CMO50 2016 #22: Nicole Brasz

  • Name Nicole Brasz
  • Title Director of marketing and fundraising
  • Company Save the Children
  • Commenced role January 2014
  • Reporting Line CEO
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 60 staff, 6 direct reports
  • Industry Sector Charity/not-for-profit
  • 2015 ranking New to CMO50
  • Brand Post

    It’s been a huge couple of years for Save the Children’s director of marketing and fundraising, Nicole Brasz.

    She has successfully transformed a traditional fundraising department that had been experiencing 30 per cent decline in revenue prior to her joining, into a high-performance marketing team with a 10 per cent growth trajectory. This was achieved in two years with no change in budget and resulted in a fundamental change to financial sustainability.

    Key strategic initiatives have included setting a simple yet bold vision using the five ‘Is’ (insights, impact, influence, innovation, integration) and establishing an advanced analytics team to foster data-driven decision making and actionable custom insights. Save the Children has also introduced integrated and targeted campaigning over traditional approaches, driving channel and product diversification and unleashing the group’s digital potential.

    This is supported by an integrated tech stack and transformative cultural change from inside out to outside in, channel to customer, fundraising to marketing, and from fearful to brave and bold.

    “While many of the above changes may be considered mainstream in the commercial world, I can assure you they are considered quite innovative – and even radical – in the not-for-profit sector, where funds are very short and resistance to change is very high,” Brasz says.

    To demonstrate marketing’s effectiveness, the key metric Brasz has employed with the c-suite is business value, usually articulated as revenue growth.

    “Charities typically operate with very tight budgets with marketing almost always taking a back seat to fundraising, if it even exists as a function in the first place,” she says. “I therefore use language that resonates with key stakeholders. Underlying that are increasingly predictive ROI, lifetime value and customer advocacy metrics driven by compelling connections with our customers.”

    At the same time, Brasz is trying to foster a culture that starts with the why as opposed to ‘what’ or ‘how’, an approach espoused by Simon Sinek. “I want the team to focus on maximising customer value and to think through whether we can do something better or different,”she says.

    From the CMO50 submission

    Empowered business thinking

    Alongside all the transformative marketing work that’s been going on, Brasz took on new responsibilities in June 2015 as global lead for digital for Save the Children worldwide. This was a new and volunteer role, prompted by a presentation she did at a global conference of fundraising and marketing directors on the potential of digital.

    “The team were inspired, but somewhat overwhelmed, and asked me to take digital forward for the movement,” she explains. “This informal role was soon formalised, when digital was designated an official stream within the global 2016-18 Save the Children strategy.”

    As global lead, Brasz quickly established a global digital working group, comprising the most talented digital specialists, and chaired the first face-to-face global digital meeting. The end result was a clear and aligned global vision, roadmap and work plan for which budget was subsequently approved. Having then completed a maturity audit across markets, and before her resignation from the role after one year, material progress was achieved on digital fundamentals, with shared KPIs, calendars, assets as well innovative concepts.

    Data- and technology-driven approach

    Another one of Brasz’s progressive steps was to establish an advanced analytics team in 2014 with three priorities: Establish rigorous ROI and LTV modelling and analytics by channel and product; build propensity modelling capabilities to better acquire, convert and upgrade customers; and foster a deep understanding of customer needs and behaviours.

    “We’ve made great progress and continue to optimise priorities two and three; however one is well embedded with very visible results,” she says. “I cannot overstate how important our ROI/LTV modelling was to achieving our J curve of success.”

    Taking four months to implement and refine, analytics has since been used to launch three new channels, with confidence in the projected income stream, and is also helping marketing continuously optimise its channel mix. It was also the reason Save the Children closed an under-performing channel, restructured its product portfolio, and now makes budgeting and forecasting easier.

    In a quantifiable sense, these actions have turned revenues. But there was an unexpected benefit which has been equally important, Brasz says: The renewal of confidence in the fundraising team from the board and executives.

