Dharna Obermaier joined Save the Children as Director of Philanthropy in February 2020, after a 5-year tenure at CARE USA. Save the Children is the world’s leading humanitarian organization for children, dedicated to giving kids in the US and around the world a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn, and protection from harm.
An early experience as a volunteer for Hospice by the Bay propelled Dharna to support their compassionate work with fundraising. This led to professional fundraising opportunities with organizations aligned with her passions for gender equality, education, and for fighting hunger and poverty. Over a decade ago, she moved from annual fund responsibilities to managing major gift portfolios.
Over her 15-year development career she has seen many changes. Working closely with supporters who fund international programs, she’s learned that they increasingly expect organizations to go beyond band-aid solutions, address root causes and aim for sustainability and systemic change.
She asks herself, “Can I just show up, be curious, ask questions? What matters most to this donor? How can I be the best matchmaker, connecting generous donors with the children and families who need resources and skills to reach their potential? How do cash transfer programs lead to self-reliance in impoverished communities?”
Dharna takes inspiration from Melinda Gates, who recently wrote, “It’s going to those places where your heart really hurts for everybody, not just your own sense of loss. And so I cry a lot, and then I come back and I say, How do I take what that person shared with me and what I learned, and how do I plow that back into the work to try and make the world better?”
The COVID-19 environment has presented added challenges, including finding effective ways to connect with donors. Her office has changed into a Zoom space to commiserate over pandemic precautions and quarantine, wildfires on the West Coast and tornado watch on the East Coast, and to meet colleagues’ kids and pets.
Outside of work, Dharna waits impatiently for a post-COVID world when she can go to movies in theaters and return to the yoga studio. In the meantime, she spends more time in the kitchen, cooking her way through Yotam Ottolenghi’s vegetarian cookbook Plenty More – from the tomato and almond tart to root mash with wine-braised shallots and ash-e reshteh, a Persian noodle soup.
Dharna has attended DER events since her early days of fundraising. “DER has helped me develop strong relationships that have supported and sustained my enthusiasm and commitment to the field.” She met her mentor at DER, Lisa Hoffman, a nonprofit consultant and extremely talented executive coach who exemplifies the generous spirit of the DER community.
In closing, Dharna shared a wonderful story told to her by a philanthropist that helps keep perspective during these challenging days:
One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “Why are you throwing starfish back into the ocean?” The boy replied, “The surf is up and the tide is going out, so they will die if I don’t throw them back.” “Son,” said the man, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!” After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. “I made a difference for that one,” he said smiling.