Listening Helps Career-Services Nonprofit Dress and Empower Women for Success


Dress for Success Austin wants to hear directly from the women who come to its clothing boutique and participate in its career services about what they are looking to accomplish.

 “Everyone here, including volunteers, is trained and committed to asking, from the first introduction, What are your goals?” says Mia Johns, executive director. “Not, what are our goals or our goals for you. We ask what are her goals, what is her idea of success.”

Dress for Success takes the pulse of its clients in other ways, too. It runs quick polls on its Facebook page and, three times a year, sends out a 40-question survey, giving away gift baskets and extra chances to visit the boutique to incentivize participation. When the pandemic hit, the organization extended its survey reach to 4,500 people, hoping to get the word out about its services and to find out what people in the community most needed.

Among other changes, Dress for Success moved its job-readiness programs online, started loaning out laptops, and introduced a YouTube video series, “Minute Mentoring,” with community and business leaders offering tips and inspiration. It also upped to full time a program manager job overseeing volunteers and interns tasked with reaching out to clients one-on-one. And the organization created a new resource, an interactive referral list of agencies working in food-assistance, healthcare, childcare, and other areas.

For Dress for Success, its GuideStar by Candid profile helps communicate to funders that the organization is about much more than providing clothing, Johns says. The How We Listen section, in particular, demonstrates how the organization works to provide the support women looking for long-lasting career planning say they need.

“We always say that we meet women wherever they are,” Johns says. “And you don’t know exactly where that is unless you ask, hear, and then work together from there.”