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Toughest Call Ep. 106 – How you choose to do the work IS the work (with Jewell Mitchell) - TRANSCRIPT

Jewell Mitchell  00:05

I just needed to make sure that I was prepared. Should it not go that way?


Chaz Thorne  00:12

Welcome back, or Welcome to toughest call a podcast for organizational leaders where we hear stories from your leadership colleagues about career defining decisions. I'm your host, Chaz Thorne. In this episode, I'm talking with Joel Mitchell about a challenge she faced when she felt the process for a large capital campaign was becoming disconnected from the organization's vision and values. Julian nonprofit leader with a particular belief in and focus on supporting the potential of women and children. Individuals can have very different approaches to decision making. And when you put these different approaches into a group process, conflict can erupt. jewel talks about what she learned from this difficult experience about the leaders role in setting up these group processes for success and how to keep your team on track as you move forward.


Jewell Mitchell  01:09

I was the executive director of YWCA in Monkton and we endeavored on a large scale capital project to bring forward the Center for Women and girls that was a hub facility that would have housing for young moms. It would have full fledged childcare, employability services, health and wellness, a real wraparound supports for women and children in the mountain area.


Chaz Thorne  01:45

Joel, how were the mission and values of the YWCA and Monckton stated so that we sort of have an understanding of what the what the organization was committed to at the time you were leading it and


Jewell Mitchell  02:03

why Dipsy Monckton exists to empower and support women and their families to lead empowered lives through integrated services, supports and services.


Chaz Thorne  02:16

How much money was the YWCA looking to raise in this campaign?


Jewell Mitchell  02:23

And the project itself that in its final iteration, it was a $4 million project? And we were looking to raise in the capital campaign portion about $3 million? Wow, that's a lot. It's a lot. That's that's where we ended up with a $3 million campaign.


Chaz Thorne  02:44

And there wasn't really, there wasn't really a background in terms of capital, campaign fundraising and so on within the within the organization at that time?


Jewell Mitchell  02:58

No, at the time, our sole fundraising program. All that existed was one singular legacy gift of a, you know, a couple of $1,000 a year that came from a foundation that no one knew anything about. And, yeah, so we came really from no fundraising program at all, to having this incredible vision of something very different.


Chaz Thorne  03:32

And what was the team that you initially pulled together to run this to run this campaign?


Jewell Mitchell  03:43

So there, there were many, many people who came together. We had significant support and interest from strategic business partners, who were very moved and taken and supportive of this idea of wraparound supports for young women. And we had, we built a fundraising team and under the concept of our values around intergenerational support, and the fact that women's poverty, particularly in New Brunswick, and in Canada, is not a women's only issue. It really when you look at the stats and the figures, it really is a young mothers. Poverty is really where we see so much of the intergenerational poverty that exists. And so we built a team of it was husband and wives, it was mothers and sons. It was sensing sorry, rather mothers and daughters. It was it was a whole connection. But it was it was familiar. It was it was built on family, because that was what we were trying to build was a was a was a safe space for families in all their iterations. And so that's that's who we reach To us to support that team.


Chaz Thorne  05:04

Can you lay out a layout for us? What that decision was that you were faced with? That was extremely challenging.


Jewell Mitchell  05:15

So the decision that I, as the leader needed to grapple with and decide was, do I raise $1 million in a capital campaign that provides a life giving experience for the women, and particularly the young women that were around that campaign table? Or do I raise 3 million in absence of it?


Chaz Thorne  05:37

That's definitely the definition of a of a tough call, especially for nonprofit. I think a lot of people also don't realize as well how competitive it seems odd to say that about our charitable sector. But it's, it's quite competitive, because really, you're also just trying to, you're also just trying to get your story heard out there amongst the, amongst the noise that's, that's out there for both nonprofits and for profit businesses in general, sort of competing for attention. So what was so you're you're faced with this decision? Can you can you lay out for us what that was going to mean, in terms of the potential implementation and the team that you were, you would be working with between those, those two options.


Jewell Mitchell  06:37

There was no clear right or wrong what to do, there was a lot of decisions to be made, there was a lot of unknowns, very much like pandemic, thinking, and leading very, very much there were, there were no notes, and there was a lot of scary possibilities, but no knowns. And, you know, so that really created this lack of clarity. In the decision making table that I had, that I had convened to advise me, I had so many different people that have wonderful, amazing, brilliant advice and experience that I did not have. And so I leaned on them and their expertise. But what I was able to witness in one particular convening of this table was the real sense of power and control in a way that I hadn't witnessed before. And I should I do want to say that feminist decision making or collaborative decision making in and of itself, you know, is is a different way of kind of distributing position, influence experience, it kind of, you know, sort of flattens that. And, really, sometimes it can feel a little circular. It can be frustrating, perhaps at times. And so, you know, I set that context. But essentially, there was definitely some strong suggestions about the way that we should proceed, that really shut down some of the voices of women of the women who around the table, it did fall on that kind of male female divide line. And it really just kind of set in motion this idea of, either for me, I trust that this is how you raise money, this is how you do it. And this is what you want to do. And if you want this beautiful, life changing facility for the community, for all the women and girls and their families that you're going to serve, this is what you need to do that. Or alternatively, I could kind of call out or bring to light some of the patriarchal sort of underpinnings that I was feeling that were happening with the decision making table, and possibly, possibly cause those who could bring the money to the table to step away.


