Donna McAleer’s (MBA ’93) career has included consulting, operations at a global logistics firm, executive director of a medical nonprofit and a two-year stint training to compete for the U.S. women’s bobsled national team.
Although the U.S. Military Academy graduate long felt what she described as a commitment to serve her community and country, the political arena had not been on her radar until relatively recently, when her eyes opened to the issue of sexual assault in the military.
The Utah resident and author of a book of biographical sketches of female West Point leaders had been asked to review a rough cut of a documentary on the subject due to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. McAleer was moved by the film, The Invisible War, and subsequent conversations with members of the documentary team spurred one to ask if McAleer would consider a run for higher office.
“My reaction was not only no, but hell no,” McAleer recalled. Her initial thought was: “Why would anyone run for public office? Everyone hates you and you get nothing done.”
Yet McAleer attended a seminar by a bipartisan group attempting to attract more women to political office, and after that weekend wrote a blog post considering why more women don’t run for public office.
“There is never a ‘good time,’ and we will all come up with a million excuses,” McAleer wrote. “Now is the time to make your voice heard. Now is the time to get in the race.”
A student at West Point read the blog, contacted McAleer and said, in so many words, “You realize you’re talking to yourself, right?”
McAleer hadn’t, but she was.
“I filed my candidacy in March of 2012, not knowing a thing about running a campaign,” McAleer said. “But I did realize that at the age of 17, I took an oath of service to this country and that oath did not have an expiration date.”
Drawing on her Darden and West Point education, McAleer built a team and a plan from the ground up.
“Running a campaign is like a startup business,” McAleer said. “You have to create a brand, you have to develop a platform, and you have to message that brand and that platform to a segmented audience.”
McAleer built a robust team and technology platform, raised money, secured various endorsements, avoided major missteps — and didn’t win.
Stung but determined and urged on by her daughter telling her “of course you’re going to run again, you never quit on anything,” McAleer decided to run again, rationalizing that if she was afraid of losing, she could not expect or encourage other women to take the same leap.
In 2014, McAleer raised more money and hit the ground with what she thought was a winning message of working collaboratively to advance the country’s interest, and again lost.
McAleer said losing hurt deeply, particularly given the sense that you’ve let down those who have put their trust and expectations in you.
“You’ve got to go in and expect to win, but you have to be prepared to lose,” McAleer said. “And that's something we learned in kindergarten, about losing gracefully and being able to move on.”
While another run for public office may not be in the cards, McAleer’s desire to serve is as strong as ever.
“At 17, I took an oath to serve,” McAleer said. “I want to be with a mission-driven, purpose-driven organization.”