Consultant coaches groups on the economics
By BRENDA CORNELIUS, Courier Staff Writer
CEDAR FALLS - If there'd been a newspaper job in New York City
after Stephanie Clohesy graduated from college in 1970, she
might be writing about change in the world instead of making
"I thought I was going to be a journalist," said
Clohesy, now an international consultant, "but jobs were
in short supply."
Instead, with luck and great contacts, she became administrative
director of a fledgling public policy research center created
by a group of prominent social scientists. Their goal was to
accelerate the process of getting research accepted by public
policymakers and made into law.
Clohesy, fresh from Chicago's Loyola University, learned to
create a nonprofit organization, write grants and proposals,
work with donors, negotiate with government, build a staff and
do payroll. After six years with the public policy center, she
moved to another group just getting off the ground, the NOW
Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Timing played a role in both opportunities. The policy center
and NOW were new organizations.
"They couldn't afford who they really needed ... so they
hired me," she said, exhibiting the insight and sense of
humor that are signatures of her consulting work.
From NOW, Clohesy's path led to a fellowship, then job, with
the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and international consulting work
in South Africa, Eastern Europe, Argentina and Salzburg, Austria.
Since 1992, she's been on her own. Clohesy Consulting is headquartered
in the back of the modest ranch-style home she shares with her
husband, William, who has taught philosophy and business ethics
at the University of Northern Iowa since 1987.
Clohesy's client list reads like a who's who of nonprofits
and philanthropy --- the W.K. Kellogg, James Irvine and Ford
Foundations, to name a few.
One current project, through the Women's Funding Network, brought
women from Nicaragua, Mexico, St. Thomas, the Netherlands, California,
Texas, New York and Chicago to her home in August to work on
building and strengthening women's foundations throughout the
Conducting meetings in her downstairs offices and upstairs
board room, which also serves as a family dining room, was "a
real bonding experience" for the 20 people involved, Clohesy
said. Outside of the intense sessions, the visitors found time
to explore the Cedar Valley --- renting bicycles and roller
blades. They departed with abundant ideas for organizational
development and plenty of Iowa souvenirs.
From Shakespeare to Argentina
A child of the '60s and '70s, Clohesy came to the world of
philanthropy armed with an undergraduate degree in English literature.
"I was fresh from Shakespeare and Chaucer ... (with) lots
of ambition about how to change the world," she said.
By getting in on the ground floor of social change, she was
able to take her ideas, and the ideas of others, and form organizations
During her fellowship with the Kellogg Foundation, Clohesy
went to Argentina, which was evolving from a military dictatorship
to a constitutional democracy. There, she worked with a coalition
of 30 nonprofits. The groups, made up primarily of women, aspired
to higher leadership roles in political and community life.
They needed help to create meaningful and effective organizations
around the issues they cared about --- children, welfare, teacher
support, rural development, child care and human rights.
Clohesy created programs on conflict resolution, leadership,
organizational structure, fund raising and dealing with membership
organizations. "It was an open textbook on organizational
development," she said.
Learning conflict resolution skills proved a challenge for
the Argentineans. "Open dissent" and "spicy dialogue"
are important to the health of a philanthropic organization,
said Clohesy, but are not primary skills under a military dictatorship
where people live under the threat "you could just disappear
if you said the wrong thing."
Clohesy's work in Argentina gave her another level of expertise
and also formed the genesis of her current vocation. The knowledge
she could teach --- intervene --- was a revelation.
"Up until then I thought you just did your work by doing
it ... by being the executive director (or) taking a staff role
in an organization as opposed to (showing) other people how
to do it."
After her fellowship with the Kellogg Foundation ended, Clohesy
accepted a staff position. She stayed five years, working on
leadership development, with the goal of determining what role
a larger foundation could play in supporting the overall development
of philanthropy in the United States.
It was the beginning of an upward shift in the economy, she
said. "A whole new generation of businesses and people
were coming into more mature stages in their own economic health.
... How (would) people turn that into philanthropy?"
The economics of philanthropy
When Clohesy left the Kellogg Foundation in 1993 to establish
her consulting business in Iowa, she started with three contracts,
one of them an outsourced project from the foundation. She can't
recall a year since she went out on her own that she hasn't
been "on overflow."
Still, like all entrepreneurs, she worries that there will
be enough work. "I always ask the mission question: 'Is
this what I'm supposed to be doing with my life?'"
This is often followed, she said, by the economic question.
"Is this enough?"
Sometimes it's hard to gauge what is enough.
Often a project that looks like it will take 20 days turns
into 40. "It's hard to estimate," said Clohesy. "Almost
all people who do this sort of social change work are optimists
... and as a result we all underestimate how long anything is
going to take."
For the last five years, she's been assisted by full-time staff
member Dylan Arnett, whose administrative work includes finances,
technology, scheduling and some research assignments.
Other work is outsourced to researchers and writers, graphics
people and consultants, including one in Cedar Falls and two
Clohesy Consulting's services include strategic planning, the
startup process, executive coaching, staff and board development,
program impact services and the grant-making process. She's
a problem-solver --- "a kind of organizational therapist,"
she said. "I love it when they just hand me a problem and
say 'We don't know what to do about this,' or 'We can't figure
this out' or 'We need to understand this.'"
A recent project involved a consortium of Minneapolis-based
donors interested in accelerating the development of integrative
medicine --- a blend of traditional, scientifically-based methods
and alternative medicine.
Clohesy conducted a "map" or "scan" of
the field which looked at what's happening now, policy issues,
how integrative medicine is practiced, how widespread and accepted
it is and where change is beginning to happen. The project involved
interviews with 30 major players in the field, including Dr.
Andrew Weil in Arizona, a best-selling author and world-renowned
pioneer in integrative medicine.
Clohesy then synthesized all the facts into a report for the
consortium. The challenge was to include enough --- but not
too much --- information. "It was wildly interesting ...
a fabulous challenge," she said, but "almost overwhelmed
Today's nonprofits face complex challenges. "The amount
of work needed inside an average nonprofit in terms of their
organizational development --- strengthening them in terms of
an organization --- is huge," Clohesy said.
They strive to be "a magnet for good ideas," she
said, so must structure themselves so those ideas come to them
Locally, Clohesy's clients have included Opportunity Works,
which is developing a 10-year plan to increase opportunities
and reduce poverty in the region. She also works with the Chrysalis
Foundation in Des Moines, established in 1989 to improve the
lives of Iowa women and girls.
Whether local or international, Clohesy sees one common attribute
among nonprofit and philanthropic organizations. "Their
visions are very idealistic and very ambitious ... and the resources
--- no matter how wealthy the foundation --- pale to the need
they can document."