Chaz Thorne  09:23

What was your process in terms of in terms of deciding between those, those two things because how it's sort of been how it's been set up is that it was a tension between two very different choices. It's raise a million dollars, which is not enough in a way that feels more aligned with what the organization stands for, or raise $3 million in a way that feels out of line with what the organization stands for, but will result in this great this great facility actually happening that the the, the the money raising side of things is is more likely to be successful. How did you wrangle between those two options in your own mind as you move towards making a decision about that?


Jewell Mitchell  10:33

I actually, after that particular meeting, I actually one of the women that was advising me came up to me, and she said, Julie, you know what, I think I'm going to, I should step away, I will, from the side in the Union there, but you, you need everyone around the table to raise the money. So, and her saying that, I felt such relief, I'm going to just be honest, let's just be honest, here, I felt such relief. I felt relieved. And then that relief caused a shame, great shame. Here was a woman who was saying, you know, what I got, I'm gonna step away so that that, you know, we're not gonna ruffle any feathers. And, you know, this is the way you know, this is what you need the money for the this project. And so I really had to sit with that. And I really had to figure out what my place was. Now, for me, I, you know, I didn't go in an affluent circles. You know, I wasn't the business in the community, the business leader, but I did no, nonprofit, I did no mission. And I didn't know that. And I did understand when something was not feeling, right, that I needed to go in and really think about it, because in the end, it was my organization to run and to lead. And I wasn't leading by just allowing someone to step away and in someone to proceed, like, that's not leading, that's, that's just allowing, that's giving away your your power and privilege. Right. So I really had to think, Okay, what do I have to offer? Well, what I do know, is I do know, I do believe, as in our campaign materials, I believe in the boundless potential of women, and children, and with the right supports, can do extraordinary things like I believe that. And I believe that whatever we could offer, would be, would be a beautiful thing. Just because in my mind, by vision had all of these many different parts, that didn't mean that something smaller, wouldn't be as effective in life giving and change. So, for me, it was around what's the ego part, having this project that I've really developed? It really does speak to what I think would be break intergenerational poverty and things like that. But that's not to say something smaller. Couldn't do that, too. So I tried to kind of really kind of think about what would that what would it look like? I also really understood who who are my stakeholders, in my role, and as the executive director of the YWCA, the young women around the table, were my stakeholders. So if I'm going to feel shame, or if I'm going to feel regret, who whose expectations Do I really care about. And in the end, it wasn't about the people that were maybe above my station, as far as work or affluence or it had nothing to do with that. It was about young women, watching, you know, mothers and fathers and everyone else, this intergenerational mix that we had, it was they were watching, and they were learning the way business is done. And so once I kind of fixated on that, you know, I really was able to quickly actually quite quickly once this all sort of came into my mind, pare down this project so that a million dollars would be a beautiful project. And wow, we would have phases that we could, no ongoing. But it was just a reimagining of what the dream is or what the vision is. And I think that was in identifying whose voice who what person mattered to me as a leader like and in the end. You know, it was me who had delivered the decision and had to reconcile that. So finding out what opinion mattered the most It was important for the YWCA to like, we are very lived experience trumps everything. And so it's an organization that values most often what is dismissed or shameful? In other decision making tables, you know, we really value that. And so that helped as well.


Chaz Thorne  15:23

Did you have anyone counseling you or any sounding boards as you were mulling over what you were going to do?


