How Katherine Raskob went from CMO to CEO

Former ADMA CMO, experienced marketing leader and now CEO of the Fundraising Institute of Australia shares her experience of becoming a company chief executive
Katherine Raskob

Katherine Raskob

Digital transformation, self-regulatory frameworks, lobbying government, membership lifecycle management and state-to-national leadership collaboration – these are just some of the day-to-day priorities Katherine Raskob has faced in her first five months as chief of the Fundraising Institute of Australia (FIA).

The former ADMA director of communications and customer experience, and experienced marketing executive, assumed the not-for-profit association reins last September, making the leap from CMO to CEO. The move followed a 20-year marketing career across corporate and not-for-profit sectors, including eight years in marketing at national broadcaster, SBS.

And it was her time working for former ADMA CEO, Jodie Sangster, Raskob credits as giving her the confidence to become a chief executive herself.

“When I joined ADMA, Jodie told the recruiter she needed a deputy, so when she hired me that is what she had in mind and she told me that. This helped me see the years I was going to be at ADMA as my training ground to be a CEO,” Raskob tells CMO.

“The moment I walked in the door, we were together, and I admire her so greatly. But there were areas we were completely different too, and over the years I built a vision of being able to do that role, with my own approach.”

It was also at ADMA Raskob gained a much broader remit: Notably, leading the association’s digital transformation, and building an end-to-end approach to member engagement and retention. Through this work, the association gained a connected technology platform, began tracking customer journeys and engaged in customer journey mapping in order to see where a member comes in, what they’re going to do and pre-empt what courses they’re doing to take.

Having completed a company director’s course last year, and having already been on the board of director at Girl Guides Australia, Raskob decided it was time to take on her first CEO role.


So what is it that makes marketers such a good choice for CEO? Raskob boils it down to three things: Vision, collaboration and customer focus.  

“A CEO has to paint a picture and vision of where they want to go, then have enough by way of people skills to bring people along. I feel I’ve done that over my whole career,” she says. “Marketers have to constantly tell the story of their brand, product or service; being able to tell that story very clearly and then have people come along that journey with you is core to the marketing function. And it sets you up well to be a CEO.”

By way of further example, Raskob points to the ‘6 million stories and counting’ rebranding project she spearheaded at SBS. This came off the back of extensive consumer research that showed many Australians found SBS old and dated yet an important force in recognising the nation’s multiculturalism.

Working closely with the content team, as well as agency, Joy, Raskob and SBS marketers developed new branding to propel SBS into the 21st century. It proved incredibly successful in its time.

On top of storytelling, marketers are increasingly tasked with collaborating and influencing with parts of the organisation outside their marketing function. In Raskob’s case, this saw her become part of a 10-strong cross-functional leadership team at SBS overseeing a cultural transformation. The work resulted in stronger employee engagement and double-digit improvement across a host of business initiatives.

“You need to be able to collaborate and go the hard yards with people,” Raskob says. “As a marketer, that helps you be ready to be a CEO as well, because there are all these constituents you have to make happy.  

“Marketers these days are very ‘in the business’. Those collaboration skills, understanding and communicating with people, listening and responding is key as a CEO.”

Finally, being a CEO requires a customer lens. “At ADMA, and certainly across the industry, we’ve talked about the criticality of being customer focused and how marketers are increasingly about customer. As CEO, if you ever divorce yourself from the customer, you’re in trouble,” Raskob says.

“I could see at FIA that members were the customer yet there wasn’t a strong enough focus on members. Bringing that customer focus we gain as marketers to a CEO role is what sets us up for success.

“The feedback I received from the first couple of interviews at FIA was that I was able to clearly articulate a view for what we needed to do for customers that none of the other candidates could do. They could run the business, keep it financially stable, whereas my focus was on what we do for members, if they’re satisfied, if they’re growing, and if they’re feeling part of the community. Those marketing skills helped sell me as a leader because I could ask the right questions about that customer and growth.”

The FIA priority list

It’s this desire to improve member engagement Raskob cites as one of her first priorities at FIA.

“The distinction between member and non-member is grey, as it was at ADMA when I joined, and the membership model had changed right before I arrived. As a result, there was a lot of fallout from a lack of communication to FIA members about the changes, including fee increases,” she explains.

“These fee increases were paying for a self-regulatory framework FIA had to put in place around a code of practice. But a lot of that wasn’t well known. So I needed to work closely with members to tell them why self-regulation was so critical for this sector.”

To date, Raskob has met more than 150 members across every Australian state and territory, sharing the reasons for fee increases and structural change to membership, and why a self-regulatory framework is so critical.

