grow and accomplish great things, but also because in the years since, I too have become a cancer survivor. And although my breast cancer was not the hereditary type, I now understand a cancer diagnosis first hand. I understand what it feels like to hear the words “it’s cancer.” I know what it’s like to have to tell your spouse and your child. I now know what it’s like to navigate everything they’re feeling while dealing with your own emotions.

Knowledge is power and AliveAndKickn is a force. That’s why I got involved. It’s why I stay involved and ultimately why I am so glad I my attempts to avoid David Dubin were unsuccessful.

To learn more about AliveAndKickn, please visit their web site: www.AliveAndKickn.org.

And in recognition of last week’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration, here are a few pictures I took on my run through Lough Key Forest Park in Boyle, Co. Roscommon, Ireland, last August.


Running: Non-Profit CEO Success Story

Running: Non-Profit CEO Success Story

Several weeks ago, I wrote about how runners make better employees. I’ve also discussed how running made a difference in my own career. My theory has long been that running can lead to career success. About 18 months ago I came across a study that proved my theory. Peter Limbach, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and Florian Sonnenberg, University of Cologne, tracked the performance of S&P 1500 companies and the fitness level of their CEOs from 2001 to 2011. CEOs were defined as fit if they completed a marathon. They concluded, “Firms run by fit CEOs have significantly higher firm values both on univariate and multivariate level. Regression results suggest that firm value is almost 5% higher on average. It’s between 8% and 10% higher when CEOs fitness is particularly important. Such cases include CEOs with above-median age and above-median tenure as well as CEOs with high workload. (the article and link to the complete study can be found at http://qz.com/263958/the-most-successful-corporate-chieftains-are-marathon-runners/).

I’m not convinced that only marathon running will make someone better at their job, but the training process required and the sense of accomplishment a marathon finish provides, probably does give marathoners a leg-up (pardon the pun). I remember when I had to speak in front of a large group for the first time – probably in 7th or 8th grade. Someone told me to imagine the audience naked. I guess that’s supposed to make you feel superior? (I didn’t do it; I went to Catholic school and was afraid it might be a sin). But once I ran a marathon, I did feel a sense of accomplishment that put me at ease with even the most difficult people (in my head I’d be saying, “sure, but you’ve never ran a marathon!”). And of course, as Limbach and Sonnenberg discuss in their paper, “literature suggests that fitness moderates stress and positively affects cognitive functions and performance.”

I do know a lot of people who have never run a marathon, but are runners, and feel that running is what helps them manage stress and lead their organizations. One of those people is Tom Toronto, CEO of Bergen County’s United Way (and yes, my old boss!).

Tom has done an amazing job of reinventing United Way here in Bergen County and has kept his organization financially viable and responding to critical community needs while workplace-giving campaigns diminished. The traditional United Way model of collecting funds through workplace-giving and funding a network of non-profit agencies addressing a variety of community needs was no longer working. The amount of money available through the allocation process was shrinking because donors wanted to decide for themselves which agencies received their donations, and agencies, as well, were doing a better job fundraising on their own.

Bergen County’s United Way stopped funding agencies and put their money into NJ 2-1-1 a community information and referral service that helps people find solutions to personal needs by connecting them to resources in their community like day care facilities, shelters, affordable housing units, social services, employment training programs, senior services, medical insurance, and more. BCUW also became a direct service organization, by helping individuals in need through their Compassion Fund. But a community needs assessment also revealed that the biggest problem facing Bergen County was affordable housing, particularly affordable housing for people with physical and developmental disabilities. They are addressing these needs through their Housing Works program in partnership with Madeline Corporation. So far BCUW/Madeline has developed 228 affordable housing units in Northern New Jersey and have more in development.

I had lunch with Tom recently and asked about his organization’s success when I have consulted with other United Way organizations that have not been able to respond as well to the changing fundraising landscape and community needs. Okay, he doesn’t attribute it all to running, but he did said it certainly “clears the head and allows the mind to wander…in a good way.” He also noted that it’s a great form of exercise when traveling.

Tom runs several local races a year, including BCUW’s own PSE&G Teterboro Airport 5k (scheduled for July 16 this year; to register go to: https://www.raceforum.com/teterboro). This race is an event that I developed for United Way back in 1998, but Tom was the real founder of the event. The original Teterboro Run actually occurred several years earlier. Tom reminisced, “the winner got a ride in the Goodyear Blimp.”

Tom has been with Bergen County’s United Way for close to 30 years, so I think it’s a safe to say that the organization’s success is in line with the results of Limbach and Sonnebberg’s research. The community is fortunate to have a United Way CEO that runs!

SCAN0005 (4)L-R: World Record Holder, Toshiko d’Elia, me, and Tom Toronto at the 2001 Teterboro Airport 5k.


My Story: Part 1

My Story: Part 1

On Friday – the 20th Anniversary of the day I officially started running – I posted a picture on FaceBook of the wall in my home office where all my running medals, plaques and memorabilia hang. One of my friends challenged me to take a picture of my favorite medal and share why. This is it and the “why” is the story below, which I wrote and published on FaceBook in 2013IMG_3418

Work, Running, and the Trip Home

When I was in my late twenties I was already married, had a high paying sales job and had really no long term plan or goals for my future. Always an athlete through school, I was still in search of my “adult sport.” I exercised sporadically. If I was being honest with myself, I admitted I hated my job. The only area not in need of improvement was “family.” I felt I was dealt a pretty good hand.

