With kids away from home sooner than expected, and extra time on her hands, Marla dedicated herself to helping victims of domestic violence.
When did you start to think about charting a new direction for yourself in midlife?
In my 40’s, I started considering what I would do next. I’d led a successful corporate career, had started my own event planning business, then had quit working when my husband was diagnosed with lymphoma. After he passed away, I was left to raise a 5-year old and a 2-year old on my own. Once we got our life into a routine, I became very involved in my local school’s parent-teacher organization, which satisfied my desire to work and give back to the community.
In my 50’s, as the time approached when I knew both my kids would be out of the house, I was ready to figure out the next phase of my life. While I would have liked to earn a salary, I was fortunate to be in a position where that was not a necessity and was able to look far and wide for the right next act. What I wasn’t prepared for was my son coming home from school in 8th grade and announcing that he wanted to go to boarding school the next year. My planning for “four years from now” was suddenly just months away.
After my kids left that fall, one for college, the other for boarding school, I came home, stood in my quiet, empty house and thought, “now what?” (I remarried three years earlier, so my house wasn’t completely quiet). I determined that the two things I could change were my lifestyle and helping others. So I sold my house in the suburbs, moved into the city, and started on a new adventure.
What is your next act? Tell us about what you are doing…
I founded A Night Out, a nonprofit organization committed to providing adult victims of domestic violence and abuse with a brief escape from their everyday world. We take 10-15 women from Chicago-area shelters and agencies for a night of dinner and comedy, spa nights, theatre, ballet and other special events. We also provide childcare to make it easier for them to get away for an evening. Since May 2013, we have hosted 30 events for more than 300 women and cared for 80 of their children. We offer two events each month, utilizing a team of dedicated volunteers.
Why did you choose this next act? What other options did you consider? How did you figure out which way to go?
I always loved working, learning new things, and keeping up with business trends. Business had changed so much since I last worked, so I decided that I first needed to catch up to the way business was now being conducted. I took an Entrepreneurship class at University of Chicago and decided that a social media business was the way to go. I took an Integrated Marketing class in social media at University of Chicago and then went to work with my mentor from the Entrepreneurship class on a couple of start-up companies. It was exciting at first, but my interest and enthusiasm waned after a few months.
I then tried starting a social media business and decided that I didn’t really like that either. I was talking with a long-time friend, a social worker, who suggested that what was missing in my life was my need to help other people. Coming from a business background, that thought had never occurred to me. Not having any social service experience, my friend said he would help me with that side of the business. He explained how underserved the domestic violence population is, so I chose to work with a group that needed help the most.
What was missing in my life was my need to help other people.
I researched services that were currently available to victims of domestic violence to see where I could fill an unmet need. There are many wonderful resources in Chicago such as support groups, help hotlines, transitional housing, job counseling, etc. These victims have exposure to great services that require intense, focused work to help them rebuild their lives.
I had just attended three comedy shows (Joan Rivers, Paula Poundstone, and Lily Tomlin) and, even weeks later, I would still be laughing about the jokes I had heard. That’s when it occurred to me that what these women needed was laughter, a brief respite from their serious, daunting world. That was my inspiration for A Night Out.
How hard was it to take the plunge? How did you prepare?
Once the idea was solidified, I knew in my heart that it was the right thing for me, so it wasn’t difficult to jump right in. I took an online class on starting a nonprofit organization. I was invited to be the first business in Illinois to apply for a Kiva Zip loan, an online micro funding site, where I raised $3,500 to start the business. I gathered a group of volunteers to become the founding Board of Directors. I created a business development and strategic plan to prepare for the process of applying for non-profit status from the IRS.
What these women needed was laughter, a brief respite from their serious, daunting world.
What challenges did you encounter?
The first challenge was finding an attorney to help me with the IRS application process. I couldn’t afford any of the recommended attorneys so I took a big risk by using an online firm, Patel & Almeida, that guarantees getting businesses tax-exempt status for a fraction of the cost. I made this decision based solely on my research and some online testimonials (both positive and negative). It was a long, grueling process, but they did in fact help me get my 501(c)(3) status. There weren’t many challenges after that, which was one reason I knew this was the right business for me. It all flowed very naturally, it was fun, and I was learning so much and meeting so many new people.
Were there times when you thought about giving up? What/who kept you going?
It’s been two years since I founded the business. The feeling of wanting to give up hasn’t happened until recently. A Night Out has grown very quickly and has become a great success. All of this has been done with an amazing group of caring, dedicated volunteers. None of us gets paid. As the Founder and President, everything ultimately is my responsibility. As much as I love what I’m doing, it’s exhausting and frustrating running a growing business without adequate support.