The second thing has been the self-regulatory piece itself. “There are so many pressures on FIA at the moment – bad stories about charities, face-to-face, fundraising issues, ethics, the costs of administration, CEO salaries. What’s important is we be a sector leader and focus on the positive stories about fundraising and how much it contributes to Australia,” Raskob says.

“We have a code of practice we adhere to and are following it, so we don’t need more regulation on top of that. That threat is imminent and it's with me every day. It’s a big priority for me to ensure members understand the importance of following that code and being self-regulated.”  

Internally, the focus is on connecting what have been disparate platforms in order to improve engagement. To help, Raskob has hired a new head of marketing and membership, with fundraising experience, to oversee a digital transformation this year.

“We can’t track the donor journey, don’t know who is purchasing and from where they came, and have no way of personalising communications and member benefits,” Raskob says.

“We also had the education component sitting under conferences, and also had the person managing the liaison with state chapters sitting under the same person. You lose focus with all of that… those relationships didn’t get the attention they deserve.”  

As a result, chapter management and education report directly to Raskob, and a new state liaison manager is in place.

Up next: Where the skills gap lies between CMO and CEO, plus what Raskob looks for in a modern marketing leader

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CEO skills gap

Where Raskob says she experienced the biggest gap in her skillset to date is in board management.

“Reporting to a board is a different thing, and at FIA we have 14 board members,” she says. “Finding a way around managing those relationships is a skill I didn’t have.”

What’s also different is needing to make decisions quickly, and with limited information. “As a CEO that’s what people expect you to do right away, whereas as a marketer, they arguably don’t expect you to make so many decisions as quickly,” she comments. “But it is a requirement of being a CEO and that can be challenging.”

Another aspect to being a CEO is knowing what risks to take with the financial structure, what resources you have and need, and how to make the whole come together in a way that keeps things steady, Raskob says.

“What’s so hard is knowing what the investment priorities should be when you first arrive. So many people will tell you that you need investment into this or that, and previously, I’d have jumped in and tried to work it out. Now, I have to think about the biggest return for the investment, financial or human, because it’s too easy to scattergun and hope something will stick,” she says. “Marketers can have a tendency to do that, and that’s been a huge change for me.

Another thing Raskob was warned about going into a CEO role was making sure she didn’t focus too much on marketing because that’s what she was most comfortable with.

“I was careful about that. When I got to FIA there was no marketer, but luckily there were so many other priorities and things to be resolved, I didn’t have time to fall into that trap,” she says. “The demands are so great on every part of your operation, you don’t have time to worry about all the details of marketing.”  

In her own marketing leader hire, meanwhile, Raskob looked for someone who understands brand, communications, PR and technology enablement with fundraising experience.

“In the first couple of months I didn’t think it was important, but I realised by the second quarter in that as I’m not a fundraiser, I needed that expertise,” she adds.

A further area of skills development for Raskob has been in government lobbying and advocacy, which is very important at FIA and now takes up about one-third of her time. “I love the part about how I can help members by representing them well to Canberra and to state legislators,” she says.  

Helping CMOs step up

While there’s plenty of reasons why CMOs can make great company leaders, the reality is the percentage of global organisations run by former marketing executives remains small. Raskob attributes this less to a perceived lack of commercial acumen across the marketing fraternity, and more to a perception problem outside the marketing function.

“When you look at all the great marketers, you can see them being CEOs. They look as though they have the ability to run and lead the company. I wonder if it’s more the outside world not recognising they have that ability to do so. They’re not seeing the actual strategic skills of the modern marketer,” she says.  

What Raskob does agree, however, is marketers have more on their plates than ever before. This can make it difficult to put your hand up for other non-marketing responsibilities across an organisation – a vital element in building your business muscle. In large organisations, hierarchical structures can also prevent marketers from getting the cross-business view they need to influence and grow strategically.

“I was lucky at ADMA it was a smaller organisation and I sat at the leadership table, so we were running the business… I was able to step up in the organisation and that gave me the experience, skills and confidence to do the CEO role,” Raskob says. “In larger organisations, marketers aren’t always able to do that.”  

Raskob’s advice therefore for CMOs wanting to take that next step up the leadership ladder is to volunteer for jobs outside marketing.

“You can’t be afraid of it – it’s challenging and more work. You do have to buy into that,”  she says. “Marketers do need to demonstrate their willingness to take up those roles.

“Also get out of the box. There is still often that corner where marketing sits. One thing Jodie [Sangster] was good at was not being competitive with me, and giving me those opportunities to expand. You have to just step up and take those opportunities so you’re seen as a leader, not just as the marketer.”

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