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Behind the Movement: Sitting down with CEO, Mike Wakeland

Community Team Member, Karen Arreola sits down with DD’s leaders and talks: living in the moment, contributing to a movement, and their next steps in the industry. 

Karen: Describe yourself in 6 words or less.

Mike: Sociable, resilient, outgoing, positive, easy going, harmonious

Karen: What’s the most Midwestern thing about you?

Mike: Milk with my pizza, using a fork with my pizza, or the word “op”

K: What’s inspiring you right now? 

M: My family. We have a new Wakeland on the way! Outside of that I’m inspired to provide necessary resources to people in need. As a global citizen I feel we’re all connected on a human level but not given the same chances at life. I’m also inspired by global expansion or building a global brand. DD’s 5-year goal is to expand to 2 more continents, specifically South America and Australia. When we first started team building, we talked about creating the best fundraising company in D.C, then the best fundraising organization in the United States, then expand to Spanish speaking markets, into South America, and on, and on. That vision we talked about 10-11 years ago has slowly but surely started to grow.

K: You’ve recently expanded to the Philippines. How did this partnership come about? 

M: I remember specifically, we were visiting a community affected by flooding. There was a little girl sitting and crying. I remember at the time; I asked our [Children International] chaperone “why is she crying?” She spoke back in Tagalog saying her father had recently passed away and she was sad. I asked, “do you have sponsors here?” they replied “not in this community, that’s why we’re here today. We’re looking for children in need of our sponsorship program.” We were all really moved to help. I remember saying “can I sponsor her? I thought, I can impact this young girl myself, but we can also fundraise here, we can do what we do in the United States.  I also recall being in a mall in Manila, the fundraiser who stopped me to pitch me a sponsorship, Kris Orquiola, now works in Mexico with DD. Long story short, Gio De Guia, who runs FundPro reignited the thought I had that day in Manila. After some time, we decided to become partners with Fundpro. 

K: Why a career in f2f?

M: We have the opportunity to make a living by making the world a better place. I have years of telemarketing experience and while I have always enjoyed fundraising to help causes, I prefer looking our donors in the eye and engaging in meaningful conversations. Face to face allows you to break down barriers, you can change someone’s day, someone’s perspective. 

K: What does a meaningful conversation sound like to you? Why is that important in today’s world?

M: My father always says, “I don’t ever vote for what’s good for me, I vote for what’s good for US” and that’s something that’s stuck with me. There was once a WWII vet I met, he was lonely, and he wasn’t going to sign up – I knew that. I spent an extra 10-15 minutes with this gentleman and learned about him and his experience. Although there was no monetary reward for that, I sit here today, and I can tell you about the impact he made on me.

K: How have you seen DialogueDirect change over the years?

M: DD has developed into a more professional setting. We’ve invested in training, processes, diversifying of our partners, and apparel (vests). The public perception of canvassing has been “college kids” working summer jobs. Dialogue provides a professional growth track where we can make a career out of supporting causes we’re passionate about.

K: What’s the tea? What is DialogueDirect currently working on?

M: Currently, DD is working through a restructure to magnify our core values. The B Corp Certification was a huge accomplishment for us. We wanted to show the world that we are aligned with B Corp in becoming a force for good. These new director roles put our vision to be the ‘best for the world’ front and center. 

K: What do you envision happening with this change?

M: It will enhance our commitment to our core values. It will create an environment that encourages growth and value-based decision making in everything we do. Many will follow our lead and our charity partners will have the desire to partner with organizations that share their values. My hope is our partners will consider Dialogue's front line workers when deciding which agencies to partner with. By choosing us, charities are making an investment in DialogueDirect, its team members, and their cause. For a very long time the fundraising industry was driven by volume regardless of how long a sponsor was sustained. At DialogueDirect we’re not just focused on quantity but also on quality. If we were to meet a potential donor today, we’d reach to acquire and sustain that relationship. Whether its animal welfare, child poverty, social injustice, or sexual violence, our donors are not just signing up for 24 months, they’re joining a movement. The goal is to put ourselves out of business, to truly end the poverty, injustice, etc. 

K: That’s a big move. What makes you so confident that this will spark change?

M: There’s something to be said about leadership, true change starts from the first follower. The first follower creates momentum, the first follower lets everybody know it’s okay to follow the leader. I’m confident in the team that we have in place. Not to take away from Dialogue but it’s really the first follower that is going to show the rest of the fundraising industry that this is the right thing to do.

K: I love that answer. Can’t wait to see how this initiative unfolds!

Last Question: if you weren’t in fundraising where would you be?

M: I am confident I can succeed in any environment. If I weren’t in the fundraising field, I would be in the people business to some degree. I would probably be one of those traveling YouTube stars. I love to experience life! New foods, cultures, languages, customs, etc.

Stay tuned for more interviews in this series: Behind the Movement 


The First Follower: Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy | TED Talk 


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