What keeps me going is my family, my friends and my team. The support I have received is astounding. My children are very happy that I have something to keep me busy and my husband is very proud of my accomplishments. All of my good friends have become involved in A Night Out in one way or another. One helped me put the business together since day one and she is still one of my best volunteers and an essential board member. Other friends have gone through our training program so they are able to attend the events and host the women we serve. Another group of friends serve as my Advisory Council and make it feel less “lonely at the top.”
How could I possibly give up now, knowing what a difference I have made in hundreds of women’s lives?
In the end, however, what keeps me going most is the women that we serve. How could I possibly give up now, knowing what a difference I have made in hundreds of women’s lives? Having a purpose and seeing positive results of my hard work is the ultimate motivator.
What words of advice do you have for women seeking to reinvent themselves in midlife?
Be true to yourself. Seize the opportunity to live a bold, authentic life. Advocate for yourself, put it out there and take pleasure in the results
Examine who you are as a person and what you’d like to do to lead a life of satisfaction and gratification. Take risks and follow your dreams. Be proud to share your dreams with others.
Seek guidance. As the leader of a growing organization, it’s imperative to have the support that I need to continue leading others effectively. I have a life coach and a non-profit advisor who keep me focused and who help me work smarter and more effectively. I’ve joined a Business Leaders group that meets regularly to address issues that are common to us all.
Examine who you are as a person and what you’d like to do to lead a life of satisfaction and gratification.
What words of advice do you have for those interested in pursuing your path?
Align yourself with someone who complements you and has different skills than you. I have a business background and my co-founder, Alan Weintraub, has a background in social service. Alan runs the Mental Illness Substance Abuse (MISA) program at Family Guidance Centers in Chicago. Neither of us could have grown the business without the other.
In addition to Alan, I wish I’d had another business-oriented partner. I didn’t have anyone who would question and challenge my decisions and to collaborate from a business perspective. I am slowly achieving that need by transitioning my board to include more diverse backgrounds of board members. I am also looking to hire a part-time employee to handle the operations of the business.
Read as much as you can, learn from others who have been down a similar road and go to everything that you’re invited to attend. Reach out to everyone you know and seek out new connections.
The entire success of A Night Out has come from the courage to be authentically bold. My enthusiasm is contagious.
Ask for help. One of the very first things I did after starting the business was to host two house parties, where I told my story, explained A Night Out and asked for what I needed, which at the time were board members, money, and in-kind donations. The events were extremely successful and I believe that part of the success was the inspiration I provided to the women in attendance.
Believe in yourself. When you’re passionate about what you’re doing, you’re happy to tell everyone your story. By taking the risk of sharing my dream, I am fulfilling my needs, helping those in need, and inspiring other women to do the same. I definitely feel I am a role model for women who have been in the same “what now?” situation. The entire success of A Night Out has come from the courage to be authentically bold. My enthusiasm is contagious.
What resources do you recommend?
In the field of nonprofits, I read every website, blog and book about fundraising, leadership, and nonprofits in general. There are frequent articles in publications like the Wall Street Journal, Forbes and other business publications.
Check out alumni groups from your college/university as well as women’s service groups at law firms, investment firms, and other businesses that focus on philanthropy.
Pamela Grow online learning series
Heather Locus and the Women’s Service Team at Balasa, Dinverno, Folz, LLC
Online law firm that helped me secure my nonprofit status: Patel & Almeida
If you are looking for resources related to domestic violence, check out A Night Out’s Resources page.
If you live in the Chicago area, I recommend:
Julie Colbrese at Hot Coffee Coaching
What’s next for you? Do you think you have another next act in your future?
I am currently working toward a certificate at the Northwestern University School of Professional Studies in Philanthropy and Nonprofit Organization.
I want to inspire other women to lead an authentic life.
I love what I’m doing now, but I always like taking on new challenges so I’m sure this is not my final next act. I want to make an even bigger impact than I’m making now. I want to inspire other women to lead an authentic life.
There are so many of us who had careers, took time off to raise our children, and are now in the empty nest. We have so much more life in us and so much talent and experience. It’s daunting and intimidating to re-enter the working world. It’s comforting to know that there are so many other women out there going through the same challenge. Knowledge is power and the more resources, the better!
Check out A Night Out at www.anightout.org – they are always looking for volunteers, donations, sponsorships and speaking opportunities.
Contact Marla Mogul, Founder and President, at firstname.lastname@example.org.