What a year 2016 has been! It seems like only yesterday it was just beginning, and we were talking about what we wanted to accomplish in the coming months.Time continues to fly by, and DialogueDirect continues to soar.
This year was full of adventure, travel opportunities, new campaigns, and new clients. To me, it’s the journey to reach those goals that I know we’ll remember the most. Yes, the results are important, but the journey to achieve those results is what we’ll reminisce about. Stories about the ups, downs, and everything in the middle. It’s the adventure we strive for. The stories of victories and the stories of the ones that could have been.
Much of our success in 2016 was due to expanding our charity partnerships and strengthening our core staff. DialogueDirect North America tested with new partners, and increased our capacity with Save The Children USA, The Nature Conservancy, Child Fund International, UNICEF Mexico, Greenpeace Mexico, Save the Children Mexico, and welcomed our newest partnership with the ASPCA. Who doesn’t love puppies and kittens?
With all the excitement this year, we were still able to enjoy some sun in the fun. The DD USA team had the opportunity to travel east for Vietnam, to see firsthand the amazing work Save the Children does in Vietnam each day. In September, DD USA and DD Mexico ventured south to the beautiful island of Aruba for a little R&R. In May, DD Mexico explored their amazing country with a visit to the historical city of Querétaro. These events are not only rewards for a job well done, but the building blocks of the tight-knit professional relationships we strive for at DialogueDirect. We are a family, and family sticks together.
As I sit here in a hotel lobby in Mexico City, a two man band plays the most appropriate song, “Everyone Wants to Rule the World,” I reflect on what DialgoueDirect aspires to do each and every day. It feels like the band, and that song, are talking to us, the dedicated people who put on their armor each and every day, not to rule the world, but to change it for the better. Is it an easy task? No, just ask the countless team members who work in the sunshine, rain, snow, and yes, the bitter cold. The ones who hear one hundred “No’s” each day, and have the courage to fight for that “Yes!” They’re fighting for the idea that we can change the world for everyone. They’re fighting for the belief that our voice can make a difference.
As human beings, we all want the same things, no matter where we’ve come from. We want happiness, we want better lives for our fellow humans, we want to leave this earth a better place than we arrived. Isn’t that how we hope to be judged? That we did our part?
As the sun comes up each day, I continue to reflect on the work we do at DialogueDirect. It is such an amazing organization that we are all part of. We have the opportunity not only to make a living by helping others, but to become better people ourselves. We lay our heads on our pillows at the end of the day knowing we have contributed to humanity.
To the team members on the front lines, and to the office staff supporting our efforts, I want to thank you for another amazing year at DialgoueDirect. This team continues to impress, and elevates our efforts to another level. May each of you enjoy your holidays, and may 2017 bring you much success!
Want to join us in the new year? You can find out more about our career opportunities here: DialogueDirect Careers Page
Our fundraisers in Mexico recently had the opportunity to visit one of Save the Children’s Community Development Centers, located in southern Mexico City. As avid fundraisers for Save, they jumped at the chance to see the change they’d worked so hard for happening in real time, and eagerly departed for the Amecalli center. Robin and Abril, two top notch fundraisers, shared their reflections with us.
We visited one of Save the Children’s Community Childhood Development Centers (CCDI), located in the southern part of Mexico City. The center is called “Amecalli” and was founded in 2006. This center initially provided care to a small group of just twenty children, but now serves over one hundred children and their families.
The community center itself consists of two levels, a courtyard, an orchard, and clean bathrooms, providing a serene, harmonious space for children to learn and play. Inside, there are classrooms, where children are divided by age, and a library. The walls are covered in letters, drawings, paintings, informational programs, and inspirational slogan posters.
Children from the ages of one to six receive care in the Early Childhood development center, most of whom live in the local community. The CCDI’s early childhood program is a huge help to parents that have to work extended hours, especially single mothers, and the center’s workshops also provide single mothers with the chance to further their own education.
Maintenance, materials and food are provided by the community through voluntary contributions. However, institutions like SEDESOL (Mexico’s Secretariat of Social Development) also participate, and contribute to training program implementation.
The center follows a holistic education approach. It teaches math, reading and other essential skills, but also fosters artistic expression and critical thinking skills. The center’s teachers all come from the community it serves, and dedicate themselves fully to educating their students. Most of them do not have college degrees, but are trained to teach by Save the Children, and constantly receive additional training, to provide their kids with the best education possible.
The center’s cultivation of their own orchards, the way the staff prepares food, the ban on sugary drinks for the kids, and the enforcement of excellent hygiene all reflect the depth of consideration for the children’s development. These programs also work to educate parents on ways they can improve their own health and hygiene, and promote healthy living throughout the community.
