Fireside Chat Two with Phil Chapman from Mission Australia

For Fireside Chat Two, our guest was Phil Chapman, Senior Manager External Communications at Mission Australia. Mission Australia is a national charity with a goal to end homelessness in Australia and ensure people and communities in need can thrive.

Phil’s team is responsible for the organization’s fundraising, marketing content and design, including its digital and social media presence. With more than 20 years’ leadership experience, he’s passionate about inspiring teams to develop, innovate, and achieve by aligning on purpose, values, and strategy. In his spare time, when he’s not with friends or family, Phil also enjoys running through the local bushland south of Sydney.

In this Fireside Chat, we talked with Phil about:
- Best marketing and engagement strategies for the not-for-profit sector
- How he’s learnt from mistakes and inspired his team as a marketing leader​​​​​​
- Recent marketing and communications challenges he’s embraced, and more...


Fireside Chat Two Highlights

Check out the recap of the interview between Naomi Kroll and Phil Chapman below.

What's the highlight of your month been so far?

I think for most people who live in Sydney, it’s been the easing of restrictions. Being able to get out, go out for a meal together, see a show as I did a couple of weekends ago. There's a bit of a positive vibe happening at the moment.

Tell us about your career journey. How did you progress? How did you end up in Mission Australia?

[2:09] I started out studying mathematics at University, and then managed to score a graduate position with a major airline and worked there for nearly 10 years, but in different parts of the business. So initially, starting off in analytical roles in Revenue Management, and then moving into pricing in the field, and then into the Marketing Operations area of the holiday division, and that was great, I just loved marketing. It really felt like home, and I was happy to keep the benefits of understanding the numbers with me, but leave the deep analytics behind and then pursue a more creative career.

So after about 11 years in that group, I moved to financial services where I stayed for about four years, but then was seeking it, still in marketing, but still just seeking something that had a bit more purpose and contribution to society. I mean, we do need banks, we need finance and all that sort of stuff. But I was really wanting something that aligned more with my personal values.

And then an opportunity arose at Mission Australia, so I jumped at it. It was the first job that I'd had without managing staff for a very, very long time. So that was a refreshing break initially, but it didn't last that long. And then, yeah, look, I've been in this role for the best part of seven years and had the privilege of working with a really great team along the way.

It's been a hard time for everyone with COVID, but I imagine particularly for not for profits as well. How did you lead your team through that?

Firstly, our organization was in a fortunate position because there had been investment in technology in the lead up to in the years prior. So we'd recently in the year before started using Microsoft Teams, and our team in fundraising marketing with the first sort of road test of all trying to work from home a couple of weeks before the first lockdown hit. So we were all prepared. We knew that technology could work. We were equipped at being able to do the video conferencing and all that sort of stuff. The organization continued to provide a lot of support for its people as well. So our employee assistance program, external program, and our internal chaplaincy programs are available for staff.

But the main thing I did with my team was just ensure that we're checking in with each other and looking after each other. Everybody was affected differently, mentally and personally, and with their family situation. You know, colleagues who had young children at home and trying to work with constant interruptions and that sort of thing. It's a real issue. So just right sizing expectations was helpful.

We got through it all. The productivity wasn't affected. Everybody just stepped up and was able to continue working, and we just needed to be a bit more flexible around not being, you know, as rigid perhaps as we were when we're all physically together in the office. And there was an expectation from 9:00 to 5:00 that everybody would be there. When you've got kids interrupting you and that sort of thing and you need to take time outs to look after them, that's fine. You know, you just do that and make up the time as best you can.

What marketing strategies work well and what don't for the not for profit sector?

The first thing I'd say is that the not-for-profit sector is a whole lot like the for profit sector in many respects, and that includes when it comes to marketing. So the fundamental principles of marketing still apply. You know, you're offering a product or a service and you're meeting a need somebody has. In the charity space and in the fundraising space, you're fulfilling a need for somebody that somebody has to improve society in some way.

So in our case, it might be somebody passionate about reducing homelessness or reducing the effect of domestic and family violence. But for a cancer charity, it could be health. [8:27] But from a strategic point of view, many things hold true, exactly the same as for profit space.

