HQ Update: 2020 wins and challenges

By Heather Wentler

The constantly shifting environment of 2020 has brought about many exciting shifts within Doyenne. 

When we made the obligatory shift to virtual programming, we realized that one of our long term goals as an organization was suddenly within reach. We could now reach entrepreneurs all over the country by simply expanding our marketing focus. We no longer needed to physically build out Doyenne chapters in each state before reaching the entrepreneurs who lived there. 

And by switching our programming to video conferencing platforms, we also gained the ability to record all of our programs without any special equipment, which meant we could build a huge library of courses and resources for entrepreneurs to use on-demand in our Learning Lab. 

On January 1 of this year I never would have predicted that we would have engaged entrepreneurs from California, Texas, Delaware, New Jersey, Florida, and even two people from outside of the country in our programming. 

We’ve also launched three new programs this year from the safety of our homes and private offices: the Triple Threat Venture Training (a professional growth and strategic planning program that replaces our former strategy retreats and Founder Series programs), our monthly free Ask a Coach sessions, and our bi-monthly ISO-Learning sessions. 

Through these programs, we have been able to provide timely, affordable support to our entrepreneurs to help them adapt their businesses to the realities of a world experiencing a pandemic and continue to craft strategies for growth. We’ve been able to bring in experts from around the country to host these programs and have impacted more than 500 attendees through all of our programming this year.

One of the biggest hurdles we had to overcome was replicating the “Doyenne feel” that happens at our in-person programming in an online environment. People always ask “How is Doyenne different?” and while on paper our programs might look like other programs, the in-person feeling and environment we create is something that everyone says they can’t find anywhere else. The other day I heard from someone that other organizations came together to discuss this same hurdle. They then told me how someone at the meeting had said that Doyenne is the only organization in Wisconsin that has figured out how to create an in-person feel through a virtual space. I wish you all could have seen the smile on my face (and tears in my eyes) as I read this message. While I’m worrying that we’re not doing enough, others are noticing that we’re, yet again, setting the example.

But the financial impact of the pandemic is finally catching up with us as many of our regular donors have reduced or delayed their support because of their own financial challenges. Earlier this month, I moved the Doyenne office across the hall in StartingBlock to lower our monthly expenses. It may seem like an easy decision when we’re barely using our office because of social distancing, but it’s a physical space that holds a lot of memories for me. That room will always be Amy’s office, the suite will always be our Doyenne home, and it will be hard to see anyone else occupy it. Amy and I literally had our hands in every aspect of building out that space for Doyenne within StartingBlock. But while it hurts, it does feel like we’re moving forward into a new chapter full of promise.

I also took a paycut to extend our runway during this economic downturn. As often as I coach entrepreneurs about not labeling themselves as failures, I still had to fight those feelings myself with this move. I know it’s a normal part of running a business through the ups and downs of the economy, but it’s still hard. I’m thankful to have a husband who didn’t skip a beat when I told him that my income would be lower for the next few months. He said, “You’re doing what’s right for your business. That’s what you’re supposed to do.” It takes a special person to just say, “OK, we’ll make it work.”

My team, of course, is my biggest win this year. We brought on Emily as development director, and we’re preparing to transition our Learning Lab contractor Whitney into our program director. When we switched to virtual programming, Jessica transitioned smoothly from the Milwaukee director to our member services director and has been kicking ass all year. On every level, my team goes above and beyond. They’re 100 percent invested in Doyenne and the entrepreneurs we serve. But they’re all part-time, and I know that limits the impact they can have. One of our big goals for 2020 is to elevate all staff to full-time positions so that we can all be fully focused on transforming entrepreneurial ecosystems across the country.

That’s why it’s so important that we close the year strong, starting with our Giving Tuesday campaign. We need to raise $100,000 by the end of the year to continue providing the same support for entrepreneurs that we have provided for more than eight years, and we’re aiming to kickstart that campaign by raising $15,000 on Giving Tuesday, which is December 1. That campaign is already open, so if you are able to support us, you can do that here.