Five minutes with … Maisa Lopes Gomes de Paiva

Digital dynamo talks up the joys of working for CPA

In this Q&A, Maisa talks about all things digital, the importance of lifelong learning for digital professionals, the challenges of working through coronavirus and her thoughts on being an ex-pat in Australia. And par for the course in these challenging times: she’s delivering an FIA short course in digital strategy via webinar in June.

Talking up digital: CPA’s Maisa Lopes Gomes de Paiva presents at FIA Conference 2020 about maximising the impact of digital on your fundraising program.

You’re from Brazil, and you studied graphic design at university. How did you come to Australia, and why did you move across into fundraising?

I have a bachelor’s degree in graphic design from the Pontifical Catholic University of Paraná, located in Curitiba, a city in southern Brazil. Australian’s respective authorities recognise both the bachelor’s degree and university, and I used my qualifications combined with several other requirements for my application to become an Australian permanent resident, and then later an Australian citizen, in 2013.

I moved to Sydney in 2003 and completed a certificate in arts and design, an advanced diploma in business management and a diploma in multimedia and web design. While studying, I also worked as a consultant, initially as a graphic and web designer, and quickly progressed to an overarching marketing and branding role, which included digital marketing.

After working for 10 years in the private sector, I decided that I wanted to create a greater impact on the work that I do. A position came up in the marketing department of Cerebral Palsy Alliance (CPA), and I decided to go for that opportunity.

You’ve been with CPA for nine years. What was the attraction of this organisation for you?

I applied for a three-month contract to support the marketing team with a massive project of change: transforming the organisation’s 60-year-old brand from The Spastic Centre to Cerebral Palsy Alliance. After the interview, I was offered a 12-month role instead, as the marketing coordinator.

The work that CPA does by championing inclusion and offering all levels of support for children and adults living with cerebral palsy truly inspires me. I’m also passionate about the research arm of the organisation, which operates on a global scale. Our organisation is also very innovative, and we lead several groundbreaking initiatives such as the World CP Day – now a global movement – and Remarkable, which is Australia’s first impact accelerator focused on start-ups. Remarkable creates technology for people with a disability.

What’s it like being an ex-pat from a culturally and linguistically diverse background and living in Australia?

I learned over my 16 years of professional experience as an ex-pat that diversity can uncover a lack of ability to innovate and a fear of change. People who struggle in multi-cultural landscapes tend to underperform in fast-growing environments. People who work in inclusive and diverse settings will be challenged to think differently, will understand different perspectives and knowledge, and will grow and innovate. That’s why diversity is the best possible decision at all levels of society.

Inclusion is about everyone: it’s bigger than colour, ethnicity or language; it also encompasses people living with disabilities, working mothers and all groups that need to adapt to a workforce that was not built for all. This lack of adaptability is the greatest driver of gender inequality and many other disturbances. I believe that our generation should help drive change around this.

On a similar note, I’m a true believer that it’s particularly essential to include the groups that charities are supporting in their leadership and decision-making teams. At CPA, we work with incredible talent who live with cerebral palsy and other disabilities. These people have the best possible insights into the conditions and provide invaluable intelligence for our team at all levels of strategy and implementation.

What’s it like being a digital fundraiser during the coronavirus pandemic? 

This is a unique period for all of us, but undoubtedly more is expected from digital professionals across all areas.

It’s vital to keep in mind that our donors and beneficiaries/causes are at the core of everything that we do. Investing in donor care now is the right tactic not only for retention but also to learn best how our supporters will respond/are responding to this crisis. Building a solid communications plan with digital channels can only help, but do optimise your strategy according to people’s responses, and think multi-channel.

Naturally, your colleagues will be more cautious or uncertain during this time. Offer them different ways to achieve their goals via low-risk channels, build trust and then grow your digital campaigns with internal support.

Coronavirus has been forcing digital transformation across commercial and non-profit organisations. It will be interesting to see how this crisis will positively affect organisations to become more digitally able. Donor care is a critical area of focus during this time, and digital is the safest ecosystem to continually connect with our supporters and empower people to support our causes.

You’ve had several roles at CPA. Some highlights?