In 1965, just days after my birth in Ireland, I was given up for adoption. In New Jersey a couple longed for a child. Neighbors had adopted a little girl from Ireland and they told them that they would like to as well. The neighbor put them in touch with Sister John Scully at the Convent of Mercy in Ballinasloe, County Galway, who quickly wrote back explaining, “have I got the baby for you.” I was four months old.

After paperwork, a home study, a visa application and a lot of waiting, I made the journey with Sister John aboard an Aer Lingus 707 to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport and met my parents. I had just turned 2.

As the story was told to me hundreds of times…when we got into the terminal and I met my parents for the first time, my dad instinctively picked me up. Everyone held their breath wondering what my reaction would be to this new man in my life. I put my head on his shoulder and fell asleep. I knew I was in good hands.

So I had a wonderful life with Maureen and Patrick Sheehy growing up in affluent Northern New Jersey. I went to private schools, Broadway shows, the ballet, the Metropolitan Opera. I cruised aboard the QE2. I travel throughout the Caribbean and parts of Europe. I took tennis and horseback riding lessons. I spent summers in Montauk, the Hamptons and Shelter Island. I was an only child. They somehow managed to keep me humble. Without really knowing where I came from, I sensed that I was getting a pretty good deal. I knew deep down that I would need to repay this gift someday.

When people would hear I was adopted, they would often want to know if I knew my biological parents (or as they would erroneously say, “real” parents). I thought, “let sleeping dogs lie.” I was given up for a reason; had wonderful parents and so many opportunities. What more could I expect to get in life? I never searched.

I began to create a family of my own when I met my husband. I was 27. We got married a year later. We moved into a nice apartment and I got that higher paying job. I knew I hated it after about three months. The big boss had come in while I was taking up a collection for a co-worker who had been diagnosed with cancer. He told me to “stop wasting company time sending gifts to sick co-workers.” I knew I had to find something more meaningful to do with my life.

I stuck it out because working in New York City allowed me to take some classes at NYU. I also liked my coworkers and convinced them to join a Chemical Bank Corporate Challenge team that I organized. It was a 3.5 mile road race around Central Park. I didn’t think it could be that hard; after all, as I said, I exercised…sporadically. I was so disappointed in my performance that as soon as the snow melted the following winter, I actually started running. At the same time my husband and I began thinking about a big vacation. Maybe to Europe and although I’m an American citizen, I also thought it would be fun to have my Irish passport renewed.

In order to process the renewal application, I needed a copy of my original birth certificate which I never had. I had to send away for it and when it arrived, it contained all of my birth-mother’s information. My husband was the one that was really curious. One call to international directory assistance and one call to the number we were given and we had found her.

I turned 30; I received a certificate in event marketing from NYU; and I ran.

After corresponding with my birth-mother for about a year – and finding out I had 12 half siblings! – my husband and I went to Ireland to visit. We didn’t stay as long as we planned. I went there thinking it was no big deal and it really was huge deal! I found it very emotionally draining. I met 5 of my sisters and a bunch of my nieces and nephews. Three weeks after returning from the trip, I was laid off from my sales job. I got a new job with a local United Way in New Jersey as Special Events Director.

And through it all I ran. I began to love running and found it to be a great stress reliever. It made me feel good. It gave me discipline and focus. I began to set goals for running and life. My birth mother came to visit. My husband took her to the American Museum of Natural History while I waited on line in Central Park for my application to the New York City Marathon.

I completed the 1997 New York City Marathon and raised money for United Way. My parents, my husband, coworkers and friends were there…in the pouring rain. I got promoted to Vice President.

I kept in touch with my birth-mother through letters and traded Christmas cards with my sisters in the years that followed. And I ran. I trained for two more Marathons, several Half Marathons and countless other races. Life was busy. We bought a house; had a baby. I left United Way and became the CEO of a small non-profit cancer organization. I turned 40.

My family in Ireland seemed so far away. Life got busier. My dad died. My mom got sick. I became the head of fundraising and communications for a very large child welfare agency commuting everyday again into New York City. It was 2009 and in order to manage agency communications I had to join Facebook. I didn’t want to, but found friends from old places and connected with people in my running club too. Then I found many of my siblings and nieces and nephews; some I had never met. I had a chance to really communicate with them on a regular basis.

Finally last year I decided my daughter should meet her cousins and aunts and uncles. So we went over during her Easter break, celebrated her 12th birthday and stayed for almost a week with one sister whose daughters were 16 and 11. We had a family reunion on Easter where I got to meet almost everyone else. Besides the 12 siblings I have 26 nieces and nephews and at last count, I think 37 great-nieces and nephews. We talked about running. My sisters told me they wanted to run a Marathon with me. There was a picture taken of all the “grandchildren” and there was my daughter’s little face surrounded by all these other little faces that looked remarkably like her.

Exactly three weeks after returning from that trip, I lost my job. Then my mom died. Then a chain of events occurred that led me to the position of Chief Development Officer at (New York City Adoption Agency); an organization whose mission it is to find homes for the most vulnerable children.

I started in my new position on April 15 (the day of the Boston Marathon bombing). I asked if I could take a vacation I had planned months earlier. Of course I could go home to see my family in Ireland. That’s what (New York City Adoption Agency) was all about. So we are headed “home” on August 2 to stay for almost two weeks this time. While I’m there I will be running the Dublin Half Marathon with four of my sisters. Even with my parents gone, I have more family than I could have ever imagined. And when I return, it will be to the most meaningful job I’ve ever had.

Of course I hoped the rest of the story would read, “and she lived happily ever after.” But this is life, not a fairy tale. So there is more, which I will share at another time. My Life: Part 2…

IMG_1535With one of my brothers and four of my sisters before the start of the Inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Dublin Half Marathon, August 2013.