Alena is an all star. She's a formidable fundraiser, an inspiring leader, and a tremendously capable team builder. These days, she is the City Coordinator of the Philadelphia campaign, but she started as an Entry-Level Fundraiser in NYC. During her short time in Philadelphia, she has built a team from a foundation of just three leaders, to a huge, successful campaign, in just two months!
Alena is a perfect example of how leaders can seize opportunities, and grow, here at DialogueDirect. But what allowed Alena to achieve this kind of success? For Alena, it came down to three big moments. And ultimately, these were moments of personal reflection, moments when Alena took stock of the challenges in front of her, and said, "I'm going to succeed."
Let's hear her story.
So, my first day. It was epic, and crazy. Walking into the office, frankly, I thought I was going to be amazing. I'd done surveys and canvassing on college campuses, so I was great at stopping people. Edwin (NYC City Coordinator, and Alena's trainer) had a lot of confidence in me, so he gave me a lot of independence on my first day. But despite my confidence, when I hit the pavement, I was a wallflower. My first conversation wasn't a good conversation, and I didn't have much luck the rest of the day.
On my second day, a pair of dogs peed on me (to add insult to injury, I'd borrowed the dress I was wearing that day.) On my third day, I accidentally walked onto the set of Boardwalk Empire, which was actually really inspiring. I got to see NYC theater in motion while I was on the job, and I thought, wow, I get to be a part of that, that's so cool! On my fourth day, a bird pooped on me, but I signed two donors. I took it as good luck!
My second week felt even harder. I was so stressed I cried my eyes out. Jamal, my leader, told me an incredibly inspiring story about child sponsorship. I felt better, I turned around, I pitched someone, and suddenly, I signed.
This was my first big moment. In that moment, I understood that fundraising is a mental game, and that you succeed when you succeed in your mind. The only obstacles you have to break through are the ones you create. I was now ready to commit, to be more patient, more resilient, and more open to feedback.
My second moment came two months later, as we approached the holiday season. I was a little homesick, a little lost in my own head, and I wasn't as invested in doing my job as I should have been. My teammates were doing really well, but I was down on myself. I knew I needed to make some changes. I was on my way to hitting Site Representative, but because I'd gotten in my head, I was only on four donors for the week, far below my target.
I was struggling and demoralized, but when one of my teammates, Edwin Jr. stepped in, I started bouncing back. He helped me feel more connected to the team, reminded me to have patience with myself, that not every week would be a great week. With his support, I signed more donors. My teammates told me to relax, have a great Christmas, and to focus on coming back from vacation feeling refreshed.
Well, my Monday back, I didn't sign a single donor... but I bounced back the next day, and ended the week on twelve donors (the target for aspiring Site Representatives!) I stopped allowing myself to make excuses based on my mood, or the weather. I decided I wasn't going to let the January cold conquer me, but that I was going to conquer it, instead. Poverty doesn't stop for the weather, and I would not allow it keep me from succeeding.
I pushed through the coldest week I'd ever worked. The cold, and the pressure of hitting the second week of twelve donors, pushed me forward. The next week, I hit twelve again, and the week after, I got fifteen donors, including ten in a single day. Here, I had my second moment: the moment I learned to appreciate the struggle. I had become comfortable being uncomfortable, and as a result, I'd outperformed myself by a mile.
Fast forward, to two years later.
I'd been at DialogueDirect for a while, at this point. I was a veteran fundraiser, leading an incredible team of people who cared about the world we live in, and wanted to make a real difference. I had been gunning for Campaign Manager for about a year and a half, and I only needed one more member of my team to be promoted to meet the last requirement for the role. I was so close, but unfortunately, the rug was about to be pulled out from under me.
One of my team leaders suddenly had to leave, to be there for her family. The same day, another one of my leaders left to return to school. They'd been my rock for so long, and it meant that I was further away from becoming a Campaign Manager, when I had been so close. In terms of performance, I was doing well, my team was doing well, but my morale took a big hit for about three months.
Then, I got back into the swing of things with my summer team, and watched them perform like no team I'd ever led before. We broke more performance records, I had five people on my team promoted to Site Representative in a single month, and as a team, we hit one hundred donors, every week. I decided, I was done being bummed out. I realized that I was a good leader, and I could run a great team, and that I could run a great office. By the end of the summer, I'd helped seven of my team members get promoted.
I had my third big moment: not only could I run a campaign, I owed it to myself, and to my team, to run a campaign. I could rely on myself to train and develop people, because I was good at it. I resolved to keep this self-reliance in mind, knowing that I could become a great leader, and run a great campaign.
Ultimately, what I learned from all of it: don't give up, just don't. Be the best leader for yourself first. There are days when you need to give yourself a kick in the ass, because people believe in you, and depend on you. I believed in them, and I knew I could get them where they needed to be. But before you can focus on your team, you have to build that strength in yourself.
Alena is an inspiration for everyone on our team here at DialogueDirect, and especially for her team in Philadelphia. Now, all of us here are wondering: who is next? Who has what it takes to complete this journey and build the next DialogueDirect campaign?