Just as the stories of your beneficiaries inspire and educate your donors, we think the stories of fellow fundraisers can inspire you.
In this “Meet a Do-Gooder” feature, we talked with Anita Chow, Senior Manager Direct Marketing, Habitat for Humanity Canada. She discusses the evolving landscape of direct marketing for fundraisers, and the best part of her workday at Habitat for Humanity Canada.
Q: What does a current day in the office look like for you?
Anita: With Habitat Canada, since we are a medium-sized office, I have the opportunity to be part of many aspects of fundraising and donor engagement. My day can be quite diverse. Typically, my day would involve a bit of everything from strategizing to goal tracking, reviewing deliverables, relationship building, collaboration, and of course learning new things. Sometimes, if I'm not so lucky, you might actually find me spending a good part of my day troubleshooting technology. It is never a dull day!
Q: What's the best part of your day?
Anita: The best part of my day is when we see a new idea or strategy work – either bringing in more resources, or when we learn something new. Sometimes, I also find it satisfying when there's an issue or some kind of problem to figure out and we get it resolved, or we get some deliverables in that are aligned with the strategy we have. Those are good days.
Q: So, what helps you get your day started off right?
Anita: Coffee! I need coffee before I start my day. My commute is about an hour. On a not-so-good day it becomes an hour and a half to two and a half hours. If the drive is relatively uneventful, it’s good because then I mentally run through the day ahead while I'm driving, and it helps me refresh my priorities for that day.
Q: What project or idea are you working on right now that's really exciting?
Anita: At the moment, making sure all our holiday campaign activities get executed according to plan is our top priority. And if we get to see results coming in that are better than we expect, then it gets pretty exciting.
In terms of looking ahead a bit to the new year, I'm actually quite jazzed about a potential project where I get to overlay the donor data I already have with a huge data set that we've just compiled about the Habitat Canada Federation. So that's going to give me a lot of nuggets of information, and ways to look at how we can better approach and engage our donors.
I'm also working with the Blue North team on revamping our monthly donor program. So, in the new year, it will be like a fresh start to this program — and if everything goes as planned, it may be the start of something that lasts a long time.
Q: Very exciting! What drew you to Habitat for Humanity in the first place?
Anita: Prior to Habitat for Humanity, I spent over 20 years raising money for international development with World Vision. And while the mission was important, I really enjoy being able to be so close to the work I do. With Habitat, I can be at build sites, learning how to put up a wall frame. Or I can meet the children and families who are actually moving into the Habitat home that they purchased. Getting to see and shake the hands of the people impacted by your own work has a huge appeal to me.
Q: Your educational background is in marketing. How did this help to start your career in fundraising?
Anita: My interest in marketing actually stems from my curiosity about people. It is fascinating to try and find out what motivates, influences, or triggers a certain audience group. I like to find out what kind of data or creative will be effective in influencing the audience. Direct marketing is the perfect combination of my love of numbers as well as my desire for creativity.
As for the fundraising part, I know I've always had a soft spot for children. Any kind of work that would make a difference in a child's life is meaningful to me. That's kind of what got me into World Vision. Since World Vision was so large, I was actually able to focus on doing only direct marketing fundraising. Once I started there, it was a no brainer to stay in the non-profit sector.
Q: Do you feel like you have a different perspective or set of skills that you bring from your marketing education to fundraising?
Anita: I am a thinker and I'm analytical, so I look for patterns and trends. I think those skill sets are helpful when it comes to strategies and analysis. My training in marketing taught me the importance of being a storyteller, and the art of appealing to people’s emotions. Because Direct Marketing fundraising appeals to individuals in a mass market, I use insight about supporters to craft relevant messages and to select effective channels for direct marketing fundraising.
Q: Do you have any advice for marketers who are looking to get into the non-profit sector?
Anita: Don’t believe any misconceptions about non-profits. The professionalism and the stakes are just as high in non-profits. In fact, in both ‘for profit’ and non-profit roles, marketers and fundraisers focus on the bottom line. Instead of focusing on profits, you just focus on the amount of funds you can make available for worthy causes. And when you do that, because you know what's at stake, the job is every bit as intense.
Q: What are the two biggest challenges you're seeing non-profit organizations face today?
Anita: There is so much information and competition out there for people's wallets. You're competing against corporations, but you're also competing within the non-profit sector because people have so many choices about where to spend their money. In order to stand out and capture the audience, there is a great need for authentic and inspiring messages – to find what the audience can relate to and keep them engaged.
Q: Over the course of your career do you think the landscape has become more competitive?
Anita: Yes. In the past, people were more likely to give to organizations they were connected to through their family, neighbours, or church. Today, there are more options for people that are easy to access, like online through digital campaigns, or the new wave of P2P fundraisers like GoFundMe. It is definitely harder to keep a donor now because they may be willing to give to you one year, but then might decide to try something else the next year, or support somebody else because they've been asked so many different ways.
Q: How does this change the way you approach fundraising?
Anita: I think it's really about getting back to the basics and the core meaning and about being able to reach your prospects or your donors with a relevant message. I think the quest for relevance is even more important because of the competition, the distraction, and the abundance of information. Because what's not relevant gets cast aside. You know, people don't have time.
To be successful, fundraisers must deliver a relevant message, and then follow up with a real demonstration of impact and results. People nowadays are a lot more savvy with information. They know what they can have and that they deserve to see concrete results. And I also think it is important to be transparent because people have more ways to get information and to look at what's really going on.
Q: What can organizations be doing now to prepare for the changes to come in the future of fundraising?
Anita: Things continue to move more and more quickly. I think it's really about the ability to meet people where they are. We need to keep up with how people get engaged, how they spend time, and be able to meet them in the channels that people actually would like to spend time on.
It is also important to integrate what you do into different mediums and channels. People have five different screens in front of them a lot of the time. Fundraisers should evolve with where their audience will be.
I think data collection will need to continue to evolve. Organizations need to figure out how to collect data from different channels and media they are using, and most importantly figure out how to utilize and learn from all that data.
Q: Do you find it difficult to keep up with the changing landscape of digital marketing?
Anita: It can be difficult to expect as one person that you will know everything. That’s where you really need to rely on the people that support you. It is important to have a partner that can advise you. They may have more exposure with different organizations or different markets or different types of companies, and can help you see some of the trends. I think it's about constant learning and also identifying the right people that can help you close any gaps.
Q: What is one thing you want every fundraiser to remember?
Anita: There are so many problems in this world that money alone cannot solve. When money can help make life better for someone, then it is a thing worth doing… because at the end of the day it's just money. There are so many problems that we as fundraisers can easily help with.