Gabby Mulnick Majewski
Tell us about your leadership style and how this contributes to your organization’s success.
Many years ago, during a workplace exercise, I was asked to select my two core values – the “why” that drives who I am as a person. From an enormous list of prescribed options, I chose “authenticity” and “making a difference” as my two core values; they are the attributes I hope to bring to every equation and what I strive to do every day in ways big and small. No leader is perfect, no person is perfect, and I am certainly far from perfect. But I care deeply about people, believe in transparency, and strive to always be approachable, accessible, open, and genuinely “in it” and there for people – both my colleagues (internal and cross-organizational) and the people I have directly and indirectly been privileged to serve.
When it comes to leadership, there is nothing more important than teamwork, relationships, and partnerships. My colleagues are my team, my family is my team, and I’ve always strived to be a teammate and partner to the clients I’ve served across my career. Leadership doesn’t mean being at the top of the pyramid. It means standing alongside people, listening, learning, and being a relentless cheerleader in supporting and celebrating others. Unyielding optimism and enthusiasm are ingrained parts of my nature, but I always strive to inspire others by focusing on what is possible, and remaining nimble, adaptable, receptive to new information and ideas, and responsive to on-the-ground conditions to be able to chart new courses.
Everyone who has been part of DC Affordable Law Firm cares so deeply about the organization – there is a passion around the mission and impact that has been resonant throughout the organization since day one of DCALF’s founding. I had been with DCALF for only a few weeks before the pandemic took hold. In countless ways, the pandemic was an incredible test for the world, our organization, and certainly for me as I found my footing to lead and inspire a team still very new to me, while remaining true to my leadership identity, values, and approach though so much swirling around us was in flux. It was in those moments that we were able to seize upon the “we” that made DCALF work. By banding together, seizing on passion, being transparent with each other, centering our clients, and being unafraid to take new risks, we were able to meet the moment and turn those turbulent times into a catalyst that has taken DCALF to new heights. Through this process and across the past three-and-a-half years since, we have birthed new models to serve clients in a manner more responsive to their economic realities, created innovative programs and partnerships that have enhanced access to justice for residents across the District of Columbia, expanded our distinct Fellowship program and staff, invested in new approaches that enhance client and staff experiences, and multiplied our organizational sustainability and community impact as a result. But, perhaps above all else, we have done these things by remaining focused on people – imbuing our organization with a culture of learning, caring, and support, championing great ideas and the people who generate them, expressing gratitude for each other, and centering our clients and their stories as a perpetual reminder of why we do what we do. Though I am the leader of DCALF in name, DCALF has been successful because we are all in it together. We have worked as a team in every regard, and – as cliché as it may be – teamwork really has made the dream work for DCALF.
What advice would you offer for other nonprofit leaders?
- You don’t need to know it all and you aren’t in it alone. Rely on others, learn from others, and seek out guidance – there is no pride in leadership. This work is hard, you will never have all the answers, and it is okay to lean on others. Find supportive mentors with whom you can talk openly, candidly, and honestly – and then pay it forward by doing the same for others. I am forever grateful for the guidance I have received from my predecessors, board members, colleagues, friends, my wonderful husband, and other exceptional nonprofit leaders who have given of themselves fully and generously in mentoring me or serving as a listening ear (you know who you are, and know that I am deeply, profoundly grateful for the wisdom and insights I have derived from each of you and your friendships).
- It is okay to be vulnerable. There have been plenty of moments when I have both laughed and cried in front of colleagues and peers (sometimes in the same breath!). We bring so much of ourselves to the work that we do, and emotion is natural – don’t feel you need to bottle up those parts of yourself to gain the respect of others.
- Evolution is important. Organizations should never remain stagnant – try to embrace change and turbulence, and remind yourself that necessity is often the mother of innovation.
- Life is short, so live it to the fullest. Love big, laugh a lot, take time for yourself, and appreciate the little things in all realms of your life.
- Believe in yourself! The work is hard and can feel thankless, but know that, simply by showing up, sharing your passion, and committing to what you do, you are making a difference for someone in ways you may never know.
What does this award mean for you and your organization?
The EXCEL Award is an award for all of us, and a testament to every person who has played a role in shaping DCALF from its inception to the remarkable organization it is today. DCALF is a special institution because of the incredible team of people who pour themselves into everything we do year after year. The EXCEL Award is a huge badge of honor for all of us, but – most excitingly – it isn’t an accolade in name only. The very meaningful professional development support that comes with this award provides a distinct, tangible opportunity to invest in our team and equip all of us with additional skills that we can carry forth to expand our community impact, reach and serve new clients, embrace more innovations, and enhance DCALF’s sustainability for the long haul. We are extremely grateful to the Center for Nonprofit Advancement, GRF CPAs & Advisors, and the Selection Committee for offering this award and believing in our successes to date and our vast potential to keep growing and learning.