Five minutes with…Erica Larke-Ewing, marketing and fundraising director, Cancer Council Tasmania

Hats on!  Erica Larke-Ewing representing Cancer Council Tasmania at the annual Taste of the Huon event.

Tell us about your career arc. Did you start out as a fundraiser?

My first job was in marketing with The Australian Ballet, Victoria. I had a great mentor and role model in my first manager who taught me what marketing for an arts organisation really looked like. I was fresh from university with an economics degree and a few marketing subjects under my belt, but nothing beats on-the-job training and a patient teacher. 

From there, I took on an international marketing role with the University of Melbourne, which was an exciting position with lots of travel. Then a few more marketing-type roles until one day, over coffee, a friend asked me an important question: “What do you really want to do with your career?” I answered without missing a beat: “To fundraise for a not-for-profit.” 

A few months after that, I was at Australian Red Cross, Tasmania, as the new marketing, fundraising and communications manager. 

You’ve worked at Australian Red Cross, Basketball WA, Heart Foundation and Volunteering Tasmania, among others. What have been some of your most memorable career highlights? 

I have many career highlights, and they’re incredibly varied. I suppose one that is relevant today is during the WA bushfires in 2009-10. Many staff at Australian Red Cross WA also volunteer for Emergency Service duties, including myself. During the bushfires, I did volunteer shifts at the enquiry centre after hours, doing my part to assist those affected. It’s an empowering feeling to think that you have something to give back to the community, especially in such difficult circumstances. 

Tell us about a typical day in your current role as Cancer Council Tasmania’s marketing and fundraising director. What are the joys and challenges?

A typical day is not very typical. When you work in an organisation the size of ours (not very big!) you can’t be precious about rolling up your sleeves when you have to. A typical day consists of working with my team on a very operational level on upcoming events (there’s about 18 events and campaigns a year), meeting with our supporters, some paperwork. In the evening, there may be a committee meeting for an upcoming gala dinner. This month, I will be out and about on the weekends, helping the team with Relay For Life across the state. As a fundraising leader in Tasmania, you need both operational and strategic strengths. You can’t be one or the other.

The joys are seeing our community supporters helping us out with their fundraising efforts – it makes my day. The challenges are the increased demand for Cancer Council Tasmania’s services and having to match that with the money we’re raising. We are 90 per cent funded by the community, so no easy task.

What are some fundraising projects you’ve particularly enjoyed working on at Cancer Council Tasmania? 

That’s a tough question as I enjoy them for different reasons, but the common theme is the engagement with community and corporate supporters. For example, the Women’s 5km Walk/Run has the most electric vibe, and the anticipation just builds before the runners start. Relay For Life is a time where strangers share the most touching personal stories with you. In this job, you’re the keeper of many secrets! Then the gala dinners are enjoyable as you see people having such a good time while still raising money. I think it’s not the individual projects I enjoy; it’s the sheer variety.

Relay for Life is a popular event, now in its 20th year. How do you keep it fresh and engaging for donors and supporters?

Relay For Life has so many facets that change and evolve that it’s always different from one year to the next. However, the “big secret” for Relay For Life in Tasmania is the volunteer committees that have been created and nurtured, plus a very dedicated team of fundraising staff who work closely with the committees. There are many after-hours meetings, phone conversations and general support provided by our staff, which helps our committees to be successful, productive and focused.

Cancer Council Tasmania has recently branched into its first adventure fundraising campaigns (Kokoda and Larapinta). How have these gone and will adventure campaigns become regular features for your organisation?

Definitely. It’s been interesting to trial a different fundraising offering rather than our standard events and campaigns, and adventure fundraising is relatively new to the Australian market so plenty of room for growth. The trick is to ensure a long lead-in time before the trip takes place, giving everyone plenty of time to fundraise.

Are you doing anything interesting on the digital/technology front when it comes to fundraising? 

We’re about to do an entire website rebuild, and we’re very excited to work with Cancer Council Australia and have a well-functioning website that sits off theirs. I hope that the increased functionality will enhance people’s experience with Cancer Council Tasmania online. 

We have just moved onto the FunRaisin platform too, which has improved our community fundraisers’ ability to promote their events to friends and colleagues online.

How has Cancer Council Tasmania created such a trusted brand?

Our brand has grown from the professional service we offer people who are impacted by cancer. We provide a lot of face-to-face support: one-on-one, support groups, complementary therapies, and so on. We have a transport2treatment service which takes people to their cancer-related medical appointments, free of charge. Often people say: “You helped me/one of my family, now I’m giving back.” 

The trust stems from the consistent, excellent service we’ve provided in Tassie for the past 25 years.

Are there any challenges for you as a fundraiser working in Tasmania? What do you do about those?

Tasmania only has a population of over 500,000 people, so obviously there are difficulties of scale. However, in some ways, being a small island works in our favour because all funds raised in Tasmania stay in Tasmania. Not every charity can claim the same thing, and this resonates strongly with our community. People want to see their donations at work and at home. We can offer our supporters that.

With the number of NGOs and charities that do mass marketing, corporate engagement and PR campaigns now, what gives your organisation the edge? 

We maintain a strong focus on community engagement and involving volunteer committees to assist us with our events. Of course, we do use all of those strategies as well (on a much smaller scale), but we have a much more personal approach than some other NGOs. 

Tasmanians are also keen to know whether or not their funds stay in Tasmania, which they do, in the case of Cancer Council Tasmania, so that certainly gives us an edge.

You’ve worked in marketing and fundraising for over 20 years. What has changed over the time you’ve been in the profession? 

Definitely the growth of social media. Also, the speed of communication. Initially, we were all constrained with radio, print and TV.  Now, a post can be up on Insta immediately. As well, we can get to know our audience more intimately through online analytics. It’s a new world, but it hasn’t stopped evolving. The challenge for a small-medium NGO in Tasmania is how do we choose the right technologies to invest in before they are superseded?

What’s the most challenging issue the profession faces right now? Can FIA do anything to help? 

The recent bushfires are rendering our country broken and hurting. Rebuilding our communities across Australia will take so much time, energy and focus. The attention on this critical task will no doubt affect people’s capacity to give, and this will ripple across the fundraising sector. It’s a difficult time for our people and our wildlife. Unfortunately, I don’t think FIA can do anything to assist with that.

You sat on the 2020 FIA Conference Program Committee and assisted with the personal effectiveness track. Why was this volunteer work important to you? What do you hope people will get out of it?

FIA does such great work for the fundraising sector; I enjoyed giving back. I’m also an FIA Tasmania Committee member and assist with organising professional development and networking opportunities for other fundraisers in the state.  

The FIA Conference Program Committee allowed me to meet and work alongside other like-minded people across Australia. It was a great chance to make new connections, and I hope people who attend the personal effectiveness sessions walk away with new tools, confidence and perspectives.

Finally, what do you like to do in your spare time?

I don’t have much spare time as I have two jobs – Cancer Council Tasmania and raising three children under the age of 10! So, I’m trying to spend as much “spare” time with them as I can before they grow up and think I’m too daggy! We all enjoy bushwalking, bike riding, eating good food (my husband is a great cook) and indulging in Netflix. Tassie is such a great place to raise kids, and we try to take advantage of it when we can.