Carla Morelli is the President of the local chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners. She was kind enough to give us an interview about her company and the work of NAWBO.
How did you come to launch your company?
I built what I needed. An intensely busy period in my consulting career was threatening the health and strength of my finances. I didn't have the time it took to stay on top of bills, etc. on a regular basis, and it really bothered me. I searched for a service that would look after my bills and credit as diligently as I did when I had the time. I couldn't find one. I actually considered hiring a personal assistant just to take care of my bills, but that seemed a bit excessive, so I struggled along. When I "retired" from consulting, FreyerMartin was a natural move. The daily money management industry was young, and the opportunity to define the landscape of an industry and possibly become the first nationally recognized name in the country was an invigorating challenge.
How did you become interested in NAWBO?
A mentor of mine from the West Coast recommended NAWBO as a business resource. I wasn't sure I wanted to be in a woman-centric organization, but I went to an event and was amazed by the experience. It was full of people basically said "We haven't done enough to help you. What do you need?" They were so supportive! If that weren't enough, I left each meeting both inspired and informed. It was always time well spent. Needless to say, I joined...
Why is it useful for women to have their own organization?
There are the obvious reasons, like the fact that women's personal lives as wives, mothers and caretakers often pose unique challenges that must be addressed. There's the need to unite in order to continue breaking down barriers that prevent women from moving forward and being independent and successful. There are more subtle things, too. As a gender, the way we think, process, lead and network makes doing business more different today than at any other time in history. NAWBO Greater DC is a place where women entrepreneurs find a structure that understands and supports them on every front.
How does the chapter interact with the national organization?
NAWBO Greater DC is actually the founding chapter of the national organization, though we don't affect its operations today. National provides the basis from which each chapter forms, creates a brand, and cultivates corporate partnerships that chapters leverage, but the chapters run themselves independently. Each chapter develops its own "personality", serving markets where a need is present. In the DC metro area, we welcome everyone, but our educational content specifically addresses the challenges faced by established businesses in the $1M - $10M revenue range, because that group doesn't have many local resources available to it.
The national NAWBO site has an advocacy section; how are the issues selected? What is the procedure for the organization to take a position on an issue?
I can't speak for NAWBO National, though I know they work on policy issues and also have a relationship with Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP). As the DC-area chapter, we appreciate the unique potential we have to affect issues that impact our businesses. We partner with WIPP and also have a Public Policy chair, but in general, we tread carefully around policy issues. We remain mindful that our primary mission is as an educational organization. When a policy issue comes up, it typically goes before the Board of Directors. If the Board thinks it has particular value to our members, the chapter will then get involved.
How are programs selected?
They come about in several ways. We're always on the lookout for timely, innovative programs that are worth our members' time. Some are topics we come up with at the Board/Committee level, others are requested by members, others still are created because of an inspiring story. The format is varied to allow people to experience learning in different ways. This year, our primary programs include panel, speaker and author series. We added small SIGs and local get-togethers to encourage more informal exchanges of information.
What makes a good presentation? Which speakers stand out?
A great program for NAWBO Greater DC has three parts:
1. A compelling topic
2. An interactive format that allows for questions and discussion
3. Networking among high-caliber women who support each other professionally and personally
Some of our most popular speakers have been extremely successful women who candidly shared their "lessons learned." That's a euphemism for "horror stories." People take as much away from those as they do from the successes - I know I have! Rose Wang, Michelle Lee and Sheri Orlowitz are great examples.
Bestselling authors that focus on women in business or leadership, like Carly Fiorina, Donna Fenn and Angie Morgan really engage our members, too. It's a thrill to be able to meet these women, and an even bigger one to realize the respect they have for our members in the audience.
How did you come up with the idea for the wine and cheese networking events?
Those came from the creative minds of the former Nation's Capital Chapter (now part of Greater DC). The events really allowed the people attending to enjoy the evening while making new connections. We haven't done those in a while. A number of networking organizations began offering them, so we moved to other event formats.
How do you see NAWBO's contribution to the women's movement?
The NAWBO message is one of strength, voice, and growth. As a chapter, NAWBO Greater DC believes in empowering women personally and professionally. Our recent alliance with Second Chance Employment Services (SCES), a nonprofit that provides meaningful employment for women that have been victims of abuse, is a perfect example: We provide programs that make our member companies stronger. They, in turn, become SCES hiring partners, providing jobs for at-risk women who are emerging from abusive situations and (re)entering the work world. Our members also provide financial and in-kind donations, like the financial management workshops my company provides SCES participants. By weaving a fabric of women and resources, NAWBO Greater DC creates an environment of strength and empowerment that a woman couldn't easily create on her own. Women who are part of the NAWBO Greater DC experience become stronger, more supportive members of the community. They are role models and mentors for other women, other business owners, and most importantly, younger women.
How do you see NAWBO's contribution to leadership for the business community?
Our focus on education, as opposed to pure networking, helps develop leaders who exemplify best practices as CEOs and as visionaries. They know how to take their businesses to the next level well before they need to do it. As they move their companies forward, they often create environments that foster growth and respect. The entire time, they're supported by NAWBO Greater DC with continuing education, introductions to the resources they need, and access to high-quality members who fill peer and mentoring roles for them.