Fundraising and management whiz Aria Finger, COO of DoSomething.org, helps inspire millions of teens to act for a cause.
By Malena Amusa
Aria Finger is not your typical corporate fundraiser. She sports a tongue-ring, skydives and has never worn a suit to a pitch meeting. But when the 29-year-old COO of DoSomething.org joined the staff seven years ago, it was her brazen cold-calls to companies such as Sprint, Aéropostale and Dunkin’ Donuts that catapulted the organization’s corporate funding from $847,000 in 2007 to the more than $4.5 million projected for 2012.
“I wasn’t selling widgets, I was selling social change,” Finger said. “And I knew that our campaigns would also truly benefit the corporate sponsor from a brand perspective.”
Now DoSomething.org, based in New York City, is one of the largest U.S. organizations for teen activism, boasting 800,000 active teen members, and inspiring more than two million teenagers to act for causes they are passionate about—from teen pregnancy to financial literacy.
Daughter of an activist dad, Finger was an outspoken teen. Today she is driven to get teens volunteering because she knows from experience that if young people start molding their world early, they will be lifelong advocates for the causes that inspire their action.Finger’s passion for helping the homeless moved her to launch one of DoSomething.org’s biggest campaigns. In 2012, “Teens for Jeans” collected more than one million pairs of jeans, enough to clothe two-thirds of America’s homeless youth.As manager of 20 people in marketing, campaigns and business development, Finger admittedly is “annoyingly positive and energetic” And therein lies her edge. Rather than blunt force, Finger leads with fun, friendship and frankness, attributing the organization’s success to spirited hard work.
Do Something… Fun
Step into the DoSomething office, and feel free to ride your scooter, blast Katy Perry or talk smack about the group’s upcoming Oreo-themed bake-off. Get ready to dive into a beehive of staff retreaters, scavenger hunters, partiers and, ultimately, overachievers.
With fun being such a priority and a reflection of the teens they serve, Finger recently hired a Head of Fun, whose sole job is to stimulate the staff and give them the career development opportunities they strive for. In addition, Finger insists on weekly check-ins with each staff member; quarterly, each employee meets one-on-one with his or her manager to discuss their personal health and happiness during their “Q Review.”
Because the staff is so highly motivated, ironically one of the challenges is that people tend to work too hard, according to Finger. Far from a “winder-downer,” Finger works around the clock, attending meetings and completing follow-up work at home and on weekends.
“The staff is so invested in their work, they give it their all,” Finger said. “This is great, but we want to make sure they don’t burn out, and that they are taking care of themselves. We are constantly asking people, ‘What is your path?’”
Don’t Fear Failure
Finger, who also serves as an adjunct professor of nonprofit business management at New York University, is determined to promote quality of life and to uphold the organization’s great strength—honesty.
“We are adamant about critical feedback. Without it, you cannot improve.”
“Did you hear about our Fail Fest?” she asked, noting an idea they got at the Omidyar Network Executive Forum.
Every six months, a person can self-nominate or be nominated for the Fail Fest and give a PowerPoint presentation about a mistake they made and three lessons learned—all while donning a pink feather boa. Finger has presented at the Fail Fest twice.
“We are adamant about critical feedback,” Finger said. “Without it, you cannot improve.”
Finger’s next workplace goal is to create a more efficient management system and take the organization to new heights.
“I’m really looking for the brain space to think strategically about where we can go,” said Finger, who was been named a World Economic Forum Global Shaper and one of Crain’s New York Business “40 Under 40.”
Ever-focused on her role, Finger said: “If we have five million members in a few years, think of all the amazing things we can do—from partnering with other not-for-profits that want to use our mobile technology to reach teens, to expanding globally.”
And there is no doubt Finger will do just that, with a big smile along the way.
Malena Amusa is a freelance writer based in St. Louis, Missouri.