Andrew Sabatino — Executive Director, Business Development (Guide Dogs SA & NT)
The Guide Dogs are Australia’s most trusted charity and when you meet Andrew Sabatino, it’s easy to see why.
In this interview, the FIA Young Fundraiser of the Year, talks donor-centricity, direct marketing and how his mum taught him everything he knows about navigating change.
How did you get into Fundraising?
When I started working at a mailing agency in Sydney when I was 23 which looked after clients like the Cancer Council & Amnesty International. Over time I started doing complex direct mail campaigns that nobody else quite had the patience for. Then my fundraising career expanded when I went to the UK when I was 25. I was actually trying to move away from the sector but fate had other ideas and I kept getting dragged back – and ended up working for an agency that specialised in the Not-for-Profit sector and it was there that I learnt loads.
What have been your greatest achievements?
Being able to influence service delivery. In my current role, I’ve been able to see first-hand the amount of extra guide dogs that were provided as a direct impact of the extra money raised. I’m also proud of being part of an amazing community – and by that I mean the whole community – the board, supporters, volunteers and my team.
What do you do differently than everyone else? How did you manage to take DM revenue from $166K to $730K?
By always sticking to some key principles: The first being the four pillars of fundraising – acquisition, retention, growth and stewardship. The second being my 7 fundraising principles called ‘the star of giving’. When I came into this role I did an audit on those two principles and could see where improvements could be made. Then I planned, implemented with testing, learnt and repeated the process. That’s how I’ve always taught my team.
I also place a huge amount of emphasis on understanding the Donor Journey. You have to know your supporters and ensure that everything you do is focused on them, not you.
Where do you get your inspiration?
My family came to Australia with nothing and had to build everything from scratch. It taught me a lot and has been a huge influence on how I work. I love to create as my family had to. And if things aren’t going to plan you re-assess and adapt. My mum always said ‘don’t dwell on your problems, just get on and change them’, so I’ve always had a forward thinking mentality.
Guide Dogs have been voted Australia’s Most Trusted Charity. Given what we’ve seen happening in the UK, trust has never been more important. How did you manage that?
It is all born from the communications journey. We started with engaging our supporters through surveys and feedback mechanisms, listened to their feedback, and then proved to them that we had listened by communicating it back to them in a personalised approach. We proved to our donors how we could be ‘trusted’ through open and transparent communication and that resonated with them.
It is all down to two way communication at the end of the day. So often charities just have one way conversations.
What are the greatest challenges facing fundraisers today?
The amount of Not-for-Profits that are entering the market. It’s not increasing the amount of money in the sector, it’s just dispersing it amongst more charities.
The other big challenge is maintaining positivity and enthusiasm around our sector. I have noticed a growing sense of negativity and stress around fundraising lately.
The challenge we face is to remain inspired and motivated in the face of growing budget expectations and resource challenges.
How important is passion?
It’s crucial but it must be integrated with the ability to learn and implement. You’ve got to stop, listen and ensure you’re connecting with your supporters. I’ve worked with some passionate fundraisers who thought that having a ‘worthy cause’ was enough, but it’s not.
You must always be able to tie your cause back to the donor. I have always said that fundraising is very much like sales in that respect.
Passion aside, technology obviously has an important role. CRM is effectively the enabler of fundraising talent.