Quetzalli, the current manager of the CCDI, stood out to me as a particularly noteworthy success story for the center. As a child, her mother left her in the care of the community center, and unfortunately, never came back for her. Today, at 21, Quetzalli manages the center, and teaches alongside the teachers who helped raised her, running her own preschool group.
There is more work to be done. The center wants to offer services to one hundred and fifty children, include collaborative programs with the National Institute for Adult Education, and implement more nutrition and addiction prevention programs. But they have made great strides, and I was so inspired by what I saw!
When we arrived at the center I thought it would be like an orphanage, full of sadness and misery. I knew I was about to live an experience that would leave its mark on me forever. It did, but not in the way I imagined. Instead of a depressing orphanage, I found a world full of imagination and order.
Instead of suffering children, I found the opposite. I found children who love to play, full of curiosity. I could see by the way they talked, ran, and played together, how grateful, happy, and excited they were to receive the love and support of their sponsors, like me.
I saw a community of over a hundred children, who visit the center daily. This center teaches kids from kindergarten to high school, so it’s a diverse crowd. I immediately noticed everyone’s attention to hygiene: after they eat, the children get up from their table in an orderly manner, collect their dirty dishes, give thanks for their food, and form a line to brush their teeth.
After watching the kids learn and play, we learned about the services the community center provides. They cooperate with other local programs to provide the community with fantastic tools like a computer room, continuing education programs for high school graduates, and tutors for children who need extra help. These programs also empower parents with tools for managing their businesses, provide extra meals to families who need them, and host childhood development workshops for new parents.
For the first time, I saw the change my work has created for this community, and for these children. I saw that we are changing the lives of thousands of children, and that has inspired me to continue supporting them, and urging others to do so, too. I am definitely a different person now that I’ve seen the change we’ve made.
What is it about traveling that helps fundraisers grow? I asked our Regional Training Manager, Nicholas Mirsky. Nick has been with us for six years, and he’s seen it all. He’s trained fundraisers from sea to shining sea, in Portland, Boston, San Francisco, New York City, and many cities in between. I wanted Nick’s insight on how traveling expands a fundraiser’s horizons and capabilities, and he shared his thoughts. Take a look!
I began my experience with DialogueDirect almost 6 years ago to the day. Over the years, I have had so many wonderful opportunities to see this amazing country, and on a few occasions I’ve even been given the chance to explore different continents as an ambassador for our company. I’ve been asked to share a few of my experiences and any sagely advice I might possess. I’ll frame this with a few quotes from a sage I love, J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord Of The Rings.
I came to DialogueDirect because I needed to work, and I, like every other 20-something-year-old, had no idea what I wanted to do, or who I wanted to be. The only thing I knew about myself, entering this company, was that I wanted to make a difference and I wanted see more of the world.
My first opportunity for travel came when my city coordinator asked me if I wanted to go to DC the following week. Someone had dropped out of the scheduled trip, and I jumped at the chance. I learned on my first day of the trip that traveling can be very scary. My first couple of hours in DC were tough; the objections were much harder, nobody seemed to have enough money, or time, or empathy, or trust, and I felt out of my element. Going into lunch on zero donors, while traveling for the first time ever, gave me a sinking feeling. A quick pep talk from my Team Leader and taking a mental reset of lunch, helped me turn it around and I got on board. By the end of the day, I got four kids sponsored and by the end of the week I had a personal best of twenty donors in a week. When I stopped thinking negatively, I realized that people everywhere are basically the same. Ultimately, traveling early in my career with DialogueDirect taught me to take personal accountability and to practice positive belief. After all, if people everywhere are the same, then I can succeed anywhere.
Between my first trip to DC and my three-year anniversary, I consistently traveled every few months. These trips helped me build better relationships with my team and colleagues in other markets, but most importantly they helped me feel more confident. When I was promoted to Campaign Coordinator, I had a wealth of successful trips under my belt and this helped me feel like I could accomplish anything. When it came time to run my own market, I was left with limited options because New York City, the greatest city ever built (in my incredibly biased opinion), already had a City Coordinator, and my unwillingness to move meant I was stuck. Self-imposed limits, geographic ones especially for the aspiring City Coordinator, are barriers that we create for ourselves. That’s when Mike Wakeland, our CEO, leader and friend, asked me to move to Chicago to take on a leadership role there, and help the campaign during what would become the coldest winter ever (seriously, look it up.)