    “With a long history before my time of diminishing returns from poor decision making, the accuracy and reliability of our modelling did much to restore confidence in myself and the team,”she states. “This in turn has been instrumental in gaining support for investing in new marketing initiatives with a less quantifiable or immediate return, such as customer experience, brand and content.

    “With a new CRM and CMS to be implemented in the coming months, I’m excited to say the power of our analytics will increase exponentially.”

    Customer-led approach

    Putting the customer first is another increasingly popular project in the commercial space that’s also equally important in the not-for-profit sector. Brasz has initiated multiple initiatives over the course of the past year to ensure customers are front and centre in Save the Children’s strategy.

    To kick this off, she created a one-page manifesto stating desired culture, as defined by the team through an inclusive process. She says the team has also worked hard to ensure customer insights and meaningful and actionable, something that’s become easier thanks to an integrated tech stack, refined segmentation, establishing personas, an inaugural customer satisfaction survey and cancellation surveys.

    From this, Brasz is working to adopt and insights-based methodology for innovation, and she’s on the steering committee for a project to redefine the business model to adapt such an approach.

    In addition, there is clear ownership of the customer within the department under the customer experience manager, supported by the head of analytics, and Brasz has been championing the team continuously to scan the market and peers for best practices and learnings for what customers need, and how Save the Children can respond to them as well as socialise them.

    “I am also in the process of establishing a customer advisory group to test new ideas, and we are celebrating the wins, as well as the failures,”she adds.

    Fostering team capability

    “I wouldn't have been successful in driving the changes I have if I hadn't taken the team on a journey with me, to transform our capabilities and culture,” Brasz says. “In my experience, pull is a lot more effective than push when it comes to change management so that’s where I always start. That said push has its place too.”

    In the past 12 months, she’s designed a vision and strategy for 2016-2018 with the help of the management team, then engaged employees in a more creative process to help Save the Children come up with a refined version all feel they’ve contributed to.

    “From there, we developed a roadmap to success and identified both gaps and strengths,”she explains. “We broke that down to the individual level in terms of KPIs and development plans, which managers revisit with team members on a continuous basis.”

    Structurally, marketing is now separate from fundraising. Brasz has also brought in fresh talent, predominantly from a commercial background, to build new capabilities in customer experience and content, while promoting key talent where they show promise.

    “An example is our freelance designer who was promoted to manage the creative services team and more recently took on project management of our brand refresh for professional development,” she says. Building capabilities is being done through training, attendance at conferences, mentorship and personally coaching top talent.

    “I’ve invested a lot in developing a culture I believe embodies the future of marketing; agile, bold, customer-centric, data led.,” Brasz says. “Our marketing manifesto, developed in a fun and inclusive way, is a fun statement of our future state culture that sits on everyone’s desk.

    “Finally, I try to celebrate the wins, where people have grown and/or gone the extra mile.And, for those who don’t, ultimately I’ve let them go.”


    As an organisation with very limited funds, Brasz says it’s imperative to “be creative about being creative”.

    “Our ‘be bold and break things’ marketing culture is starting to pay off, in conjunction with a more agile approach,” she says.

    An example Brasz points to was the Don Dale Detention Centre story on the 7:30 report on 25 July 2016. Leveraging daily standup editorial meeting with representatives from different departments, the team developed a series of creative content pieces that achieved far above average reach and engagement with the public and policy makers, she says.

    “Similarly, our ‘be bold’ culture led the content team to create a completely new approach to a well-established campaign video that broke all records,” she says. The video was chosen to open the global Save the Children conference in June this year, attended by the top 200 people in the organisation worldwide.

    “As we have more successes like these and celebrate each one, creativity will continue to flourish and extend beyond content,” Brasz concludes. “ In addition, we’re piloting new ways to engage people in our network from diverse backgrounds in our ideation and testing processes.”

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