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A Dogged Approach

8 February 2016 at 11:35 am
Staff Reporter
Andrew Sabatino has a lot of achievements to hang his hat on. The fundraising and Not for Profit marketing expert has helped Guide Dogs be consistently recognised as the most trusted charity in Australia. Sabatino

Staff Reporter | 8 February 2016 at 11:35 am


A Dogged Approach
8 February 2016 at 11:35 am

Andrew Sabatino has a lot of achievements to hang his hat on. The fundraising and Not for Profit marketing expert has helped Guide Dogs be consistently recognised as the most trusted charity in Australia. Sabatino is this week’s Changemaker. He spoke to Xavier Smerdon.

Andrew Sabatino cut his teeth as a marketer and fundraising specialist in London, where he worked at a range of organisations, including the largest charity in the UK, The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).

When he started working for Guide Dogs SA/NT six years ago it would be fair to say the organisation was struggling to bring in sustainable levels of fundraising dollars.

Guide Dogs SA/NT, where Sabatino is the Executive Manager of Business Development, has since increased its annual income from $1.6 million to $8.5 million and “donor delinquency” has dropped from 26 per cent to 11 per cent.

In this week’s Changemaker column, Sabatino shares the fundraising trends that Not for Profits should be looking at for the future and what excites him about developing a successful marketing campaign.

How did you get into marketing and fundraising and what made you want to work in those fields?

It was a process of elimination really. I thought about law because I got enough points when I graduated to get into that field but then I thought “no, I don’t like that profession”. I got points to do medicine but then I thought “I don’t like being around sick people”. I didn’t like accounting or financing really, which were two other options for me, I just liked growing things. I gravitated towards business and someone told me I’d be good at marketing because I liked creating things. So it really was just a process of elimination.

As far as fundraising went, my mum had always worked in Not for Profits and without even noticing it I started to gravitate towards that sector. I worked at Coca-Cola in the early days in the marketing department and they were just burning through money on campaigns and I thought “this just isn’t right”. I moved to Sydney and got a gig at an agency that did some charity and fundraising work and I loved it. Being able to apply my business skills at a Not for Profit was something I really liked. Combining the two skill sets, making money and changing lives, made me think there couldn’t be a better profession.

You’ve been responsible for some fairly impressive results at Guide Dogs SA/NT. What was the situation like at that organisation when you arrived there?

When I first got here I thought I was in the 1980s. I had applied for the job whilst I was in London and we had nine revenue streams at the time and four or five of them were dying, raffle sand that sort of stuff. We were making about $1 million in revenue and that was basically just through direct mail and some lottery sales. I had a really small team of four people, including one marketer, in the fundraising team, and I thought I had made a really big mistake.

I was lucky enough to be trained in and have experience working at agencies in Sydney and London so I just applied that knowledge. I applied basic fundraising principles I had learned and started with a mass fundraising strategy for the first three years I was here. That was an investment in direct mail, an investment in regular giving, predominantly face to face, and an investment in telefundraising. We had about 15,000 donors and once we’d built that up to about 30,000 or 40,000 through the investment in mass fundraising, then I launched the individual and community programs. We launched major gifts, bequests, corporate partnerships, trusts, grants and foundations, community fundraising and peer to peer projects.

That’s been the journey. We’ve gone from fundraising $1.6 million to $8.6 million annually and now we’re pushing $9 million for this financial year. The team has grown from seven staff to 17, which is amazing, and we’re doing really well but we haven’t cracked a few things yet, which I guess is pretty normal.

What would be your advice for other organisations in a similar situation that are looking to improve their fundraising results?

You need to treat fundraising as an investment, not an expense. With an investment you need to look at what is the level of return over one year, two years, three years and five years. Everything’s a financial model. Don’t be afraid to invest, like we did, $1 million in fundraising. We lost that money in year one and in year two we lost. Our fundraising model looked like negative $1 million in year one, negative $500,000 in year two, we broke even in year three and then we went to positive $500,000 and positive $1 million. It was like a big bell curve. So the advice is invest in fundraising, have a support structure that underpins that investment, which is staff and recruit someone that has proven experience and knows what they’re doing. Fundraising is led from the top by the board and the CEO.

What do you think the major changes in the way organisations fundraise will be?

The big trend now is digital and peer to peer. A lot of my presentations are around donor engagement – multi-level donor engagement. Acquisition is really tough, everybody wants new donors, but what are we doing to keep them, what are we doing to nurture them and what are we doing to grow them. The trends for me are digital fundraising, peer to peer fundraising and donor engagement and retention.

You were recently named the FIA SA Young Fundraiser of the Year, what did that award mean to you and have you ever found it difficult to try to introduce changes at your organisation when you are younger than a lot of other people there?

I got a call and I was told that I’d been nominated, which was a complete surprise. Then I found out that my CEO had nominated me, which was awesome. I was really honoured. Then to find out it was the young fundraiser of the year was quite comical, because I’m 35 years old, I’m right on the cusp for the award and everyone makes fun of me for that.

Being young, I started here when I was 29 and I’ve been here for six years. I have only ever been supported really. I knew what I wanted to do and I had a clear vision in mind. My first five campaigns were all successes so my methodology was proven if you will, and I had nothing but support from my CEO. I‘ve seen the frustration experienced by some young fundraisers that want to invest in fundraising but they get blocked at CEO and board level. I haven’t had that frustration, so that just proves that you really need a good support structure I guess.

You were involved in a marketing campaign that saw Guide Dogs named the most trusted charity in Australia for three years in a row. How important is a good marketing strategy for a NFP?

Critical. There’s always the divide between fundraising and marketing. Always. I’m fortunate enough to lead both teams, so I can bridge that divide. But it’s a lack of understanding of role and outcome. For fundraisers the outcome is money, for marketers it’s all about determining the outcome. People often criticise marketers because they don’t have a tangible outcome, so what I’ve been trying to do is put a framework around the outcomes. The outcomes around marketing are measured by better brand awareness surveys, the outcomes of our marketing are that we get more clients, the outcomes of our marketing are that our website traffic increases, the outcomes of our marketing are that we support our fundraising drives through targeted media campaigns. Marketing is critical and understanding your marketing framework is even more critical. Different charities and have different marketing outcomes, it’s simple. It all starts with strategy.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love creation. If I’m not creating I’m standing still or going backwards. I love creation. I love mentoring the younger fundraisers. As frustrating as it can be sometimes when you don’t think they’re listening, they are listening. I love having the power and ability to change people’s lives. I get to meet the volunteers and the clients that come in here with their dogs and that is amazing. Just having and influence and being able to make a difference, that’s what most people want I guess.


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