Where I think it is a little bit different is the length of the relationship can be much longer in the not for profit space. We talk about really wanting to have donors for life and building those relationships with people and keeping them over the long term. And so we're in a traditional marketing sense. You might sort of see people's behavior, their level of transactions dropping away and at some point you might forget them in the not-for-profit space.

At Mission Australia, we really want to try and keep in touch with people, even when their capacity to give has declined. Or perhaps that it may have even had to stop, but still keep in touch with them because, you know, bequests is still a very significant income stream for us. Maintaining those relationships with people can be a beautiful thing.

I only heard yesterday from one of our supporters who's been supporting us for, I don't know how long, he's turning 100 next week, and he's received his communication from the Queen and from the Prime Minister and the Governor-General, but receiving a handwritten card from his relationship manager at Mission Australia. That was what counted the most for him.

Not-for-profit still needs to look at return on investment. But when it comes to particularly the back end of life, when people don't have the capacity to give, perhaps they might be asset rich and cash poor. They're still valuable to Mission Australia, and we treat them just the same as anybody else.

How do you keep your followers, your donors, your partners engaged?

So it's really got to be on their terms and respectful of their communication preferences. So we use a range of different means of communication. So I just gave one example for somebody who's perhaps not online. We still use print and send things in the mail. For those sorts of people.

Then obviously, for corporate partners and for philanthropists, there's a much more hands on sort of approach to engage with those supporters. And then for the mass market, we do send out newsletters, newsletters and offer other forms of communication, other email communications, digital communications and keep up the social media and website evergreen content as well.

Could you give an example of one specific campaign or activity where you focused on engagement recently?

[11:51] Look, a good one might be in the fundraising sense, might be after the bushfires from two years ago, so there was a lot of need in those communities that were directly affected. Some of our colleague organizations who are disaster recovery organizations were needing to do a lot of fundraising. And so we chose not to run our normal back to school appeal and instead sent a letter to our supporters thanking them for their support. Referencing those other organizations if they would like to donate to them for disaster relief.

But off the back of that, our support is still gave and we still actually achieved what we would normally achieve out of our appeal, even though it was just so springing from generosity that they have for us in our work, knowing that we'll be there after that initial recovery period, disaster recovery response has ended. We're still going to be in those communities and supporting those communities over the longer term.

What's one mistake or failure that you've made as a marketing leader and what did you learn?

Yes, I’m going to share an example from when I was a young leader, and this might be helpful for people who are listening in or watching who might be at the beginning of their leadership journey. The context was we were running large campaigns in traditional media. They had tight deadlines and organizationally, the culture wasn't geared up to meet those deadlines effectively.

So we're constantly pushing the situation, getting angry calls from newspapers, saying you've got 5 minutes to get your stuff to us or we're pulling your ads. Those sorts of things. So high pressure situations and manual processes in those days, things weren't very systematized.

And so we ended up in a situation, where this had happened a couple of times, and I was one of the leaders leading the team, pulling together the materials. But I didn't speak out. I didn't say this is unacceptable. So I was in a way a bit complicit in allowing that culture to perpetuate. And the upshot was that the final campaign of that nature that was run the information did come together too late and there needed to be write offs to honor the pricing mistakes that were in the advertisements and they weren't small.

So that, to me, was a real lesson that you've got to be prepared to speak up and speak out if things aren't right as a leader. You know, it's not an optional thing and you've really got to be prepared to do that. And changing culture isn't something that can happen overnight. But you know, we've all got a role to play in that when things aren't right to really speak up and change things that aren't working or are broken.

What's a recent marketing or communications challenge that you've embraced?

Yeah one challenge we've had recently. [16:13] We produce an annual report every year. When I started producing them seven years ago, we were printing quite a few of them and they were being posted to people and people were consuming them, so we thought. But over the years, the number of prints requested had sort of fallen away.

