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Give & Take - To Philanthropy, or Not to Philanthropy: That is the Question

Robin Pertusi

When I first joined Prosek, one of the “differentiators” that appealed to me was the Give Back team. In fact, 7/10 candidates that interview here cite our philanthropy involvement, or what we deem our Give Back efforts, to be a big draw for them. But what exactly does the Give Back team do? Or an even bigger question, why should one choose to take that extra step and “Give Back”?

Sure, we participate in charitable walks around Central Park and through Wall Street to raise money for Breast Cancer research and to fight heart disease. Yes, we climb to the top of Rockefeller Center to raise money for the fight against Multiple Sclerosis, and participate in spin classes to donate to the efforts of Memorial Sloan Kettering, but these are just some of many causes we care about. The real work that we do is not shown in the number of dollar bills we scrape together to donate, but the time we spend helping others. 

If you work in financial services, you’ve likely heard of The Robin Hood foundation, a non-profit poverty-fighting New York-based philanthropic empire that has raised over $2.5 billion in its 29-year history. Founded by Paul Tudor Jones, one of the most successful hedge fund managers in the world, Robin Hood has garnered the support and respect of Wall Street and hedge funds alike since the beginning of its inception. Putting its name to use, Robin Hood set out to take from the rich and give to the poor. Sounds basic, but what many people overlook is that “rich” doesn’t just mean having thousands of dollars to donate at an annual benefit. “Rich” also means having opportunities and knowledge that can be shared with others to better their lives.

This past month, three “rich” Prosekians volunteered for a morning at the Grace Institute, a workforce development program that Robin Hood has helped fund for nearly a decade. Grace is focused solely on helping low-income women (ages 18 – 64 with an average annual personal income of less than $6,000) to identify and train for jobs with potential for advancement. In month three of the five-month program, we joined the group for a mock interview day where the women would learn to converse with confidence.

Working in a field where prepping people for (media) interviews is second nature, this seemed like the optimal chance for us to really make an impact; and after just three hours, it really felt like we had. The agenda was straightforward – meet with six women in rotating timed segments during which we would review their job description and resume, ask them typical interview questions, and then provide feedback. The mock interviews were all very different, but held one consistent thread throughout – each woman’s confidence was down from being out of work for various reasons and time periods, and each answer was filled with self-doubt as a result. It was this uncertainty in their current situations and inability to look beyond the past that was preventing them from confidently charging into their future.

I worked with each woman to provide very specific feedback for their answers – I let them know that the “elevator pitch” should always begin with job qualifiers rather than cliché descriptors, a negative should always be framed as a positive, and answers should always be tailored to the job/company of interest, rather than a catch-all retort. The honest feedback was personalized and supplemented with comments, noting how many women did an excellent job of being engaged, maintaining eye contact, and seeming genuine. At the end of our discussion, one woman said to me: “I believe everything happens for a reason and despite a hell of a long commute to get here today, hearing your feedback really made it all worth it.” Just hearing those words made me feel like we really had made a difference in helping these women get one step closer to the next phase of fulfillment in their lives. 

So why “Give Back”? Well, over 100,000 women at the Grace Institute have learned skills they needed to successfully enter and stay in the workplace – and those three hours of my day allowed me to help at least a few of them get there. 

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