Corporate marketer goes on a charitable mission

From corporate to charity: Elvira Lodewick left an international corporate role for a job at Mission Australia, where she has happily worked for the past six years.

You have a corporate marketing background, having worked for Nielsen, Adshel and Getty Images, among others.  For a variety of reasons, corporate marketers like yourself then move to non-profit organisations. What was the attraction of becoming the general manager of fundraising and marketing for Mission Australia?

I tumbled into non-profit by accident – quite literally. My husband had a very serious kite-surfing accident in 2013 and given that I wanted to support him through his rehab, I traded my international corporate role, which required frequent travel, for a Sydney-based position. Mission Australia offered me a project role in their fundraising team, and now, six years later, I’m still here and loving it!

Sometimes those working in corporates think it’s going to be easier to work in non-profits. Is this a myth?

It’s definitely a myth. My experience is that the non-profit environment is kinder, less cut-throat, but that as marketers and fundraisers for charitable causes we have to be much smarter and more resourceful in how we engage with our core ‘customers’ and tap into supporters’ generosity. In a corporate role, you generally solve a problem for a customer by offering them a product or service. That’s fundamentally different in this sector. Also, in past roles for large international brands, I usually managed a specific audience, product portfolio or regional area. Whereas I now have the opportunity to look after the full scope of what B2B and B2C marketing and sales would entail in the corporate environment; ranging from large brand campaigns, segmented appeals, data analytics and one-on-one supporter relationships to substantial corporate partnerships.

You were a marketing person first. How easy was it to add on the fundraising remit at Mission Australia? Did you have to undertake any courses? Or was it all on-the-job learning? 

I’m still a marketing person first and foremost. Marketing and brand management, in my view, are fundamental to fundraising, as they are to sales in a corporate environment. In my career, I have always had a strong income generation focus which has served me well in this role. I mostly learned on the job, but what I found very surprising and am incredibly grateful for, was the willingness of industry peers and colleagues to share insights and experiences. 

Do you have any advice for people making the transition from the corporate world to that of the non-profit realm? 

Listen, listen, listen! Take time to understand the specific nuances of donor engagement before you act.

Mission Australia is known for its excellent campaigns. What are some exciting, current fundraising projects in the works?

Now that the key building blocks (strategy, structure, systems) are in place, we can further develop and fine-tune our marketing and fundraising approach. We are currently working on a sharper fundraising proposition, more customised engagement with high-potential audience segments and automation of triggered actions at milestone points in the supporter journey. 

What are the joys and challenges in your work? For example, you would have been used to bigger marketing budgets in the corporate world?

Looking back at six successful and inspiring years at Mission Australia, I love working with a really talented team for a professional, leading organisation in the charity sector. In my experience, marketing budgets and resources are always constrained, no matter where you go, and it’s up to us marketers to put convincing ROI cases forward to justify (increase in-) budgets. The one fundamental difference I observe in this sector is that the sales and marketing function tends to be less ‘in the spotlight’ compared to most corporates where I have worked. Understandably, brand reputation and fundraising income often take a back-seat to client support and impact realisation in discussions about a charity’s strategic priorities. So it has been interesting to view our ‘mission’ from a commercial perspective and reinforce that with a trusted and appealing brand that triggers donations, we can continue to provide vital support to the people we serve.

A winning team: Elvira Lodewick (centre) was proud that her team won the 2020 NSW Best Fundraising Team of the Year award.

You recently undertook a cloud transformation project at Mission Australia to improve donor service. Tell us a bit about the journey, why it came about, the challenges and results?

Coming from Getty Images where we managed the online business with the ‘Rolls Royce’ of marketing automation systems, I noticed upon arrival at Mission Australia that the tools and systems used by the marketing and fundraising teams needed an urgent update. In an industry that tries to resolve the world’s most significant problems, it’s crucial that we can rely on technology to reach our stakeholders with the right messages, at the right time, by their preferred channels. This became one of my key priorities when I stepped into this role.

Obtaining the necessary budget and running the project was challenging; however, as indicated before, it’s our responsibility to generate a return on dollars invested. I’m grateful to my team for enthusiastically backing my digital vision and working extremely hard to ensure the investment paid off!

Any advice for fundraisers around data? 

Make it the backbone to everything you do.

Your team has also started a sector group where charities can come together and share their digital learnings. How is that going? 

The uptake and interest in our CRM and data user industry group have been remarkable. It is still early days; however, we feel passionate about sharing the learnings and challenges from our digital transformation journey through this forum and to continually learn from others. Anyone interested in becoming involved, please email Yael at WassermanY@missionaustralia.com.au.

In your work, you probably liaise with the Mission Australia Board of Directors. Sometimes board members don’t get fundraising. How do you address this?

Our board members, including the chair, certainly ‘get’ fundraising, attend our events, have taken a leading role in recent fundraisers and are always supportive of our fundraising efforts. We also have an ‘advisory group fundraising’ on which three board members are represented. The key challenge from my perspective has been to create an effective practice and toolkit for my team to ensure that we guide the board’s limited time as effectively as possible towards opening new doors. I’ll be able to tell you how successful we’ve applied it later in the year.

What are the biggest challenges facing the fundraising sector at the moment?

On a macro level, I believe that the increasing inequality and the disappearing middle class is our biggest threat. We already see a trend of fewer people giving, but those who are giving give more. It means that on the one hand, more people will be unable to donate to charitable causes, and may even require support from organisations like ours. On the other hand, higher dependency on one segment of affluent – and often influential – people could hinder independent priority setting by – and cooperation between – charities. 

What is something people would find surprising about you? 

That I speak five languages, maybe? Though living in Australia for the past 15 years has not necessarily improved my eloquence in French, German or Spanish!

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love the outdoors: kayaking, sailing, running, hiking and camping. I also love to cuddle up on the couch with a good book.