May 7, 2020
By Jennifer Hashem, Public Relations Manager, United Way of Central Indiana
How do you tell the story of a storyteller?
When I sat down to conduct Angela Dabney’s exit interview after seventeen years of service with United Way of Central Indiana, I asked if she’d ever consider making the first debut of her retirement career on the TED stage. After all, anyone who has interacted with Dabney over the years could agree her warmth, optimism, and intellect are just some of the many ways she’s captured the hearts of United Way’s most influential donors. Why not share that same natural capacity for grace and brilliance with the masses?
And, after a brief chuckle, without hesitation she answered:
Dabney has big plans that don’t include a stage as she prepares for retirement, despite her love of attending theatrical performances, writing, reading, and social events.
Dabney confirmed she has committed to various activities once she officially signs off as a United Way employee this week, including board service for a local charter school, building homes for deserving women through Habitat for Humanity, and chairing a strategic planning committee for her church. She’s even dabbling into some fundraising consulting.
But that first Monday she’s looking forward to as a retiree also includes one of the most human activities of all:
“I’m going to sleep in late every Monday,” she revealed “And I look forward to time – owning my time, 100% percent of my time – because I’m excited to do what fits me.”
While her career at United Way has always been in Fundraising, Dabney’s current position isn’t the only title she’s had. Her first role was director of workplace campaigns, followed by senior vice president of resource development, overseeing both fundraising and volunteer center operations. But her current gig, one that United Way President and CEO, Ann Murtlow, believed needed the true relationship-driven, authentic leader for someone with this role’s level of responsibility, wasn’t just her last role – it’s her favorite.
“I feel privileged to have worked in a space where changing the world is the point,” she told us. “My why is because of United Way’s mission, but bigger than the mission, we have the power to change the world. Everybody does.”
Even with a demonstrated track record of excellence, however, Dabney admits that some of her greatest triumphs can only be attributed to some of her greatest trials, especially as a female woman of color.
“My mother told me that to be seen as half as good at what I do, I would need to be twice as good,” she revealed. “Feeling like you feel like you have to prove yourself every day can be a very heavy burden, not to mention the preconceived notions people have of you. Efforts like UWCI’s work around diversity, equity and inclusion are important steps and another way to change the world for the better.
It could be said that Dabney’s outlook stems from something the world could truly benefit from these days: her optimistic, infectious attitude. But she also reminds us that this is a choice we make the moment we wake up each morning.
“A long time ago, I learned I can decide to be content or not. It makes no sense to wake up each day and be miserable,” she shared. “I don’t understand people who choose to stay in a bad place. When I lost my mother, I was very sad – but I felt better when I realized what a blessing it was to have had those final good days with her. We didn’t have any unfinished business. If we look for it, we can find for the good.”
Those were not her only words of wisdom. Perhaps the most important message she conveyed for anyone who was interested in a career with United Way, however, was the responsibility that comes with such an expansive mission as one of the most important and impactful organizations out there.
“If we fail at our mission, we are failing people,” she cautioned. “But if we succeed, we will change the entire landscape. It’s that big. We can’t afford to ‘mess up.”
As our interview neared its end, I could only smile when Dabney shared her hopes for the future of United Way as the curtain closes on possibly one of our most legendary employee spotlights to date.
“Someday, I’d love a news report that reads, ‘Because of United Way of Central Indiana’s efforts, poverty in our region is on a downward trend,’” she expressed, painting the picture for us. “It would be followed by a subhead that reads, ‘More families realize their American Dream.’”
Thanks to Angela’s Dabney’s contributions and dedication to the betterment of our region, it’s safe to say her hope for the future of our work is a little more realistic. And, we’re convinced that while she may shy away from a stage, live audience, and applause, it will be her ongoing work in the Central Indiana community that will likely find its way to headlines.
And we couldn’t be prouder. *