Nori is big on will-power

Nori Miyama is a marketing specialist within the gifts in wills team at Cancer Council NSW. In this Q and A to mark Include a Charity Week, Nori talks about his move to Sydney and his work on one of Australia’s biggest gifts in wills programs. Normally with a behind the curtain job, he has an unofficial KPI as a dancing bear!

You’re from Japan and have a law degree from Chuo, one of Japan’s most prestigious universities. Why did you go into marketing and then fundraising? Did law seem a bit dry?

Becoming a marketing guru was an accident. During my uni days as a law major, I did some volunteering in Nepal and Croatia for international aid NGOs. The year I finished uni, I spent the whole summer in Europe, staying at my friend’s place in Zurich. My Swiss friend had a good friend who owned a PR agency and what she explained to me about her business sounded pretty fun and exciting.

So, after returning to Tokyo from Europe, I got a job in a PR and marketing agency working with the agency’s FMCG clients. While I gained valuable experience and knowledge of direct marketing in Tokyo and Sydney, I decided that, with my professional skills and strengths, I wanted to change jobs and go back to the non-profit sector. That’s where I had volunteered during my uni days.

Did your volunteer experience as a project officer for a non-profit organisation in India have anything to do with you moving to the non-profit sector?

At that time, I wanted to have a career break. I also wanted to stay in India for a while because I love that country. I wanted to live there and do something positive for the local communities rather than just travelling. The six months experience as the project officer with a local partner NGO in the countryside of southern India gave me a great opportunity to contribute my professional skills and experience in the non-profit sector. It also made me consider why I work.

In the corporate sector, the reward I expected from my employers was a salary increase or bonuses. But after this volunteer experience, I realised I received more personal satisfaction from seeing the positive impacts made to the local community, rather than the number of zeros on my payslip!

How did you come to Australia?

For love! Ha-ha! My partner at that time was an Australian working in Japan. It has now been 13 years since I moved to Sydney from Tokyo. I used to think Sydney was so dull – such a small, countryside city in the Southern Hemisphere and so far from anywhere.

But now I enjoy living in this city where you can have a good, well-balanced life. When I go back to Tokyo now, it’s too vast and busy. After a week there, I always say: ‘I want to go back to my home in Sydney for coffee and beaches!’

When you first came to Australia, you worked in finance and later project management. What attracted you to working for Cancer Council NSW (CCNSW)?

In Australia, I worked in the finance, publishing and technology industries as a direct marketing and project management specialist. CCNSW has one of the largest databases of any charity in Australia and high brand recognition. The funnel size of our gifts in wills program was relatively big; however, I thought this program still had an opportunity for growth, considering its database size and that branding.  

CCNSW has a well-established gifts in wills program in Australia. It is also sizable. Why did they need this program, and how have you contributed to their success?

Each of our different fundraising programs has developed from the same starting point: the need to deliver a sustainable income stream through a diverse fundraising portfolio, to help us respond to the ever-changing fundraising environment. That said, our gifts in wills program accounts for about one-third of our annual income, so it’s clear that people are keen to support CCNSW in this way. It would be stupid not to recognise this and adapt our overall fundraising strategy as a result.

In the current gifts in wills marketing environment, having direct marketing and relationship marketing is essential to bring success to our gifts in wills program. In the CCNSW gifts in wills team, we have staff members with individual strengths and professional skill sets.

It has been almost three years since I joined the gifts in wills team as a direct marketing specialist. I look after analysis, strategy and acquisition. In that time, both acquisition and total funnel numbers have increased by over 120 per cent at least every year without increasing the campaign budget and have hit the highest new bequest confirm acquisition record every year. This is the result of monitoring, analysing and optimising campaigns and challenging new initiatives as a team.  

What has been CCNSW’s secret to success in the gifts in wills arena?

The management team understands that gifts in wills is a significant revenue stream (approximately one-third of total revenues), and they give us support for a decent marketing budget and staffing.

Our gifts in wills program sits in the direct marketing unit. The unit manager there understands the great opportunities that exist in the gifts in wills market in Australia and is a big supporter of normalising gifts in wills internally. Such support is helping to change the organisational culture, especially at the management level.

What are the joys and challenges of working in the gifts in wills area?

For the majority of CCNSW supporters and donors, gifts in wills is likely to be their biggest donation to CCNSW. It’s such a joy to hear why they are doing it. They share the story of their generosity, their strong belief in the cause and their own life story with us. It’s such a privilege for me to witness their story and support their final wishes.

I think the challenge of gifts in wills marketing here is the same as it is for every other gifts in wills marketer: income projection. That’s influenced by so many external factors which we can’t control.

