Michael Nixon is a rising star in the fundraising industry. His belief in the power of one-on-one relationships with donors has propelled the Australian Red Cross’ regular giving program to impressive heights. Nixon was also the 2009 recipient of the ADMA Young Direct Marketer of the Year Award for individuals aged under 30. Rochelle Nolan reports.

Michael Nixon is a rising star in the fundraising industry. His belief in the power of one-on-one relationships with donors has propelled the Australian Red Cross’ regular giving program to impressive heights. Nixon was also the 2009 recipient of the ADMA Young Direct Marketer of the Year Award for individuals aged under 30. Rochelle Nolan reports.

Michael Nixon never intended to get into fundraising.

“At university I was one of those people who didn’t know what they wanted to do. I kind of fell into fundraising when I was travelling. I initially did some sales work and discovered I was quite good at it, so when I had the opportunity to use what I had learned in a way that contributed back to the community, I took it.”

Michael discovered his passion for travel during his time at Sheffield University while undertaking an honours degree in business studies. He became president of the British Universities North America Club (BUNAC) and spent his summers working in the USA and Canada.

“My initial plan was to go off around the world and head back to work with BUNAC… but that fell through when I got to Australia in 2003, fell in love with the country and decided to stay.”

Michael began working as a face-to-face (F2F) fundraiser and was sponsored by an agency, Face 2 Face Fundraising Australia. His potential was quickly recognised, and Michael rose rapidly to the position of national field operations manager. After four years working in F2F fundraising, Michael seized an opportunity to work at the Australian Red Cross.

Impressive results

Michael is currently responsible for Red Cross’s regular giving program, which is the fastest growing and most valuable portfolio in the organisation. Michael is accountable for the acquisition, retention and marketing strategies for website, direct mail, telemarketing, face-to -face and workplace giving.

He has achieved considerable success, particularly in the 2009 financial year. Despite the challenges of the global financial crisis and increased demand as a result of the Victorian Bushfires, Michael:

Developed and expanded the national regular giving program which has resulted in a 115% increase on net revenue. Acquired over 23,000 new donors and as a result finished the financial year $1.5 million over net revenue target. Conceived and implemented a new communication strategy which has improved donor retention, evidenced in the 12-month retention rate which has increased by 4%.

Michael has also designed and implemented a new national fundraising stream targeting a younger demographic. The Red Cross had previously been associated with an older generation of supporters; now 73% of its regular giving donors are aged under 50.

From the grassroots up

Michael says he was excited to bring the skills he’d learned from F2F to his role at the Red Cross, but there was a learning curve in those early days. “I had a good understanding of the F2F and agency side of fundraising, which certainly helped – but there was a lot to learn, and that was probably my biggest challenge early on. I tried to learn from a grassroots level.”

A personal approach to mass marketing

Michael believes his background in F2F fundraising has shaped his perspective on marketing.

“I learnt in those early days how to have a one-on-one conversation with a potential donor and the value of establishing a personal relationship. I try to bring that personal quality to national mass marketing – I believe that’s a unique position. It leads to long-term engagement with an organisation.”

“It’s not hard to convey that sense of one-on-one dialogue in a mass mail out, because even though it will be sent to so many people, you need to think of writing to an individual.”

Michael has developed a three pronged approach to engage donors: ongoing communication, upgrading and reactivation. He is currently working with the New Zealand Red Cross to help improve their direct marketing strategies.

“The best part of my job is getting to meet beneficiaries. The reason you fundraise is to help provide a service – to raise funds for services which will help people.”

Michael’s immediate manager, national direct marketing manager for the Australian Red Cross, Bronwyn Muir, says Michael is a visionary, whose hard work has delivered measurable success for the Red Cross. “Michael is innovative and actively embraces new challenges. He is constantly looking into new technologies and ways to engage younger donors and improve retention in the established donor base.”

“Michael is a natural leader who inspires the team around him to deliver on large targets, and keeps them engaged and motivated.”

Passion power

Michael’s philosophy on fundraising is simple but effective: “Passion is what makes a good fundraiser. If you believe in what you’re doing, that comes through and it inspires people.”

“Leaders need to set a good direction so people within an organisation understand where they’re going and why. Without strong leadership, you’re like a rudderless ship. It’s crucial for leaders within a charity to see igniting passion as one of their responsibilities.”

This is clearly a responsibility Michael has adopted and implemented … and the results at Australian Red Cross speak for themselves.