Yes, I have! I started as the marketing coordinator, then moved to a marketing and events role, then gifts in Wills and digital project manager, then Steptember digital manager, and now I’m the digital strategy manager in an all-encompassing role across the entire fundraising portfolio.

The highlight I’m most proud of is winning the FIA award for best gifts in Wills campaign in 2018. When I started as the gifts in Wills and digital projects manager in 2014, our GIW program was in decline, and we were losing our warm leads. After an extensive marketing exercise of modelling our key profiles, designing comms journeys – including digital – following the loyalty loop model and engaging our prospects in the process of selecting our new brand – the Circle of Friends – we observed a growth of more than 800 per cent of our warm prospects. 

We also implemented several donor care tactics that drove excellent retention. I feel that my background in GIW gives me immersive knowledge in donor care at the highest level. In essence, I see it as a great advantage when strategising digital journeys towards better donor experiences.

What does your current role as the digital strategy manager for CPA involve?

My role encompasses digital strategy and transformation, and I work with the entire team to enable our vision and direction for CPA digital fundraising at a high level. My work involves:

– donor-centricity and design thinking. This means identifying opportunities to provide better experiences to our supporters and to connect people with our ‘why,’ going beyond marketing our fundraising products. It also means building synergies across our team, so our supporters are at the centre of everything that we do.

– global insights. Using evidence of what’s working best in Australia and at a global level to future-proof decisions at all levels. This includes digital channels, content, tactics and innovation.

– data-driven decisions. Looking into our supporter experience and operational data, at our impact as a social change agent, and at our digitally tracked data to make strategic decisions.

– digital landscape. Mapping our systems and platforms for greater efficiencies and better synergies.

– people. Structure internal training in digital to upskill our internal expertise.

The first exercise that I undertook was to engage with a digital fundraising agency and build our three-year digital strategy plan. This helped bring the senior team together towards a new digital culture. We have also recruited a digital content experiences producer as part of my team.

I’m also quite involved with implementation as I believe we can be better at managing digital resources when we have an immersive knowledge of the technology and tactics that we would like to test or implement.

What are the joys and challenges in your work?

I see the work that I do as being the impact that it generates internally and externally. It motivates me to know that our efforts as a team at CPA bring revenue that will help thousands of babies, children and adults living with disabilities and their families in Australia. It also funds the world’s most celebrated minds in cerebral palsy research and shapes a better and inclusive future through newly accessible technology. 

This is what I do, and being a digital strategy manager is how I contribute towards the higher goal.

Digital is an ever-changing environment, and good professionals are lifelong learners. It’s important to be active participants in conferences, attend webinars and continue your education to be well-informed and innovative in an environment of constant change.

The ongoing challenges in my work are building an overarching digital culture from the top-down, articulating that digital is not a channel but a combination of ecosystems and ways-of-working, and measuring digital ROI and attribution. 

What are the challenges for digital charity teams? 

The most common challenges based on what I hear from digital professionals across the sector would be:

– difficulties in having an aligned vision with their leadership, including their marketing and IT departments. Digital does not work in silos, and many organisations struggle with championing digital content and tactics through their internal marketing areas.

– digital measurement – how to justify the investments

– decentralisation of systems and dispersity of digital goals and digital resources.

How do you see CPA developing digitally over the next few years?

I’m excited about the work we’re doing right now at CPA. We’re expanding our front-end areas of digital recruitment and engagement – in close alignment with digital transformation pieces – to build future-proof platforms and more efficient internal ways of working.

Our objectives are simple and focused on providing unrivalled donor care experiences via digital and offline upon all stages of conversion, from awareness and considering, to retention and lifetime value growth.

What digital tools are essential to your work?

Good digital people with a lifelong learning attitude. The way that you work with your team (meaning internal and external resources), with your leadership and the people that you interact with at any level of work, can lead you to succeed or fail, even if you have the best possible digital tools in place.

What new technologies and tools are you most excited about?

I’m a massive fan of technologies that make ‘things’ easier for people, and that create new ways that people can connect with others.

The way that digital has enabled peer-to-peer fundraising to grow and thrive in the past 10 years is exciting, and I find social giving (Facebook Fundraiser the most notable channel) transformational disruptors in this area.

