A few weeks ago I learned about a really cool entrepreneur who combined what she knows as a licensed mental health counselor and what she learned as a reformed shopaholic. Jennifer Melnick Carota became an expert source on smart shopping and charitable giving. Best known for her role as the Gift Therapist, Jennifer is famous for her gift giving advice, new product reviews, and annual holiday gift guide. Products and services that meet her high standards for quality, affordability and creativity receive her endorsement in the form of the Gift Therapist’s Seal of Approval. It was through her holiday gift guide that we first became acquainted and it is her hard, hard work that convinced me to include her in a Q&A here.
In addition to her role as the gift therapist, not surprisingly she also created The Black Pants Project, which “aims to encourage, inspire, and mentor struggling women who are planning to enter or re-enter the workforce. Run solely by volunteers, this timely program provides free wardrobe essentials and specialized coaching services designed to empower women along the path to self-sufficiency with confidence, style and grace.” Jennifer knows that looking good means feeling good, which is key in the interview process. But not everyone looking for a job has the dough to buy the clothes that often matter.
So how does The Black Pants Project get the word out and what can we learn from Jennifer’s success? Here’s part one of my interview with Jennifer:
Leslie: How did you first get involved with The Black Pants Project?
Jennifer: I currently serve as the director of a small nonprofit organization just south of Pittsburgh called the Schooner Youth Center. One day I received a frantic phone call from a local businesswoman who had decided to close her upscale consignment store. She asked me if the youth center would like to have all of the unclaimed merchandise! As a frequent shopper of her consignment store, I knew that the clothing would provide a necessary and timely resource for struggling women and girls who were looking to enter or re-enter the workforce throughout our community. After sorting through hundreds of pieces of professional clothing I noticed one deficit . . . black pants. A fabulous wardrobe can be centered around a great pair of black pants, and thus the Black Pants Project was born.
Leslie: What are some of the specific challenges the organization faces in terms of getting the word out?
Jennifer: Small, grass-roots community organizations consistently struggle to get the word out due to the lack of access of funding and expertise that is required to launch an effective marketing and outreach campaign, as time and resources are primarily directed to providing the programs and services that will make a difference in their community. As a result, smaller organizations rely mostly on word-of-mouth marketing and existing connections within their own communities. This can create competition between organizations for both funding and funders, as most social service programs are located in distressed communities with very limited resources. In order to get the word out and garner support, small nonprofits must think creatively and globally.