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Nonprofit Heroes: Helen Priest, digital fundraiser

Welcome to our Nonprofit Heroes series, where the Donorfy team interviews industry experts, successful proven fundraisers, and nonprofit heroes with stories and tips to inspire your charity to use technology to your advantage and do good, better. Enjoy!

The sixth interviewee in our new series is Helen Priest, a digital fundraiser based in Warwickshire, England. We asked Helen a few questions about her career and what challenges she sees currently facing charity fundraisers.

Let’s start with some background information - who are you, and what do you do?

I’m Helen and I’m the Digital Fundraiser at MND Association. The only national charity in England, Wales and Northern Ireland focused on Motor Neurone Disease care, research and campaigning.

What was your first job?

Originally I trained to be a nanny - but during the course of my training, I realised it wasn’t for me and so I switched to a secretarial course. For a few years I was temping in secretarial roles and eventually my first full time job was as an Administrator for the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE). Over my six years there my role evolved and I moved departments and ended up becoming a website administrator and as part of my role did email marketing and set the organisation up on social media, which set me off in a digital career direction.

How did you end up working as a digital fundraising officer?

Well, after leaving IChemE I relocated to Peterborough and was looking for marketing roles. I applied for an Acquisition Marketing Officer role at Kidney Research UK but on the morning of the interview the Digital & Data Marketing Officer had handed in his notice! So when I arrived for the interview, they asked me if I’d mind interviewing for that role instead because of my background….and I got a call before I’d got back to the car park that I’d got the job! The rest is history. Since then I’ve worked for three other charities in digital roles.

What are the biggest challenges of digital development in a nonprofit organisation?

The majority of roles I’ve worked in have been evolved or created because they want to increase their digital activity. So there’s always a willingness and understanding to do ‘more’ in the digital space, but the reality is that sometimes people will need 'upskill' and learn new tools to make these changes happen. The changes they need to make to existing content and workflows can be hard to find in a busy fundraising team.

Your team was recently nominated as ‘Charity of the Year’ by JustGiving (well done!) - which other charity or organisation most inspires you most as a fundraiser?

Thank you, we were incredibly excited to be nominated and being at the awards was an emotional night.

RNLI are doing amazing digital work, they did a really cool ‘choose your own story’ style campaign on instagram that I loved and the images they’re able to get are stunning. They also add a lot of fun into their social media posts (I love that they use lego figures in a lot of their images!)- so you should definitely follow them on Twitter and Instagram!

You mentioned before our chat that you do training and teaching. What knowledge gaps do you most commonly see for fundraisers when it comes to digital?

I think what I notice most is a social media skills gap.  There’s a big difference between having a twitter feed yourself and managing one for an organisation - and then more particularities if that organisation is a charity. Not only do the tone and content have to be different, but dealing with negative comments from unhappy supporters rather than just ignoring and blocking them (as you would on your own feed) can be challenging. It’s important to take initiative to learn how to really manage and grow a community of supporters.

In your personal life, you’re known for your love of makeup and you’re training to become a makeup artist. Does having a creative hobby make you a better fundraiser?

It’s helped me personally in terms of improving my confidence -  I can’t hide behind two screens when I’m giving someone a smokey eye.

As a fundraiser you need to be creative, in the same way a makeup artist is. You’ll have a brief from a client of what look they want (the target) you’ll then put together your face chart (strategy) using the correct products (platforms) and you’ll do a trial (test) and hopefully you’ll exceed the client’s expectations (beat target) but if you don’t you’ll try again. That’s the beauty of makeup, if it’s not right you’re able to instantly change something that can make all the difference and one wipe and you can start again. Same with digital – but without wipes!

Here at Donorfy we’re all about making fundraising easier for charities. If you got your wish, what would you make easier than it is today?

More streamlined integration for products, without the need for developers, APIs or middleware.

[Editors note: see our integrations with major fundraising tools]

What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to management, tracking and reporting of donor data?

There’s so many sources of data - your CRM, web analytics, social, email, offline stats, etc - and big challenge is pulling all that together to give a single accurate reading of success from one source. It would be helpful to have a one-stop-stop so we can track the results of what we’re doing and invest in the right channels.

[Editors note: see our visual donor data dashboard]

A few quickfire questions:

  • If you had a superpower, what would it be?

To be able to make my eyeliner wings match

  • On the techie side of things, are you a PC or a Mac these days?

I used to be all about the Mac and Apple products but now I’m back to a PC but I do love my iPad.

  • Which smartphone do you have and what’s your favourite app?

I have a Sony Xperia Z5, my favourite app is probably IMDB. Whenever we watch a film I’ll look up the trivia and tell my husband – which I‘m sure he appreciates. Consequently my head is full of useless movie trivia.

Huge thanks to Helen for joining us for our Nonprofit Heroes interview!

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