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Rochelle de Goias
Rochelle de Goias | Photo by Love, Mom

How to launch a charity while being a mom

Rochelle de Goias, GEM’s Founder, was interviewed by Love, Mom on how to lead a charity that is changing the lives of high school girls in Toronto while being the mom of two little ones.  Read her full interview below.

LM: What’s a secret power you count on to keep it together?
R: “Determination. At work, I’m always thinking about a goal, for example right now, growth is top of mind. I’m singularly focused and know the team can make our charity better and bigger so we can help more people. I’m that person who to call if you have any self-doubt or if you’re having a bad day and I’ll say, ‘you can do this; you can do it with your eyes closed’. This level of motivation and intensity has allowed me to grow GEM from an idea into a reality.
I know I bring that intensity home too. I have this desire to ensure that my kids have this incredible childhood and create as many special moments as possible for them. Like so many moms, I would love them to look back on their lives and think they had the best mom. I know I stress myself out about it though. I’m really working on accepting that I can’t do everything and I have to be okay with doing what I can. I’m still getting the hang of it; I’ll stay up at night and send emails and take care some of online errands, then I’ll catch myself and shut it all down. I’m slowly figuring out the difference between being determined and doing too much.”

LM: Is launching a non-profit similar to growing a business?
R: “From the beginning, we wanted to create a charity that thought like a business. Our clients are our mentors and mentees and our investors are our donors. We’re intent on running GEM efficiently and at a low cost. For example, we have a large team of volunteers that help us reach our goals and we moved our office to the Centre for Social Innovation, a shared office space that keeps our nuts and bolts costs down.
We’re also growing the program strategically. We’ve invested a lot of time and effort on design thinking. Instead of taking a top-down approach where a goal is determined and then the steps towards that goal are created, I wanted to do it in reverse. We designed a program that began with our mentees to help us determine the goal. We spent six months consulting with local girls to discover what they needed. We also created a mentor advisory committee and asked them how we could make it easier for them to volunteer as busy working women who want to help. Then we did a pilot run, got feedback, and redesigned our approach based on what we heard. Every year we get new insights and then we tweak the program to make it better. Like any business, we have to be nimble and we can’t get stuck in one way of thinking.
The biggest difference with a traditional business, however, is that if we’re not profitable, we’re not reaching our goal of helping people. A charity relies on kindness, a compelling story and on donors and volunteers who want to make their cities and countries better. If people stopped having open hearts, a non-profit like us wouldn’t survive.”

LM: Describe a challenge you’ve had to overcome at GEM.
R: “We’re growing faster than I anticipated. It’s a good problem, but also stressful. With that growth, comes pressure to fundraise. There are a lot of girls requesting mentorship and we can only provide it for 1 in 4 girls, so we need more funding to support our programs. There are also so many areas that we want to be involved with beyond Toronto. There’s a huge need and we’re only a drop in the bucket. A part of me thought this was going to be a grass roots organization forever, and now I’m thinking about what growth looks like every day I go to work. This expansion is so exciting and the best outcome I could’ve hoped for, but naturally I wonder how am I going to manage all this while finding time to enjoy my young family?”

LM: Name a leap of faith you’ve had to take recently.
R: “Letting other people help me. When I started this, I was doing everything, then I brought in a bigger team and expanded the board.  Once I became pregnant with my second baby, my load became impossible to manage. We’ve grown to two full-time consultants (a project manager and a communications lead), a graphic designer and seven board members. Of course, I had an initial reaction to taking less of a hand’s on role. Relinquishing that kind of control took adjusting, and now I love it. I’m running the organization with women who are incredible while giving myself more time with my family.”

LM: What’s an a-ha moment that has surprised you most? 
R: “Deep down I trusted that GEM was going to help girls and I knew those girls would get to where they wanted to go. What I didn’t expect was that the community of mentors we have established would become so strong. They are incredible and like-minded women who want to hang out and create deep relationships with each other. The program gives us a chance to find out our interests, backgrounds and passions and it’s proving as valuable to the mentors as it is to the mentees.”

Interview taken from: Love, Mom.