Position: President of CDR Fundraising Group, a direct-marketing company based in Bowie.
As a child, Angela Struebing’s family would often vacation at national parks, so she developed an interest in the environment. In high school, a teacher introduced her to mock trials, and she thought she might want to be an environmental lawyer. But after taking a fundraising course in graduate school, she got hooked on becoming a fundraiser, and eventually worked to raise money for the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall. Now she is taking the helm at a larger fundraising company.
How have you grown most as a leader since your earlier days?
Learning how to be a chameleon with different employees. One-size-fits-all management doesn’t work. You have to treat everyone as individuals and figure out how to motivate those individuals. Once I figured out that I have to treat my employees like my clients and get them to love me, then that’s when the switch happened.
How did you do that?
I try to get to know my employees on a personal level and figure out what support they need. I’m not afraid to jump in and help people. Once they see that you’re willing to be in the trenches with them, you gain trust a lot faster. It’s different than my previous company when there were eight people when I started and 60 when I left. I was responsible for hiring all those people. But coming into a completely different company, you have a lot of legacy employees. Trying to get everyone rowing in the same direction is very difficult.
How did you learn how to get them on the same page?
I had a management coach, which was someone outside the company who worked with me on issues I had with managing people. A lot of people kept getting promoted because they were really good at the job they were doing. But sometimes when you get promoted into a management position, it’s completely different from being in an implementation position. So, getting some training in management isn’t a bad thing. I wanted to be just as good at managing as I was at implementing.
Was that your idea to get the coach?
It was encouraged by my employer. But I actually continue to work with her today because I found it so helpful. When you’re at the top, there’s no one else to talk to. Having someone to bounce ideas off of is helpful. I don’t think a lot of people talk about it. People aren’t born managers. There’s really an art and science to it. Everyone’s management style is different. I can’t just mimic my previous boss. That’s not going to work. I have figure out what’s right for me in how I sell clients and manage people.
What are some common mistakes leaders might make in the fundraising field?
Treating your donors like an ATM instead of a partner is one mistake you don’t want to make.
What does it take to be a successful fundraiser?
Each client’s mission is unique and has a unique voice and unique position in the marketplace, and you have to figure that out for each individual client. You have to constantly be willing to look at ways to raise money in different ways. It’s usually not just one big idea. It’s usually more incremental changes that people can make that raise more money.
What books are you reading?
“The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling” by Steve Denning. My management coach suggested it.
— Interview with Vanessa Small