I had mixed feelings to say the least. I knew I wanted to grow, and that in Chicago I would be given the chance, even if it meant picking up my life in NYC and moving. Ultimately, my desire to grow accepted the frigid cold of polar vortex Chicago. I spent three months in Chicago helping them build followed by two months in Houston helping them build followed by a rotating roll between Boston and New York helping my teams in both markets build. All the while each experience helped me grow as a leader, manager, and person. I spent the better part of 9 months traveling, not sleeping in my own bed, and forming the foundation of some meaningful and lasting friendships. Three years into the job, all I knew was that I wanted to grow, and after four years I knew that it was exposure through travel that allowed for me to develop personally and professionally.
Fast forward to the present. Tonight I sleep in my own bed but soon I will venture out west for a three-week road trip, followed by another excursion to Florida, and I know more travel will follow shortly in 2017. My current role as Regional Trainer has me on the road a lot but I would trade the comfort of my own bed for the wealth of my experience any day. In six years’ time traveling for DialogueDirect, I am lucky enough to have:
• Eaten deep dish in Chicago
• Walked over the Brooklyn Bridge
• Seen the monuments of our nation’s capital
• Swam along Miami beach
• Eaten Texas BBQ in Houston
• Eaten fried plantains on the Colombian Caribbean coast
• Visited a Leinster Rugby match in Dublin, Ireland
• Fundraised on Paul Revere’s Freedom Trail in Boston
The first and only time I traveled to Connecticut (my home state) for work, Andreas Leitner, the original face-to-face fundraiser and founder of DialogueDirect, told our group of budding managers that dialoguing changed him. It made him better, smarter, and kinder. Dialoguing has also changed me in my short six years in the business. Travel has opened my eyes to the world, and I am a better, and more understanding person because of it.
In summary, my only piece of advice, is to remove self-imposed barriers, get out there, and say yes when someone offers you the chance to travel (and don’t forget to crush your goals on your trip). We never know who we will become after spending time away, but every new experience gives us the opportunity to grow. So get out there, see what Dialogue Direct has to offer, make a meaningful impact and build real relationships along the way.
That’s the story of Alexander Steven Hughes, one of DialogueDirect’s longest serving fundraisers. Recently, Alex took the reigns of the Chicago Campaign as its City Coordinator, and I knew I had to feature his incredible story. It’s a long one, with ups and downs, struggles and triumphs. Without further delay, here’s Alex, on how to build your career in face-to-face fundraising.
I started fundraising in Denver, about four and a half years ago, in January 2012. I’d just moved to Denver, it was a brand new city for me, I had very little money, and I was staying with a friend in her basement. I needed a job, and I needed to hold on to it. I found DialogueDirect, and they hired me. I was excited to be working for a great cause, getting kids sponsored, but I was nervous, too. I had no idea what to expect, and back then, the Denver office was very small. I had just one leader to train me, so it was up to me to adapt quickly and jump right into street fundraising. Definitely a trial by fire, but despite the pressure, I found I loved it. It was challenging, it will always be challenging, but I needed to keep working, so I pushed through it. Just a few months in, the leader who trained me suddenly left the team, and suddenly Denver was an office with no Team Leaders, and just one City Manager. Even though I was still relatively new, my Manager asked me to step up and lead the rest of the team. I knew I needed to do it, to keep the team on track. I pushed my doubts aside, and said, “Someone needs to do this, and I’m going to step in and do it. I’m going to make it work.” And it worked!
A few months after taking on that unofficial leadership role, I was promoted to Site Representative (Team Leader in Training), along with three other fundraisers. We would be the core of Denver’s new leadership team, but the pressure was on to earn that title. Our Manager told us that we had just six weeks to build a team, from scratch, and that our new team needed to meet our charity partner’s expectations, otherwise, we’d be demoted back to Dialoguer. We had tough targets to hit, both for team fundraising averages, and total donors signed. It was another huge challenge, and I only hit my goal for the first time on week five. I worked weekends, I came in early, I stayed late, just to barely hit what we needed to hit, but my team and I did it! I was promoted to a full Team Leader.
Then, suddenly, DialogueDirect HQ told me that they needed leaders to help train the teams in Portland, Oregon. They asked me if I wanted to go. They knew I could start a team from scratch, that my teams could be successful, and they needed me there. I said yes. Just a few weeks after my promotion, I was off to Portland.
When I arrived in Portland, the campaign was struggling. At one point, I was the only DialogueDirect fundraiser in Portland, period. It was another brand new city, I knew no one there, and I had to pull our campaign back from the brink. It was the hardest start I’ve ever had, but I put my head down and did it. It started by rebuilding our team with some key players. We brought back Ivey, who used to fundraise in Portland. Her energy and passion formed the cornerstone of our new campaign, and we built on that foundation by adding more talented former fundraisers to the team. Ivey and I worked early mornings, and late hours, to pull the team together, putting extra effort into building tangible team bonds, and creating a warm atmosphere for the team. It’s a hard thing to do, and it’s impossible to fake. We needed real buy in from our fundraisers, and we struggled with that.
