Like many people in our industry, I fell into direct response fundraising by chance. Fresh from college and armed with a degree in history and the desire to make a difference in the world, I answered about 100 help wanted ads from the Washington Post.
I got a call back from Oram Group Marketing (now Lautman Maska Neill & Company) but I had no idea what the company did. This was in the days before the internet so pre-interview research was not an option. All I knew was that this was a fundraising gig.
But as I sat in that interview and learned about the millions of dollars raised through the mail every year, I was hooked. Both the art and the science of direct response fundraising were utterly fascinating to me. And today, over 20 years later, they still are.
What has made the most difference for me in my career is the opportunity to learn from incredibly smart and creative people — from Kay Lautman (who was one of the best direct mail writers I’ve ever known) to Tiffany Neill (who has an almost scary facility with numbers) to others too numerous to mention.
The opportunity to learn from others is what makes DMAW such an incredible organization and volunteering gets you that much closer to the action. Over the years I’ve volunteered for many groups (DMFA, DMANF, AFP) and in many capacities. However, I am particularly in love with my role as the DMAW MAXI awards judging chair. Not only do I get to see all of the amazing packages that are submitted, I get to geek out in a room full of people who are just as obsessed with response rates and cost to raise a dollar as I am.
What advice would I give to someone who is trying to advance in the field of direct response fundraising?
First, I would tell them to talk less, listen more. There is so much to learn in this field and things are constantly changing. Be open to new ideas and techniques and different ways of doing things.
Second, be willing to learn from everybody. At this point in my life, I’ve learned that no one is too old or too young to teach me something new. As the parent of five children (three of whom are teenagers) I get a daily tutorial on what’s new in the world of social networking.
Third, always remember why you got into this business. At the end of a long day, it’s important to remember that the whole of what we do is a million times greater than the sum of its parts. While on any given day we might be writing copy, requesting data or approving merge/purge counts, what we are really doing is helping feed the hungry, care for the poor, protect innocent people and animals and generally make our world a more beautiful and peaceful place. And that is certainly worth all the time I can give it.
Favorite Restaurant: Va Bene
Favorite Films: The Big Lebowski and almost anything from the 80s.
Significant Books: A Tale for Owen Meany, A Fine Balance
Favorite Musical Groups: Augustana, The Allman Brothers, Mike Stern
Favorite Websites: www.lautmandc.com (of course!)
Leisure Interests: reading, hiking, hanging out with my family