When you think about it, you know, putting a PDF on a website is not a user friendly way of sharing content or absorbing content. So the whole white paper thing of being a PDF, I think those days are gone. We've got to be much more digital friendly and producing a report like that meant it was a lot of work, a lot of time on the design side of things. So the challenge was, well, how can we be more efficient and bring the report to life in a way that is more accessible for people and more likely to be ready?

And so we went down the path of engaging the internal stakeholders, and thankfully our CEO was very supportive for the reasons that were compelling from a user experience point of view, but also environmentally. We don't want to be printing things that don't need to be printed.

We went down the path of producing our first digital annual report, which went live last month, and because we didn't spend as much time on the design side of things as we ordinarily would have. We spent a bit more time on the content and then produced state based reports, as well as the one national report.

So if you're in New South Wales, you can kind of get a slice of Mission Australia from a New South Wales point of view or Western Australia point of view or a Queensland overview and see how many different services and things that we operate and content with news stories out of each of those states.

So it's a web page made up of several different modules. And then you can link off to more content. So it'll have teasers for articles, good news stories around each of the different aspects of our work. And then you can link off and view those articles. So keep browsing and then link off and see the state based reports as well, if that's of interest. That was a challenge that was accepted and I think is something I'm very proud of. The team's done a great job on that.

[19:07] Naomi: That's brilliant. I love the focus on the user friendliness and definitely the digital accessibility side, I will say that's great.

Phil: Yeah, and that's something that we're increasingly trying to become more accessible as an organization. We do deliver NDIS services and, you know, but irrespective of that, we exist to serve human needs as an organization. And if we're not making content accessible, we're not being true to ourselves. I'm not saying we're there. We've got a long way to go. But yeah, that was a great initiative.

What do you do to keep learning as a marketer, as a leader, do you do podcasts or books or associations or white papers?

I'm not a podcaster, except for this. I am a webinar lover, so I do subscribe to them and several newsletters, although I don't get time to read them all the time. We share a lot of content as a team. If somebody sees a great article, then I'll share it and we'll read it, that sort of thing.

[20:40] For me, it's about trying to set aside the time to allocate time for reading. So I'll get invitations to things. I may not make it to actually watch the webinar when it airs, but I try and schedule time every Friday because that tends to be the day when I have less meetings to spend some time catching up on these things. So it is white papers, it's LinkedIn. Those sorts of things are all helpful.

I don't just look at the not for profit sector either. I look broader than that. I think there's a lot there. Not for profit sector can learn from for profit sector and vice versa, particularly when it comes to value like that.

Leadership is universal, right? A lot of the challenges that we face as an organization digitally are being faced by every organization, irrespective of what sector. I'm thinking outside the square and looking beyond our own world view.

How what do you do to inspire and lead and grow your team?

Yeah, there's a few things. [22:22] Firstly, a team is made up of people and we all come to work. We all come from different backgrounds. When I'm recruiting, I am trying to recruit to complement the skills that are already in the team and complement the cultural backgrounds where possible as well, so that we've got a diversity of opinions and backgrounds and skills. When we all come together, it leads to greater creative opportunities and better outcomes.

When we're dealing with people, and we are a people based organization that exists to help other people, we've got to start with ourselves first. so it's caring for each other. I mentioned that before looking after each other and checking in with each other. So I catch up with my team every day for 15 minutes because we're in this virtual world at the moment. And we're probably going to stay like that for some time. Catch ups every day and then we have regular one on ones with each of the team.

We're all getting together next week to look at development and thinking how we're going with development and what we can do to be supporting each other in our development over the year ahead. In the session, I'm really looking forward to having a team that's prepared to be vulnerable like that and share that sort of information with each other. I think it is testament to them that they're really open to learning and wanting to grow. And I think that's really I find it very encouraging.

I'm very fortunate with my team. I've got an average tenure of five years in my team, which is extraordinary really in marketing and digital and fundraising. It's very rare to have that, and it's a real blend of people with less than a year's experience to people like me who have been around for 10 now at Mission Australia.
Keep up with Phil on LinkedIn, and learn more about Mission Australia and their goal of ending homelessness in Australia on their website.

Follow Naomi on LinkedIn and stay tuned for more Fireside Chats!