That’s where Taelor Boddington came in. She arrived to lead the new Portland team as our City Coordinator, bringing a ton of face-to-face management experience, energy, and passion. She got us all on a new level of motivation, and really brought the whole campaign to life. Successes led to more successes, that success formed the foundation of a strong team bond. We didn’t need to force our office culture anymore: it was there. Our fundraisers wanted to be there, doing what they loved, and they wanted to be standing next to their teammates. People were excited to go to team nights. By the summer, we were really rolling, and Portland was signing donors like crazy. We had leaders, and a team, that worked well together, and Portland was riding high.
Taelor, Ivey and I made a great leadership trio. We each had our own role to play, and while there was overlap, we quickly found a rhythm that worked for us. Ivey brought the energy and creativity that powered the whole office. I focused on our team’s drive, holding fundraisers accountable for their goals, and making sure we gave it our all every day. Taelor’s experience shone through as she built the office culture from the ground up. I saw how she worked to involve new teammates in that culture, folding in people outside of the core of our campaign, showing all of the Portland leaders how to lead in the field, and after hours. She taught me how to invest in a trainee fully, how to make it fun for them in the field, and outside of work. I took the lessons to heart, and they’re still a part of my leadership philosophy today.
Fast forward a couple years. I was still in Portland, leading a very successful team, as a part of a very successful campaign, alongside Ivey, Taelor, and Aaron, one of my best friends. Everything was solid, but I knew I wanted to keep growing. Portland is a small market, and so growth to the next step, Campaign Manager, would be challenging here.
Then, I got the news. DialogueDirect had put out an open call, to leaders across the country, to move to Chicago and revitalize the campaign there. Aaron and I were invited to take advantage of the opportunity. When we got the news, we literally jumped up and down, we were so excited. We packed our bags and prepared to put another city back on its feet. It would be the biggest “put your feet to the fire” moment of my whole career.
I arrived in Chicago, and found a team that was struggling on almost every level: morale, performance, and team culture. Bringing that team up to speed stretched our leadership skills to the brink. We got someone promoted to a Site Rep position, only to see them leave, just four days later. Despite the challenges, Aaron and I, along with the rest of the leaders from across the U.S., kept our heads down and focused on keeping our momentum going. We built a solid foundation for our office culture, which I felt was our greatest accomplishment.
My leadership philosophy, which is a combination of everything I’d learned in Denver, and everything I’d learned in Portland, revolves around three things:
First, you inspire your trainee to succeed for you, their leader. You form a partnership with them. You help them understand that you don’t succeed, unless they succeed. You help them understand that you take pride in their success. They want to work hard, and they want to be successful, because they want to make you proud.
Then it’s your job to get them invested in their team. You foster those bonds between veterans and trainees, you help them feel a real connection to the office culture, and you form that bond in the field, and off the field. You teach your trainee that they can lean on veteran dialoguers when they need to, and you teach your veterans to back up your trainees, creating a culture of support. Now your fundraiser wants to make you proud, and their team proud. They want to succeed for the person next to them.
Third, you teach them to do it for themselves. You help them find what it is that motivates them to give everything they have, every single day. You get them to a place where they’re so self-driven, that you could put them on any corner, in any city, and not only will they get the job done, they will excel, because they love it. Independence and personal work ethic are the tools you use to help a trainee transition into becoming their own fundraiser, and their own leader. Those leaders will form the core of your team, and you’ll find yourself leading a campaign. I found that this three step process does wonders for building up exceptional fundraisers, and the hands-on training we provide has been really effective in building the Chicago campaign.
Finally, I’ve found that to succeed as a team, you need to want to be with the people you’re working with. You need to have team nights that revolve around people having actual fun. You can force some nights with fun little antics, but really, you need your team to be able to kick back and relax together. The leaders and I decided to get people together on the weekends, after Saturday, the most challenging shift. We bought them some pizza, a few beers, and chilled out together. We had fun together as friends, and as a team, and that built a lot of camaraderie and trust, quickly. In the field, they saw us doing our utmost, putting in time six days a week, coming in early, and working late if they needed support. They saw our buy in to the campaign, our investment, professionally and emotionally, and that helped them create their own buy in. They invested in us, and we invested in them.
Finally, after a few hard months, it all paid off. After bringing back yet another team from the brink, I’d get to run this one. They told me I’d be City Coordinator of the Chicago Campaign. I arrived last week, and I couldn’t be more proud of my new team!
Want to build a story, and a career, like Alex’s? You can follow our career opportunities here: