Philanthropy Director Leads Virtual Team with Personal Connections

From a home office in Alexandria, VA, Susan Mamber works with women at 130 college campuses and oversees a team of eight scattered throughout the country as the national philanthropy director for Alpha Xi Delta coordinating fundraising efforts for Autism Speaks. Her role sometimes requires conference calls at 8:30 p.m. to accommodate schedules across time zones, but Susan said she appreciates being able to have a nationwide team.

Her office is in an alcove off of her kitchen on the second floor of her townhouse and offers a great view of the park behind her house.  There are the essentials – a computer, headphones and printer/fax/copy machine – along with items to make it a comfortable place.

The workspace features a large U.S. map with red or yellow dots marking all 130 campuses and blue dots marking more than 70 cities where major community events take place.  The wall space is used for frequently needed information, her group’s mission statement and official definitions, and team mailing addresses for things like fun postcards and “thank you” Starbucks cards.

There is shelf space for files and supplies including two “Go Bags” stocked with updated materials and supplies so Susan is ready whenever she’s asked to make a presentation or meet with a prospective sponsor or volunteer.

With so many people working so far apart, how do you keep everyone on the same page?

We bring our team of volunteers together for a leadership conference annually. Everyone gets together and makes the important personal connections. We share with them the vision for the organization and we get to hear their perspective.

Throughout the rest of the year, we have teleconferencing and webinars to keep people informed. We also ask them to be consistent about checking their emails so they can get our updates.

How do you keep track of everything?

I am a visual person so I have a huge calendar on my wall. Immediately under that is a list of all the team members as well as the staff members and regional directors. I also have my map, and I like to put up information on the wall.

How do you keep your team focused?

For me, it’s about making connections with each member. I do this with a webinar twice a semester and with a weekly call. It can be challenging because people are in different time zones and you have to work around there. I’m also careful to structure the call and limit the time so I’m not wasting anyone’s time. I make sure ours last just an hour so people know what to expect.

How do you make it personal?

I start my calls with an icebreaker, usually a question for everyone to answer. It gets everyone involved and helps us to get to know each other and stay connected. That’s really important when you are working together across long distances. Also, I’m aware of who is on the call and who I should call on first to set the right tone.

I also give a lot of shout-outs to keep people involved and let them know they’re appreciated. For instance, right after a call, I will go on the Facebook page and put up pictures of people with something special about them. I think it’s important to recognize people and this gives them visibility throughout the organization.

What’s your advice to remote teams and their leaders?

Focus on setting up a good communication system. Think not only about how to message but when to message. Keep in mind that the little things you do will add up.

Also, be aware of what your team needs. Figure out what is important to them and how you can help them achieve their goals.