We’re now working on several projects for improving the realisation percentage and also more sophisticated income projection models. But they’re not the type of things to bring in more money this financial year. Gifts in wills marketing needs both short term and long-term goals and strategies for keeping the program sustainable.

Any advice for people wanting to set up a gifts in wills program?

If you take the direct marketing approach for acquisition, I believe you need to analyse the data and find opportunities there with analytical skills to create and read the reports.

If you have a decent budget, you can invest in propensity modelling with a fundraising marketing agency. But you can also start testing without spending that much money by following best practice in this sector. Also, don’t forget to design the supporter journey in gifts in wills’ funnels after acquisition. Gifts in wills marketing needs both acquisition and retention.

Is it getting easier to have the ‘gifts in wills chat’ with potential bequestors?

Before joining the team, I was told ‘gifts in wills is hard because it means having to talk about death.’ In reality, I don’t think it’s that hard to bring up the topic with our supporters or donors. I take the approach that we’re celebrating their long-lasting commitment to a cause they sincerely care about.

Gifts in wills is not about their death. It’s about their legacy and how they want to be remembered by their loved ones and community. We’re here to make their wish come true. 

What have been some of your favourite events and campaigns to work on at CCNSW?

CCNSW’s flagship fundraising event is Daffodil Day in late August. All head office staff are on the streets with amazing volunteers to fundraise. My day job is a ‘behind the curtain’ type of role, which means I don’t have many opportunities to interact directly with our supporters for relationship management.

Daffodil Day is a wonderful opportunity to meet our supporters and see first-hand how generous people are in supporting our ‘Cancer-Free Future’ cause. Some people share their particular cancer journey with me on the day, and their stories always remind me about why I’m working for this organisation. It inspires me to work harder and to fundraise more.

Flower power: (left to right) Jenn, Jasmine, Nori, Miyuki and Teneale from the gifts in wills team at Cancer Council NSW’s Daffodil Day. They enjoy getting out to sell spring flowers to people in the quest for a ‘Cancer-Free Future.’

Your funniest moment as a fundraiser? 

We have an annual thank-you event for our gifts in wills program called ‘Daffodil Circle.’ During the event, we have a ‘lucky win’ time, and winners have their photo taken with Dougle Bear, CCNSW’s mascot.

I have an unofficial KPI to dress up in the bear suit. I always get dressed in the backroom where people can’t see that it’s me inside the costume. But when one bequestor, who shared the same table with me at lunch, won the prize and had her photo taken with me as Dougle, she whispered to me: “I look forward to getting our photos, Nori…” She noticed that I had disappeared from the floor for a bit!

Grin and bear it: When he’s not running the gifts in wills program, Nori loves getting dressed up as a mascot for Cancer Council NSW.

In your opinion, what is the biggest issue in fundraising at the moment?

Traditional channels like direct marketing are performing more softly. Regular giving is also hitting its peak. The newer channel (digital) is not growing fast enough to cover the losses of other channels that are in decline.

What do you wish people understood about your job?

Gifts in wills is not about death. Don’t be scared to talk about it. It’s an opportunity to celebrate your donors and supporters’ lives, and their very generous decisions.

How is CCNSW using data to build its bequest pipeline? How important is data to your work?

Without data, I can’t do my job and can’t bring the best results to the forefront.

Charities increasingly use digital marketing for bequests. How are you using digital for acquisition? Is it working well for you?

Digital marketing in our program is still in the test and learning stage with a small budget allocation. But now we have an amazing team for supporting digital fundraising activities, which will give us more insight into digital marketing activity analysis. That will help us to optimise our future digital campaigns, and design and develop stewardship by the digital channel.

FIA is looking at ways to make fundraising more diverse and inclusive. Do you have any thoughts on how we can do it?

I’m glad to see that diversity and inclusiveness are finally becoming big topics in this sector. Most of the time, I’m the only Asian and male fundraising marketing person in this sector’s conference and seminar room!

I think increasing awareness to reflect the diversity in the communities of Australia where non-profit organisations serve would be a good start. I believe that fundraising activities should be reflected in the diversity of our communities and should not exclude minority groups unconsciously. Like the #CharitySoWhite campaign in the UK a few weeks ago, if you’re a person of colour fundraising specialist in this sector, speak up.

I’m sure this would bring new opportunities and support from the Australian community to our sector. In the end, that should make a more positive impact on the communities we serve. Isn’t that our goal? 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I like being active physically. Regular exercise helps to reduce one’s cancer risk! I train at the gym six days a week, and I’m a qualified yoga teacher and teach a yoga class on the weekends.

When our direct marketing team joins the CCNSW fundraising event ‘Relay for Life’ each year, I organise fundraising yoga classes for staff. In summer, I’m always on the beach or at the pool for sunshine and swimming. In winter, I love checking out contemporary art galleries to inspire my creativity.