I also find interesting the new technological opportunities to segment people’s experiences by offering personalised content based on their responses to surveys and/or their interactions with charities’ digital channels. All evidence shows that people respond better to offers and content that match their profiles and personal choices. 

Charities still appear over-reliant on email, however. In 2020, the digital landscape offers a myriad of engagement and conversion opportunities across channels such as social, Google search, podcast apps, catch-up TV, fitness apps, messaging apps, Gmail/Ymail inbox and so much more. Technology enables charities to create meaningful multichannel donor care, and long-term strategies to grow and measure lifetime value. This will only evolve with machine learning and AI.

What are your top tips for charities that are just starting out with digital fundraising?

Have a high-level digital plan aligned with your principal fundraising strategy and execute your immediate moves and quick wins towards your organisation’s greater visions. One of the key challenges for small charities – or new starters – is becoming reactive with their digital.

What charities do you think are doing digital fundraising well?

Charity: Water is leading the way in digital fundraising. Much of what they do is very innovative and digitally creative. They use surveys to understand donors’ behaviours and digitally match them with beneficiaries who are similar in scope. They test new technologies, such as chatbots, with the purpose to grow awareness and build trust. Everything’s beautifully executed from creative and branding perspectives.

In addition to your work at CPA, you’re a tutor for FIA. Tell us about the course you teach. Who should take it?

I’m proudly facilitating the Creating a Digital-First Fundraising Strategy session on Wednesday, 10 June. This session will be in a webinar format with online, small group workshops throughout the day.

This is the same course I’ve led in-class in Sydney, Perth, Brisbane and Melbourne in October 2019, and Sydney in March 2020. I was pleased with the feedback from both FIA and students. Many students connected with me on LinkedIn and shared positive feedback about the course in their posts. I received a particularly strong bit of feedback about the small workshop format of the class.

This day-long webinar will give participants the tools to manage agencies well and to upskill their internal teams in digital. Students will learn how they can identify what is right for their organisation by being encouraged to think-tank their very own digital best practices – based on what works best for their donors.

During the interactive workshops, participants will learn how to use design-thinking creative logic to understand their donors better and how they would like to support their organisation. Students will have structured tools to stimulate critical thinking during practical small workshopping sessions, where participants will be challenged to identify revenue and retention growth opportunities based on their data and digital channel’s maturity.

The course covers the fundamental components of digital’s big picture, including data and segmentation, digital channels and UX, creative and content, acquisition and retention digital tactics, and tracking and systems. Students will also have details on critical tactics such as Facebook Fundraiser, two-step digital acquisition and AI.

Interested? You can register here.

You’ve also currently serving on the FIA NSW State Committee. How are you assisting?

Being a member of the FIA NSW Committee is an unparalleled opportunity to build connections with others in the sector, and also support all charities and fundraisers in NSW by coordinating professional development events throughout the year. It’s a valuable experience, and I’m grateful for the opportunity. 

I’m also a public speaker and, more recently, was invited to present at the FIA 2020 Conference – which was a great honour. I connected with many fundraisers after the session who were interested in becoming more strategic and digitally focused on the work they do. It was exciting as I love talking about digital, connecting with like-minded people, and continuously learning more about digital at all levels.

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

I love books. I’m nearly finished American Gods. My favourite writers are Gabriel García Márquez (Colombia) and Alice Munroe (Canada). Being bilingual, I can read books written in Latin languages in Portuguese, and all others in English, which I find a great advantage as the writing techniques and styles do change with translations.

I also love films and animation. I’m a big fan of director Hayao Miyazaki. I had the opportunity to visit the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo last year, which was incredible. I also visited Tokyo’s Borderless Museum, and its digital arts impressed me so much that I’ve included a video and pictures of the digital exhibition as part of my FIA digital course training material.

I’m an ex-pat with close family living on the other side of the globe, so travelling is not only an interest – but also part of my family’s life. We usually travel overseas every year and stop in multiple locations on the way to Brazil. We will not be able to do this in 2020 because of the coronavirus, but hopefully, we’ll be able to travel back at the end of 2021.

Finally, what I do most in my spare time is to have fun with Alice, my three-year-old daughter. She’s named after Lewis Carroll’s book Alice in Wonderland, and she’s my world. It’s possible to be a dedicated mum and have a career. It’s also great!