Katie Bisbee, CMO, DonorsChoose.org

As CMO of DonorsChoose.org, Bisbee connects donors to classrooms to help kids learn. But it’s her test-and-learn mentality that allows Bisbee to boost her own marketing education and produce A-worthy results. For instance, of the $90 million DonorsChoose.org will raise this school year, $45 million will come from 450,000 individuals making donations via its website — $20 million of which is driven by donors responding to marketing emails.

Marketing strategy: My approach is testing and learning…. Another way of saying test-and-learn is “have a high failure rate.” We want to have a ton of different initiatives happening knowing that we’re going to fail and that it’s going to help us, as long as we’re thoughtful about what we learned from it.

Winning ways:  We’ve started sending out a personalized recommendation email to donors monthly…. When [donors are] on our website, they like to have a lot of choice and variety in [terms of] classroom projects they can give to. But when we send them something [via] email, they want just one thing to focus on. So, we have been honing this recommendation engine and have gotten it to the point where we get a huge response rate and it drives a lot of revenue for us every month.

Defining moment: The defining moment in my career was a big failure that I had. I worked prior to DonorsChoose at this amazing direct marketing company called Red Ventures, the number one retailer of DIRECTV subscriptions. One of the big objections to buying DIRECTV was that there was no easy way to also get Internet with that. This was about 10 years ago. So, we decided to start up a business to sell Internet options to people who were switching to DIRECTV. There were some assumptions that we had made incorrectly about the business, and the financials just did not make sense…. We shut down the business, but we learned a whole bunch of things that then helped us with the other businesses at Red Ventures. It was such a pivotal lesson for me that it’s OK to fail — that there are times when you just have to pack it up when something isn’t working.

Trend watching: People consuming all of their information on mobile phones or tablets. I still don’t think there’s a great example of a company that’s getting the same level of conversions in terms of purchases, or donations in our case, from mobile that they’re getting from desktops.

Marketing staff must-have: I look during the hiring process to see if people can take feedback because I think it’s so critical when they’re in the business that they can take feedback from their customers or from other people within the company. [And] because of the test-and-learn approach on our [marketing team], I look for whether someone learns from every experience they have.

Advice to young marketers:
Ask for the resources you need to do your job. Whether you need a software program that you don’t have, help from members of your team or different teams, or even sometimes more time to work on something, I think it’s important to make sure that you understand what it is you need to do your job. Then, ask for it so you can do a good job and you don’t have external factors to blame for not doing something well.

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