Five minutes with …Scott Nicholson

Scott Nicholson is the national manager-individual giving at Make-A-Wish. He loves his work helping to raise funds so critically sick kids can have their life-changing wishes granted.

You’ve got a degree in applied sciences (human movement). How did you come to work in direct marketing?

My first job was in sales and marketing in the health and fitness industry – combining direct marketing and the human movement degree. It turned out I was better suited to the direct marketing side of it!

What was the attraction of the non-profit sector?

I sort of fell into non-profit, but happy I did! I had been living overseas and came back to Australia and applied for heaps of jobs. I was lucky enough to score myself a direct marketing role at Cancer Council Victoria. I fell in love with the people (literally – I met my wife there) and also the industry. I’ve never looked back.

Career highlights to date? What attracted you to Make-A-Wish?

I’ve had a few highlights across several roles, but it’s always great to be able to see the results of your work, so being part of the team at The Wilderness Society that “kicked BP out of the Bight” was a huge moment.

I love the work Make-A-Wish does. We support kids and families going through some of the hardest circumstances imaginable: a child diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. To be able to provide an opportunity for them to focus on just being a kid rather than hospital visits, treatment, missing school, etc. It’s great to be a part of that.

What does your job entail as Make-A-Wish’s national manager of individual giving?

The individual giving team is responsible for the acquisition, retention, upgrading, conversion and stewardship of all individual donors – regular givers and cash donors. We also build a pipeline for our philanthropy team to enhance their major donor and bequest programs.

What are the joys and challenges in your work?

I get a kick out of talking to our beneficiaries, so interviewing families and wish kids for campaigns is something that I enjoy. Hearing the impact our work has on their lives puts everything into perspective. Making budget is always a challenge!  

What have been some of your favourite events and campaigns?

We ran a crowdfunding campaign earlier this year to produce a tote bag designed by a wish child. Freyja’s wish was to meet dolphins and dugongs, her favourite animals, but she is passionate about the environment and particularly clearing the ocean of single-use plastic.

She designed a tote bag, and our initial target was to raise just $3,300 to produce 1,000 of them. The campaign went gangbusters, and we raised around $20,000. We then sold them online at $15 each. The tote bags look amazing, and they are still available to purchase on the Make-A-Wish website.

Charities that support sick children are traditionally well supported by donors. Is this still the case? 

We receive no government funding, so we rely solely on our donors for wishes to come true. Our donors are fantastic and get behind all of our fundraising efforts from community fundraising to digital campaigns like crowdfunding. We’re a little unique in that we’re not curing cancer or heart conditions, but we make a tough time a little bit easier for thousands of Australian families, and I think our donors appreciate that.

Your funniest moment as a fundraiser?

I love talking to supporters! I had a bit of an awkward moment when interviewing a Relay For Life supporter at Cancer Council Victoria a few years ago – we had a great chat and, afterwards, she gave me a big hug. Now, I’m not a big hugger – hugs are usually reserved for close family members, so instinctively I also kissed her on the cheek as I would for my Grandma or Aunty (awkward enough already, right?). It got worse because as I did this, she turned her head a little, and I pretty much gave her a big smacker right on the lips!

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

There are several big issues at the moment, and we need to innovate and work together to overcome them. It’s an issue that so many charities are targeting the same group of donors (swaps and co-ops). It’s an issue that the banking industry seemingly doesn’t consider fundraising when making changes that will impact the sector significantly. It’s an issue that public trust in fundraising is at its lowest point (ACNC Public Trust and Confidence in Australian Charities 2017). We need to work harder and smarter to overcome these issues, and we really need to listen to supporters who choose to support our causes.

What do you wish people understood about your job?

That ‘No’, you probably won’t give if we don’t ask you!

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I’m excited that summer is just around the corner. I love everything about it – music festivals, the beach, barbeques, beer gardens, everything! We Melburnians are waaaay too sun-deprived from May-September!