Thursday, May 5, 2016

Interview with Dara Royer - CMO of Mercy Corps

I am so happy to have Dara Royer, of Mercy Corps as my guest this month. In the world we live in today, the non-profit human rights organizations around the world fill a vital role in positive global development. I respect the work they do so much and hope you enjoy this interview with her. Welcome Dara! 

JS: Two of the key concepts in emotional intelligence are optimism and empathy. How do you balance your own need for maintaining optimism within your team while still having empathy for the communities you serve?

DR: I have the privilege of working on behalf of an incredible organization that focuses on some of the world’s toughest challenges. I’ve been alongside my awe-inspiring colleagues as they support refugees who have fled war only to find themselves with little more than the clothes on their backs. Even in these dark moments, I see our colleagues functioning with a deep degree of optimism. This is what brought me to Mercy Corps. It’s the belief that together, with the communities we serve, our donors and partners, a better world is possible. That even in the midst of conflict, crisis, famine and the like, we can move beyond the realities of today to create a better tomorrow. In this belief, there is a way of acknowledging the realities of a current situation while painting a picture of a brighter future.

In many ways, this is what visionary leaders must do every day. They have to give a nod to the challenges that exist while inspiring the team to achieve shared goals. There has to be open, honest dialogue about what stands between the team and the ultimate success they are working toward. Without this, team members can feel disillusioned. Either their leader appears out of touch with reality, or they are left with little inspiration to achieve something bigger than themselves. The ultimate success is when a team links arms and says, “This will be a tough journey, yet the vision is so important, we are going to get there together.” The challenge – the thing that once was a reason for empathy – actually transforms into the fuel that motivates the team to power up, tackle the challenge head-on and run toward the goal with passion and tenacity.

JS: Is there such a thing as too much empathy?

DR: Yes. Leaders are required to find a good balance between empathy and accountability. This isn’t always easy. It requires leaders to use a deep sense of judgement. Leaders have to be aware of patterns of poor performance that may be played off as challenges beyond someone’s control, in demand of empathy, when in reality an individual is not taking responsibility for how his or her actions are contributing to the situation.

I once managed a team that was newly formed and facing lots of obstacles. They represented change and were charged with a large goal, without the resources or broader understanding from the larger organization of what it would take to get there. Of course I worked to be empathetic to team members who were hit with resistance at every turn. I felt challenged in finding the right balance between pushing the team to push forward and move the needle on things that were under our control. It was very difficult to be supportive and empathetic while trying not to coddle the team. I realized at times I was not finding the right balance, and was not holding team members accountable for reaching successes that were well within their control. Bottom line: Too much empathy can lead to a poor performing team.

JS: What connection does EQ have with successful marketing, especially when representing a non-profit organization?

DR: Everything. Rule one in marketing is understanding your audience. In many ways, EQ requires you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, to see through their eyes and to understand their context and perspective. As it relates to non-profit marketing, it’s critical to understand the perceptions of the people who currently support or whom you may want to support your organization. What makes your mission relevant? How does supporting your organization fulfill a need they have as a volunteer, advocate or donor? These are questions non-profit marketers have to explore fully to be successful.

JS: What are some of the things you look for when hiring or promoting members of your team?

DR: I look for leaders to be one step in front of me, pointing out obstacles and opportunities. I promote problem-solvers, individuals who can work their strategic plans with a great deal of autonomy. These are individuals who will proactively communicate and give a heads-up about challenges. They don’t lay those obstacles at the feet of their manager; rather, they say, “This is the situation I’m dealing with right now, I’m handling it. I’ll let you know if I need your guidance.” They bring a positive attitude. They are willing to challenge and push. More than anything, they make things happen. They are “go to” people. 

Dara J. Royer

Chief Development and Marketing Officer

Dara J. Royer is passionate about building and growing mission-driven brands. As an award-winning marketer and successful fundraiser, Royer has led high-performing teams to exceptional success. As Chief Development and Marketing Officer for Mercy Corps, a global organization operating in 42 countries, Royer is responsible for private and corporate fundraising, global marketing and brand stewardship. She also serves as a member of the Executive Leadership Team. Within her first year as the agency’s first Chief Marketing Officer, her team increased media hits by more than 100% and was recognized nationally for creative excellence. 

Prior to joining Mercy Corps in 2013, Royer served as Vice President of Brand Marketing for ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the largest healthcare charity in the world. There, she was responsible for overseeing a large and diverse marketing team driving national fundraising and awareness campaigns. Prior to this role, she spent a number of years as a leader of ALSAC’s Radio and Entertainment Team, raising more than $30 million annually through more than 200 radiothons and celebrity events.

Beginning in 2006, Royer served as Senior Vice President of Corporate and Community Affairs for Cook Children’s, one of the nation’s leading pediatric health care systems. Under her leadership, the marketing team significantly increased brand awareness and fundraising, while effectively positioning the organization in national media including The Today Show, The Early Show, CNN Headline News, Univision, USA Today and People magazines. These successes, coupled with a national rollout of a new strategic plan and brand strategy, resulted in numerous national awards for marketing excellence.

Royer began her career as an Emmy and AP award-winning television journalist with ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates across the country. Royer received her BA in History from Indiana University in Bloomington.

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