Jewell Mitchell  15:33

Oh, my sounding boards were, were the ones that were at all it's in this case, right? All all of everyone I knew was involved or invested in this. And, and also, like, the decision making process, like I had taken myself out of, like, I wasn't leading, I think that's the other piece that was really what was my role in this, I not only had I lost control of the decision making process, I had never really asserted myself in it. You know, sometimes when when things are outside of your, your realm or or beyond your, your reach, you can over rely on others. And in a vacuum of leadership, people are going to step up. And it may not be in a way that you want it to go. And so really thinking about my like, I really tried to understand what was my role? Where had I perhaps, not done? Well, by everyone, because everyone is amazing. There's no one that you know, that everyone identified as feminists, everyone identified with all of those pieces, and no one wanted it to be anything less than empowering for all of the people that were there. Like, I want to make sure that that is very clear. And so I had to kind of think about what was my role in allowing this environment to kind of erupt? And I think, you know, that I think that was an important learning for me and an important, you know, an important piece of why things break down. Because there isn't that clear expectation of there is no clear process. And there needs to be it needs to be things need to be led, even if it's led to, you know, then remove yourself and become an equal partner with the decision making, but there still needs to be leadership and setting direction around that decision, decision making process,


Chaz Thorne  17:40

you go through this process you you revise the plan for the, for the capital campaign so that it will work with this, this smaller option of raising a million dollars, that you feel will be more in line with the values that you're trying to put forth of the organization. How did you go about communicating that to those that were involved? And what was the immediate fallout of that decision?


Jewell Mitchell  18:19

So the pivot that happened was in my mind, it wasn't I didn't, it was like, if the worst case scenario happens, if that happens, what would result and I was able to rectify that, and I would have a plan immediately in my mind. But I did have faith, hope, and in belief, still that, you know, raising all of the money that we needed, and it being a life giving experience, still, the potential ality was still there. Because the people around the table were still amazing, big hearted people who believed in the cause I just needed to make sure that I was prepared. Should it not go that way? Like I needed to kind of do that risk analysis, again, leading my team. This is not something I took to my board of directors, this was all in the moment. And it had to happen very, you know, quite, quite quickly, what would be the pivot, but it was always Plan B. You know, it was never to give up. Plan A, I just knew that once I addressed the nature in reasserted myself, and the sort of that more feminist model of decision making, that that could result in, in in people being unhappy and uncomfortable and potentially walking away from the project. So that's just to be clear, I didn't actually do all of the rejigging plans and things like that it was more around that possibility. And where would we go should we need


Chaz Thorne  20:00

So what happened when you reasserted that new approach amongst the team?


Jewell Mitchell  20:07

So the way I certainly did it is I addressed it, and I just kind of did it via email very discreetly, to a couple of people that I want to chat about. And I did it very, in my way, as you would know, like I might have, you know, certainly taste gently. And, and I would hope very, very respectfully, but also, clearly as well, you know, just to kind of make sure that we were kind of on board. And the result was a bit of discomfort, for sure. But that it did, that did go away, no one walked away. And in the end, we, we did hit the highest number for our capital campaign. And thank goodness, because we knew every single dollar, single dollar construction, there's a whole lot of learning on that one, as well. But in the end, when you have high hopes, and high expectations for people, they meet them, most generally, you know, and I really, I do believe that, and the situation that unfolded really had to do with fear, and everyone was trying to do their best and everyone, you know, was navigating different circumstances. And, and I think, me coming into the ownership of my place in that role, allowed everyone else to lean into the gifts that they brought to the table. And so in the end, you know, people did we all met, and rose together and had an incredible experience something that should never or should have been in a possibility I was told was an impossibility. But the people really connected deeply. And and, you know, it's there today thriving and and doing what we intended it and hoped that it would do.


Chaz Thorne  22:23

jewel, if you were faced with if you were faced with the same or a similar decision. Again, what would you do differently if, if anything?


Jewell Mitchell  22:37

Well, for sure, if I was going to bring in a code gendered, inter generational team to do anything, I would, first of all have a lovely team building exercise that really talked about what the decision making might look like values and beliefs, I would talk about all these types of things. And the value for being that I would bring to the table and hope would everyone would have that same buy in Is that how you do the work is work. And I that is my the learning that I came to really know, through this process. And so I would bring that up front. So there's no means like, there's no ill gotten means that justifies an ends like the end itself. It's the end itself is a beautiful, hopeful visionary project. But how we get there is every bit as important. And so I would start with that. And I would start that, you know, when we have difficult decisions to make when it is gray and it will be gray, that our vision and mission you know, that's the North Star, and our values are the guideposts that will help us know which way to turn and how to pivot that they are God guideposts. We don't get to sidestep them. We don't get to sidestep them. And I think just setting that up at the very top would create just an understanding where you know, we we would be able to draw back to that and it wouldn't be such a harsh reality when we did have to kind of call that out.


Chaz Thorne  24:24

If you'd like to learn more about jewel, you can check out her profile on LinkedIn. That is jewel with two L's Mitchell. And if you'd like some assistance with your own tough calls, we've compiled a collection of free tools just for you. Go to toughest to check them out. If you're not yet a subscriber to the toughest call, please add us wherever you listen to your podcasts. Thanks for listening. I hope this conversation helps you when faced with your next tough call.

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