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Gentle persuasion from one of Maryland's top 100 women

April 04, 2007|by BOB MAGINNIS

Read Cynthia Perini's lengthy rsum and you soon figure out that not every juggler works in the circus. But instead of juggling flaming torches, what this Sovereign Bank vice president juggles is time.

Don't believe me? In addition to her duties with the bank, Perini was co-chair of the 2006 campaign of the United Way of Washington County and is the mother of three active children, all under 16.

Her accomplishments, which include being a co-founder of the Women's Giving Circle, haven't gone unnoticed.

Earlier this year she was named one of Maryland's top 100 women by The Daily Record, a Baltimore-based newspaper that covers business and legal news.

Asked how she manages to fit so much into her days, Perini said, "I'm asked that a lot." Then, laughing, she adds that on some days she does better than others.

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Having a support system of family and friends in the community helps, she said. And the leaders of those organizations with whom she serves know that there are times she will take a major role in what's happening, while at other times she will be in the background.

It also helps, she said, that her own children are involved in community service.

"It's been interesting to see the amount of pride in what they do," Perini said, adding that they've been well-schooled on the idea that "we owe it to the community to give back."

I asked Perini how she got started in community service and whether she had to negotiate with her supervisors to get time off for good causes.

"I've been fortunate enough to work with banks in this county and banks have stepped up in a big way" to help nonprofit organizations, she said.

Instead of having to ask for time off, Perini said, her supervisors came to her and asked her to take on those challenges.

As someone who has been involved with fundraising for nonprofits myself, I found it the most difficult part of being involved. I asked Perini how she persuaded people to donate to United Way and other groups.

"I believe that most of us give for emotional reasons," she said. It's finding that emotional connection that persuades people to contribute, she said.

People do have different reasons for giving, she said, recounting a conversation she had with some union workers at Volvo Powertrain.

She said they told her that sometimes they can afford to help and sometimes they need help.

"They said, 'If you don't give when you can afford to give, you can't take when you need to take,'" she said.

One of causes closest to Perini's heart is the Women's Giving Circle, formed to deal with issues in this community facing women and their families.

The nonprofit solicits gifts for a foundation that supports a variety of projects, including a course in "financial literacy" at Girls Inc. and a program at the Family Center to teach teen mothers how to bond with their babies.

One criteria for being part of the "Top 100 Women" list is being a mentor and I asked Perini what she had done in that area.

"It started when I was in my early 20s and I took on a little girl (through the Big Sisters program) who was 8 years old," Perini said, adding that the child "got to experience my whole family."

In business, she said, mentoring is "really about setting examples for people and challenging them to take on new roles."

With nonprofits, she said, mentoring is often about helping those passionate about a cause find a way to apply their talents to it.

"Not everybody is comfortable going out there and asking for money," she said.

I asked Perini if she could change anything at all about this community, what it would be.

"It would probably be creating a greater awareness on the part of those in our community who have been blessed .. to help them understand their opportunities to step up and give back," she said.

In my view, that might be a hard argument to make to some who believe that only their hard work accounts for their success.

It takes gentle persuasion from people such as Perini to remind us that there are few of us who really didn't need any help to prosper - and that those who did succeed need to offer others a helping hand.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

(Editor's note: Hear the original interview with Cynthia Perini at Bob's Pod on www.antpod.com.

To chat with Perini online on Tuesday, April 17, at 1 p.m., go to www.herald-mail.com and click on "chat.")

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