Illustration of dialogue

Right now, there is a lot of negative news floating around. But what we’re seeing in the midst of COVID-19 is that there are many organizations that are working hard to make positive contributions. These organizations, and the leaders within them, are illuminating a path forward, displaying just how positive leadership can have a huge impact.

That’s why we have decided to bring some positive news to the table by highlighting these examples of positive leadership in our #LeadersForGood campaign.

We recently spoke with Mike Wakeland, CEO, and Darren Corrao, COO, at DialogueDirect, a face-to-face fundraising leader and pioneer that provides active engagement and long-term support to many of the greatest charities in the world.

DialogueDirect has social impact baked into its core- it recently became the first face-to-face fundraising B Corp in the United States.

We spoke to Mike and Darren about how this social mission has been put to use during COVID-19, and how the organization is adapting to the current challenges.

About Mike

Mike serves as the CEO of DialogueDirect, a leader of F2F acquisition in the United States and Mexico. He has been involved in the face-to-face sector for 20 years. He began his career canvassing on the front lines for direct sales products door to door, then transitioned to non-profit fundraising to include street and private site fundraising. Starting from the entry-level role, Mike has built a wealth of knowledge from the field to overseeing one of the top fundraising companies in the United States.

About Darren

Darren joined the DialogueDirect team in 2012, and he now serves as the Chief Operations Officer. He graduated from The University of Wisconsin- Madison in 2008.

Can you tell me a little bit about what was going on at DialogueDirect (areas of focus, plans in the work, challenges faced, etc.) and how those things have either changed or been made more of a priority in the midst of COVID-19?

Mike: We’ve been impacted like everyone else. We do face to face fundraising, which means we need to be in front of another human being to do our work. We’ve been having conversations for the last few years about diversifying how we do fundraising and not just going down one area, which is face to face.

So what this has really done for us is creating some urgency to diversify. So we’ve looked at a few options. And the one thing I will say is while the whole industry shifted, what I like to say, they went backwards. They went from face to face, they went backwards. 

We have been saying, well, why don’t we move forward? Let’s not go back to the nineties. Let’s figure out how we can go forward with face to face fundraising. So although there is some element of telemarketing or doing wellness calls with our partners, rather than trying to generate revenue, or, necessarily fundraising, we’ve actually partnered with our premier partners Save the Children to do wellness calling, where we will reach out to donors and really just check up on them. To see how they’re doing throughout this time. 

We’re trying to figure out how to retool this for fundraising, but still getting in front of donors virtually. And educating them on the issues at hand, but more importantly as well, asking if they do want to provide some support. So that’s been two areas on the business side of it.

Darren: I think coming out of this, that need for human connection is going to be even stronger. So we’ll be able to get back face to face and talk to you in the normal ways that we have in the past. But there’s a reason people are jumping on zoom calls every day. How can we use our face to face skillset in other ways that we traditionally haven’t gone into?

The other thing to get into is over the last few years, and every company has their core values, but we’ve made a really big deal about ours, and doing everything we can to keep moving forward and walking the walk and not just talking the talk, so to speak. 

It’s forced us to look at other initiatives that we could take to invest in the business, but more importantly, invest in the team. That led us to Verb, which has been great.

What has the process been like for company executives to come together and form a united front on how best to serve employees and the community at large during this time?

Mike:  I feel like it changed every day, right? Like first, the first day you have a plan and then two days later your plan changed. And then three days later, and then two weeks ago, the country was shut down again.

The plan we had two weeks ago looks different today than what it did then. From the very beginning, we look at this as “let’s see what next week looks like.

Darren: How do you be as proactive as possible in a situation where you have to be reactive and the news changes every single day? I was plugged into the news. I wanted to be up to date. I wanted to make sure our team had the right information and just be as immersed as possible to make better decisions.

So I think that helped us to stay proactive and to make sure that every conversation, every day, every meeting, we were focused on the health of the team.

You guys recently started using the Verb platform. What drew you to Verb, and what are some collections that you’ve found really helpful during this time?

Darren: The ones that stick out to me are the collections on mental wellness. We have quite a few members of our team suddenly doing daily meditations, implementing, and promoting self-care and wellness. 

A lot of people are looking at the situation as “How can I benefit professionally? How can I grow? How can I use this time?” And some people are feeling a lot differently and it’s understanding that it’s okay to feel that way, but there’s tools that can help them through this as well. The other one just that pops into my head is Choosing Grit.

Mike: Where I think we aligned with Verb is personal and professional growth. Back to our very first mission statement, we’ve always talked about personal and professional growth.

We’ve always talked about the technical skills, right? This is how you stop. This is the distance. This is when you turn the pitch card over. So we’ve been really focused on technical skills for a very, very, very long time.

What Verb brought us is the personal development side of it. Some people are just likable, right? And people want to be around them. And we say to each other, “This is so easy. I don’t know why it’s so difficult for you.” And then some people are really good at what they do, but lack the personal skills or emotional intelligence, if you will.

We’ve struggled to really find a platform for it and Verb has given us that.

Do you see displays of leadership at all levels of the company? What is an example of an act of leadership that has really stood out to you?

Darren:  Our team is obviously highly motivated to change the world and to make a positive impact. So I think one of the hardest things for them this whole time is feeling like they’re not able to do that. Christina Ola, our Director of Recruitment, held one of our team nights. She held a letter writing party for anyone that sponsors a child at one of our partner organizations.

We just jumped on a zoom call. It was just a really cool way for us to connect with each other. But she also is enabling everyone to feel like they were making that little bit of a difference.

What advice would you give to other leaders right now? Whether on how to take care of their people or how to manage the day-to-day stresses of COVID-19.

Mike: I like quotes. I’ve always loved “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.” My second one is “The sun will rise again tomorrow.” I think people get really overwhelmed and it seems so far away. 

I feel like a child, like we’ve been on timeout but it’s given us time to reflect and probably learn a lot more about ourselves.

Darren: Our founder sent out a message to the team and he’s really good at providing a different perspective. He talks about particles a lot. He was talking about how, how people are feeling now and feeling so overwhelmed or fearful.

Fast forward to fall or to whatever this is over when we’re in the future and we’re looking back, I mean, it is just going to be this different experience when we’re able to touch each other again, when we’re able to grab coffee again. What we will have learned about ourselves, right?

He talks about the, the value of our family, friends and loved ones and just those things, having this enormous new meaning. But if you picture yourself in the future, looking back, you think about the situation a lot differently than “How do I get out of this place?”

We’re already out of it. It’s what did I learn about myself? I thought, that’s really interesting.