Holiday Season 2004
A Relationship Story – Giving Back, Giving Smart

We are all very blessed with our successes and each of our individual places in the community. But hold on – this is not another holiday-season admonition for everyone to give more and remember others. It seems to me that most of us do not need much encouragement – we all look for ways to give back. And this is also not about donating money – I want to talk about the “time” part of giving back…that’s really the hard part. My friend Mike Issa from Ballenger, Cleveland, & Issa LLC said recently that the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program (where he is a Big Brother) is not experiencing a critical shortage of money but rather Big Brother volunteers (the kids have a 2-year wait to get matched!). Needless to say, the reality of time pressure on each of us is a very big deal.

Now we are all smart business people. We understand using resources wisely. I want to suggest we should look for the best ways to use our greatest strengths to get maximum impact from the limited time and energy we can share with our favorite causes. It seems intuitive also that if we spend time doing things we are really good at and like to do, we will surely be more effective and more interested. I have a story that offers two good examples of what I mean.

One of my dearest friends, and a person who improves the lives of everyone she touches, is Janice Kraus – the founder and producer of the non-profit Stagelight Family Productions. Janice produces arguably the best community youth-theater shows in Orange County, in cooperation with the City of Brea and a variety of local schools. FIRST EXAMPLE: Janice is a charismatic and brilliant artist and teacher, but not as much a risk-taking entrepreneur. The affiliation with the City and schools took the risk out of her vision while letting her focus on her strengths. As a result, over the last 15 years Janice’s continuing inspiration has given thousands of kids the confidence boost of performing live on stage, along with the pride of excellence and the team feeling from a unique shared experience. My 16 year-old daughter Lisa’s life will never be the same for this experience, as she rehearses for her 13th Stagelight production over the last 7 years. SECOND EXAMPLE: My own life will also never be the same for the opportunity to be part of Stagelight as a volunteer, which is also true for so many parents who have become my best of friends. However, I am just not good at the same things many other parents are. In fact, I am sort of a joke around the group of set designing/building volunteers – I am not really what you might call “handy”. But while I’m not so brilliant with hammer and paint brush, I am fairly handy with business strategy, generating ideas, growth planning, and evaluating alternatives. My volunteer contributions include working along with others to help Janice through these business challenges. As a result, I have played a small role helping Janice expand her program to have even more impact in the community and touch more and more lives.

Ask yourself whether you are helping others in ways that are both effective and fun for you. If so, you have the best potential for making a bigger difference. Much greater power for good can come from wisely using our most precious resource – our time.

I also wanted to acknowledge the non-profits and charities that are most important to some of my close friends in the community. I would love to hear your stories about where each of you commit your passion to make a difference. My best to you and your families for a wonderful holiday season.

Links: Stagelight Family Productions (

Mike Issa of Ballenger, Cleveland & Issa LLC: Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County
Kristi Barens of Mullin Consulting: Junior Achievement of Orange County
Will Sproule – Prentice School (for language learning differences)
Bertha Masuda of Vivient Consulting: Society To Aid Retarded (S.T.A.R.), Torrance, CA
Kevin Francis of Corporate Resources International: YMCA of Orange County
Roger Kraemer of ProActive Direct Marketing: CSUF Guardian Scholars Program
Charlie Spencer of Dynalectric: Habitat for Humanity
Terry Goldfarb-Lee of Resources Connection: Human Options shelter for abused women and their children
Mark Rowe of Rowe Consulting: Orangewood Children’s Home Providing Assistance, Love and Support “PALS”
Mark Strom of PRTM Consulting: Union Rescue Mission for the homeless


Jeff Black
Principal Consultant
McDermott & Bull Executive Search